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The Balance of Knowing Limits: Relying On Being Unreliable

My family and friends can rely on me to be unreliable. I doubt they have me on speed dial when they need help moving a couch or need someone for a one person surprise party. I can’t be trusted to be there. I can, however, be counted on to change my schedule at a moments notice. My heart may desperately want to show up, but my head is constantly making other plans.

My migraines control my schedule

The text I got read: Hey, would you be able to pick her up after school and watch her with your son?

I felt instant panic. I stared at the text so long that if my phone had a face it would have blushed. I wanted to say “yes,” but I wasn’t sure how to respond. I checked in with my head, knowing I had no idea how I’d feel tomorrow. My migraines are my schedule maker.

On a minute by minute basis, my migraines let me know if I’m ready for a dinner date, or a movie night, or daydreaming about Chris Pine. My inner circle knows me and my unpredictable head, but the woman who sent the text was a new friend. I hadn’t gotten around to sharing details about my brain and how it can feel like it’s being barbecued. With her, I was enjoying just being a person, and not being a person with migraines.

An unreliable adult with migraine

Once I gave her my answer, I’d be seen as my ol’ unreliable self— a self I, unfortunately, don’t get to choose. My migraines do it for me. What would she think? Too bad the classic coverups like “The dog ate my homework…” or “My alarm didn’t go off” won’t work. My excuse is ironically reliable, “I can’t. I have a migraine.”

My friend needed a reliable adult. Since there are instances when I’m forced to have back-ups for my back-ups for my own son, I wasn’t sure I could be hers. I considered explaining via text how my brain gets barbecued, but that would certainly turn into an epic horror novel. I opted for a different solution:

“Are you free tomorrow afternoon?” I asked my husband. I could help but had back-up.

Explaining migraine to friends

Not long afterwards, and in person, I told my new friend about how my head has a mind of its own. She was (thankfully) understanding. Taking care of myself and my migraines may make me unreliable; however, my friends can rely on me to do my best in taking care our friendships. My head and my heart are of one mind on that.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • bookseller
    4 months ago

    I used to be the “go to” person when people needed help. It is beyond devastating to me to have to be the other side of the coin. Another unfortunate side effect of unreliability is that many family members and friends think you use migraine as an excuse.

  • Tonilyn Hornung author
    4 months ago

    Hi there! I can totally relate to all you’ve said and understand the fact that sometimes people wrongly believe migraine sufferers use this as an excuse. Invisible conditions are sometimes hard to understand, and I’ve certainly felt this in my own social circle–so you’re not alone. Thank you for taking the time to read and respond! Best to you!

  • glassmind
    6 months ago

    My go to answer is, “Sorry, I can’t confirm until…..” fill in a time close to the event in question. That way if they need a definate yes/no, it’s essentially a “no”, but they can reach out to me again. I usually will reach out again, anyway. Either with “do you still need help?” (If i’m able) Or “did you find help?” (After the event) That way they know I care even if I wasn’t able to help.

    I’ve also grown comfortable with being unreliable and honest. “Yes, I’ll be there tomorrow.” And “Sorry, for the short notice, but an emergency has come up for myself.”

    If a new person decides to opt out of communicating with me over this, I accept that.

    And, as you did, if the communication stays open, then I will explain about Migraine.

    Thank you for sharing about this added complication of Migraine and reaffirming that though we may be “unreliable” in some ways, we can still be faithful and caring friends, neighbors, etc.

  • Tonilyn Hornung author
    6 months ago

    Thanks so much for taking the time to reach out. You have such a great go to answer as well! And reaching out after the event is a wonderful way to reconnect with a level of care and appreciation for the friendship. That’s so great! Thank YOU! 🙂

  • deedeevee1
    6 months ago

    My go to answer is…
    “I’m a definite maybe”
    It’s terrible that I’m considered unreliable. Before I became ill in 2009, I was never considered unreliable!! It kills me to not be there for friends and family when it counts the most. And sometimes I firmly believe that my anxiety about my potential head pain causes symptoms to manifest or get worse. It’s a fine slope to walk. Ugggh!! Hard to not hate this life!!

  • Tonilyn Hornung author
    6 months ago

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject, because I too find it a challenge when I have to change plans due to my migraines! I adore your go to answer, “I’m a definite maybe.” Can I borrow that one? 😉 It shows your deep caring for friends and family, but also that you still have to maintain care for yourself. 🙂

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