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The Intersection Between How We Look and How We Feel

One of the bizarre components of migraine is that while we may feel as though our scalps are cracked open and bleeding, with daggers lodged in our eyeballs, we may look absolutely fine to the outside world. The contrast between how we feel on the inside and how we look on the outside can lead to confusion on many levels.

But you look fine!

For friends, family, and coworkers, our frequent claims of severe pain may arouse suspicion and a sense of disbelief. After all, how in the world can we be feeling so terrible while looking so normal? The disparity between how we look and how we feel does nothing to dispel the myth that migraineurs are faking pain.

Is there anybody out there?

Other than eying those wearing hats and sunglasses inside, there is no easy way to identify those who are living with the disease. We aren’t wheelchair-bound; we don’t have a scar, we don’t wear monitors. Though there are more than 36 million of us in the U.S. alone, there is no way to identify migraineurs just by sight. While two people with diabetes might exchange knowing glances after seeing each other’s insulin pumps, migraineurs have no easy cues to pick up on.  Migraine is an isolating disease that leads us to darkened, quieted rooms where we labor through extreme pain alone for hours on end. Being able to identify a fellow migraineur in a grocery store, for instance - just to exchange a supportive knowing glance - could make someone’s day.

The eyes have it

That said, for many of us, there are visible signs of pain that accompany migraine (drooping eyelids, watering eyes, etc). Indeed, some migraineurs state that loved ones are the first to alert them to an oncoming attack because they notice visible changes in the eyes. Generally, however, even these signs of discomfort are not reflective of the level of pain being experienced.

It feels good to look good

On the flip side, for those of us who live with chronic or daily migraine, the fact that the pain we are experiencing cannot be seen is a strange gift. Otherwise, our visage would be disturbing to ourselves and to others. Even in the throes of extreme pain, there can be an odd relief to still appear healthy. When we look in the mirror in the midst of a horrific attack, it can be comforting to see that everything is intact, even though it doesn’t feel that way. The veneer of normalcy is an escape from the disease which could not occur if we looked as disturbing and awful on the outside as we feel on the inside.

When our bodies show the pain

Given this reality, it can be troubling when our bodies begin to physically reflect the pain we are feeling inside. I touched in a previous article on the way that migraine can prematurely age us by impacting how we feel inside. I've also previously talked about how medication and the cycle of living in extreme pain may also lead to weight gain which may in turn impact appearance and confidence.

Additionally, side effects of medications may cause hair loss, which can be quite troubling to experience. Nausea and vomiting make anyone feel and look terrible and, with extreme cases, may lead to tooth decay. Yet another unfortunate side effect of migraine - and this one can be potentially visible. Over time, we may also find that our posture has changed due to the constant curling up and fighting off of pain—shoulders moving ever closer to our ears.

Who's looking back at you?

When we begin to see the impacts of years lived in pain looking back at us in the mirror, it can be a real gut punch. Like wrinkles and grey hairs for everyone, these signs are like a road map of our lifetimes. It’s in our hands as to how we choose to take in our visage, I suppose. With pride for our resilience and strength, and some grief mixed in for all that was lost. I’ll choose gratitude that I’m still standing - connected to and with each and every one of you.

How about you? In what way has migraine impacted your physical body? What do you think about the intersection between how you feel inside vs. how you look on the outside? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below so we can learn from one another.

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