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Migraine Man

Migraine Man

Until recently I had not thought much about the differences between how I experience and cope with my migraines as compared to the other writers here. I felt like I blended in pretty well. But facts are facts—far more women than men get migraines. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, about one in 20 men get migraines. By comparison, nearly one in five women do.

Those numbers are supported by the representation of the writers here at migraine.com. I am the only man. I don’t see many men commenting on our stories, either.

Standing out

So, I went from blending in to feeling a little like an outcast. Welcome to Migraine Man Island. Population: 1. I can feel more like I have some rare disease that is really not completely understood, at least by other men. “Keep your distance. He’s the Migraine Man.” Or maybe the circus barker: “Step right up, meet the Migraine Man. He walks. He talks. No flash photography or loud noises, please…” There I am next to the Bearded Lady.

Not exactly a talkitive group

Information on how other men manage migraines is rare. Among my male friends (and most of my friends are men), I know of just one man who also gets migraines. He helped coach me a little. (Key word: little.) When I was diagnosed, he said: “Take your medication with you everywhere you go.” Copy that. I now keep a little supply of drugs in each of our cars. After that brief discussion, we went back to watching football…

That has been the extent of my interaction with other male migraineurs. Well, my neurologist (a man) gets migraines, but talking to my doctor about migraines is different that comparing notes with a buddy.

Others lacking awareness

I have a wide circle of friends, and I feel we are pretty communicative and open to each other. But as I shared in an earlier article, I do not get a sense that my friends really understand migraines. When sharing that I had a migraine, the few guys whose wives or mothers get migraines took a step back, like I might explode or melt…and they didn’t want to get anything on them. I guess my friends’ second-hand knowledge of migraines, through knowing me or one of the 85% of migraineurs who are women, is better than no friendly support at all.

Please don’t misunderstand. I feel I get good support from my friends and family. But I just don’t get the kind of support from other guys going through the same stuff. For example, I am 55. It is at this age that guys start talking about feeling a little older, about slowing down a little, about getting up at night to pee. It feels quite good to share those things with my friends. I feel connected to them as we share the experience of getting older together. We laugh, we cry. It’s great.

Grateful for the support that exists

It feels good to share my migraine experiences here, too, among the predominately female voices. Although I am, as I write this, awkwardly aware that I am a lone tenor. But I am comforted knowing I am making a human connection here, not a cross-cultural or -gender one.

Yet, I feel awkward at times. For example, I attended the HealthUnion Connexion meetings in Philadelphia this winter. I had a great time and really enjoyed meeting other writers…most of whom were women. Hey, I really like the company of women. But after day two, I needed some guy talk. I was seated on my flight home next to a guy headed to watch Spring Training in Phoenix. Indians fan. Whew…

So, why is it that more women than men contribute to the various HealthUnion Communities?

Men and their foxholes

Well, I do not have much difficulty sharing my experiences with my diseases. I contribute to two HU Communities—HepatitisC.nte and Migraine.com. There is a better representation of men on HepC.net. However, about twice as many men have Hepatitis C than women; yet, seven of the fifteen contributors there are women.

This shouldn’t be a newsflash to anybody, but it appears that men don’t share about what ails them…no matter what they have.

Interestingly, that does not gibe with my experience as a healthcare professional. I am an interfaith hospital chaplain. I see more female patients than male patients, mostly because the hospital census has more women. However, among the people I do see, men are just as likely as women to share about what’s going on with them…with a chaplain…while they are laying in a hospital bed.

I believe there are no atheists in foxholes (so to speak) and that the hospital is a foxhole. So, when in foxholes, I find that men are just as likely to share their physical, emotional, and spiritual concerns as women.

Migraine.com and HepatitisC.net require that we come out of our foxholes to share. That’s where men seem to lag behind the women. Men seem to feel safer in foxholes. I don’t presume to know for sure, but I wonder if women feel liberated by stepping out of them and sharing. Maybe women don’t dive for the foxholes in the first place. I dunno.

I will say this: I feel less burdened when I share about the physical, emotional, and spiritual tolls my migraines take. I’ll stop short of saying I feel liberated.

The gender stigma

One last point I’d like to cover. I am a man, and I get migraines. While not rare, it is a little unusual. Still, I can feel like the odd man out, and I wonder if Migraine Men, like me, feel migraine is not a man’s condition?

Davo recently wrote his story, entitled: Over-looked Minority, Men with Migraine. I do not feel overlooked. I am sure Davo’s experiences are not limited to Canada, but my symptoms are taken very seriously by my health-care professionals. However, in the Facebook posting of Davo’s story, the poster asks if there is a stigma that Migraine Men feel.

Stigma? Maybe. For some reason, Migraine Men may have more difficulty leaving the foxhole. I wonder if there is an unspoken sense that migraines only affect women. Seems silly, but I think there may be some cultural standard that suggests headaches are limited to women. If that’s the case, then I don’t feel it. Nor do I feel any hesitation leaving the foxhole myself. Foxholes may be safe, but they are grimy, dark places. I am more comfortable stepping into the light where I and my migraine are exposed.

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

Comments

  • glassmind
    2 months ago

    Thank you for sharing.

  • pigen51
    2 years ago

    I echo you story. And the runaround you get from the doctors is enough to give you a migraine as well. I know more about migraines than many doctors by now. I have a good primary care doctor now, who works with me, rather than against me. I told him when first we met, I don’t expect miracles, just do what you can. I have gone to doctors in the past who jumped right in and thought they were God, and instead screwed up what little progress I had made with my previous doctors. Best of luck to you in the future.

  • danstan
    2 years ago

    Not talkative? Because it’s all in my head! I don’t look that bad so I probably don’t feel that bad. Guess that’s just me from my foxhole. Been through numerous neurologists with the same results: Exercise more! Ignore it! I’ve never had headaches but…

    And that’s just from the doctors. Can’t say a word around family or co-workers either. They have to tell you about that day they had a headache for three hours. Can’t relate to what I’m going through after five years of non-stop chronic migraine.

    Better to not say a word most days.

  • blancj8
    2 years ago

    Another Island resident here. I am definitely in the foxhole. Even though there are two men in my department at work that get migraines, I stay hidden, as the HR department is not to be trusted. Oh and I am a terrible writer

  • bluesjr
    2 years ago

    As someone who has had CFIDS for the 20 years, a mysterious and often unacknowledged illness (by medical community), the reception and understanding I get with regard to migraine is like a breath of fresh air. Sure more women can relate more, but men as well due to afflicted wives and other family or friends. And I’ve been fortunate to have a few doctors who really understand what a challenge chronic migraine are.

    I should say the only people who really understand, imo, are the directly afflicted. Even I didn’t understand – until mine were debilitating for a solid year – the extent that migraine can affect your various cognitive, vision and motor functions. Finally, I read that migraines are not headaches, it is brain disease, and that really makes sense to me.

    With CFIDS I have been out in the wilderness, and nobody gets it. Maybe people have heard of it but rarely know anyone that’s had it, so no one to relate to. Even the CDC misused CFIDS research funds, presumably because they didn’t think it was real. So, everything about is an uphill battle. It was a multiple year appeal process and a court appearance with a recognized CFIDS lawyer to get disability, for example.

    So migraine (acceptance) has been a breeze in comparison.

  • Bill Bartlett author
    2 years ago

    Sorry I have not logged in to comment myself, but I have been reading your comments as they have come in. I am really fascinated by what others are saying here. There’s a cohesive theme to mens’ experience with migraines…our headaches are often wildly misunderstood and there may be a stigma attached to men with migraines.

    I encourage other Migraine Men to write up their stories and submit them to Migraine.com. I think more men’s stories may help other migraine men normalize their experiences.

    Keep the comments coming…

    Bill

  • Shaggy78
    2 years ago

    I’ve had two doctors use my gender to discount my suffering and to allude that the pain is “all in my head”. According to them, men rarely suffer from migraines, so I must be making it up. It was used to supplement their theory I was nothing more than a drug seeker.

    I understand there are psychosomatic components of pain but that does not mean there is not a physical cause or that the pain is not real. It is not “all in my head”.

  • BrownT
    2 years ago

    Hi Bill, interesting contribution. I do not have any male friends that suffer with migraines. I tend not to share and have found this site helpful to reflect on my chronic pain. I agree that guys do look at me sideways should I mention that I suffer from migraines. I have worked beside guys for 26 years while suffering chronic everyday pain and it never came up and they where surprised in the cases I did mention it. If I was having a particularly bad day, I may say I have a headache as more men may have had one or two in their lifetime. I once had a male neurologist who explained that he could understand my pain because he once had a spinal tap that gave him a headache. As you might guess, he was not a successful migraine Doctor. Otherwise, I find most guys do not get debilitating headaches and cannot relate to needing downtime. They relate through sport injuries they once had that they taped up and continued playing.

    So I generally suffer in silence as I suspect many men do. Women are more empathetic but often relate through their three day each month migraine which is kind of different. I have not talked to anyone who has suffered chronic daily headaches and have come to appreciate many of the contributors on this site. I may read and watch more than contribute. So thanks to everyone for sharing as even as a silent participant, I appreciate being here with you.

  • Eric
    2 years ago

    Thanks for sharing. I can really relate to the feeling that people don’t really beleive that men can have migraine. Maybe it’s because the mystery of this disease is still unknown, and therefore all the old myths about migraine as a ‘woman thing’ still are around. Anyway, let’s keep up the good work and share, empower and educate!

  • coygroup
    2 years ago

    Good article, Bill. While I enjoy (probably not the right word) the perspectives of all the writers here, I am very aware we men are in the minority. I have been fairly lucky to have had sympathetic doctors, including a male neurologist and male internist with migraines, who genuinely have tried to help find something that works (although nothing really has as a prophylactic treatment). I’ve had bosses that understand and let me work from home where possible, and those that don’t (or kind of seem like they do, but really the pressure to be in the office and perform says otherwise). My teenage son gets them as well, and I often feel irrationally guilty for “passing them down” to him (my sister and niece as well, definitely run in the family). Anyway, just wanted to give some background and tell you there are probably plenty of men on here, but as you pointed out, we aren’t as vocal! Keep up the good writing… we’ll be reading, at least.

  • arden
    2 years ago

    My son and I share the migraine brain dilemma. He treats his disease totally different than I do: casual about triggers, snacking on triptans, reluctant to make major life changes. Though we each cope in different ways there is an underlying understanding of what we are dealing with that others may not comprehend. This is true with other migraineurs I happen to meet. The level of knowing what is at stake is high regardless of gender or age. We just all share the knowledge of the really dark place migraines can put us in and how difficult it is to live with this disease. I have three sons and am thankful only one inherited the migraine code.

  • looking4OPH
    2 years ago

    Right on, brother. Great writeup, hits the nail on the head(ache). I tend to keep looking for that next treatment and don’t stop to talk along the way much. Let’s try to help each other. Currently stopped pharma preventatives and getting some traction with magnesium and ginger.

  • Jeff
    2 years ago

    Hello Bill, I Understand your comments and share that with you too. I am a male, a nurse, a medic, Retired Army Soldier and I have migraines. I have had them for over 23 years. We as males, with migraines, get treated differently than females with migraines. I get told at the local hospitals I am a medical professional so I am drug seeking. Or at work when I call out due to a bad migraine, to remember my Army days and suck it up. And to also have PTSD I get treated differently too. Yes we are treated different but we are here. Rare as it is to be a male with migraines, I still strive to teach others as much as I can about this disease that we live with. Thank you for your comments! Carry on Brother!

  • pigeongirl
    2 years ago

    Dear Bill,
    hi. i’m lacking man parts- but in my family runs the FHM- and my father, brother, and male cousin with it are difficult to get talking about it- even with me. when i have it too, and more frequent attacks (have had daily strings). and i really used to want someone to talk to about it at times. because my attacks whole body suck and i get looking&sounding like a drunk or stroke victim. till my daughter was affected, i had none in the family to talk to about it. i think it’s rough. but i don’t think it matters what parts we have when it comes to our illnesses. i’m glad YOU talk about it, we DO need to hear from more men. so thank you. it’s a confusing illness, and the lines of communication being opened up for me online have helped a LOT, because learning some of my symptoms aren’t terribly unusual but rather quite typical for FHM, like losing control of half my body and my senses on one side was very disturbing for example. it helps to talk to someone else who has some experience. or even read what they wrote- it helps me piles. so Thanks. for speaking out. and i hope you’ll be okay if some women visit your island too 🙂

  • 23outo3
    2 years ago

    I head for the Bunker. It is dark,cool,quite. I try not volunteer,go anywhere until it is over. I also have PTSD,Fibromyalgia and injuries so Bunker in the hole although does not work better than the alternative.VA has me on Botox and other Meds which don’t alwaysbut with no cure they have been reduced from 25 to 30 days down to about 15 to 20 dys per month. I know no other Vets with the problem but first developed them in Vietnam. My attitude is good except when sick. The Lord got me through the War so I figure I owe it to those who didn’t.

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