More Migraine Guilt: Hating Housework

In April, the spotlight topic on Migraine.com was Spring Cleaning. At the time, I laughed and then wrote this article with a bit of irony in mind, and then did not upload anything that month, which I’m sure is a metaphor for something.

I can easily relate housekeeping and organization to my migraine disease situation, but not in a positive way.

Never a fan of chores

When I was a kid, I lived in an extremely well-kept, clean to the point of pristine environment. In our small home, dishes were rarely stacked in the sink, dust was not allowed to collect on shelves. Everything had its place. My brother and I had daily chores, and one of mine, of course, was to keep my own room clean. The battle over the cleanliness of my room was the main source of my arguments with my mother.

In my room, my bed was always unmade. Clothes, both worn and unworn, clean and dirty, obscured the wood floor and throw rugs, as did shoes and books. All surfaces were covered with more books, papers, cassette tapes; stuffed animals, souvenirs, art supples; accessories, make up, brushes and hair clips. There were also the ubiquitous ice packs, heating pads, and medicine containers – the older I got, the more of those there were.

Now, I have the tendency to let my entire home “go” in a similar way (as in, “She’s really let herself go”). Just like with my mom when I lived at home, it is a conflict between John and me because he prefers things to be clean. He does most of the housework. Sometimes I tell myself that at least he did know what he was getting into, because when we met I was living in an efficiency apartment downtown that had a foot-high layer of detritus covering the floor, again consisting mostly of clothes, books, papers, and remnants of migraine attacks recently passed and soon to come. I offered him Spaghettios to eat. So the man knew I did not cook or clean, and wanted to be with me regardless.

Insight on housework and living with migraine

Once when my psychologist cousin Katrina was visiting, I was explaining to her my inability to keep my surroundings clean and how, as much as I tried, I could not get in the habit of spending time doing dishes, folding clothes, making beds, and putting toys away. She looked surprised. “Well of course you don’t want to spend time doing those things. You have so little time when you actually feel well. Why would you want to do something you despise during those precious hours?”


I felt so grateful to her for understanding something about me that I hadn’t even grasped myself. There is also the fact that any kind of physical activity either triggers a migraine or exhausts me; not to mention the problematic scents of cleaning products. However, not cleaning has definitely been added to the pile of illness-related guilt that constantly weighs on my shoulders. Now that I am going through a period of having less pain, I have set aside time every day to do at least some housework, although with less pain has come more fatigue and depression, which is NOT conducive to that sort of activity (or any activity). However, on many days I do persevere. Not only does it help John so that he doesn’t have to do as much by himself, it sets a good example for my daughters and makes me feel more productive.

Being honest but not too hard on yourself

But I am never going to be someone who enjoys cleaning, like Monica on Friends. I have had bursts of that “type A” desire to sort and organize and remove every smeared fingerprint from the walls, but it has always been medication-induced. When I was put on Prednisone right before Christmas, not only did I get all my holiday preparations done in record time, I also went through all of my clothes and got rid of anything that no longer fit, a project I have been meaning to get to for literally years. I found it fun and fulfilling. As soon as the five days were over, however, I lost the will to anything remotely similar. Most of the time, I feel sluggish and heavy, finding it easiest to curl up and read or write, saving up my small reserves of energy for meetings, the girls’ activities, and doctor appointments.

I realize I am opening myself up to a lot of criticism here. This is a sensitive topic, and something that embarrasses and horrifies me about myself. I am not proud of it; I am actually ashamed. Do any of you have tips for getting housework done when you are low on energy? I would love to hear them… but go easy on me! Believe me, I am hard enough on myself.

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.

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