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More Migraine Guilt: Hating Housework

In April, the spotlight topic on 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 team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Jessie
    3 years ago

    Seriously, every time I come to this site I learn something new! In the past several years of migraines, my desire to clean the house has become nonexistent. Luckily, my husband does most of it. After a full work week, the last thing I want to do is clean. There are clothes all over our second floor, in various states of clean and dirty. My weight has fluctuated a lot with medication try outs, so I have more clothes than space. Honestly, I can’t be bothered to care about it. I need to rest. It’s nice to know I’m not alone! 🙂

    A few things that make it easier – I got one of those stick grabber tools and it makes picking things up off the floor SO much easier!!! No more head pain from bending over, best $15 I’ve spent! Also, dry shampoo is my bestie. I order most home goods online so I don’t have to spend energy on going to the (bright, loud, overcrowded) store. When I shower, I clean one surface each time. One wall per shower. I keep the spray (Method- in case it gets on my skin it’s not too bad) and a scrubby dish tool with a handle in the shower all the time. (If anyone wants links to those things, I’ll be glad to email them to you, I didn’t know if I should post links here)

    The biggest thing that has helped me, however, is admitting to myself that I actually HAVE limitations. I pushed against that for SO long because I didn’t WANT that for my life. No one does. But now I know – I can only do ONE activity per day – be it work, shopping or out for coffee with a friend, I get ONE ticket per day. Anything more and I’m pushing too hard and will absolutely get rewarded for it with a migraine. I’m REALLY good at saying, “no” now. 🙂

  • Elizabeth Roberts-Zibbel moderator author
    2 years ago

    Jessie, thank you so much for reading and for your comment! It can really help the “guilt factor” to know that we aren’t the only ones who feel the way we do. Take care!

  • TheKimberly75
    3 years ago

    I can So Relate! I’ve always said if I ever won the lotto the very 1st thing I’d do is hire a housekeeper!
    I like things to be neat and orderly for my mental health, but with daily migraines, it’s extremely difficult, and once you get behind… good luck!
    I too, am guilty of enjoying my pain-free time by doing nothing all too often! It’s so rare I can’t squander it on something I hate to do! The best I can hope for is to consistently pickup after myself as I go, including washing that one glass, plate, knife & fork after each use. My worst challenges are vacuuming, because it hurts my neck & head, and changing the litter boxes, because it requires bending over for an extensive amount of time, and my pain increases dramatically when I lie down from the increased pressure in my head. Resting with a migraine is not easy. It requires piling up pillows til I’m almost sitting up straight but not so straight that I tip over when I fall asleep! And no, I didn’t have the money for an adjustable bed.
    If you can afford help, even with just a couple of your most stressful chores, get it. Barter if possible. Beg if needs be. If you belong to a church, you will probably find someone (or 2 or 3) who’ll volunteer to rotate help. If not, try a social services agency through your county. What have you got to lose?
    I lost my husband almost two years ago and have been forced to take on household chores I haven’t done in years. It’s been hard, but like in your previous reply, I only work for a short time and then take a break. The break is a must. If I push myself too hard or too long, then I know I’ll be down with yet another migraine, spiraling the problem.
    I have a mother and one sister who are disgusted by me, but I can’t afford to feel their judgement. They don’t know what it’s like to live with debilitating pain every day, and willpower alone Is Not Enough! I have to trust that I know what my limitations are and be humble enough to accept help when it is offered – and that’s a challenge for me! I’ve always been Independant and never liked to ask for help, seeing it as a sign of weakness. I now know it is a tool for survival.
    Good luck.

  • Elizabeth Roberts-Zibbel moderator author
    2 years ago

    I am also very sorry about the loss of your husband. On top of the migraine disease that must be very difficult, especially because of the lack of support from your family. Please take care and let us know how you’re doing! Thanks for reading <3

  • Amanda Workman moderator
    3 years ago


    I am so sorry to hear about you losing your husband. It’s never easy to be faced with a challenging situation without help and family who doesn’t understand simply makes matters worse. I’m all too familiar with that on my own. I had to teach my self to not be concerned with their “opinions”. My husband basically has to be forced to help, which is also frustrating in its own element.

    I totally agree. If I could afford one hired help it would be a maid/housekeeper hands down!!

    I think it’s hard for all of us to be productive chore wise when we are not in a lot of pain because we miss out on so much of life when we are miserable. I know you are definitely not alone. My friend has started taking a minamalism approach to her household as a sort of mental hygiene type of thing. She believes that having less stuff helps with your stress of seeing a ton of things laying around.
    Do you have help from any friends or church members yourself?

    Thank you for your comments!
    Amanda Workman (contributor & moderator)

  • Tamara
    3 years ago

    I completely understand the guilt, it is one of my hardest mental parts to overcome. I like to be clean (as I figured out when I bought my own house), but daily migraines (10 days that (hopefully) ended yesterday) make it impossible. I really have to focus myself and overdo it – I grew up that Saturday morning was cleaning time and nothing else gets done until whole house is clean – this DOES NOT work with chronic pain. Neither does the “just do 30 minutes before you go to bed”, most days it’s impossible. I focus on 10 minute spurts when I feel ok – timer set and MINIMUM 20 minutes break between – normally half show on Netflix. And sometimes by the end of the day (each break gets longer but I never increase the 10 minute cleaning time), I realize I have cleaned the kitchen and vacuumed even tho I was in pain and thought I couldn’t – points to me!

    My psychologist gave me a good visual. You have to fill the gas tank of your car before you can drive – right? Why would we try and be productive with “no gas in the tank?” For ourselves? You MUST complete self care first – food, hydration, activities you enjoy and THEN do some chores. So I learned mom was wrong and my body was correct as a kid. I NEEDED the time after school to watch a few cartoons or play before I could clean or do homework – even without chronic illnesses yet, I was trying to be nice to my body.

    Hope that helps. I’m struggling too, because my house is a disaster (up for sale too so hopefully I don’t get any showings today – needs about 3 hours of a normal person to clean) and I’m out cold from IV meds yesterday, 10 days of 8-9/10 pain and now the prednisone taper is killing me (wish I got your side effects …. I literally feel 10 times worse than I felt after my severe car accident) …. I can’t even walk across the room without sitting down or voliently shaking. Guess it’s another day bed grrrrrrr. No where near the only one.

    Ooo I also am lucky and my mom comes down every few weeks and helps finish up what has been left. Soon, my house will hopefully sell and we can buy one together …. then I at least have someone to wash dishes and vacuum.

  • Elizabeth Roberts-Zibbel moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi Tamara! I have been having a rough couple of months so I really appreciate Amanda replying to these wonderful comments for me. You know, it’s interesting, the last time I had Prednisone I did *not* experience the hyper-motivated side effect. Nor did it help me with the migraine! It’s hard when things vary so much.

    I’m sorry you also have been struggling lately and I hope your house showings are going well. Take care! xoxo elizabeth

  • Amanda Workman moderator
    3 years ago

    I absolutely love your shrinks analogy there. That’s definitely helpful for when people do not understand the spoon theory version, which I have learned that healthy people DO NOT get it in most cases.

    You definitely have to take those breaks because otherwise you will push yourself too far and too hard and end up worse than you were originally. This is hard for me because I am a type a person and seeing the house in a mess is hard for me to accept some days.

    You know I personally tried IV medications / infusions and had similar results afterwards. Even when they included the toradol in the infusion I felt worse afterwards than I did before the treatment. Since I also write articles, this might be a worthy topic. I know it happened to me every time. Is it common for you?

    I’m glad your mom is coming to help you especially since you Are trying to show your home. That can be stressful all on its own. I hope you’re doing okay managing that additional stressor.
    Remember we are always here for you. Thank you for taking the time to read this article and comment so openly! Sending you a lot of love and strength

    Amanda Workman (contributor & moderator)

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