Setting the Table for Compassion

One of our community members recently asked: “How do you express you’re in pain without sounding like you’re complaining?” A great question. Thinking carefully about who’s asking as well as taking into account their understanding of the disease before you answer can be a helpful first step. Increasing education and awareness about migraine among friends and family is also important. And finally, working to increase our own acceptance of our situation is essential. All of these steps contribute to the receipt of compassion rather than judgment when we talk about how migraine is impacting our lives.

Who is asking?

We may get a bit tongue-tied and fumble for an answer no matter who is asking, or our response may vary depending on who’s asking. Many of us feel conflicted about what to share and how to share it, leading to oversharing at times. Sometimes we might not say enough. Due to these challenges, it can be helpful to gain clarity about who is asking before responding.

  • Acquaintances
    People who don’t know us very well (certain coworkers, those we might encounter at a gathering, etc.) might be asking how we are in order to be courteous rather than out of a true desire to know. My grandmother told me that most people who ask us how we are don’t really care to hear the answer. They are asking to be polite. She trained me not to go into detail and rather to respond with a brief “I’m fine. How are you?”I have definitely learned over the years that most people enjoy talking about themselves. So, if there’s ever a time I don’t want to talk about myself or someone asks a question I’d rather not answer, I find the best way to avoid a response is to turn the conversation around into an open-ended question about the other person. Then I can sit back, relax and listen. You might also come up with a quick memorized pat answer about what you’re up to that feels easy to say in these kinds of situations. “Oh, I’ve felt better, but I’m managing alright. How are you?”
  • Friends and family
    When people we know well ask how we are, they are likely interested in hearing the answer. And of course, they are aware that we have migraine. In these situations, it can be challenging to find a way to talk about being in pain without feeling like we’re whining or being worried others are perceiving our response as if we are complaining.

Finding our footing

It is easy to feel insecure that a detailed, honest answer may be perceived as whining or weak. This is not always the case. There’s no way to get into the head or heart of the person you are speaking with to know what they are thinking or feeling. It can help to accept yourself as you are, without judgment. When we reflect on how we view ourselves, we may find that we harbor internal judgment for being “weak” or “lazy.” We may have internalized some of the harsh views from society or from people in our lives.

It is so important to practice acceptance and gratitude when it comes to migraine. Doing so is a journey that never ends. When we believe that we are doing the best we can in life, understand that migraine is not our fault, and continue to learn from our condition, we may feel more confident in talking about it to others.

Switching shoes

Another way to increase self-acceptance is to put ourselves in the shoes of the other person. Pretend you are the person asking how someone is doing and they respond by describing severe pain. Is there any part of you that feels judgment toward that person? Not likely. Indeed, you would likely respond with concern and compassion if someone told you he/she was struggling with pain. This is likely the same response you are likely receiving from others.

When judgment is real

Many of us have encountered a situation when we have been perceived as being a whiner when we talk about having migraine. It’s just something we can feel – like an odor coming off the other person. It’s judgment, plain and simple. But here’s the deal: that judgment is based on ignorance. Unfortunately, few people really understand the statistics or real dynamics related to migraine. The best way to combat judgment surrounding migraine is to kill them with facts. Not everyone wants to take on the role of being an educator about the disease all the time, but increasing awareness about the condition will do worlds in decreasing judgment and misinformation.

I see it as setting the table in order to receive compassion. It takes time, but it will only benefit you in the end. There are many ways of doing this. You can forward key articles that resonate with you from sources like to friends and family (this is one of the main strategies I used). Or you can memorize some key facts about the disease and instead of only talking about your own pain, you can pepper in some statistics about migraine in order to help them see that you are but one of 38+ million people battling this condition every day.

Preparing for the loaded question

Preparing yourself for the dreaded “How are you?” question is important. It’s a loaded one for those of us who are living with migraine because there is so much that is not “fine” with how we are. It can feel like opening a Pandora’s box every time someone asks. Taking some time to ready yourself, while working on your own sense of acceptance and increasing awareness among those around you, might help ease your answer.

How do you answer the question “How are you?” How do you handle related judgment and/or lack of compassion?  Please share in the comment section below so we can learn from one another!

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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.

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