Ripple Effect: The Impact of Chronic Migraines on the Entire Support Structure
Migraines not only cause comprehensive pain to the patient, but also a corresponding, deep and widespread ripple effect among all those surrounding that person. Recognizing this fact and encouraging all involved to seek a healthy balance might serve to avoid an unhealthy dynamic.
Parenting with migraine
Migraines have the power to completely sideline a person from life. Their responsibilities often shift to someone else. Many times, that person, perhaps a spouse or partner, is also the primary provider of support to the migraineur. Children watch and try to make sense of a parent in severe pain. Depending on their ages, witnessing this kind of struggle can cause confusion or hardship. A healthy balance, already hard to find or maintain for any family, is made all the more challenging for a family including someone living with chronic migraine.
From the experience of repeatedly getting hard-hit by pain, my family and I (like many of you and yours) have created a back-up system of logistical support that springs forth so that when I go down with a migraine, my absence causes the least disruption possible. My husband feels the brunt of it the most. He kicks into high gear, and in addition to his job and volunteer obligations, he covers errands and carpools. Everyone pulls together to do laundry and meals.
Extended family support
When our children were younger, and we were in a pinch, we had to call on our extended family to help cover my responsibilities. My parents and in-laws stepped in to provide childcare; siblings picked up prescriptions. Various family members, co-workers and friends provided transportation and waited with me in the emergency room for care.
Because I have been wrestling with migraines since childhood, my children have never known me without the condition. That truth doesn’t make the reality any less difficult for them to comprehend or understand. When they were younger, I hate to imagine how confusing it must have been to experience the whiplash that migraines created from one day to the next. One day, they would have a physically engaged mother – running around outside; lifting them up, the house shining brightly with lights, open curtains and activity. The next day, the house dimmed and quiet, mom was in the bedroom with the door shut. How could a toddler make sense of such a thing? I have been blessed with a phenomenal husband who jumped in when I was unable. And we are blessed to have a deep bench of family to turn to when he was unavailable. We are fully aware just how lucky we are, and I know that this is not the case for many.
Impact on friends and caregivers
It can by dizzying for the friends of people with migraines as well. The inconsistent nature of the migraineur’s life - wellness one moment, severe pain the next – means that plans get canceled on a dime, or can’t be made in advance. Someone you count on for support and fun can disappear completely for days on end. Things may feel one-sided. It is gut-wrenching to watch someone you care about as they experience severe pain while being completely helpless to stop it.
It is key that the spouses or key caregivers of people with migraines get support in their own right. And this is important because the person living with migraines is frequently unable to provide that type of support on a consistent basis. While unfair, this is a simple fact. In our situation, I do my best to encourage my husband at every turn to pursue his passions and interests and to go out and have time with his friends whenever he has the time or energy. If you are at all capable of finding ways to support your spouse/loved one to pursue his or her own needs and interests, try to do so. A counselor or therapist is worth considering if your partner might benefit from help in processing the difficult realities of this situation.
Explaining migraine to children
When it comes to children, it’s important to educate them (on an age-appropriate level) about what migraines are and that they are not to blame for the condition. For instance, a child could easily misconstrue that his/her noisy behavior is the cause of mom’s migraine, rather than comprehending that mom’s brain is a little different in a way that makes noises louder for her than for other people. Give children a safe space to feel and vent their frustrations about living around the repercussions of migraine. That might be with a counselor or another family member or a well-prepared family friend. If at all possible, try not to let them feel the burden of your condition. When you need to have the house quiet or dark, work with your support system to find a fun place for them to go to avoid having them negatively impacted by the migraine. That obviously is not always possible. The truth is, migraines take enough from us as it is. When we can, I’m encouraging us to try to lessen the impact on the lives of our loved ones as much as possible.
Being thankful for migraine support
Lastly, when you can, practice GRATITUDE. If you are blessed enough to have family and friends in your life who are trying to help, in whatever way – even if it doesn’t actually help - be grateful. At least they are trying. Many of us feel very alone and as though there aren’t many people who truly care. So, when you can, acknowledge those people in your life who are making an effort. Send them an email or text. When you feel good, help them out like they’ve helped you. It can help to let these folks know that they are making a difference to you.
Just acknowledging the fact that migraines have a far-reaching effect on the lives of the people surrounding you can help you look for opportunities to encourage them to find support and balance in their own lives. Migraines are no one’s fault. It is a situation you are all in together, and therefore, it is one that needs to be managed, together.
How much has your migraine disease changed or evolved over time?