A couple chat at a table over cups of tea and throbbing headaches

Role Reversal: My Husband's Extended Migraine Attack

Last updated: October 2021

My husband is on day six of a migraine attack. He has episodic migraine that’s usually infrequent, though it increases in frequency during times of high stress. It’s never been this bad before. This role reversal — I’ve had chronic migraine our entire marriage — is giving me a glimpse of what it’s like to be a partner to the person with frequent attacks, rather than the one who is sick. While I’d much rather be in the caregiver role than the migraine role, this switch has given me an interesting perspective shift.

Asking how he feels

My migraine attacks were essentially constant for years and I got tired of people asking me how I felt or saying they hoped I was doing better. Yet I find myself saying both of these things to my husband. I so desperately want to help and want him to feel better, but there’s so little I can do. And I want to know how he’s doing, but I also don’t want to wear him down by asking too often. I feel like the way I can most help him is by keeping my inquiries to a minimum, though that increases my own stress.

Looking for migraine triggers

When other people try to identify what triggered a specific migraine attack for me, it can feel like judgment or blame — like they’re trying to pinpoint what I did wrong. Despite how it has come across when other people do it to me, I started combing through the possibilities of triggers, in case there was something I could identify that might make him feel better. I broached the subject carefully and my husband was receptive, but I still couldn’t help feeling like I was being more annoying than helpful.

Being a sounding board

He called me after doing a video visit with a physician assistant from his doctor’s office. He wanted to know what I thought of her recommendations since it included a medication I’m not a fan of (because it’s a big culprit in rebound headaches). Once I told him I thought it was OK as a one-time thing, he then asked me what I thought of the recommended dose. And then mused about whether it was OK to take with naproxen, which he’d already taken. I know a lot about migraine medication, but I have no medical training. I know what I’d take for myself, but I felt like he was asking for advice that I’m not qualified to give.

But he wasn’t actually asking for advice. He was talking through the decisions and thinking out loud and knew I had opinions and experience that could help him decide. I put him in this position all the time and had no idea what it was like to be on the receiving end. This was a major eye-opener for me and I’ll try to avoid making others feel like I’m asking for medical advice in the future.

Feeling helpless

Through all of this, what I mostly feel is helpless. My person is in pain and is incredibly stressed out — not only by the original stressor that likely triggered the attack but by the migraine attacks that are preventing him from doing what he needs to help reduce his stress. I’ve done what I can and it doesn’t feel like enough. I want him to feel better and I can’t make that happen. Now I know how he’s felt on the sidelines of my migraine attacks all these years.

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