Why Do I Pretend to be Well?
I caught myself tuning out of a pleasant conversation with a coworker recently, wherein we were discussing our evening plans and checking in generally with one another to see how each was doing since we last spoke. I was struggling to engage in an earnest way, because I was instead hyper-focused on the pain creeping up gradually through my teeth and eyes, and when I vaguely heard my co-worker comment on how bright and beautiful the sun was that morning, I thought to myself how incredibly painful it was to be standing directly in its gaze, staring at a computer screen trying to read an email that I could barely decipher because of the glare from the sun, and the fact that I could barely focus on the content of what I could read because of the building pain in the right side of my face. I think I must have muttered some detached response to my co-worker about my evening and fumbled around a few seconds in my own head before they continued on to some other task that necessitated we disengage, and so I was free to focus on the pain in my head.
A casual morning escalation
Then..someone nearby in the shop opened a candle jar, or put on some poignant hand lotion, or sprayed something, I couldn't tell what but I knew a very sharp smell had been introduced. The scent hit my nose like a blade or a hammer, my eyes darted around to find the perpetrator and I got surprisingly upset that on top of the piercing sun there was now a smell, too. Give me a break.
Suddenly I was focused on my sensitivity to everything: the scent, and the sun, and the really, annoyingly loud jackhammer-ing going on directly across the street from my job, and the fact that I was getting nauseous from a migraine. I found myself in a spiral of feeling upset about all of these ‘normal’ stimuli that were conspiring together against me, as well as in a lot of pain. I also found myself full of anxiety about how I was engaging with my co-worker and how I seemed. I was literally consumed by a migraine in a matter of minutes, and though the pain had not increased much, my focus on it had increased exponentially.
Giving myself an out
I started to think about ways to alleviate some of this pain and anxiety: I could step outside for fresh air, or go to the bathroom for a second. Pretty solid, responsible steps I knew I could take for self-care. And yet the thought of doing those things gave me anxiety: I thought if I told my coworker I was going outside for just a second to get away from the smell, they would think I was just taking a lazy personal moment, and I didn’t go to the bathroom because I thought my co-worker would think I was just wasting time in the bathroom. Unreasonable, I know.
Instead of taking a moment like I should have, I re-initiated conversation with my co-worker and said:
“The sun is really nice and bright today”..and then I looked into it and made a gesture like I was taking in its warmth to…? I guess to prove that I was on the same page and in agreement with the popular opinion of the sun’s benefit, not detriment, to our shared morning.
Hiding the pain
I have a lot of days like this. I am often guilty of downplaying my migraine symptoms so as to not seem abrasive or needy, and I am constantly feeling like I have to justify why I am acting the way I am, or holding my head, and asking to leave the room or step outside. I know that is it silly of me to irrationally project onto my peers and co-workers attitudes of judgment about why I am taking time to get better, and sometimes treat myself as if I and my pain are not worthy of attention. I am constantly worried about how I am being perceived and trying to justify what I am doing because I constantly feel like my pain isn’t valid and does not warrant a moment or a break.
The thing about this is: It just simply is not true. And I know it. Taking a moment to step outside for a fresh breath of air is not disgraceful, and pain is not something to downplay, but in situations right there in the moment, I still often find myself trying to make up excuses for my migraine symptoms, attributing them to things that would seem more legitimate or understandable, feeding into the myth that migraines aren’t that serious.
So why pretend?
I have been thinking about why I am inclined to write-off my own experiences as invalid and have narrowed down a few possible reasonings, that I am going to try to be more aware of in the moment, to help me to combat some of my own tendencies that adversely affect me. Here are a few of the things I think contribute to some of my struggles with validation, and the affirmations I want to adopt to get past them:
- I sometimes think people will think of me as a slacker making up excuses: But, I work hard and deserve to take care of myself!
- I tend to put pressure on myself to ‘power through’ pain to prove that I am capable: But, being capable of powering through pain can cause more harm than good, and it is okay to not ‘power through’ every time!
- I feel like I am inconveniencing others or letting people down by having migraines: But, I can not control them in their entirety and people tend to be more understanding than I give them credit for!
These are just a very few things I have thought about with my character and personality that I think being more attentive to will help change some of my own behaviors towards myself when it comes to dealing with pain.
Do you have any similar feelings about coping with your pain? Do you feel pressure to pretend to be well? Let me know in the comments!
Can you tell when a migraine attack is coming?