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, 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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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!
  3. 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!

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67 comments on “Why Do I Pretend To Be Well?

  1. Joleen1966 says:

    I also pretend to be well. I have the “happy” face for people I don’t know. The people who know me and love me can tell even through my “happy” face if I’m suffering with the pain. It’s too hard to explain about chronic migraines to everyone. I don’t like the pity either. i really hate the look of — it’s ONLY a headache. If only we could switch with those people so they could feel the wrath of our migraines. Those people probably couldn’t handle one of our lesser migraines. Thank you for the article. 🙂

  2. martak5 says:

    So true, I’m hiding migraine-related symptoms almost daily (including vertigo). This prolonged “hiding” and covering up leads to shame and guilt, in my opinion. It is also exhausting. I agree that self-compassion and self care are key but not always easy to do. I have had migraines for over 20 years and I still very much struggle with coping with the pain, the symptoms, and then how to deal with them in the world.

  3. Kyky Knight moderator author says:


    I am so sorry to hear that migraine has so severely impacted your daily routine. I can empathize with the exhaustion that comes with not only experiencing the pain from symptoms but also just trying to keep from bringing too much attention ones way. You are so right, self care is not so east sometimes! I am sending encouragement you way and do hope you have a wonderful week. Take care.

  4. JAR says:

    This is SOOOO me! Thanks for writing this article.

  5. Kyky Knight moderator author says:


    Thank you for reading and for your engagement. Take care.

  6. nem360 says:

    You are truly my spirit animal. This is me i will sit and hold my head squeezing for any sign of relief rather than tell anyone or take a second to walk outside. I will drag myself vomiting and looking like a hot mess out to places just to participate so no one will think ill of me. Just yesterday I was called out on not being able to write a word i was clearly staring at, even though I could say the word and knew what it was I just could not write it. I actually felt ashamed and just said oh must be the new glasses to avoid explaining my laundry list of crap that is wrong with me. I have never been one to self pity party (even though i know damn well it’s not pity) but as soon as someone says they are not feeling well I am understanding and doting. I do not get it and I need to get out of my own head sometimes, blame it on stubborn Greek or just my thick head but maybe one day I will admit to myself taking a hand for help isn’t a bad thing.

  7. Kyky Knight moderator author says:


    Thank you for your comment! I can relate so well to your descriptions of what it is like to not want to bring attention to your pain and I am sure many others in the community will agree. Sometimes one of the greatest barriers can be being kind and compassionate to ourselves! Sending encouragement your way. Take care.

  8. mermadelove says:

    This article put into words exactly how I feel with every migraine. I call it the “ altered mental status” of migraine. While I am in one all of this makes perfect sense to believe. I even tell myself that I’m faking it for attention ! Even though I try not to talk about it when it’s happening! The second the migraine shifts, so does my anxiety and self judgement. On the advice of a coworker who happens to be a nurse, I applied for intermittent FMLA. Now when I can’t power through a migraine, I just let my boss know I’m leaving early or not coming in FMLA and they cannot ask me why because protected health info is none of their business. At my previous nursing jobs I started going to work no matter how bad it was so they could experience first hand how unsafe it would be for the patients for me to keep working and send me home! It was either that or get in trouble for missing too much work— even though I always made up my time! So those of you with work issues, get FMLA paperwork filled out by your specialists or PCP if you don’t go to a specialist. It may save your job!

  9. Kyky Knight moderator author says:


    Thank you for your comment and for your advice! I am glad to hear that you were able to get the support via FMLA that you needed. It can certainly be so confusing at times when in the ‘altered mental status’ of migraine as you’ve called it, teetering between wanting to self advocate and yet feeling too guilty and doing the reverse: downplaying it. So frustrating at times. To answer to your previous comment: I just began using dimmable bulbs that can be controlled via either a phone app or a via voice control. Take care!

  10. KHC says:

    Smells – I would like to share a little strategy I use to help with smells. I put Vicks in my nostrils. The combination of the petroleum jelly and the smell itself blocks many of the smells that I find painful. If the smell of Vicks bothers you just petroleum jelly may help. I keep it in my purse at all times. At home, I stick tissue up my nose as well. I look silly but it helps.

    Lights – Blue light filters helped immensely with flourescent lights and everyone liked it, not just those with light sensitivity.

  11. Kyky Knight moderator author says:


    Thank you so much for the tips!

    I am glad to hear that vapor rub helps you to block out triggering smells, I wouldn’t have thought of this. I switched to smart bulb technology recently so that I am able to dim the lights and add color filters just by speaking! It sure does help me, glad to hear you’ve found a lighting ‘trick’ that helps you too. Thank you for engaging, and take care!

  12. mermadelove says:

    Smart lightbulbs you can talk to??? Where do I sign up???

  13. Madison10 says:

    KHC-Thanks so much for the tip.

  14. Sie says:

    At this point, I dont go in to work if I am having a migraine episode. My job requires constant physical interaction with customers which means I am talking the entire time while at work. Between natural body odors or smelling someones lunch/dinner as they are talking, I cannot escape the triggers. I already wear sunglasses at work because of the new LED lights triggering nausea and dizzy spells. My job is not one I can excuse myself and get away from any trigger. I cannot fake anything. My senses will not allow me.

  15. heatherbarr says:

    So sorry they felt the need to express “concern”. It feels terrible to have to go underground with your pain. I hope things get better for you.

  16. Kyky Knight moderator author says:


    I am saddened to hear that you are not able to take reprieve from your job, I can empathize with your situation and I know how difficult it is to not be able to take a moment (and longer) when you need it. I am sending encouragement your way today. Thank you for engaging, and take care.

  17. jt24p6 says:

    I pretend to be well on the job because I’m worried about coworkers talking about it. I had an annual evaluation meeting a few years ago with my supervisor, whom I only see a few times a year. When we discussed my sick days, he told me a coworker had “expressed concern” about my frequent migraines. Now, if I have a migraine on the job and someone asks me how I am, I say, “fine.” If someone comments I look unwell, I lie and tell them, “I didn’t sleep well last night. I’m okay.” I hate having to do that, but I don’t want to encourage my coworkers to “help” me by talking about me to my supervisor.

  18. Kyky Knight moderator author says:


    I totally understand where you are coming from. That can certainly do more harm than good, and it can be hard to tell if our best interests are really at the heart of these expressions of ‘concern.’ I am sorry you had to experience that, it is definitely enough to make one want to cover up their pain. I am sending encouragement your way and hope that your workplace does not cause too much strain on top of already living with migraine. Thank you for engaging, and take care.

  19. Cappucinno says:

    Such a perfectly descriptive story about your pain and all that entails (as well as our pain and everything else you described) For me, I have not had to work since 2000, first going out on permanent disability due to my severe scoliosis and vomiting migraines and now I am at retirement age.I want to cry every time I hear someone tell about their migraine pain BUT need to work. My heart really breaks for you all. I feel so lucky now that I can just take my meds. and go to bed or do whatever I want. On the other hand I still feel the awful guilt when I can’t go where I am invited or have to break plans at the last minute because of migraine pain. I think that people must be saying “how can someone be in pain all the time”, which I am sure is not true. I hope something can change for you and for everyone else who is in the same tough spot as you. Wishing you the best life possible.

  20. Kyky Knight moderator author says:


    I so appreciate your kind words and compassion towards those of us having to work ‘through’ migraines. I am glad to hear that you no longer have to deal with going into a workplace and having to hide symptoms and from triggers, I am sure you had more than your share (one migraine is one too many) and I can only imagine the relief! I also understand the guilt, we want to do so much and be there for loved ones and friends and sometimes we simply cannot. Thank you for your wishes again, and take care.

  21. John1381 says:

    Such a well written and thoughtful article; it encapsulates how I have felt at work for the last 16 years. Recently taken ill health retirement due to chronic migraine, but still feel anxious that I couldn’t perform as well as I would have liked when at work.


  22. Kyky Knight moderator author says:


    Thank you for engaging. I am terribly sorry to hear that you, like many of us, have had to push through migraines while at work for so long. I often feel really guilty when I do get some relief because it makes me feel like I was not ‘good enough’ to perform the job– I can empathize with the feeling of anxiety over performance, but I try to remind myself that I am not my migraines. Sending encouragement your way. Take care.

  23. Madison10 says:

    My family and close friends know in part because I have to cancel on them half the time. The rest, I just really don’t want everyone knowing -maybe it’s pride, not sure. But my excuse has become because of “allergies”…the reason I can’t tolerate the candle, someone’s perfume, cleaning chemicals, etc.
    After 15 years I feel like I’m a master liar, I lie all the time to protect myself from questions and offers to help from a person who knows a person, and the look of pity.
    I had to go out on early retirement 2 years ago so my financial goals are not being met as this wasn’t part of the plan. Fortunately I am married and have a very supportive husband or else I wouldn’t make it.
    But it is very frustrating that most things that others eat/drink/smell/enjoy on a daily basis manifest into a migraine for me. And I have one now which is why it took me 10 minutes to log in (foggy brain) and my comment is not very encouraging (sorry).
    The silver lining for me right now is I got to have one girl scout cookie, normally taboo for me, but I’m not going down without a fight, already have a migraine, might as well enjoy that simple pleasure.

  24. Kyky Knight moderator author says:


    I can relate to the feeling of constantly providing untruths and excuses to cover it all up. I too suffer from allergies. I feel as though they directly affect my migraines and vice versa, so I have certainly used allergies as a way to provide what seems like a more ‘legitimate’ reasoning at times. It can be exhausting, but I understand the tendency to not bother with explaining migraines, our particular symptoms, and trying to ‘prove’ it so to speak over and over. And yes, watching others enjoy otherwise unobtrusive stimuli that would trigger migraine is so frustrating. I am terribly sorry to hear of the severity to which migraine has affected your life and am wishing you well and sending encouragement. Thank you so much for you comment, and take care.

  25. Dove1919 says:

    I so know how this feels. I’ve recently had to stop working because of chronic pain from migraine and neck problems that I’ve had for years, and then this past summer I shockingly was diagnosed with heart failure, with no apparent cause. I’m too young for Medicare, thankfully I have State retirement for medical insurance, with a small pension. Not enough to live on. I’ve applied for disability, but I’m having to sell my home of 25 years because I don’t have enough money to keep it. With disability application taking forever, not knowing how much it might be, even if I’m eventually approved it probably won’t be in time to save my home. It’s only by faith in the Lord that I’m living day to day under this concerning circumstances.

  26. Madison10 says:

    Dove, I’m so sorry about your recent diagnosis and your house situation. I’ll say a prayer for you.

  27. Kyky Knight moderator author says:


    I am terribly sorry to hear of your diagnosis, of having to sell your home, and of the difficulty you are having accessing care and disability. My heart breaks for your circumstances and I only wish the best for you. I am sending so much encouragement and hoping you are able to keep your home. Take care.

  28. KSMc1984 says:

    Yes! Thank you! I act in the exact same way, I would like to be seen as tough, hard working and low maintenance. At the same time I have migraines and sometimes I need to go home and be sick and ask for help when I’m barfing and hurting!

  29. MarciaCooper says:

    As you get older (which I believe I am then the person writing this review) you tend to speak up more and tell people exactly what is going on with yourself.
    I no longer hesitate to tell anyone I am with that I have a migraine and am not feeling well enough to stay or continue on with whatever is going on.
    It is not worth it to pretend you are feeling well when you obviously are not!!

  30. Kyky Knight moderator author says:


    Thank you for sharing your perspective, I am so glad to hear that you are in a place where you no longer hide your pain. That is great news! Take care.

  31. rplymire says:

    Excellent article. Thank you for putting words to what I also feel, but can’t quite articulate. I pretend and power through so much it’s very tiring. I stll try and remain optimistic. It’s so helpful to know that it’s not just me.

  32. Kyky Knight moderator author says:


    Thank you so much for your comment. You are not alone! We all need that reminder sometimes. I am sending encouragement your way. Take care.

  33. BirdMom says:

    I can surely relate! Chemicals and bright sunlight are two of my triggers! I am fortunate in that I have a job that has respected this fact, and will make the changes needed to accommodate for my chemical sensitivity. This has also given me an opportunity to share information about migraines with many others who were not aware of the impact migraines can have on everyday function. I encourage any who can to speak out if at all possible. Having the financial flexibility to change jobs, I was willing to do so if I needed to at my current situation, so I spoke up. Fortunately, my supervisor changed the situation so that I could remain on the job unexposed to odors and perfumes (at least at the workplace!)

  34. Kyky Knight moderator author says:


    I so appreciate your comment. I am so glad to hear that your job was willing to accommodate you and be flexible, so that you could continue working without having to be exposed to some of your triggers. That is such a wonderful response to hear and I am happy for you! Speaking up can be difficult and sometimes even impossible, so when those who can do so, it can make a world of difference.

  35. Kyky, thanks for your article. You adeptly capture in it my experience with chronic headaches. The saying may be true, it takes one to know one. I hope you will share more, especially if you find the door out of this place. Best to you.

  36. Kyky Knight moderator author says:


    Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging words. Sending the same sentiments to you! Take care.

  37. I once had what I call my “10 Year Headache”. Tried EVERYTHING, had many images done medically to see if I had a tumor or something….. but NOTHING, NOTHING worked!!! It felt like a constant 24/7 painful fog in my head, making thinking and just living daily life extremely difficult!

    As a Biblically-Defined Born-Again follower of Jesus, I finally did what the Bible recommends to do:
    I requested that that my Pastor and the Elders of my Church anoint my head with oil be pray over me, which they did.

    The long migraine ended completely in 2 days! The fog in my thinking was GONE!!!

    I believe with my whole heart that this particular migraine was used by the enemy (the Prince of Darkness and all evil) to make it difficult for me to pray. PRAISE GOD IT IS GONE!!! ✝️

    Now, I take Voltaren twice daily and it mainly keeps it at bay. When I do get a migraine now, just staying in bed under the covers with my special “anti-migraine” venetian blinds closed so that the room is dark sure help! Normally, it is gone in 2 to 3 days ~~

    May the Lord have mercy upon each of you be healing you of this horrendous condition ~~~~

  38. Kyky Knight moderator author says:


    Thank you for sharing your experience. I am so sorry you dealt with such a severe and long lasting migraine, but very glad to hear you are feeling well and that your pain has gone. While important to remember that different things work for different individuals, it is always encouraging to hear that a fellow migraine sufferer has found relief. Thank you for your well wishes to the community, and take care!

  39. absentminded says:

    I saw this article in my gmail and despite the article being old, I wanted to comment. I’m only 28 but suffer from chronic migraines. Tried Topamax, Trokendi, Depakote, antidepressants, and am currently on Inderal 40mg, 2x daily. It helps keep most of my migraines away but I still miss work probably once every 2 weeks.

    I had to call out of work today because I’ve had a migraine the last 2 days, triggered because of stress at work and had to stay home. The pain isn’t excruciating but my vision, focus, and vertigo are awful. I can’t eat because the nausea is horrific and I cannot relax because of the overwhelmingingly powerful shame I feel. I’ve taken my Inderal, Zanaflex, and even Excedrin. Nothing has helped and Imitrex injections are $250/ea and I have no insurance or left over money from my monthly budget.

    I feel so shameful for not being able to work. I was fired from my well paying, long term job back in July because of my chronic migraines and poor health. I’m beyond terrified of losing my current job but if my migraine doesn’t respond to treatment, I can’t reasonably or logically blame myself, however I do feel so guilty because I know I let my employer down today.

    I just hate feeling this way. Nobody should ever have to suffer with chronic pain that chronic migraines generate and the feelings that come along with it.

  40. jpearl42 says:

    I literally felt compelled to reply to this because I empathize with your experience on so many levels. For me, in addition to having debilitating chronic migraines I also have lupus (which in itself has its own host of symptoms), so for me it became impossible to work a traditional job anymore. Between both conditions, I was out of work at least once weekly. Admittedly however, the migraines were worse and caused the majority of my days off. I exhausted my FMLA, people thought I was a slacker and that I was just calling off (keep in mind I wasn’t being paid for these days off). It was stressful, arduous and just became unbearable. I ended up resigning from my previous job over 2 years ago and applied for Social Securtty Disability. It has been a long process but I finally have my court hearing in April…fingers crossed! I hate being sick, not being able to enjoy the simplest of things like the sun, the beauty of the snow, or any type of light show but all of these things are extreme triggers for me. I am hyper sensitive to them. Not so much smell, but lights, sounds and motion get me every time. I become dizzy, nauseous, light-headed…all the classic symptoms. I am so tired of not being able to live life to the fullest. But what I can say is I do NOT pretend or act like I am fine. When I don’t feel good, I say so and work towards making my way home to my dark, quiet room:)

    I’m praying for us both…for all of us on this forum actually, and all migraine sufferers throughout the world who feel alone…you are not alone:)

  41. KSMc1984 says:

    I am so sorry that you are suffering so much. I am a chronic migraine sufferer for about 19 years. They suck the life out of you.
    Is it at all possible for you to get some help from your doctor with notes or excuses to help you build a case at work that you have a chronic condition? Can you file for FMLA? I hope your job works with you.

  42. Kyky Knight moderator author says:


    I related so much to your comment, and I know how tough it can be to maintain positive relationships with an employer and a positive outlook on oneself when migraine takes away our inability to meet some standards and goals. I am sorry that you too have had to miss work so frequently because of migraine. While I empathize and understand that feeling of shame, I want to encourage you to know that you are not alone and that those feelings do not define us. It can be so tough to feel worthy and productive when living with chronic pain, but I like to remind myself that I am not my migraine. I am saddened to hear that you lost a job you cared for and am hoping that experience does not come again. Sending encouragement to you. Take care.

  43. Holly Baddour moderator says:

    kyky! thank you for a tremendous and relatable piece of writing. great job.

  44. Kyky Knight moderator author says:

    Thank you, Holly!

  45. C.Zelaya says:

    I spent so many years doing exactly this. When I finally stopped and let myself take time for me, the attacks had built up to a point I didn’t have a choice BUT to take that time – to let others see my pain.
    I ended up medically retiring from a job – a career – that I absolutely loved. I’m fortunate that I have benefits that enable me to actually retire from my job and not just SSDI. But as with anything government, I’m still waiting. So even though the stress of my career has been removed, now the stress of just covering my living expenses has replaced it. Eventually, I know that will be removed as well, but I just keep wondering ‘what’s the next stressor I’ll have to handle’…

  46. Kyky Knight moderator author says:

    C. Zelaya,

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I am glad to hear you were able to retire with benefits from your position, but am sorry that you needed to leave a career you loved. I am sure that has been very tough, and I am sending encouragement your way! Leaving meaningful work is one of my biggest fears, and I know that although I am not the migraines, I worry that I will find a place I love doing work I love only to not live up to the expectations set for me. I really appreciate your perspective. I also relate to the feeling of waiting on the next stressor. It can be exhausting. Take care.

  47. Because we’re women, mom’s, wives, bosses, employees, it doesn’t matter. We’re used to being strong, taking care of everyone. We are stubborn and even we don’t want to surrender to the migraine. It’s unseen and so can go unrecognized. So we can pretend it’s not there as well, and we do, to avoid talking about it or conceding that we are victimized by it. I imagine it’s similar with most autoimmune diseases that don’t manifest externally. My grandmother called them “sick headaches”. We are sick, but we power through – like with cramps, pregnancy, babies, lack of sleep. It’s what we do, have done since puberty.

  48. jpearl42 says:

    This is so true..I also have lupus (which is also known as “the cruel mystery” by many rheumatologist) and as you stated, by it being an autoimmune disease that one can’t see (except in some cases where one may get the red butterfly rash on the face, or other similar skin marks…I get these periodically) people often assume nothing is wrong with you. It’s as if a person has to be emaciated and sick looking in order to be believed.

  49. Kyky Knight moderator author says:

    pam bitterman,

    Oh do I hear ya! I have always been the caretaker, too, powering through the pain and discomfort. Unlearning that has been very difficult and in some areas, seemingly impossible. Thank you for sharing your perspective, I know many will relate!

  50. rossbow13 says:

    Thanks so much for your views. I sit here as a 70 year old woman who has been plagued from severe and relentless weekly migraine attacks since I was 18. My 43 year old daughter has been next in line although, on discussing it with her, she stoically tells me, “They are not as bad as yours!” We both take the same attitude as you, trying to ignore and downplay the many symptoms of this incapacitating illness. Strangely I find myself wondering if such an attitude is the result of wanting to appear “normal” and “up to the mark” or more a basic personality trait which actually drives us on and exacerbates migraine. As perfectionists, self-driven, motivated in everything we do, we refuse to acknowledge what we ourselves perceive as our “weakness”. And, yes, it is partly to do with the fact that others tend to judge us as somehow being weaker or inferior than themselves … for how can anyone understand that a “headache” is simply not the same as a migraine attack and maybe something to do with the fact that we try to convince ourselves that another attack is not going to happen, driving us to prostration and misery, waiting for the vomiting to take us into a “recovery mode”. With that in mind it seems reasonable to self-deny what is happening to us. With the hindsight of old age and the opportunity to simply lie down, take the necessary medication and wait patiently for recovery, I still find myself fighting the thoughts of “giving in”. I still refuse to cancel any engagements whether they be fulfilling or stressful, I still hear a little voice inside of my head telling me not to “give in”. Are we our own worst enemies? Does such mind chatter actually drive us into attacks and make them even more uncomfortable because we are not kind to ourselves? Perhaps, along with the genetic predisposition to migraine we have personality traits which ensure our slavery to such a disorder … not that it makes any difference, of course, we suffer regardless of the answer. I had hoped, with the massage of 50 years, the attitude of “It’s all in your head” would have been changed to a greater knowledge and acceptance of the biochemical genetically charged changes which occur and, with the hope of the new generation of medication on the threshold we, as suffers, would accept our distress as merely “an illness” which will, eventually, be cured rather than contained … although even containment is often not successful enough to give us a chance to enjoy the world we live in … sunlight and all! To all out there who are reading this … it is our strength of personality and belief in ourselves which shines through … and however difficult it may be we should remember that rather than the unhelpful and dismissive comments often voiced by those around us.

  51. butterflies says:

    Such wise insights! As many here have confessed, we want to be strong and power through migraine in spite of our own overwhelming evidence that that course of action NEVER alleviates the pain! I agree with a previous response, most women believe we are expected to keep going despite feeling ill or pain stricken. However, the best course of action for everyone around me when migraines strike is for me to take my meds, grab my heating pad and go to bed ASAP!!!

  52. Kyky Knight moderator author says:


    Thank you so much for sharing your insights and perspective! I can relate to your relationship with your daughter, as my mother and I also perhaps unfortunately share a stoic `push through` attitude when it comes to pain, tolerance, and productivity. I definitely agree that these attitudes can sometimes work against us, but I still find myself desiring to `prove` myself, or fight `giving in` as well. Thank you for the awesome reminders that we are strong despite the dismissal we sometimes are met with!

  53. katjmarie says:

    I am fortunate to work from home, allowing me immense flexibility and the blessing of not having to deal with this situation most of the time. However, I still find myself withholding information in my communications at work because I don’t want my boss to think of me as someone who is sick all the time. You’d like to think it wouldn’t, but some people would hear their employee is “unwell” and, therefore, less than. He is very understanding, but only when I share, which isn’t often out of fear.

    It also goes beyond the 9–5, too. I can’t help but find myself fighting silently because, at the end of the day, if I complained about my symptoms or made them known as often as I feel them, I’d barely have time to come up for air. There’s this innate understanding that the people in your life will be there to listen, but only until they have had enough of hearing about it, despite what they might say. I don’t want to be seen as whiny, dramatic, or attention-seeking, so I keep it to myself most of the time and do think it’s a shame.

    Finally, I think there’s a form of self-preservation in “pretending to be well.” I think if I sat there dwelling on how awful I feel all the time, it would only bring me down further. So, I think there’s a psychological game being played at the same time.

  54. Kyky Knight moderator author says:


    Thank you your your input, your characterizations of why we might pretend seem spot on to me! I am glad to hear you are able to work from home, providing the flexibility that allows you to work without having to deal with over-explaining your illness. I totally understand even still the desire to withhold information in a situation like yours. I so relate to not wanting to seem dramatic or ask for too much, and tend to do the same but I know if can have a negative consequence both for me and those around me. Very well said points!

  55. bboyias says:

    My entire childhood was dominated by my mother’s debilitating migraines. When I hit puberty, migraines hit me like a ton of bricks. By the time I left for college I knew all my triggers. People treated me differently when I missed classes, or had to go to the hospital to stop the pain and nausea. I learned to pretend that I was fine. My roommate was an equestrian major, so she brought horse smells, barn smells, and all the leather cleaners daily to our room. It was a nightmare.
    When I started my career as a nanny, I knew nobody would hire someone with chronic migraines. Perfumes, detergents, soaps…every new job was a new performance. I finally started telling people about my allergies..not the migraines. It took a lot of give and take, but working in somebody’s house and expecting them to stop using fragrances and closing the curtains when the sun is piercing my brain…it’s a work in progress 27yrs later.

    At least I married a man who was willing to change every single product he previously used. And only buys things he knows I can tolerate. He will sometimes see me squinting and tell me to take my migraine meds…he learned my signs and can warn me before I even register one is coming. I’m truly blessed

  56. C.Zelaya says:

    Before my migraines became disabling, and before strong smells became an issue, I had a supervisor who had forbade any perfumes, air fresheners, etc with noticeable fragrances. She used to say ‘I become physically ill when I’m exposed to these.’ But I – as did the rest of my colleagues – thought she was being a bit dramatic. Until it hit me – and I began to experience debilitating migraines from what before had been a normal part of my hygiene routine.

    She retired a few months before I came to relate to her predicament. I wish I’d had the chance to apologize for what she went through. And to tell her that I understand now.

  57. Kyky Knight moderator author says:


    So glad to hear that your partner is supportive and accommodating, that can be a huge help in navigating chronic pain. Having someone who knows us well enough to step in is awesome and can really make a huge difference in our day to day lives! I am sorry to hear that migraine has so severely impacted you and your work over the years but I am glad to know that you have been able to navigate it for so long. I couldn’t even imagine navigating that kind of roommate situation and the scents that accompanied it! Thank you for sharing your experience, and take care.

  58. Boy, do I ever relate!! Smells area major trigger for me, but I usually don’t say anything due to the very hostile responses I have gotten in the past. So, I try to fake it as long as I can.

  59. Kyky Knight moderator author says:

    Elizabeth Key,

    Thank you for sharing! I am sorry that you have received hostile responses in the past,that is never a good feeling. Take care.

  60. aurohra says:

    I usually fake it because usually when people mean well and try to accommodate you it’s usually not enough. You get comments like, “if you’re having a really bad headache then maybe you could just sit here and make some phone calls for me”. Sometimes I throw up in the trash bin next to my desk and no one bats an eye

  61. Kyky Knight moderator author says:


    I am so sorry to hear that, you’re right in that it usually doesn’t feel like it is enough for me either. Others can misunderstand what we mean when describing our pain and add their own characterizations to it which leads to ‘solutions’ being offered that don’t really help. I am sending encouragement your way, and I thank you for your engagement.

  62. Marie says:

    I pretend because I must. I was fired because a supervisor, appearing to be empathetic, allowed some changes in job duties to accommodate my migraine attacks. This was then used against me as “not being able to perform to expectations,” and I was let go.

    I am currently working part time and though I make little enough for medical assistance and food stamps, I make too much to apply for part time SSI disability. Yet, I cannot pay my bills.

    That is why I fake it.

  63. Kyky Knight moderator author says:


    Thank you so much for your comment. I am terribly saddened to hear of your experience with your employer. I know the feeling of just barely making it due to limitations on ability to consistently work due to migraine and other chronic illnesses, and yet not qualifying for an adequate amount of assistance to sustain oneself. Please know that you are not alone in this, and that I empathize with your situation. I thought you might be interested in this article from the site which goes through some information on workplace accommodation that may provide some helpful tips on seeking that with your current employer. https://migraine.com/migraine-basics/ada-accommodations-the-workplace/ I hope that situation does not ever repeat itself, and am sending encouragement your way. Take care.

  64. Marie, know where you are coming from. I have trouble keeping a job due to being out when my migraines are so bad that I cannot drive – and disability turned me and all apples down, even though their own people told them I am unable to keep a job due to unreliability caused by the migraines.

  65. C.Zelaya says:

    I had utilized Reasonable Accomodations for the same purposes, but federally protected. Then I had to use intermittent FMLA for two years straight. I just barely made it through the first year before I ran out of protected hours. The second year, I ran out five months before I could renew. I continued to work – and call in sick – for two months before I filed for medical retirement before they could fire me. I went on formal ‘leave without pay’ and I’m still waiting for them to grant my retirement… six months later and counting.

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