Why do we judge each other?

We’ve all heard it: people questioning whether or not the condition is real. And if they even believe there is such a thing as migraine, many still can’t fathom the severity of pain we face. They don’t understand migraine as a complex neurological condition. Often, they equate it to a bad headache. Additionally, society has done a fabulous job of reinforcing the idea that people fake headaches to get out of commitments. We pay the price for these misconceptions by feeling judged and unsupported.

One unfortunate consequence of feeling the constant brunt of judgment from others is that people with migraines sometimes turn on each other in the very same way. It’s almost as if we have internalized the negativity and defensiveness so deeply that when we hear others struggling in similar ways, we may forget to offer compassion.  Perhaps because we so rarely receive it ourselves? Sometimes there seems to be a need to “one-up” each other with a “mine’s worse than yours” response, because we’ve grown so accustomed to trying to prove the seriousness of our condition to others who don’t have it. Encountering judgement when we are trying to find a safe community to share our stories, blunders, fears, and triumphs can be both defeating and heartbreaking.

For example, both online and in person, when I mention I stopped working due to chronic migraine, I have heard people with migraines reply, “it must be a luxury to be able to stop for the pain. I simply power through- because I am so strong or because I simply have no choice.”  I fully understand that some of us don’t have the option to pursue disability. Some of us have to work despite the pain. This is a grueling reality and it does require an immense amount of strength. I have been there.  However, hearing such a response puts me on my heels because the claim that one can choose strength to overcome pain insinuates that I am weak and cave in to mine.

I try to believe that there was strength involved in facing up to the fact that migraine was ruining my life to the point that I had to upend and change it completely.  And for those who claim that not working is a luxury, I promise you, there is no luxury in being labeled ‘disabled’ when forced to end a career I loved. There is no luxury in having my salary cut in half and be left trying to find a way to make it work financially. There is nothing luxurious about stopping working out of desperate hope that doing so would lead to a lift in my pain only to find that it is still just as intense and relentless- which leads to being trapped in my home most of the time.

When it comes to people with migraines, let’s try not to judge those who take different paths from us. After all, migraine demands so much from each of us. Some of us have migraines every single day and are in pain 24/7.  Others have migraines once a week, or less.  Whatever the case, migraines are not a competition to be won, and we are all entitled to our own experiences.

I’m eternally grateful for the online and in-person support I have received from so many people living with migraines. We understand the experience like no other. Still, there is room for improvement. Because we are collectively judged for this draining, exhausting, and invisible condition, let’s seek every way possible to support and lift each other up as one community.

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26 comments on “Why do we judge each other?

  1. Luna says:

    My brain is extremely sensitive to smells/scents/odors of many kinds. I’ve done the extremely episodic up to chronic, then daily but more mild. Now I am silent daily. Now that is fun trying to explain silent migraine to people who don’t know much. Especially when I’m in “toxic overload” and the brain and speaking ability aren’t well connected. 🙂

    Survivors are not weak. Courage everyone.

  2. I don’t work because of my migraines and other illnesses and it is so hard sometimes.Since I was denied disability before I had a named diagnosis and back when migraines were considered bad Headaches it has been an uphill battle. Now that the Hemiplegic Migraines have began to show marked paralysis regular everyone is so confident in my receiving it. Too bad I no longer qualify for SSDI and when approved will get SSI. Either way I hate when I hear people say I’m lucky I don’t have to work. It’s not that I don’t have to but I can’t. So my family and I get by on a combination of my husband’s income and government assistance which although I am very grateful for makes us far from lucky.

  3. Holly Baddour moderator author says:

    Dear lukithiaygeorge-
    Thank you so much for joining the conversation. You are so right that there is nothing lucky about being sidelined from work due to severe pain. As other commenters have noted, it seems that a primary issue is that many people who have not had migraines have difficulty relating to the idea of not working. When they people picture not working, they think of a vacation.

    I must admit that when I stopped working, I believed (and hoped) my pain might improve. It was a rude awakening when I realized my pain would continue in its frequency and severity, I would just be at home instead of at work while I dealt with it. That certainly does make it more bearable, but it’s no vacation.

    I’m sorry to hear you’ve had a struggle with securing (and maintaining) disability income. That certainly is another kind of headache you don’t need. I assume you are well-educated on the topic- but in case you need any more information- here are some of our articles that might be useful for you: https://migraine.com/?s=disability&submit=Go

    Stay in touch- you are in our thoughts.

    Holly Baddour (moderator/author/patient advocate – migraine.com)

  4. Suki G. says:

    I am very grateful to Migraine dot com and other internet based support systems. IRL when I try to tell someone I have chronic migraine (disability retired at age 55, for 3 years now) what usually transpires it they say, Oh I have, or had, those (those= ‘migraine headaches’ plural). I won’t go into the unsolicited medical advice issue here, that’s not my point. My point is the total lack of understanding on the part of the general public, including people with episodic migraine, about chronicity of the disease.
    It’s nice to be connected to a community where folks are informed about the disease and one that also provides materials to help educate family and friends.

  5. DonnaFA moderator says:

    Hi Suki! Thanks for your very kind words and we’re glad that you found us! We’re always here to share information and support, and if you think it will help to bring understanding, we encourage you to share any of the articles here. Happy New Year! -All Best, Donna (Migraine.com team)

  6. Trace says:

    I am now on disability due to my migraines. I can relate to just about all of what was said in this article. Migraine.com really helps me cope when overwhelmed with migraines and all situations in life that I miss out on or don’t enjoy due to pain. There is always an article that I can relate to.

  7. Holly Baddour moderator author says:

    Hi Trace- thank you so much for commenting and we are glad to hear that migraine.com is a helpful and supportive resource for you. It can really help to remember that you are not alone and to find articles to which you can relate and real people who are facing the same issues as you because it can sometimes be hard to find those people “in person”. We are here for you and are so glad you are a part of our community!

    Please keep in touch.

    Warmly- Holly Baddour (author/moderator/patient advocate- migraine.com)

  8. JA1978 says:

    I applied for disability after having been fired from two different employers for missing too many days. Driving is the worst trigger for my migraines and it is not safe for ANYONE for me to drive while having a migraine or ON flare-up because my vision is blurry and I do not think straight.

    When I did manage to make it to work, I was less productive than I was before chronic migraine and ON changed my life. I regularly worked 80 hours per week before all of this started but had trouble working 30 hours per week towards the end. Even on days that my pain levels were low I was still less productive than I was prior.

    I could not, in all honesty, apply for another job and promise my potential employer that I could give them my best 24/7. It would not be fair to them to hire me when they could hire a fully capable person instead.

  9. earthpure says:

    I think everything you’ve said here almost on a daily basis. I don’t work and was on disability for a long time until I went back to work for a while … now my migraines are bad again and I can’t work and no disability and can’t get it back. I’m fortunate enough to have a family that supports me but I suffer with a worthiness issue that I know shouldn’t come from my inability to earn money but it does…so while others are envious I am envious other those who have meaningful careers. It’s not that I am not grateful because I am it’s more that I know my worth I just do not get any opportunities to prove them to others.

  10. Holly Baddour moderator author says:

    Hi earthpure-
    You are so wonderful to share your story with such honesty. And the challenge of struggling with feelings of worthiness are so very universal when it comes to chronic migraine that sidelines us from work. A commenter below stated that he would welcome returning to work if it meant a break from his pain- something that those who are ‘envious’ of our not working probably just can’t understand as they picture not working to be a vacation.

    I really hear you about struggling about how to prove yourself now that you are not officially employed. I wrote an article about this recently- perhaps you might find it helpful: https://migraine.com/living-migraine/not-a-human-doing-a-human-being/

    Thanks again for sharing.

    Holly Baddour (moderator/author/patient advocate – migraine.com team)

  11. DinaMay says:

    I have to laugh at your mention of this weird phenomenon of competitive suffering. I run into that a lot. It’ll start with me explaining my absence from one activity or another (work, doctor appointment, club meeting, party, etc.). I explain I didn’t show because of migraine. The other person then has to tell me about someone who’s suffering is worse than mine. I’m always tempted to respond that they may well deserve the gold medal in the Suffering Olympics but, hey, I’m at least in the running for bronze!

  12. Holly Baddour moderator author says:

    Hi DinaMay-

    Great imagery with the suffering olympics!

    Thank you so much for joining the conversation. I love your term competitive suffering, through I hate its meaning. There is frequently the dynamic in the sharing of stories to try to one-up each other with something funnier, more exciting, adventurous, etc. I’ve even heard it when people are sharing tales of broken bones, accidents, etc. This desire, however, to claim the corner office when it comes to severe pain is quite odd – but as you state, also pervasive.

    So happy you’re a part of our community.

    Very warmly, Holly Baddour (author/moderator/patient advocate- migraine.com)

  13. Thanks for the article, it is an important reminder. I hate the pain we live in, I also get so sad from the judgements we live with. My DP is a cancer survivor dealing with chronic pain from his treatment/surgeries and I thank my lucky stars that he is in my life. When I have a migraine and “apologize” when he is also in such pain he snaps me out of it reminding me that pain is a) not a competition and b) pain is a glass that is equally full…your 100% is equal to my 100%. I am so grateful for his reminder. I am also grateful for this site, please keep up the excellent work!

  14. Hello Janet. I am glad you have such support. I thank God for my current husband and my children. I have had so many people say stuff like it could be worse you could have Cancer. In all likelihood my many “invisible” illnesses and the few visible ones probably won’t kill me (as long as I maintain my Thyroid meds). But I promise some days the pain and discomfort and aura are so bad I can’t think straight and having Hemiplegic Migraines as one of my types does me in often. I pray for you both.

  15. Tim Autry says:

    Oh I would love to go back to work if the relentless day-in day-out pain would go away. This intractable migraine attack has been going on for 3 years too long now. Going back to work would be such an enjoyable vacation compared to what I endure now, 24/7/365.25 – ….
    I’ve had to give up my career, livelyhood, enjoyment, purpose, social life (not that I had much before), family and is having a considerable detrimental toll on our marriage. I’m just about worthless, I’m not even worth of disability, denied and appealed to only be further denied time after time, it is hard to get the documentation, tests and treatment you need to convinced those you need disability when you have no way to obtain medical insurance and/or treatment, especially when all the government assistance programs point to another saying it is some other departments responsibility. How can one show compassion to others when all one receives is condemnation, doubt, ambiguity, distrust and in constant state of migraine attack, even by fellow migraineurs who disbelieve an attack can last so long. I can no longer afford medications needed to manage the disease/attack (have applied to all city, county, state, federal and private sector programs only to be met with not qualified, not what we are looking for, your conditions don’t apply, you should be able to work, it’s all in your head, etc. …) and I can no longer tell the difference between reality and dreams, what is up or down, left or right, real of imagined. Judge me all you want, speak evil of me all you wish, ignore me so I’ll go away, that is the life I endure each and everyday, and sometimes not even my wife can believe there may be hope on the horizon. I’ve given that hope up long ago, beaten down by governmental and corporate denial and greed. I wish you all suffering from any disease without physical defects good luck, as you always get the “you don’t look sick” response, no matter how pale your are, how much pain the throbbing is, how nauseated you feel, how painful the smell of your cube mates perfume/cologne or cigarette smoke filled clothes, how loud the chatter is, how bright the lights are, how the rising/setting sun hurts, how extreme cold/heat feels, or any other thing that affects your senses of sight, hearing, feel, touch and even taste, yes how some things taste.
    Good luck my friends, may you all find your solution and resolve during your life endeavors.

  16. Holly Baddour moderator author says:

    Dear Tim Autry-
    I’m so glad you wrote and am sorry for the delay in a response. I’m grateful that you are choosing to reach out and that despite all of the challenges you are facing, you somehow still have it in you to want to wish others well and provide support to them.

    It sounds like things have been immensely difficult with the disability application process. I’m assuming you have seen our resources on the topic, but just in case, here is a link to some relevant articles: https://migraine.com/?s=disability&submit=Go

    You are certainly correct in saying the process is full of red tape and can be extraordinarily demanding and defeating. Especially daunting to pursue when faced with severe daily pain. Many of us have found that repeated tries do eventually work. I wish you all the best on this goal.

    It sounds like you feel you’ve exhausted your resources in terms of qualifying for medical support and medications you need. We generally encourage people to pursue care with a migraine specialist as they are the best qualified to treat the condition. Here is an article that might help you find specialists in your area – perhaps there will be some names there you haven’t tried: https://migraine.com/blog/looking-for-a-migraine-specialist/

    Here’s an additional article about how to pursue care without insurance: https://migraine.com/blog/no-insurance-you-can-still-take-care-of-your-migraine-disease/

    Lastly, you mentioned how migraine impacts your marriage. That is such a huge and valid point (one to which many of us can relate). Perhaps some of these articles will provide you some support and information. https://migraine.com/blog/getting-romantic-partner/

    Again, we are so grateful that you reached out and that you are a part of our community. Please stay in touch and know that we are thinking of you.

    Warmly, Holly Baddour (author, moderator, patient advocate – migraine.com team)

  17. Darkroom says:

    Dear Hollybee,
    I agree that we should be more supportive of each other. People that don’t have migraine cannot fathom the pain we live in. When I read someone has gone on disability for migraine I feel fortunate that my migraine isn’t that severe. And I pray it doesn’t get that bad. I hope and pray you feel better and your quality of life will start to improve.

  18. Holly Baddour moderator author says:

    Dear Darkroom-

    What kind and warm words. Thank you for taking the time to write and I deeply appreciate your thoughtfulness. We are certainly blessed to have you as part of our community!

    Holly Baddour (author, patient advocate, moderator- migraine.com team)

  19. I get HORRIBLE migraines when ever the weather changes especially when the Barometric pressure changes.(Especially when it go down) I can tell U when it’s going 2 rain b/f it shows up on the weather channel. Does the weather affect any one else?

  20. Joanna Bodner moderator says:

    Hi there,

    I thought you might find this article interesting regarding a medication that may help for weather related migraines – Triggered by Weather? This Medication May Help. Thanks for reaching out & always feel free to do so! -Take care, Joanna (Migraine.com Team)

  21. Oh, I do – all the time. I live in Colorado, and to say our weather is variable is putting it mildly. When the barometer drops, my head starts throbbing. The lower it goes, the more I feel like I can’t sit up straight, like my head’s going to explode from the pressure. Being a living weather-vane is a nightmare.

  22. Maureen says:

    Amen, sister! And can we also maybe put in a word for those like myself, who judge ourselves, maybe, not quite sick enough. Those who fall prey to the outside voices? At my headache specialist,first time patients have to undergo a psychological exam as part of a comprehensive work up. I found out I am likely to under-report my disability. And that resonates with me. I rarely vomit. My chronic migraine often leaves my in the 4-6 pain range, wondering if I can press on or ought to head home…you know, just medium sick…if this were truly migraine worthy, SURELY I’d be curled up in the dark, vomiting, dehydrated and KNOWING I needed to go to the ER. But I’m not.
    So I judge.
    And maybe you.
    But I’m trying not to.
    What else can I do?
    I, too, am really grateful for this great place of community and support where I know that migraine is migraine, small, medium and large;) All legit.

  23. ripeka says:

    i am this person too with a weekly migraine in the 4-6 range. i use a lot of energy working my life around it and have been able to keep working owing to flexible work hours. occasionally though, the pain can be the lesser symptom (more like a dull background headache that won’t go away for several days) and instead, i suffer from confusion and am overwhelmed by the demands of life and my inability to cope. then the pain lifts, my head clears and i realise it was a migraine after all which went u recognised owing to there not being “enough pain”. still was very detrimental to my work performance for those three days.

  24. Holly Baddour moderator author says:

    Maureen- thank you for joining the conversation. I so love your honesty and willingness to look so truthfully at yourself – to assess your role in the overall dynamic of migraine in your life. Such an important point- a salient one- that you made about those who (and I think this applies to us all at some point in our lives, perhaps in our every day lives) when we don’t fully acknowledge the load we are under. The weight that migraine adds to our load. How can we not fall victim to the constant judgement and external questions from others that surely we just have “a headache”.

    I was watching a commercial just yesterday that showed a man in pain, he’d run out of his medication and his son happily offered him some OTC pain reliever. It turned his life around (of course…). The idea was to downplay the pain, and overplay the simple solution. No one wants to acknowledge how complex, and how awful pain is. Society wants to lighten it up- wants US to lighten up! We feel guilty if we “indulge” in talk of discomfort when all we’re craving is an ear to feel validated, or help to find a solution- perhaps someone to connect with who’s in the same boat.

    So, when you ask, “what can i do” I would reply- you can continue on being as present as you clearly are. As insightful, kind, and grateful as you reflect in your writing.

    So glad you’re here with us.

    Holly Baddour (author, patient advocate, moderator- migraine.com team)

  25. Holly Baddour moderator author says:

    The confusion and lack of coping skills sounds like classic prodrome and postdrome phases. Incredible how the pain can sometimes be such a small part of this complex neurological condition. If you haven’t already researched the subjects, you might be interested in seeing this article:https://migraine.com/migraine-basics/migraine-phases/

    Thanks so much for sharing with us.

    Holly Baddour (author, moderator, patient advocate – migraine.com)

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