Withdrawing from the World
Last updated: July 2020
Missed phone calls, ignored voicemails, and unopened emails plague me when I’m in a bad migraine spell. The messages pile up for weeks or months and nag at me all the while. My inability to return messages has always seemed a bit absurd to me. After all, it’s just picking up the phone or sending an email, which is easily done from the couch or bed. How hard can it be? Well, I’ve finally admitted to myself that the task can be insurmountable.
Physical and mental drain
Having a migraine attack takes a ton of physical and mental energy. With the addition of cognitive dysfunction, brainpower is in short supply. Any degree of being social, even if it’s just thinking about and responding to a message, takes a surprising amount of attention and effort. Effort that has proven time after time to be beyond my ability when I’m in a migraine attack (or migraine hangover).
Withdrawal isn't personal
My withdrawal from the world is an aspect of migraine that I find impossible to explain to healthy people. I never say that a person has to have migraine to understand migraine—my friends and family have proven repeatedly that migraine isn’t a prerequisite for empathy. Yet I find myself stumbling when I try to describe how withdrawn I feel when I’m not doing well. It’s especially difficult because so many people interpret a lack of communication as a reflection on how much I care about them.
I have yet to fully forgive myself for being incommunicado when I’m sick. Although years of experience have made it clear to me that it absolutely is possible to be too physically ill to return phone calls, I still have trouble believing it’s true—and even more trouble accepting that other people will believe it’s true.
Finally returning the message
I used to just put off the calls and emails until I felt well enough to return them. Sometimes months would pass before I followed up with someone who reached out to me. I finally started texting to say that I was in a bad spell and would be in touch when I was up for engaging with the world. I was so nervous the first few times I sent those messages, fearing that the recipient wouldn’t believe that I was too sick to talk. No one criticized me. Just the opposite, in fact. They thanked me for not leaving them hanging and told me they hoped I felt better soon.
Comforted by loved ones who understand
Migraine constricts one's world so much. I have at times restricted it further by being afraid to tell my loved ones the truth about how sick I am. The vulnerability required is so daunting. Yet when I finally allowed myself to be honest, my relationships became so much stronger.
I no longer worry that I have damaged a relationship beyond repair by not returning a phone call. Instead, I am comforted by the words of support that my loved ones inevitably respond with. That’s a pretty big return on taking the risk to be vulnerable.
Are the family and friends you will be seeing this holiday season understanding about migraine?