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Managing Migraines and Relationships

Managing relationships can be challenging for anyone, but when you add Migraine to relationships, the dynamics are changed, adding even more challenges.

There’s no questioning the value of good relationships to our health. The value of friendship has been studied repeatedly.

Gerald Ellison, Ph.D., director of Psychoneuroimmunology Services at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa, Oklahoma, observed,

“Friends keep us from becoming isolated and lonely; they offer encouragement and support; and they help keep our thinking in line with the real world… When we’re missing friendship, we experience isolation and loneliness. These feelings are associated with illness, discomfort, and general ineffectiveness as a person… Having friends can also be especially helpful if you’re already seriously ill… Friends — if supportive and encouraging — can increase our hope when dealing with illness and trauma. And increased hope is associated with higher levels of immune system functioning.”1

Lisa Berkman, an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of public health has studied the impact of social isolation. A study she conducted concluded that people who were socially isolated were 2.5 to 3 times more likely to die over the next seven years than those who were not. She ruled out risky behaviors in the subjects, and commented,

“What social isolation was doing was making you more susceptible or less resilient to any disease you might get.”2

Her study has been replicated in more than a dozen other studies around the world, which validates her findings.

Relatioships and MigraineThere are some basic facts about relationships that apply whether we have Migraines or not:

  • Good relationships take work to sustain them.
  • Good relationships involve give-and-take on both sides. The balance of that give-and-take will fluctuate, but should balance out overall. Relationships become strained without that balance.
  • Healthy relationships don’t require that we agree all the time, but they do require that we respect the other person’s views, issues, and feelings.

When there are issues with a relationship — friends, family, coworkers, employers — before we attribute the problems to our Migraines, we need to evaluate the basic relationship to see if it’s a healthy relationship outside of any issues related to Migraines. If not, the basic issues need to be addressed before we can truly resolve any Migraine related issues.

When relationships are negatively impacted by our Migraines, there are avenues we can pursue to mend and strengthen them:

  • Education. It’s human nature to fear what we don’t understand. That fear can take many forms including avoidance and ridicule. Educating people with whom we have relationships can go a long way. Start with our article, 10 Things I Want to Share About Migraines. There are links at the top and bottom of the article for you to download it in PDF format so you can email it or print it to help you educate people about Migraine disease.
  • Depression Screening. If we have untreated depression, it can compound relationship issues and make it harder to build and maintain them. It’s well established that Migraine and depression are often comorbid diseases, which means that we can have them both, but neither causes the other. If you think you might have an issue with depression, talk with your doctor about depression screening. If a screening shows that you’re dealing with depression and need treatment, be sure that whomever treats you for depression works with the doctor who treats you for Migraine. Some antidepressants can also help with Migraine prevention.
  • Honesty. This requires being honest with ourselves as well as others. When we don’t feel well or can’t do something because we have a Migraine, it’s best to be honest about the reason. Don’t make up excuses for not participating. Say you have a Migraine. I recommend not using the phrase “Migraine headache” because the word “headache” is so far from what we experience with Migraines. To many people, a “headache” is something that’s easily defeated with a simple over-the-counter medication. I prefer to use the phrase “Migraine attack” because I feel it’s more accurate and better conveys that what’s going on is more than a “headache.” If you’re being treated for depression, be sure to be honest about this with those close to you whom you trust. It can help them to understand you better.
  • A Good Heart-to-Heart. People can be clueless. It doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t care. It just means that it hasn’t occurred to them that their attitude, their lack of understanding and compassion about our Migraines is hurtful. Sit down and calmly and quietly explain it to them. If the basic relationship is solid, this kind of conversation should be possible.
  • Invite Them Along. If you’re working on a relationship with someone very close to you, and Migraines are a problematic issue, consider taking them along when you visit your doctor about your Migraines. This can be a huge help in some cases.
  • Counseling. If you’re having problems with an important relationship, consider relationship counseling. You can talk with a counselor alone to discuss the issues and get suggestions about what you can do to strengthen or repair the relationship. It may, however, be necessary for both people in the relationship, or the whole family, to attend sessions for counseling to be helpful. If you want to investigate counseling, your doctor may be able to suggest a counselor who understands Migraine.

Maintaining Relationships

  • Invitations. If we’ve had to say, “No,” to friends who have invited us to do things with them, those invitations may become fewer over time. One way to maintain good relationships with those friends is to extend invitations to them. They can even be spur-of-the-moment invitations extended when we realize we’re feeling well enough to go out and do something. They can also be invitations to our friends to join us for low-key visits in our own homes where we have more control over the environment and some Migraine triggers.
  • Staying in Touch. Staying in touch with people is crucial. This can be accomplished by telephone, email, text messages, postal mail, or other methods. Many florists and gift shops, including those online, facilitate ordering having flowers and gifts ordered in advance and delivered on the dates the customer specifies. This can be a great way of ensuring that we don’t miss sending something on special occasions. Getting really organized about sending greeting cards can also be a huge help. Take a look at Staying in Touch with Greeting Cards Despite Migraines.
  • Showing Appreciation. An important lesson my father taught me was to let people know I care about them, and not to wait to do it because we never know how long we’ll have those people in our lives. Don’t hesitate to let people know you appreciate them, and tell them often. A simple email or text message, or even an email greeting card is a quick and simple way to show we care about people. It never hurts to let people know that we think of them and appreciate them even if we’re not able to see them as often as we’d like.

Facing the Realities

The reality is that there are people who simply will never understand what it’s like to live with Migraines. Some of these people will, however, try to be understanding and relationships with them can be good ones.

Sadly, another reality is that there are times when we have to take a good, objective look at some relationships and determine if we can or want to continue them or save them. People who won’t even try to understand the issues that come with living with Migraine disease, criticize us, tell us to “take a pill” or “get over it,” and won’t discuss relationship issues are probably people we should “write off.”

With friends, there comes a time when we have to ask ourselves how we define friendship and ask ourselves if these people truly are our friends. We deserve friends who are supportive, even if they don’t fully understand.

With family, it’s a bit more difficult. We can’t choose our family. Still, when family members are dismissive or treat us badly because of our Migraines, we owe it to ourselves to stand up for ourselves. When that doesn’t help the situation, it may be best to distance ourselves from some of those family members.

In the End

In the end, the most important relationships we have are the relationships we have with ourselves. There’s no escaping ourselves. We have to live with ourselves every minute of every day. We have to treat ourselves well and be protective of ourselves in our other relationships. How we feel about ourselves and treat ourselves has great potential to affect how other people feel about us and treat us. Relationships take work, and managing them is something that requires our attention. We owe it to ourselves, however, to set standards for what we can reasonably expect from others in relationships and not accept less.

Carol Sorgen, “To Stay Healthy … Make Friends,” Medscape Health for Consumers. December, 2001. 2 Couzin, Jennifer. “Friendship as a Health Factor.” Science. Vol. 323. January 23, 2009