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What’s Your Secret: How To Express You’re In Pain Without Sounding Like You’re A Complainer?

One of our community members posed this important question to our What’s Your Secret Video Series page and we thought it worth posing to the rest of the community. How to express you’re in pain without sounding like you’re a complainer is a complex question that unleashes many of the complicated issues surrounding the perception of migraine. How do we handle encountering ignorance and/or judgment when simply responding to someone asking “How are you?” How do we increase our own sense of acceptance? Is it easier to avoid the question altogether? How can we increase empathy and understanding in others?

 

Share your tips

Please join the conversation and share your secrets for talking about your life with migraine without feeling like you’re complaining. We are here to learn from one another so don’t keep your strategies to yourself!

If you have questions you’d like to pose to the Migraine.com community for the What’s Your Secret Video Series, please add them to the comment section below, or go to the Q&A page and submit your question there. We have a wondrous resourceful community with a wealth of information and support just waiting to help each other.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • pilgrimette
    3 weeks ago

    I found that my co workers are not interested in articles or blogs about anything other than what they want to know. So my answers to how are you are either, I’m fine, I’m here, or it’s just not a good day. Then I turn the conversation back to them. I’ve been doing this since migraine started two years ago. Some of them are catching on and asking more.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    3 weeks ago

    @pilgrimette– SUCH a great tip. People are often so eager to be heard and engaged (and rarely interested in actually listening to others). Such an unfortunate truth. But that dynamic can result in our being able to avoid uncomfortable interactions with others who are asking how we are our of a morbid curiosity or out of a sense of duty/routine.

    As you said, with some artful dodging, we can quickly turn the conversation right back around so that the focus is on them, not us. It is a rare person who is truly interested and/or concerned.

    Good to hear you are noticing a trend of some of those people emerging for you amongst your coworkers. Sounds like your listening has paid off and helped these people feel validated and honored in their own lives such that they have begun to value and appreciate you.

    Thanks so much for sharing this approach with the rest of us so that we can learn from you.

    So glad you’re a part of our community and hope you’ll keep in touch.

  • CChap0812
    4 weeks ago

    I am late to this discussion, as I just found this post, but I have found being honest can be helpful.
    I can’t control if others will take the time to understand what migraines are or how they perceive me. But what I can control is how I talk about migraines and how I educate others on what so many go through. So, recently I started to openly talk about migraines and everything that comes with it on my personal social media platforms and have it as an open discussion. That way if someone wants to ask a question, they can.
    I post about everything from information on what migraines are, to secondary symptoms to even how migraines affect my everyday life, mentally and physically. One of my most appreciated posts was how family members and friends can help someone they know who suffers from migraines.
    Doing this has allowed others to share their stories as well as help educate those who want to take the time to learn how to be compassionate.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    4 weeks ago

    This is a wonderful way to raise awareness and compassion. And by doing so, you are setting a great example that I hope others in the migraine community might follow. More often than not, the insensitivity and judgment we receive is born primarily out of ignorance and a lack of understanding that people have about migraine disease. Informing our circles of friends, families, and coworkers about the disease, one migraineur at a time, will make a meaningful difference.

    That said, doing so is not for everyone. Informing and educating others takes energy and time (as your outlined above- you have really dedicated yourself beautifully to this) that some people with migraine do not always have- and/or they may have tried so hard to do so and have felt misunderstood or further judged in the process. As you know, migraine can be so depleting, we must choose how to spend what little energy we have. So, while I do hope others might follow your inspiring lead, I also recognize those who decide to find other places that are better suited for their energy (like for self-care!). Athough, ultimately, educating others, so that we can live in a more sensitive, understanding world, is a move toward self-care as well.

    Bravo! Thank you for taking this on as your doing so will not only help improve the way you are treated- but there is a trickle down dynamic that takes place where those you educate will be more kind to other migraineurs and will in turn educate others on the topic. And on it goes! Keep it up and keep in touch! So glad you’re a part of our community.

  • glassmind
    4 weeks ago

    Honesty and compassion.

    So simple and challenging.

    And effective.

    Well, put. Thanks for sharing.

  • Ponder62
    2 months ago

    My family says they “get it”, but they don’t! They have no idea what it is like to be in my skin daily! They refuse to educate themselves because they say that they already know it. If I try to talk about how I feel either physically or mentally they say that they already know and I am a complainer. I feel isolated by my own family. I don’t know how much longer I can live like this. It has been a daily hell for years now. I will continue on because I have no choice. If I am totally out of commission for a day they try to run my life by saying that I am unable to do anything. Since when did they know me and what I am capable of (even though I am somewhat disabled using a walker)? Even on a moderate day I try to appear normal and it is exhausting! So, I get the opposite as well. “You do it!” If I shut down so the rest of the family. They sit on their computers and will let the house go. ie. no cleaning or maintenance gets done. Should I just go on strike and let it all go?

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 month ago

    Hi @Ponder62– You raise such good questions and such valid points. How to be honest about how we’re feeling when we’re met by less than compassionate responses? And when we try to muscle through and appear strong (even when we are feeling weak), how to find the strength to do what needs doing and not feel such resentment toward loved ones who aren’t stepping up to help us. It’s such a tricky journey to navigate and you are not alone in this. If it helps to picture, there are so many of us out there having the same kind of experiences with our families and loved ones each day. Sometimes we get the balance right, and many times, the day ends and we don’t feel like our needs were met or that we were heard or understood. In many households, family members are focused on their own lives and are not thinking compassionately about the loads that others are carrying.

    I’ve personally had a couple of family meetings where I call my kids together to ‘reset’ and give them a brief update about how I’m doing- ask them how they’re doing- and ask for us together to brainstorm and update who is doing what, task-wise, in our house. Who can perhaps take on some new responsibilities? What’s fair? Are needs getting met? I try to make sure the conversation isn’t one sided and that I’m listening to them too. Hopefully it provides a time to reconnect and gives everyone a chance to feel heard. Perhaps you emerge feeling an improved partnership with the people you live with so you aren’t feeling so alone.

    And if that doesn’t work- please remember you are NOT alone and WE are here to provide you with support at any time. We’re so glad you’re a part of our community. Please stay in touch.

  • Theresa
    3 months ago

    I personally get fed up with professionals who don’t understand my pain or who try to diminish my pain but saying, it’s not that bad.
    Or when you are puking over and over and they say, wellbit coud be the flu rather than a migraine. Or maybe you need to have an orgasm, that might help.
    Listen healthcare professional, how bout I hit you in the head about 10 times with a Ball peen hammer and I tell you to wash my car. You wouldn’t appreciate my attitude now would you.
    Oh and watch all those triggers that cause your headache like being condescending to your patients.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    3 months ago

    Hi Theresa- I’m so glad you’re a part of our community and that you took the time to share your frustration regarding feeling misunderstood and diminished. I’m sure many of us can relate to feeling fed up in the same way. I know I can.

    I’m glad that you brought up the point about orgasm as a cure. I’ve heard from laypeople for years that migraine is a result of people having some kind of sexual hang up. I’m beyond sick of hearing that completely ridiculous unresearched belief. As if we need another layer of guilt put upon us atop everything else that we are somehow sexually dysfunctional and that migraine is simply a reaction to an underlying pent up bedroom issue is infuriating to me.

    I also recently watched a video by a couple of buffoons who spoke about how pain is “all in the mind” and one simply has to “get around it” through meditation and emotional/mind control. I thought, how nice it must be to be able to play in that sandbox of simple thought. To indulge in this train of thought, these two men have clearly not experienced true physical pain in their lifetimes. Must be nice. But to push their uninformed and therefore harmful propaganda and agenda on the rest of us made me want to stomp on their manicured fingers. Or at least ruffle their nice hairdos.

  • glassmind
    3 months ago

    pain is “all in the mind”

    Sooo, frustrating. I heard that much in regard to other conditions I have.

    It’s only happened once with migraine. A stranger said “It’s all a mindest, right?”

    I said nothing.

    Mid-migraine my energy was better spent in self-care than engaging in a philosophical debate about the nature of pain with a passing human.

    Sure, outlook/mindset can exaccerbate or mitigate pain sometimes. But pain is a real experience!

    If I’d gained the ability to transcend the pain of migraine, I’d go ahead and transcend all pain.

    Unless, someone is a mystic and can actually teach me this jedi mind trick, I’ll thank them to keep this euphamistic approach to themselves.

    Do the people who say this never feel pain?

  • kalz
    3 months ago

    I really struggle with this because I feel like if I don’t explain that I am hurting, I am then going to be asked to go and do something normal, like go somewhere or do something that I am not up to doing?

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    3 months ago

    And if you’re asked to do something you cannot do, then you have to cancel out and say no and THEN explain you’re hurting… Whether or not it’s done before or after, there seems no way to get around it. Thanks so much for chiming in. We are with you and glad you’re a part of this community. Please stay in touch.

  • Allison
    1 year ago

    As a therapist I teach clients the 3 second, 3 minutes, 30 minutes, 3 hour concept for answering people about difficult things. I use it myself when answering the “how do you feel” question. Think about who is in your closest circle that you can spend 3 hours talking to, sharing everything at the most vulnerable level. Then list the next ring out, 30 minute people you can talk to in depth but maybe not everything, then there are the casual acquaintances you only need to give a 3 minute less detailed answer to, and the 3 second folks “I’m making it, how are things with you?” Think about how you can answer each category of people in your life, and have an answer ready for each. Takes the stress out of it and helps you stay true to yourself without going into more details than needed. Your 3 Hour peeps won’t ever misconstrue it as complaining.

  • Artgeek
    3 months ago

    This is wonderfull! It really clears up things. Thank you for sharing!

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hi @allison– This is such a wonderful tip. I’m so grateful that you shared this with our community as it’s so pragmatic, useful, and applicable for so many of us. In fact, I wonder if you might consider posting it to our Stories page where more of our community will see it then they will here in the comment section of a single article. That way, it will also show up in our search engine if you put it under a title like “What to Say When Someone Asks ‘How are You?'” or something like that.
    You really have provided such a great resource, I would love to see it shared more widely.

    Here’s the link to create a story: https://migraine.com/stories/

    If you have any questions as to how to go through the process of posting a story, please just ask and thanks for considering.

    Thanks again for sharing these great ideas! So glad you’re a part of our community.

  • DriverShirl
    1 year ago

    I must have missed this video post from March, sooo that would explain why the comments are from 6 months ago, no matter, i would just like to thank you, Holly B for this great explanation of what we Migrainers go through, hope it helps others too. Thanks Again Holly

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hi @drivershirl

    So glad to hear that this video resonated with you and was in alignment with your experience. It can really help to be reminded that we are not alone (and that goes for me, as well!).

    Thanks so much for sharing. So glad you are a part of our community.

  • looking4OPH
    2 years ago

    Good topic. When expressing pain to healthcare providers (doctors, nurses, specialists), it is key to try and be on a similar page. When a doctor hears that you have daily 11 level migraines or are currently at a 12 on an understood 1-10 scale, it comes across as exaggeration and complaining. There certainly are those migraines that consume you with pain, but communicating consistent descriptions can avoid introducing the bias that your own pain doesn’t even fit into the scale.

    There are many pain scale descriptions hanging on doctor’s office walls and strewn throughout the internet. Looking at many of these, I have found this one to be pretty effective at providing specific symptoms, experiences, and pitfalls. It gets patient and doctor on the same page, so that they can move on to solutions.

    https://i.pinimg.com/736x/a2/2e/6e/a22e6efa52b38aa94655d9344f76f0b2–chronic-migraines-rheumatoid-arthritis-fatigue.jpg

  • FayP
    2 years ago

    Thanks so much for the link. Love the pain scale. Will print it out and put it in my purse so it’s always there when needed.
    Fay

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    2 years ago

    @looking4oph– thanks for trying to find it and again, for the share! Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    2 years ago

    @looking4oph– this is a TERRIFIC resource! Thank you so much for sharing this with our community. There are so many different pain scales that are used it can be difficult to get on the same page in discussing how we’re feeling. I went to a headache clinic (the Michigan Headache & Neurological Institute) for a three week in-hospital stay and they use a pain scale only from 1-5 because they found it was too difficult to have patients define their discomfort on a scale going all the way to 10. Even with 5, it is difficult with no real definitions as the scale you offered provides. I’m going to save this for future reference. Thanks again! Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  • looking4OPH
    2 years ago

    Don’t remember where I originally found it (and it isn’t available at the ProHealth website anymore). It resonated with me, so I stashed it away and share it when this sensitive topic comes up.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    2 years ago

    @looking4oph – may I ask where you found this resource?

  • FayP
    2 years ago

    I have no secret for this. I find this to be a big problem. I am 65 years old and have had migraines since I was 19 and have not found anyone to be empathic except for others with migraine. My husband of 37 years is kind and patient, but even he has times when he is quite irritated with this problem. It is to the point that I just want to be ignored. I don’t have the energy to help people to understand or care. I now have a wonderful neurologist and for the past 5 years have had hope for the first time for relief. Topamax has curtailed the migraines a lot, but at a cost of intellect. But I have gladly given that up at this stage of the game. I have tried to explain to others that I hate to complain, but it still sounds to me like complaining. I am also fighting my second cancer and have a few other things wrong. Those things sound like complaining too. I can still laugh and have a good day when my body lets me. My response now to how are you is “I’m alive.”

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    2 years ago

    @fayp– Another sage piece of advice you just offered. When our eyes are watering from the relentless pain, it does NOT hurt to put ourselves in the shoes of others and remember they might be struggling in an invisible way too. Your last sentence is one I say to myself all the time. So glad to have connected with you. Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi @fayp– Thank you so much for your joining the conversation. I actually think you absolutely DO have something to add to this important question. Your guidance, which includes a healthy amount of perspective- wherein you answer with such the perfect response of “I’m alive” is so worthy to pass along to the rest of us. It sounds like many years with migraine, as well as multiple battles with cancer (about which I’m so sorry to hear) has provided you with wisdom and a good dose of not getting too worked up about what others think. I understand all too well the very real challenges related to taking Topamax and how it can rob us of our ability to be articulate. Glad you have a great neurologist- that can make all the difference. Also glad you are a part of our community- while not many in your ‘real life’ understand your migraines, there are thousands here who do. Please stay in touch- warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  • FayP
    2 years ago

    Thanks for the encouragement. But it sure doesn’t feel like wisdom, feels like survival. When I get too involved in my woes, I try to bring myself back to reality and imagine what the person next to me might be struggling with that doesn’t show on the surface. There but for the grace of God, go I.

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