Migraines or not, February tends to be a month when people discuss relationship issues. These are vitally important all year, so I'm deliberately not writing about this on Valentine's day.
True relationships, as opposed to mere acquaintances, are replete with challenges. When one or more of the people involved in relationships have Migraine disease or another headache disorder, there are more, often more complicated, challenges. Still, relationships are vital to our mental and physical health and are worth the work that needs to go into them.
Scientists have shown the value of friendship to our health. Isolation can be horribly detrimental to our health and well-being. Lisa Berkman, an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health has extensively studied the impact of social isolation. Her research 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. In reaching these results, she ruled out risky behaviors in the subjects that could impact the results, and commented,
"What social isolation was doing was making you more susceptible or less resilient to any disease you might get."
Some basic facts about relationships are relevant to all relationships, whether Migraines are a factor or not:
- Although we often forget this and seldom discuss it, it takes work to sustain good relationships.
- Give-and-take is needed on both sides of relationships. With out it, relationships become strained, sometimes to the point of ending. The balance of give-and-take naturally fluctuates, but should balance out overall.
There are some simple methods we can employ to maintain relationships and hopefully avoid some of the strain that Migraine an other chronic illnesses can create:
- Keeping in Touch:With today's technology, it's easier to keep in touch with people. Combining basic communication with technology can go a long way toward maintaining relationships.
- Telephone, email, text messages, and old-fashioned postal mail can be used to catch up with how our friends are doing, which reminds them we're here and care.
- Social media, smart phone applications, and the calendar programs on our computers can be used to send us reminders of dates that are important to remember - birthdays, anniversaries, and more.
- Some florists and gift shops, online and bricks-and-mortar, often have reminder services. Some also have services that allow us to order gifts sent on specified dates or on a repeating schedule, so gifts can be sent even if we're not feeling well and might have forgotten.
- Showing Appreciation: One of the most important things my father taught me was not to wait to tell people we care about them because we never know how long we'll have those people in our lives. We need to let people know we care about them, and we need to do it often. Especially when Migraines keep us from seeing those people as often as we'd like, we need to let those we care for know we're thinking of them.
- Initiate Invitations: We've all had to say, "No," to invitations because we didn't feel well. When this happens often over time, the invitations we receive may dwindle. When we feel well, we need to extend invitations to our friends and loved ones. A quiet evening of conversation or a movie night in our own homes where we can control the environment may well allow us to socialize more than going out, so think about what you can do and invite some friends.
When Migraine related issues strain our relationships, there are approaches and tools we can utilize to strengthen or even mend them:
- Education: This is two-pronged. We need to educate ourselves, and educating people with whom we have relationships can be vital to their understanding. A basic tenet of human nature is that we tend to fear and shy away from what we don't understand. Education can alleviate that fear. We have some resources you can use to help educate people about Migraine:
- Keeping Communication Open: Keeping the channels of communication open is absolutely essential to any relationship. We must be honest with ourselves and others in our communication. If we're not feeling up to doing something because of a Migraine, it's best to just say so rather than making up excuses. I prefer to say "Migraine attack" rather than "headache" because, to many people, a headache is something mild and benign that can be handled with a couple of acetaminophen. If, as many Migraineurs are, being treated for comorbid depression, it's best to be open about that with the people you trust too. Again, the more they know and understand, the better.
- Invite People to Tag Along: For those closest to you, you might consider taking them to a doctor's appointment with you. Being present during an appointment can be a true eye-opener for some people.
- Consider Professional Assistance: If an important relationship is suffering, consider counseling. Whether the relationship is a marriage, friendship, or another relationship, counseling is available, and there's no shame in it.
A sad reality is that some people will never understand what it's like for us to live with Migraines. Some will try, and that's where the information above can come in handy.
Another reality is that the time may come when we have to stand back a bit and take a good, objective look at some of our relationships. There can come a time when we must evaluate relationships to determine if we can "fix" them or if we even want to. Evaluating the balance of give-and-take as well as the willingness on both sides to understand and be there for each other is difficult, but sometimes must be done.
Evaluating relationships with family members can be one of the most difficult realities to face. As is often said, we can't choose our family. Regardless, we owe it to ourselves to stand up to or distance ourselves from people treat us badly because of our Migraines. When it come to our friends, one of the most valuable questions we can ask ourselves is how we define friendship and whether our "friends" fit that definition.
If you don't remember anything else I've said here, please remember this...
What we must not do is allow ourselves to feel guilty because other people don't or won't understand and treat us well despite any limitations our Migraines may impose upon us. A very basic principle of psychology comes into play when there are problems in our relationships: Only the person who owns a problem can solve it.
When people don't understand, the problem is theirs. If people don't understand Migraines and the impact of the disease, we can offer them information, but what they get out of that information is outside of our control. They own the problem; they alone can solve it.
Ultimately, the most important relationship each of us has is the relationship we have with ourselves. We can walk away from other people and relationships, but we cannot escape ourselves. We must treat ourselves with respect, and that sometimes includes making tough decisions about other relationships. Remember this too -- How we feel about and treat ourselves can have enormous impact on how others feel about and treat us. We owe it to ourselves and the people with whom we have relationships to make the effort to build and maintain those relationships, but we owe it to ourselves to set the standards for what we need in relationships.
Let's remember our Migratude here! Looking at and dealing with our relationships is definitely part of Migratude:
Our aptitude for learning about and
coping with Migraines
Our attitude toward Migraine management and
living with Migraines
Couzin, Jennifer. “Friendship as a Health Factor.” Science. Vol. 323. January 23, 2009.
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