When Migraines Put Friendships at Risk
There's nothing in life that isn't impacted by Migraine disease. Migraines impact our physical and mental health, careers, family relationships, friendships, social lives, and quality of life. Nothing escapes unscathed.
Ideally, our friends would always understand us and what’s going on in our lives, including Migraines, and we would understand in return. The reality, however, can be quite different. People have written to me about friends not understanding how Migraines impact their lives and losing friends because of their Migraines. When our Migraines are frequent, there are things we’re unable to do, and that can cost us friendships. We often…
- don’t feel like going out and doing things;
- aren’t always as attentive as we’d like to be when our friends need to talk;
- can have problems being around friends who like to wear perfume and cologne;
- can’t attend parties with crowds and lots of noise;
… Well, you get the point.
Our friends may drift away, or they may say things to us that are hurtful — without intending to hurt us. Invitations may stop if we’ve said, “No,” or had to reschedule too many times.
Let’s take a look at some scenarios and how we might handle them. At the end of this piece, I’ll also share some links to materials that can be helpful in handling such problems.
The friend who thinks we can “take a pill” and “get over it:”
We’ve probably all been in this situation. We’re with a friend and get smacked right between the eyes with a nasty Migraine. We want to crawl in a hole and pull it in after us, but our friend (not meaning to be hurtful) says something along the lines of, “It’s a headache. Take a couple of Excedrin.” This is where we need to know enough about Migraine disease to explain it to our friends. We need to gently explain that Migraine is a genetic neurological disease, Migraines are different from “regular” headaches, that they can make us very ill, and that special medications are necessary. When this happens to me, I try very hard not to get defensive and explain things in as friendly a tone as possible, thanking the person for their concern.
The friend who is upset when we have to cancel:
It’s disappointing to us and our friends when we have to cancel plans because of a Migraine, especially if it happens very often. Sometimes, a friend will begin to think we cancel because we don’t want to do things with them. If we’re worn down by our Migraines, it’s natural to not feel up to explaining ourselves yet again, but if we can show interest, it may be less upsetting to our friends. Telling this friend that we wish we could be there and want to hear all about it later can help.
The friend who doesn’t understand that there are things we just can’t do:
Do you have a friend who likes to go place and do things that are laden with triggers? Some people enjoy big, noisy parties or going to clubs. Lots of possible triggers here — noise, people wearing cologne, smoke, and more. This is when we need to (again) let this friend know that we’d love to go and want to hear all about it, but this activity has the potential to make us quite ill. If you can suggest someone else to go with them, that can help. Explain the possible triggers. It can also help if you not only explain the possible triggers, but also plan something you can do together without all the possible triggers. Choose an activity you both like, or invite your friend to your home to spend some time together. You can fix dinner, plan quiet time catching up, plan some games, rent and watch movies, whatever you and your friend would enjoy doing together in an atmosphere that’s not full of triggers.
The friend who criticizes:
Sadly, some of us have had situations where not understanding Migraines has led friends to criticize us over our Migraines. They may tell us to “Deal with the headache,” “Stop babying ourselves,” “get out and do something,” and so on. This is a tough situation, and there’s no easy way to handle it. This friend may be a very healthy person who has no understanding of anyone who is ill… someone who, not understanding what Migraines do to us, has no patience with what they see as weakness… or someone who just isn’t very sympathetic. The only way I know to address this situation is a very frank conversation about Migraine disease, what we can and can’t do, what our friends can do to support us, and how hurtful it is when friends think badly of us because of this disease we have.
Having "the talk" with our friends:
People tend to be critical of or fear what they don’t understand. There are still many myths and misconceptions about Migraine disease. Educating people about it can often be at least a partial solution. Especially if the situation is hurtful to us, we can become emotional and have trouble explaining Migraines the way we’d like to. In this type of situation, I sometimes will write a letter so I can say what I really want and need to say. Such a letter can be mailed to people, or you can sit down for a conversation and ask people to read the letter, explaining that the letter allows you to say what you want to say without forgetting anything or getting sidetracked.
In the end:
When all is said and done, we may have to be honest with our friends and ourselves about what friendship is. We may have to realize that some people are true friends, but others are “fair weather” friends. This was one of the hardest things for me to cope with when my Migraines were at their worst and kept me in bed all day, totally debilitated, five or six days a week. During this time, I found some quotes about friendship that gave me solace and strength. I want to share them with you:
"A friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future, and accepts you just the way you are." ~unknown
"A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words." ~unknown
"The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares." ~Henri Nouwen
I believe that true friends stick with us through everything, both good and bad. That’s the kind of friend I try to be. When my Migraines were at their worst, I discovered who my true friends were, learned the difference between friends and acquaintances. We have many acquaintances in our lives, fewer true friends. It wasn’t easy to come to or accept that conclusion, but I’m happier now that I have.
Helpful content to share with friends:
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© Teri Robert, 2014
Last updated February 7, 2014.