This is for my “friend” Alice (not her real name) and other people who know people with Migraines…
Alice, you recently said to me, “Take three extra-strength Tylenol with a cup of coffee. That will fix you right up.” When I said, “Thanks for the suggestion. Unfortunately Tylenol doesn’t touch these Migraines,” your reply was, “If You Won’t Try Tylenol for That Migraine, Stop Complaining.”
I was so astounded, dismayed, and aghast, that I couldn’t speak. I was also hurt and, quite bluntly, offended by your statement and attitude. That’s why I told you I’d talk with you later and hung up. Now that I’ve had some time to recover, I’m writing a response to you.
We’ve known each other for over 40 years, and I’ve had Migraines for over 50 years. That you could say what you said to someone you’ve called a friend for more than 40 years simply astonishes me. Have you felt that way all this time? You’ve seen me cowering on the high school restroom floor while I vomited couldn’t even get up off the floor. Despite what you’ve observed first-hand, there are obviously many things you don’t understand, so here are some things you should know:
A Migraine isn’t actually a headache. The headache, when there is one, is only ONE SYMPTOM of a Migraine attack. A diagnosis of Migraine requires additional symptoms, and a Migraine can occur with no headache at all.
Migraine is a genetic neurological disease cased by genetics and an overly sensitive nervous system.
Migraine is the 12th most disabling disorder in the United States.
According to a World Health Organization analysis, severe Migraine attacks are as disabling as quadriplegia (paralysis of both arms and legs).
Suicide attempts are three times more likely among people who have Migraine with aura than among people who do not have Migraine.
More than 37 million people in the United States have Migraine disease. Three-quarters of them are women.
The stigma associated with Migraine makes the burden of living with it heavier and contributes to suicide among the Migraine population.
Over-the-counter treatments such as Tylenol and even prescription pain relievers can’t stop a Migraine attack. For some people, they may relieve the pain for a few hours. For others, they do nothing; they do us as much good as breath mints.
If you don’t want to know, don’t ask people how they are. I wasn’t complaining. You asked how I was and I said, “Other than a raging Migraine, I’m great, thanks.”
Sadly, the way “friends” act when we have a Migraine often reveals who our true friends are.
Alice, I hope you understand better now. It’s also my hope that anyone else who doesn’t have Migraines understands better. Living with Migraine, or any disease, is difficult enough without having “friends” who make snap judgments and say hurtful things. Incidents like the conversation you and I had, makes living with diseases even more difficult.
Think about this for a moment:
If you were talking to a friend with multiple sclerosis or epilepsy, what would you think, and what would you say to them?
Migraine disease is no different. Just having the disease makes us more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. In rare instances, a Migraine can even cause a stroke - possibly a fatal one. Many of us with Migraine feel very isolated, partly because we have friends who react as you did. It’s easy for us to lose hope because it can take years for us to find effective treatment, and loss of hope has brought too many people to take their lives. Please think about these things, then think of what kind of “friend” you want to be.
Make a difference… _Donate to the 36 Million Migraine Campaign! _
Teri Robert is a leading patient educator and advocate and the author of Living Well with Migraine Disease and Headaches. A co-founder of the Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy and the American Headache and Migraine Association, she received the National Headache Foundation’s Patient Partners Award and a Distinguished Service Award from the American Headache Society. Teri can be found on her website, and blog, Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+.