If you live or work with someone like me who has migraines for long periods of time, you must have been on the receiving end of a range of expressions and actions that may have left you wondering: Are they faking it? What did I do to offend them? Am I boring them?
Nope. Probably nothing. And probably not.
Trouble is, it’s hard to ‘get’ migraines unless you get migraines – and, according to The Migraine Trust,five out of every six people don’t You probably don’t know that it’s not just a headache. It’s a multi-symptom genetic neurological disorder. And some of those symptoms and behaviors you see are not what they seem.
In fact, many of us actually fake feeling what you would deem “normal” more often than you can imagine – just to preserve our relationships and our jobs. It’s a rare day when I feel perfectly normal, with no pain and no extra-sensory symptoms.
This “It’s Just Migraine” decoder may help you discover something about migraines that you didn’t know and help you preserve a great relationship or job. It explains some weird behaviors you might otherwise misinterpret, react to or be offended by. Hopefully, it will help us all communicate a little better.
15 Things People Who Don’t Get Migraines Don’t “Get”
1 – We’re not picky eaters; we’re just easily nauseated – Waves of nausea can happen at any time, and are often hard to disguise. We turn our noses away, lift a hand to make sure we can hold down our cookies in public. It’s not the broccoli you served for dinner; it’s just migraine.
2 – We don’t yawn because we’re bored or tired – Yawning could mean we’re tired (and we probably are, since sleep can be elusive and inconsistent for many who get migraines). For many, yawning is one of those subtle warning signs of a prodrome (the first of four phases before the pain starts) in which the brain is begging for more oxygen. Your life story isn’t boring; it’s just migraine.
3 – We smell like a bear, and we smell it first – Every day, and especially before, during and after a migraine attack, all of our senses are on high alert. Many who get migraines can smell gas and smoke way before others can; it’s one of our cool superpowers. The flip side: strong perfume, paint, gasoline, exhaust fumes and more can trigger an attack. Our eyes often give away what the nose detects. It’s not a five-alarm fire; it’s just migraine.
4 – We can be a bit reluctant to commit – Because migraine threatens to interrupt the most trivial events on the biggest days of our lives, we’ve had to disappoint people by canceling things we really want to do. So, we might be vague. If you sense a reluctance to make firm plans, it’s because we don’t want to let you down, buy tickets we can’t use, or trigger a migraine. We fear a migraine will, once again, disrupt our plans. Going to a Coldplay concert sounds amazing but might not be doable; it’s just migraine.
5 – We’re not insecure, we’re freezing (again) – Cold hands and feet, and often nose and body temps, are a common migraine symptom before and during an attack. And what do you do when you’re cold? Cross your arms, hunch up your shoulders, drop your head. Trouble is, that also looks just like insecurity. I’m really totally comfortable in my own skin; it’s just migraine.
6 – We truly hate calling in sick – When asked if we can fill in at work on Friday or deliver the presentation to the customer on Tuesday, you want to hear “absolutely,” but you might get a vague response from us. Why?Because we hate calling in sick, we want to be dependable team members and we don’t want to make a promise we can’t keep. Ever. Our jobs, our income and our insurance matter a lot, even more than to the average person. Because migraines are notoriously difficult to predict, we might hedge a bit, but we’ll get it done. It’s not that I can’t be counted upon, it’s just migraine.
7 – Our super-sensitive senses can get overwhelmed easily – What do hostile or angry people do? They often leave the room without explanation, leaving you to wonder what you did or said. So do people who get migraines. Bright light, annoying sound, nauseating smells, and the risk of vomiting can all cause us to leave quickly and retreat to a quiet, dark space. Better to speak up next time. Remember, I’m not mad at you; it’s just migraine.
8 – Sometimes we just can’t stand being touched – Many a marriage has been tested by migraines, especially when one spouse initiates sex and the other rolls over and away. One strange migraine symptom is allodynia, in which ordinary touch feels intensely uncomfortable and actually painful. Our love hasn’t changed, but we do NOT want to be touched at that time. Not tonight doesn’t mean not ever; it’s just migraine.
9 – Our necks often hurt before our heads do – People who are stressed often roll their heads and shoulders or grab their necks to ease the tension. So do migraine sufferers, because neck pain is just as common as head pain in a migraine. They don’t always happen at the same time, though. Even though we can be at ease with the circumstances around us, it might not look that way. You’re not stressing me out; it’s just migraine.
10 – We’re not stuck up; we’re sensitive to light – Comedian Larry David once said that “People who wear sunglasses indoors are A-h*les.” Bono would beg to differ. People who are sensitive to light, like most migraine sufferers, are smart to wear shades indoors and out. It’s called photophobia, and it’s a common symptom. We’re not trying to be aloof jerks. We’d like to make eye contact; it’s just migraine.
11 – We’re not crazy or drugged; it’s an aura – If I’m shaking my head, covering my eyes or babbling nonsensically, I really am not crazy. I’m just experiencing an aura, the migraine phase that happens to many people before the pain phase. If my eyes were open, I might be hallucinating or experiencing visual distortions like Alice in Wonderland. Don’t call the insane asylum; it’s just migraine.
12 – We’re not necessarily grumpy, even if we look like it – Don’t mistake my furrowed brow for being angry with you or the world. It’s not you at all. It’s just a physiological response to pain in the trigeminal nerve that’s acting up around my scalp and behind one eye. I’m not whining about it because I don’t want to sound like a wimp, so I’m forging on quietly. You didn’t say or do anything wrong; it’s just migraine.
13 – Sometimes the world feels like it’s spinning – Grasping the rail or a friend’s shoulder can be a sign of fear, or it can signal dizziness. Fear spreads like wildfire, so you shouldn’t misinterpret this signal. Some people experience migraine-associated vertigo (MAV) and fainting with an attack. You don’t need to be afraid of anything; it’s just migraine.
14 – We’re not high-maintenance; we’re just careful – You know those people who seem so demanding at a restaurant due to their latest diet? Gluten free, vegan, organic, wild-caught seafood and so on? We’re all entitled to choose the foods that work for us. However, a migraine sufferer can lose days of work to an attack started by hidden MSG or aged cheese, for example. The list of food triggers is long and very personal, so don’t judge and don’t pressure someone to eat something they’ve said no to. It’s not that your casserole doesn’t look delicious; it’s just migraine.
15 – We predict storms better than the weatherman – You know people who say “it smells like rain today?” Sometimes they’re right. But the more we learn to listen to our bodies, the more we can tell: there’s a front coming in. It’s not a hidden barometer in our pocket; it’s just migraine.
If you’re confused about migraines and the people who suffer from them, just ask. We’re sharing this with you because you matter. Thanks for taking a minute to better understand us. Now, what should we know about you?