Yesterday, I had a heart-wrenching conversation with a friend who has Migraine. She finds herself in a situation that's all too common. She has chronic Migraine and is struggling with not just the Migraines, but with a pretty much total lack of support from her family.
This type of situation makes me extremely sad. It also makes me pretty angry, especially when it's a spouse who's not being supportive because it's... well, it's just so wrong. As cliché and naive as this may sound, when we marry, we pledge to support each other, "in sickness and in health." People who don't really mean it, shouldn't get married. Once married, people need to stick by their pledge. To me, it really is that simple.
Yes, I know this may be somewhat futile, but I want to reach out to spouses of other Migraineurs who aren't supportive of their spouses. Here goes:
Dear Migraine Spouse,
You're married to someone who has Migraines. Migraines truly aren't headaches. Migraine is a genetic neurological disease caused by genetic predisposition and an overly excitable brain. It's characterized by episodes best called "Migraine attacks." If your spouse gets a headache during their Migraine attacks, that headache is only one symptom of the attack, and it may not be the worst of most debilitating of their symptoms. In fact, some very debilitating Migraine attacks occur with no headache at all.
Migraines can be triggered by many different things including changes in the weather, hormonal fluctuations, exposure to fragrances and other odors, some foods, and more. Triggers vary from one person to the next. Unfortunately, we can't stop our Migraines by simply changing our diet or exercising more. It's just not that simple. Some people's Migraines are so severe that they are unable to work, participate in family activities, or do many things that others take for granted.
Migraines can actually kill by causing fatal strokes or so thoroughly robbing people of hope that they take their own lives. Support from our friends and family is as vital to our survival as good medical care.
I'm sure your spouse's health issues seem burdensome to you. But, I can guarantee you that their Migraines are far more burdensome to them than they are to you. It can be difficult to know how to help your spouse with their Migraines. It can also be difficult to not be able to do more to ease their pain and suffering. There is much you can do to help your spouse, starting by supporting and believing in them. That's possibly the most valuable thing you can do for your spouse.
Learning about the type of Migraines they have and their treatments is also important. If you don't understand their Migraines and treatments, it's going to be difficult for you to help and support them. It's often a good idea for spouses to go to the Migraineurs' doctor's appointments with them. This gives you an opportunity to learn, know what the doctor is telling your spouse, and ask any questions you may have.
There are still many misconceptions about Migraines and a great deal of stigma attached to the disease. You need to know, however, that Migraine is a real neurological disease every bit as much as multiple sclerosis and epilepsy are. It's just perceived differently by many people, possibly because it's invisible, and there are no diagnostic tests that say, "Hey! This person has Migraine disease."
If, for some reason, you haven't been supportive of your spouse in his or her battle to live with Migraine disease, I hope you'll search your heart and work to be more supportive. Please let your spouse know that you want to understand and to help them.
If you want a copy of this letter, you can download it.
I'd be remiss if I didn't also say that there are many, many spouses who are incredibly understanding and supportive of their Migraineur spouses. They're the heroes who prove that people who have never had a Migraine in their lives can indeed understand what it's like for us to live with Migraines. John (my husband) is, thankfully, an example of this. He's never had a Migraine, and seldom even gets a Headache. Yet, for the last 30 years, he's been here for me when a Migraine strikes, when I needed to see a specialist eight hours from our home — for all of it. He may not know what a Migraine feels like, but he absolutely understands what it's like for me. So, to all of those spouses — Thank you! You're all heroes, and I love all of you.
Here's hoping that the coming week is gentle with all of us.
because a migraine is NOT "just a headache"