By

Nice to Meet You, I Have Chronic Headaches

Our new neighbors are coming over for brunch in the morning and I’ve been dreading answering the “What do you do?” question. I am now comfortable saying that I’m a writer (it took me a long time to believe this myself); it’s the follow-up questions I don’t want to answer. This is how the conversation goes:

Nice person: What do you write about?
Me: Health issues.

NP: Like what?
Me: Pain and headache disorders.

NP: How did you get interested in that?
Me: I have migraine and want to help others who have it.

NP: That’s too bad. How often do you get them?
Me: They are chronic.

I love blogging and am proud of what I do, but feel like a complainer when I tell someone I barely know about my headaches. It can start a relationship off in a funny way. I’ve said that I don’t have energy to be friends with people who can’t understand what my life is like, but I want to be friendly with the next door neighbors.

It’s so odd that this is a topic that I’m more than willing to talk about, but I don’t want people to identify me as my headaches. Honestly, I worry about becoming my headaches and thinking that others see me that way encourages my harsh self-criticism. Sometimes I feel like I’m over it, but I know that I’m not.

Is this my own strain of neurosis or are you plagued by these thoughts too?

8 Responses to Nice to Meet You, I Have Chronic Headaches

  1. Eleanor says:

    Am I plagued by these thoughts too? OH GOD YES. I used to not talk about my headaches at all, when I met new people. After over 8 years of chronic migraines, I am much more open about it. It took practice, but it became easier and easier, ‘coming out’ about my illnesses. But every single time, I get a little pang. Are they going to judge me, or will they try to understand?

    I am finding that the migraines are the easy part. My other health problems, chronic anxiety and fatigue, are harder, and more likely to be misunderstood.

    It helps a lot that I have a really strong network of family and friends who get what I am going through, and support me all the way. It’s hard, and I struggle a lot with blaming myself for my illness. Every time I tell a new person that I am sick, I am scared they will reflect the worst things I think about myself, in my weakest, fraidy-cat-est moments. But mostly, people tend to surprise me with how open-minded and generous they can be. If anyone is judging me or thinking badly of me, they are keeping it to themselves.

  2. deborah says:

    Oh boy, only on a daily basis. Or at least everytime I must confront a conversation. Or each time I’m asked the hated phrase, “how are feeling?” I’m assuming the one with the question is waitng for my answer to be something like, “It’s miraculously gone. No more Migraines. Ever!” Do they want the truthful answer or a brush off answer?

    I think we probably all have the same feelings down deep, but we all think we’re in it alone still. Even after all this. With your site, and Terri’s site, the sites on your sidebar and mine and many others; how alone we still all can feel in this.

  3. Dana says:

    Wow, you sound just like me. I’ve kinda been forced “out” with my chronic migraines since I had to go on medical leave in December, and only a handful of people who really know me seem to grasp that not only is this something that’s just “in my head”, but something I really don’t want to define me. It’s been difficult, both in my professional and personal lives, and I don’t know whether I’ll ever get used to the fact that most people seem to know exactly what I’m going through when they really don’t.

  4. Kelly says:

    Hi Kerrie. I wanted to respond to Deborah’s comment about the dreaded “How are you feeling” question. I am friends with a wonderful woman (whom I admire greatly) who lives with chronic migraine. Most of the time, I don’t even think of her as “suffering” with anything, though I’m sure that often when I see her or speak with her she is, in fact, in pain. Over the last couple of years, I have learned a lot about her health challenges, but it is not an integral part of my concept of her as a person.

    So, when I ask this friend how she feels, it is no different than when I ask any other person how they feel. I am not asking “Does your head hurt today? Right this minute? On a scale of 1 – 10, etc., etc., etc.” I am simply inquiring as to how she feels/how her day is going/what she’s up to. As her friend, I expect an honest answer, with the understanding that she may filter it as she sees fit.

    Please don’t let cynicism or heartache lead you to underestimate the kindness and compassion of those who care about you. People who respond with judgement are likely having problems with something bubbling up in themselves in response to your situation…not with you personally.

    Perhaps answering the question candidly will open new doorways of understanding between you and your friends/family. Or, it may help you weed out the “friends” who are not helpful or supportive so that you can free yourself from the second dreaded question, “What is that person thinking about me?”

  5. Kerrie says:

    Thanks for your honest, thoughtful responses. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who thinks about this.

    Kelly’s response really touched me. In fact, it’s very similiar to what a friend and I talked about over doughnuts last week. Both of them have reminded me that my negative self-perception about this is so far from how other people see me.

    With how much I’ve been in my head the last week, I know that the most important thing is for me to have some compassion toward myself. Mind you, I have this same revelation at least 10 times a year. . . .

    Kerrie

  6. Kerrie says:

    By the way, our new neighbors were very polite about the work thing. They were interested without asking too many questions.

    And they are lovely people. We’re looking forward to getting to know them better.

    Kerrie

  7. Eleanor says:

    Wow, Kelly’s comment has restored my faith in human nature. Something that happens to me about 10 times a year! Yay!

    ********
    I agree and her comment was written so lovingly and with so much compassion.

    Kerrie

  8. emily says:

    ah yes. this is something i completely identify with (unfortunately). i had to leave school and work b/c of the headaches/migraines i get everyday; and one of the first things ppl. ask you when they meet you is ‘so what do you do?’.

    well I don’t DO anything. how do you say that? my husband says, just come out straight with it and tell them you had to quit school and work b/c of headaches. but i’m 25 and healthy besides the chronic headaches, so telling them that unfortunately always starts a lot of questions about my headaches, who do i see, what have i tried, ‘have you tried…’ i just get sick of it. like you kerrie i just don’t want the person i’m meeting for the first time to identify me with my headaches — and i don’t really want to go into it with people i’m just meeting. i get tired of talking about it, to be honest.

    ********
    For a long time I just said that I was trying to decide what was next. It kept people from pushing, but I felt like a spoiled brat when I said it. It’s such a hard thing to negotiate.

    Best of luck to you.

    Kerrie

Leave a Reply to Kelly Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *