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Use Migraine as an Excuse, Recommends Advice Columnist

An advice columnist recommends using migraine as an excuse to avoid the potentially awkward conversation that would ensue if a female employee told her male bosses that she has to work from home one day each month due to menstrual cramps. And he does so in a remarkably insensitive manner:

I suggest, at the risk of overkill, concocting a migraine headache. Migraines can last for hours or for days; they’re famously disruptive to work schedules and social calendars. Also, it seems somehow permissible to use a migraine as an excuse because—well, I hear they’re awful, but—they’re not contagious and they don’t generally snowball into anything fatal, right? There’s no special worry about the mortality of the migraineur. Further, some back-on-the-envelope cultural analysis suggests some mystery and glamour to the ailment. It’s a serious person’s malady, with a Didion tinge of thoughtful drama.

Glamorous is not the word I’d use to describe the illness that has caused me to be housebound and even bedridden. I should start wearing silk pajamas and calling everyone “dahling.” I may not be able to work a steady job or form coherent thoughts, but at least I have a “serious person’s malady” — too bad few people take migraine seriously enough to recognize it is a potentially disabling neurological disorder. Perhaps if I play up the “thoughtful drama” people will understand how migraine has gutted my life. At least a woman can be spared the embarrassment of admitting that she menstruates by trivializing the severity of an illness that wreaks havoc on millions of lives.

Think I’m over-reacting? Here’s an explanation of the harm of using migraine as an excuse.

Want to leave a comment for the advice columnist? Following this link to the article on Slate. I have left a comment and expect people will soon respond that I’m too thin-skinned and need a sense of humor. Funny how people say that so readily until they encounter a topic that pushes their buttons.

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The Stigma of Illness: Blaming the Patient

A Sick Stigma: Why Are Cancer Patients Blamed for Their Illness? is yet another article about cancer with a message that rings true for headache disorders. It examines the ways in which healthy people blame patients for illness, why they do so, and how patients internalize these messages and beat themselves up. The following paragraphs particularly spoke to me:

“Judgments about behavior not only unsettle and stigmatize the patient, but reflect the interrogator’s own insecurities. Frequently, those disease detectives are attempting to regain a sense of control amid the inherently random and sometimes unjust world that we all reside in, according to researchers who have studied stigma.”

“’I think that in one part there is a fundamental assumption in our society that the world is a just place, and that bad things don’t happen to good people,’ says Gerald Devins, a stigma researcher and senior scientist at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto. ‘And I think when bad things happen to good people, it’s threatening to everybody.'”

‘Secondly, you can say knowledge is power in a sense,’ Devins says. ‘If we feel like we understand something, it gives us the illusion of control.’”

These are similar to arguments I made in It’s Not About You on Migraine.com, with the bonus of being rooted in academic research, rather than personal experience. Illness — whether curable or chronic, life-threatening or not — scares people. Blaming the patient is a way to allay these fears and allows the currently healthy person to believe they have the power to avoid illness.