Chronic Migraine, Coping, Friends & Family, Mental Health, Society

Migraine Beliefs

I am a faker.

If I tried harder, I wouldn’t have migraine.

It is my fault that I have migraine.

I’m only sick for sympathy or attention.

If I were a stronger or somehow better person, I wouldn’t have migraine.

I have chronic migraine because I don’t want to work (and I have specific migraine attacks because I don’t want to clean the house/go out to dinner with that person/see that movie).

I am not as sick as I act like I am.

I am lazy.

I am weak.

I am a failure.

These are the migraine-related beliefs I uncovered in therapy yesterday. Talk about a landmine. Knowing I’ve been carrying around these harmful falsehoods most of my life makes me incredibly sad.

I am sad that I learned as a child — from adults who couldn’t see my illness and so didn’t believe I was sick, from kids who called me a faker, from a family who thought pushing through illness would always overcome it, from everyone who told me “headaches” were trivial — to ignore my body, to not trust myself and how I felt. I learned that illness is wrong and shameful and that by “giving in” to illness — or even admitting how sick I feel — means I am a failure.

I am sad that I have carried these notions so long. That even after eight years of writing about migraine and being called a migraine advocate, I still hold on to them. That I absolutely know these beliefs are untrue and yet I am still invested in them.

I am sad that I am not only sick with a physical illness, but with shame and self-hatred about that illness.

I am sad for all the migraineurs who hold tight to similar beliefs about themselves. And for the friends and families of migraineurs who believe such things about their loved ones.

I am sad to live in a society that sees any admission of difficulty as weakness. That treats illness as personal (or even moral) failure. That blames the patient for not improving.

I am sad for the little girl who internalized all these messages and for the adult woman who is still haunted by them.

6 thoughts on “Migraine Beliefs”

  1. Nicky, I’ve never heard of it. Is it diagnostic?

    Nilofer, I agree. Thanks for the insight.

    Todd, thanks!

    Macattack, I agree that these thoughts plague many migraineurs no matter what their family situation was. Today I wrote a follow-up post about the cultural context of migraine, which I think better addresses all the obstacles we face. Also, I want to clarify that my family was supportive, but they had no way to conceptualize what I was going through. They took me to plenty of doctors who found nothing wrong because my symptoms didn’t fit the knowledge of migraine 25 years ago — the pain wasn’t one-sided and I had no visual aura.


  2. Even with a supportive family, I have these same thoughts and questions running through my head too.
    – is it possible I am making this up? Possible that this is all ‘in my head’?
    Another common one for me is: ” yeah, I have a migraine today, but I deserved it” ( maybe because I exercised harder than usual or because I stayed up later than usual the night before)

    Thanks again for sharing all these great posts!

  3. This made me sad to read. I have many of the same beliefs. We are hardest on ourselves. I think that since migraine pain is depression-pain as well (and only a migraineur can comprehend this emotional and physical state of pain) we become such harsh critics of ourselves and we accentuate the negativity in others. It doesn’t help that we usually inherit migraine from a parent. The parent may have ‘sinuses’ that they complain about and never reach a level 10 migraine but their mood is still affected. They may have ‘pushed through’ their pain and therefore felt triumphant. They might expect their child to do the same but the child might have a higher frequency/higher pain level and pushing through is not possible.

  4. Sounds like a very good day in therapy!
    Perhaps this is the wrong place to ask, but have you or any readers had an EMG+nerve conduction test? How painful is it? My doc said ” like being electrocuted , it hurts”. He doesn’t have migraines daily :). Do u kno? Thanks , Nicky

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