Friends & Family

Reader Newly in Love With Someone With Chronic Daily Headache Seeks Advice

A woman who has fallen in love with a man who has chronic daily headache has posted a comment asking for input on whether it is wise to stay in the relationship. Although I indulge in Dear Prudence during migraine attacks, I’m not an advice columnist myself. I’ll share my thoughts and would love for you to weigh, as I think anyone whose had a relationship and a headache disorder could provide a valuable perspective.

She wrote:

“I am divorced. I have met a wonderful man whom I love. However, he has had a headache non stop for 25 years. He has maintained a successful career and still works but has debilitating headache periods. I only know he feels bad when he tells me. But I’m starting to realize he feels bad all the time. I don’t understand how he’s not crazy. In other words it does not impaire [sic] dating. He says he feels better when relaxed. Tense work makes headaches worse. He’s been to the best headache clinics. We’ve been dating 5 months and got serious about a month ago. But I stress enormously about whether I have just fallen in love with someone that is disabled or will be. He’s just ideal for me except for the headache. I cannot imagine stopping dating when we are having such a good time. But I feel like I am taking on a disability that could leave me in a bad marriage and I want a good marriage.”

My immediate thought is that part of what she loves about this man is probably a direct result of who he has become because of his headache disorder. After all, we’re known for being brave and tenacious. Maybe his his chronic headache is as much an asset as a liability.

Just because one person has a physical disability doesn’t mean a marriage will be bad. It is undeniably something to deal with, but every person and every relationship has difficulties. It is fortunate that this one is known ahead of time.

This man appears to function quite well with his headaches and there’s no indication his condition is worsening. There’s also no guarantee they won’t worsen, nor is there a guarantee that the woman asking for advice won’t be diagnosed with a debilitating disease or disabled in a car accident.

Life is uncertain and you can only know so many variables going into a major decision. You can decide what you want out of a relationship and weigh all the factors you know and still be surprised, pleasantly or otherwise.

I write all this knowing that I was married before my migraine attacks became severely debilitating. It has caused an enormous strain on my relationship. My husband and I love each other very much and are committed to being together, but there’s no denying I’m not the energetic woman he married, nor am I the equal partner we both expected. Still, he tells me that he’d rather be with me sick than not be with me at all.

That may be the real question this advice seeker should ask herself: Would she rather be with this man even though he is sick than not with him at all?

Readers, you have loads of experience with this issue. What’s your advice?

4 thoughts on “Reader Newly in Love With Someone With Chronic Daily Headache Seeks Advice”

  1. I first want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for this blog. it has helped us so much!

    I am married to a chronic migraine. He is disabled due to them. I am alone A LOT. Everything is on my shoulders ,including the constant worry. That being said would I have married him 33 years ago if I had known this would be my life? YES I WOULD! If you found out this man had cancer would you bail? The Bible says “time and unforeseen occurrence befall us all” What if something happens to you along the way? Look in your heart,if you can’t live without him there is your answer.

  2. I agree with you Kerrie – life is uncertain for all of us.

    My husband and I married young, had a family and a future that appeared to be sunny. Then he was diagnosed with MS. A few years later he was diagnosed with diabetes as well.

    Five years after that I was diagnosed with chronic migraine.

    We are approaching our 33rd wedding anniversary. We both have bad days but it makes us appreciate the good days even more. Our life doesn’t look anything like the one we imagined when we married all those years ago. But it’s good. Really good.

    If you had asked me if I thought I could cope with my husband’s physical disabilities and my own chronic pain I would have said “No way.” And I would have been wrong.

    My husband often says “Everyone has disabilities. It’s just that for some of us they are more apparent.”

  3. Chronic illness _does_ put strain on a relationship. If you talk about and set boundaries for caretaking and work to build a support network that doesn’t just include your partner, that helps. I also really loved Jennifer Claire Burke’s A Life Less Convenient. It really delves into some of the practical and emotional issues of being with someone whose body keeps letting them down.

  4. Four months is not a long time. It makes sense for them to enjoy their time together and see how things progress. Migraine has been a tremendous strain in my life and I was reluctant to have kids because of it. I felt like I could barely take care of myself, how could I take care of another? My husband worked a lot during his 30s and I worked 9-5 and would come home and crash. His work consumed most of his time so he often didn’t realize that I was as drained and in as much pain as I was. At 34, I was diagnosed with migraine and started taking Triptans as abortives. This helped but I felt like I was living half a life. By 38, I realized that I should take the plunge into fertility treatment as the clock was ticking loudly. I was convinced that I was too sick to get and maintain pregnancy and was going forward with fertility treatment so that I could say to myself “see, I tried, I really tried, it just wasn’t meant to be for me to have kids”. But, I got pregnant with twins on the first round of IVF. I was so scared that I would miscarry that I refused to buy any baby items until the very end. Pregnancy was a blessing far beyond the outcome, it gave me virtually migraine-free 2nd and 3rd trimesters. This was the first time since age 21 that I had gone any length of time without migraines. After the babies were born and they got a bit older, I researched what could have possibly been responsible for this reprieve. Obviously hormones but what EXACTLY was going on with these hormones to allow me to eat anything and not get migraines (this was before I knew anything substantial about gluten and migraine so I ate a lot of gluten during my pregnancy). After breastfeeding, my cycle returned and the migraines resumed. I started taking the same dose of birth control pills daily for 3 months at a time as an attempt to simulate pregnancy. I was spared the terrible menstrual migraines but still got lots of others. Was it the dose? Did I need to be pregnant all of the time to avoid migraines? I researched more and learned about histamine intolerance. Apparently, the placenta pumps out a ton of Diamine Oxidase, an enzyme which dismantles histamine, in order to prevent miscarriage. The uterus is very sensitive to histamine and the body does this in order to protect the pregnancy. Pregnancy also dials down the mother’s immune system in other ways so that the body doesn’t attack the fetus. Well, this info., coupled with learning about gluten as a very powerful trigger has led me to decrease my migraines substantially. Anyway, my point beyond sharing my own biography is that one shouldn’t give up hope. I know that daily migraine is another level of migraine, and without triptans, I would have been solidly in the chronic category. The neurologists don’t have all of the answers yet. I am surprised that Amitryptiline is prescribed as a preventative since it apparently interferes with DAO activity. Given that histamine is a known trigger, it makes sense to prescribe meds that don’t interfere with the breakdown of histamine. We all have to be our own health advocates and keep looking for good people to work with.

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