How to Explain Migraines to Outsiders: Guest Blog by the Migraine Relief Center

12:31 PM chronicmigraineellie 6 Comments

By Dr. Mark Khorsandi

Nobody can argue with a broken arm or a limp. Physical injuries offer proof of a person’s pain and suffering. Migraine pain, however, is not always so visible. When patients come to me, many of them are tired of the endless questions, disbelief, and frustration that they encounter from others.

In many ways, defending the experience of migraine pain is just as difficult as coping with the condition itself. Knowing how to explain your migraine pain can take away some of the stress and stigma associated with a migraine diagnosis.

Explaining How Migraine Attacks Feel

Someone who has never experienced the gut-wrenching, cognition-distorting pain of a migraine attack may have difficulty understanding how people with migraines feel. To non-sufferers, a migraine may not seem much worse than the average passing headache.

When you need to explain how you feel to justify your actions or receive support, use the following tips from other migraine sufferers:

·      Avoid assuming people act from a place of understanding. Let the people around you know about your migraines and how they affect your life to reduce the likelihood of an unfair bias.

·      Plan the discussion for a time when you feel well. Migraines can distort thoughts and make communication more difficult. Talk to people about your situation when you feel well to accurately describe your pain.

·      Describe the pain. Use descriptions and images to help others understand your pain. Analogies are particularly helpful for this process. Go beyond your feelings to the impact of a migraine on daily life. Discuss associated symptoms, your coping mechanisms, the average duration of your own migraines, and warning signs.

Explain how pain levels vary, the frustration of never knowing how long you will feel well, what you cannot safely do while in pain, and what you do to manage your condition. People often feel more sympathetic to those actively working to control chronic pain.

Communicating with Coworkers

If colleagues and supervisors do not know about or understand your condition, they may treat a migraine sufferer unfairly during times of pain. Always disclose your migraine suffering to at least your primary manager or supervisor. If necessary, ask your doctor to write a short letter explaining the diagnosis and your needs.

Try to proactively discuss your condition and possible work impacts, including missed work, workplace accommodations (such as a dark office for rest), and accommodations that may reduce the onset of migraines – e.g., the ability to take short breaks throughout the day, to eat and drink frequently, or to work in a noise-, scent-, or light-reduced environment.

Communicating with Friends, Family Members, and Loved Ones

Away from the office, each member of your family and support network should understand your struggle with migraines and your needs. Develop an inclusive strategy everyone can understand and appreciate. Let people know ahead of time what does and does not help you during an attack and the warning signs that may take you away from social and familial activities. Understanding and planning can go a long way to prevent hurt feelings and give a migraine sufferer the space he or she needs to recover from an attack.

Responding to Others’ Questions and Comments

Prepare for and encourage questions during each discussion with coworkers, friends, and family members. Those who do not know the pain of a migraine may ask questions that seem obvious or unimportant to you, but they will go a long way to help another’s understanding. People may bring up treatment ideas, ask you about psychological counseling, claim they get headaches too, or discount your experience. You may answer the same question repeatedly. Offer others resources about your condition and try to brush off insensitive comments.

Crucial Migraine Statistics

In the United States alone, over 37 million residents experience migraines. Of those, 2–3 million struggle with chronic migraine pain. Around 91% of migraine sufferers lose normal functioning during an attack and must miss out on work and social activities. A quarter of sufferers experience attacks on a weekly basis and many will go to the emergency room due to the severity of pain and secondary symptoms (dehydration due to vomiting, loss of consciousness, or other physical issues).

Many reactions to migraine pain come from a place of ignorance. When my patients learn how to discuss their condition with others, they often find new and successful ways of coping both at work and at home. Statistics, studies, and personal experience do not lie. Migraines are real, they can be devastating, and they deserve understanding and a reasonable level of empathy. Use this information to talk about your own experiences and needs with others, and begin to take back the control that migraines so often steal from chronic sufferers.

About the Author

Dr. Mark Khorsandi works at the Migraine Relief Center. They provide surgical treatments that reduce and eliminate pain for migraine sufferers. Dr. Khorsandi treats patients in Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. His high ratings by patients earned him the 2015 Patient’s Choice Award.


Makeup and Migraines: How Makeup Helps Me Cope With My Chronic Illness

3:50 PM chronicmigraineellie 1 Comments

Every morning, I wake up and assess how I'm feeling. Some days, I can't move from my bed. Other times, I can pull myself up and somehow can get to class. My clothes and my makeup provide a mask that helps me get through the day. I don't know what it is about makeup, but it just helps me to feel like I'm a bit functional. Eyeshadow brightens up my tired eyes. Foundation balances my skin tone, hiding the redness of my skin. Concealer covers up the bags under my eyes, hiding my lack of sleep. Bold lipstick makes me feel like I'm put together, even when I feel like everything is falling apart. I put on this mask for myself. It allows me to hide in plain sight. When someone compliments my eyeliner or my lipstick, they don't see the pain I'm in. They don't see how much energy it takes just to be present. And that's how I like it to be. I feel empowered with my mask of makeup. It's a way of coping, of self-expression. By making myself feel beautiful, I lessen the feelings of pain and unworthiness that come with my migraines. With every pat of my beauty blender, I am helping myself to fight the pain that I go through everyday.

It's weeks like this one which leave me feeling pretty helpless and exhausted. When I want to sleep, I can't, and when I shouldn't, I want to. My fatigue is a real part of my life. A lot of people assume that just because I can walk and function that my physical health is okay, that since migraines are just in my brain, my physical activity shouldn't be affected. As any migraineur knows, migraines hit you hard. The ability to walk is not a given, the ability to stand and support your own weight is a game of hit or miss. When I am able to drag myself to class on a bad day, my makeup is able to deflect questions that I don't want to answer. It's much easier to take a compliment than it is to answer the question, "wow, you look exhausted. Are you okay?" On bad days, that's the last question I want to answer. When I was very sick in high school, makeup was the only thing that I could do. I couldn't really function, so reading, writing and watching tv was pretty much out of question. However, I could experiment with makeup. No matter how exhausted I was, I could sit in my desk chair and try on lipsticks. I could create a daring smoky eye, perfect my cat eye eyeliner, make myself feel beautiful, wipe it off, and go back to sleep. I never realized how much that my experiences with makeup shaped my life during my worst periods of migraines. No matter what, my makeup was there for me, on both good and bad days. My lipsticks would be in their drawer, waiting for me to uncap them. With each brush stroke, I was able to escape the hell that was my life and become a version of myself that was different than what I physically embodied

When I was at high school, I carried my makeup bag with me. My friends knew to find my doing my makeup in the bathroom every morning before homeroom. It was like my shield of protection. If i could hide my imperfections, maybe I would feel better. Fake it until you make it, they say. To a certain point, that mantra works. On some of my worst days, I put on my makeup and even if I feel just a little bit better, I know that I have succeeded.

Now, some of you may be reading this thinking, I can't even do my makeup when I feel horrible! I completely agree! I have different levels of makeup that I do, depending on how I feel. When I feet at my worst, my routine is to use a light BB cream, spot-treat with concealer, dab on a bit of blush, a couple coats of mascara, fill in my eyebrows and lipstick. It takes less than 3 minutes, but boy, does it make a world of difference. On days that I can't sleep, I often put on a full face of makeup. Yes, the full blown smokey eye, contour, highlight, you name it, I do it. It makes me feel more alive, more like a functional person. There's something that makes me feel so much better when I feel absolutely horrible to look in the mirror and go, "well, at least I look cute today!"

My body is a constant battlefield. I can't control when or where my pain comes, or how affected that I will be. I can't control the symptoms that I experience. I can only control so much. My appearance is something that I can control. I'm a big proponent of doing whatever feels good for you, and for me, makeup is my relief from pain. A swipe or red lipstick on my lips can take me from an exhausted, brain-fogged girl to a girl who, excuse my language, looks like she has her shit together. We cannot control our illnesses. But we can control how the world perceives us. My makeup is my shield against chronic illness, what's yours?


Why Self-Care Should Be A Priority, Not an Afterthought

8:03 PM chronicmigraineellie 0 Comments

Self-care is important. As I sit here, writing this, I am recovering from almost a week of straight migraines. I'm exhausted. I have 3 million things to do. I have book reviews to write, jobs to apply to, events to plan and schedule and yet, here I am, listening to music and writing this blog post. For years, I put my academics and activities above my health. When I wasn't able to read or write, I would still try to push myself to try and study a bit or write a paragraph of the essay looming over my head. Every time, without fail, I would feel worse than I did before I started working. Being the stubborn, headstrong person that I am, I refused to give myself a break and let myself take the time to recover because I 'needed to get things done.' I refused to allow myself the self-care that I needed. I thought that through some miracle, I was going to be able to function and achieve what I needed and wanted to do. Oh, how wrong I was.

This isn't an isolated incident. I did this all throughout high school and even when I thought I had learned my lesson, I have also done this in college, namely this past winter break. So why am I telling you this now? Well, I'm telling you because I need to write this to believe it too. It's hard to admit that you need to stop and let your body rest when the world keeps moving at a thousand miles an hour around you. There are a million things to do every day, everything which seems to be time-sensitive and necessary. This only adds to the stress of migraines. It's okay to say no to plans, to push off non-essential tasks because you need the time to recover. By spending that time on yourself, it'll help you in the long run. Giving yourself the time, space and mental energy to deal with your illness will only help you.

Even though I'm on spring break, it doesn't feel like it. With the added stress of one of my prophylactic medications failing, increased migraines, and deadlines hanging, my life feels like one giant ball of stress. Sometimes, it gets to me. It's easy to cry and get upset about my life. It's not easy to learn how to prioritize myself and my health. But it's something that is necessary. Taking time to rest, to recharge and to give my brain a break means that I will be twice as likely to do what I need to do. It's the decision to lay down for 20 minutes in between classes instead of trying to get a reading done. It's deciding that I need to rest, nap and take a shower instead of pushing myself to get a blog post done. It's the difference between functioning and dragging myself through my day.

Self-care can be as simple as getting a coffee and just sitting for 15 minutes. It's painting your nails or watching a television show after getting work done. These decisions may seem easy, but they're actually difficult. There's a level of shame involved when I decide to leave the library without doing all of my readings for tomorrow because I can barely focus on the words. I'm going to expand on this in a later post because I also have to take care of myself this week. I am still feeling pretty fuzzy and experiencing some brain fog issues. The main takeaway of this post, though, is to take care of yourself. You deserve it. Self-care should be something that you should prioritize, not realize when it's too late and you can't function or move anymore.

As always, have an amazing, migraine-free week!


Facebook Live Sunday 3/5 with Migraine Support!

2:57 PM chronicmigraineellie 2 Comments

Hello everyone! I will not be posting this week, but I am going to be doing a Facebook Live with Migraine Support this Sunday, at 12 pm EST! Go to their page to watch and you can rewatch it later on their page!

Hope you all had a wonderful, pain free week!