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Migraine Guilt


Another day, another migraine. With a couple of migraines a week, you think I'd be used to it. Actually, after getting a 5 day reprieve from the course of DHE, it feels like a shock to have two migraine days in a week again.

I'm feeling some overwhelming migraine guilt. I must have done something wrong to have a migraine yet again, even though the barometric pressure is dropping, which is my most reliable migraine trigger. Yet the guilt is there. I couldn't empty the dishwasher or stir-fry the broccoli that needed to be cooked today. Migraine.

I know that I'm not the only person who feels migraine guilt. I've read enough migraine blogs and articles to know that other migraineurs feel it. I wonder, though, do people with other illnesses feel it? Do people in other cultures feel it? It seems uniquely American to feel bad that we are sick. After all, America is made up of hard workers, people who are "self-made". Those of us with illness, especially invisible illness like migraine, can't do what's expected of us.

Instead of working today, like most of my peers who are M.D.s, I was at home, tending to an aching head, napping on the sofa, trying to do a little writing, feeling generally nauseous. I wonder, yet once again, what I could have done to prevent this. I shouldn't drink any caffeine. I need to drink more water. If I could push through and exercise more, maybe the migraines wouldn't be so bad. And that's the guilt talking. Nobody can live a perfect life. I do the best I can but I have migraine disease.

Those of us with invisible illness are more prone to guilt. Our disease is not obvious to those around us so it is easy to get caught up in this idea that we "shouldn't" be sick, as if we could miraculously talk ourselves out of illness. Especially with migraine, it's easy to feel like the disease is "all in our heads", literally and figuratively.

With migraine, there are just symptoms and the rest of the world has to believe, or not believe, how sick we say we are. For some of us, the people around us have been less than supportive and the guilt is understandable. In my case, though, everyone around me (OK, except for one patient who couldn't believe I'd quit working over headaches) believes me and tries to understand how I can't function because of pain and nausea. Despite that, I continue to feel as if I should be able to get over it and function as if I were normal.

Of course, we can point to images in media that tell us that "strong" people work through the pain and that this is what we should strive for. I know that these are unhealthy images and that treating chronic migraine involves living my life as much as possible but resting when the pain comes on. There is no moral benefit to being "strong", certainly not when it leads to a more severe headache later on.

It's time to get rid of the guilt. It's a useless emotion. If I was feeling bad about something that I actually did wrong and could use the feeling to change my behavior, that would be one thing, but I'm doing my best to live a healthy life and treat my migraines properly. Guilt is useless.

2 Corinthians 10:5 says " . . . we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." That's what I need to do with guilt. Take that thought then banish it. Replace it with something good. Remind myself that chronic migraine is an illness that I didn't give myself. Remind myself that I live as healthy a life as I can. Plan to take a walk when the migraine is over.

At the risk of sounding too shallow, remember that Psalm 30:5 says, " . . . weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning." This has been one of my Dad's favorite verses. Unfortunately, it was his favorite verse very loudly at 5:30am on Saturday mornings when I was a teenager, but I've forgiven him for that!! The Psalmist reminds us that it's OK to weep right now. Migraine sucks and it's painful and it doesn't feel good to want to vomit all the time. But, it won't last forever and joy comes in the morning.

Hang in there, I keep telling myself. I didn't cause this migraine. I will not hold on to this guilt. I will rejoice in the morning and continue to walk with Jesus.

Catherine