How to Explain Migraine

Have you found yourself with no words trying to explain why you need to head out of a family function early during a migraine episode? Do you rehearse in the mirror before telling a new employer that you have migraine and that you may have to WFH some days?

Discussing migraine as a neurological condition is not only important in your personal and professional life, but it helps destigmatize migraine as being ‘just a bad headache’. In this article we will dive into how to discuss migraine in your personal and professional life and give you some easy tips and tricks to do so seamlessly.

Explaining migraine joke
Explaining Migraine Joke

Explaining Migraine when it feels invisible

Unless you say something aloud, your thoughts stay in your head only for you to hear. Migraine can feel similar to this and like an invisible disease when your symptoms are central to the inside of your body.

Talking about migraine can help reduce the stigma surrounding it. But where do you begin to explain something that some people have never felt?

First off, you don’t have to explain yourself to everyone!

Have you ever heard in life that you’re allowed to pick and choose your battles? This is the same with explaining ANY chronic illness. Your energy is precious, and you don’t have to share that energy with everyone!

Before you spend your energy telling someone about migraine, ask yourself:

  1. Is this person someone who I feel safe around? Do I trust them to leave judgement and bias at the door? Do they have compassion?
  2. Does this person carry a significant weight in my day-day life? For instance, is this your 3rd cousin who you see once every 5 years, or is this your awesome new boss who you work with daily?
  3. And most importantly, ask yourself- Do I have the mental and physical energy right now to spend time helping someone understand what migraine is?

If they make the cut, then consider explaining your most common symptoms…

So, you just answered YES to the above questions. Perhaps finding yourself trying to divulge every detail about the stages of migraine including the prodrome, aura, attack and post-drome.

Now there’s nothing wrong with wanting to take the time to be thorough explaining migraine… but sometimes it can feel like an information overload to people who have never experienced migraine.

So if you’re looking to get the point across as efficiently as possible, stick to these 3 tips:

  1. Focus on the symptoms of migraine that are the most relevant to you. While all migraineurs have a range of different symptoms you can experience, stick to the ones that you feel like you can explain the best. If you experience aura and light sensitivity- focus on those!
  2. Analogies are a migraineurs BEST friend! One of the best teaching techniques is to explain complex things with simple analogies. So while you can explain having extreme sensitivity to lights and sounds to another migraineur, your boss may only be able to relate to having a nasty hangover where they had to wear sunglasses and ear plugs for 24 hours. Use common life experiences to your advantage!
  3. Practice and keep a simple script. Chances are by now, you may feel like you can explain migraine better than some health care professionals. It’s important to remember that using complex terms can overwhelm the listener. We recommend staying with a simple ‘script’ or phrase as your go-to that you’re comfortable with. Once you find out what works and what doesn’t, you’ll find yourself effortlessly and confidently communicating.

If you can, create your life around a migraine-friendly community

Your community is who you surround yourself with. Whether that be your friends, family, work place, yoga class, or your health care team – you deserve to have people in your life that have your best interest in mind.

With that being said, we recognize that leaving toxic environments that refuse to understand migraine can be a luxury to some people. We hear you. What we can recommend is staying firm to your boundaries and protecting your energy.

Now if you do have the ability to make a life change whether that’s quitting a toxic job or spending less time around Aunt Susie… we also support that!

Navigating your job with migraine

Whether or not you love your current job or are looking for a new one, here are some tips to make your professional life more migraine-friendly. Be sure to inform yourself of all your company’s rules so you can advocate for PTO, sick days, and whatever accommodations you may need. This can be discussed with either your direct manager or HR department at any time if you feel that you’re not being offered essential accommodations.

If you do have the option to leave a toxic work environment and find a new job … do what’s best for you! Remember that the interviewing process is a two way street. It’s important to tell your employer that you have migraine from the very beginning if you feel that it may impact your professional life. If they don’t understand that, then they just saved you a good amount of stress and time! A good company will value you and your skills, regardless of migraine.

Deciding to remove family or friends who choose not to understand migraine

This can be a difficult one that some people aren’t ready to do- and that’s okay! Your Great Grandpa may never fully understand migraine, but he may still love and support you. But if your girlfriend who you meet up with for coffee once a week refuses to acknowledge that migraine is real … then it may be time to make a change.

Choosing a healthcare team that supports migraine

Some people have a neurologist or a primary care doctor who they couldn’t imagine life without! On the other hand, you may find yourself wishing your doctor or health care team was a little more knowledgeable in migraine.

You deserve to have your health care team on your side! If you’re interested in finding a headache specialist, check out this article on how to find the best fit for your needs.

I want to hear from you – are you having a difficult time making your life work for you with migraine? Have you tried talking to your doctor about your concerns? Let me know in the comments.

Want more support managing migraine using a gentle, holistic approach? Click HERE to learn more about how I can help!

Pinterest pin on how to discuss migraine
How to Explain Migraine

Published by Kathryn Darsillo, B.S Nutrition & Dietetics, Dietetic Intern

Kathryn Darsillo, is currently a Dietetic Intern with Lenoir-Rhyne University and has a Bachelors of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics in addition to having an Associates Culinary Arts.

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