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The Isolation of Living With Chronic Headache

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Living with chronic headache means living with pain from the first moment of waking to the last moment until you fall asleep at night. It’s a relentless pain, but one that I feel often gets dismissed as “just a headache” and so not really something that impacts on daily life. Yet it does just that. It is always there, through every day and every life experience.

What is chronic headache?

Chronic daily headache is described as “when you have a headache for more than four hours on more than 15 days per month.” Some people experience these headaches for six months or longer, and some people, like myself, always have a degree of pain each and every day.

Causes of chronic headache

As the Migraine Trust describes, chronic daily headache is associated with:

  • head injury
  • a previous history of migraine
  • overuse of painkilling medications
  • obesity
  • stressful life events
  • being female

Living with chronic headache

It always feels strange to say I am in pain all the time. I still feel a little shocked that is the case, and that my head is always causing me to be in that state. Chronic headache symptoms will differ for everyone who lives with it, and mine certainly change through the course of the day. Pain goes up and down, and changes in its form too. Sometimes it is a dull thud in the temples, other times a sharper pain at the back of my head. And sometimes it escalates up to a migraine attack.

A feeling of isolation

As I’m sure you can imagine, being in constant pain is draining. The relentless nature of living with chronic headache can really get me down at times. It’s never-ending and always there, from morning until night. There isn’t a fun day out, a cozy night in or a chat with a friend that isn’t experienced with pain.

Being in pain 24/7 can lead to people retreating a bit from society, as was discussed at a migraine webinar I attended a while ago. I can definitely relate as when my everyday pain level was higher, and I was also experiencing profound dizziness from vestibular migraine, I was mostly at home as my symptoms were too overwhelming to do much else.

Pain is isolating in many ways. As well as meaning we can’t always be out and about as much, I can feel somewhat detached from others as they don’t “get it” when I explain my pain, and that it really is an ongoing and constant state. There feels like a gap between my experience of a situation and theirs, which can be difficult at times. Every moment in my life is imbued with a cloud of pain. I am aware that theirs isn’t. It makes me feel a step removed from others, a feeling that is upsetting and confusing, as I want to feel as connected to my friends as possible.

The migraine comparison

“But at least it isn’t migraine.” I’ve heard people say this so often about chronic headache, which I find frustrating as it undermines that those with the condition really experience an often debilitating condition that impacts daily life.

I have both “classic” migraine attacks and vestibular migraine. And yes, of course, migraine attacks are worse in their severity than the pain that comes with chronic headache. No question. But that doesn’t mean that chronic headache isn’t hard. At times it can actually feel harder as it is so relentless, when (at least for me) migraine attacks come and go. I don’t think comparison is helpful though, and we should receive support for whatever pain we experience.

This story previously appeared on Through the Fibro Fog.

Getty image by Aleksei Morozov.

Originally published: January 19, 2021
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