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52 Practical Ways to Be a Migraine Ally in Action

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One of the most challenging aspects of living with migraine can be feeling a sense of total isolation and detachment from those around me, especially when I’m in the middle of an attack. Even more poignant when loved ones are “one door away,” and I feel worlds away locked in a pain vortex.

Learning to communicate about what this experience feels like, and how to ask for help has been an incredibly long process for me. Migraine so often leaves me with feelings of being a burden, or guilt — and practicing articulating my needs or asking for help hasn’t always been something I’m comfortable doing. However, I’ve been deeply touched by how many of my loved ones are willing to listen, once I work up the courage to voice my needs.

In opening the door to more honest and authentic conversations about what living with migraine is really like and how my friends and family can support me, my relationships have grown stronger. And, much more often, I receive the help and support I so deeply need on some days.

I hope as you scroll through the list below, you feel seen and validated in your migraine struggle. Or, if you are a migraine ally who has found your way to this blog (if so, take a minute to know you are a wonderful friend, family member, co-worker, etc. for doing so!), I hope these ideas will give you practical, actionable ways for how to show up and support the migraine warriors in your life with more clarity and compassion.

This list was compiled from the Mindful Natalie online community on Instagram (@mindfulnatalie), where I share my journey of endeavoring to live well while managing chronic migraine and several other conditions. Would love to have you come say hi and join the conversation, and wishing you a happy #migraineandheadacheawarenessmonth!

52 practical ways to be a migraine ally in action:

1. “I get so foggy during migraines that it’s hard to keep track of what medication I have or haven’t taken — my boyfriend helps me keep track with timers and apps on my phone.”

2. “Listen — even though you might not be able to understand what I’m going through, being able to talk about how I feel with someone who is curious and kind means a lot.”

3. “Offer to do household tasks.”

4. “It’s so hard to manage feeding myself when I’m in a multi-day attack, it is so helpful when family or friends ask if they can make me something to eat or drop off prepared food.”

5. “Be mindful of the environment and keep the lights and sound low when hanging out.”

6. “Offer to give lifts to appointments.”

7. “Picking up my kids from school and having them over for the afternoon when I have had a bad attack day.”

8. “Be flexible in case we have to cancel, and please don’t make us feel like it’s our fault if we do — we want to keep the plans and we already feel sad to have to cancel and let you down.”

9. “My family has my daughters over for regular sleepovers — this helps so much.”

10. “Big picture stuff. Supporting policy that helps people with migraine in your life — like increased access to health care, paid sick leave, increased funding for research.”

11. “Offering to accompany me to doctor’s appointments.”

12. “Set an end time when we are hanging out. Often, I’ll push through invisible pain because I’m not sure how to end things. At the beginning of our hang out, ask me how long I want to set a timer for to visit and then be the one to keep us both accountable when that time is up.”

13. “Just sitting with me when I have an attack.”

14. “Picking up medications for me from the pharmacy.”

15. “When you invite me to something, include a ‘but it’s completely OK if you have to cancel’ caveat. I feel so guilty every time I do have to cancel.”

16. “Sending me links for quiet and gentle podcasts to listen to.”

17. “Let me know it’s OK if I need to cancel plans and that you know I wouldn’t if I didn’t have to.”

18. “Generally be aware of loud sounds and light — if a situation seems like it might be ‘too much,’ tell the person if they want to move or leave you totally understand.”

19. “Offer to sit in on a telehealth appointment and take notes for me.”

20. “Keep inviting me to things even if you don’t think I’ll be able to come. It means a lot to still feel included.”

21. “Proactively ask questions about the environment when we arrive somewhere together or I come into your home. Is the light too bright? Music too loud?”

22. “Send regular check-ins via text message with no pressure to respond.”

23. “Acknowledge what a big role migraine plays in my life. When I’m well enough for us to spend time together, don’t ignore it or be afraid to bring it up. I actually appreciate it more than you know when you ask questions. It makes me feel like you care.”

24. “Offer to come by my house and help with dishes and laundry when I’m bedbound.”

25. “Turning down the music and dimming lights at gatherings without me having to ask.”

26. “Offer to drop off cooked dinner.”

27. “Reassuring me out loud that you understand when I have to cancel plans, acknowledging the fact it is something that must be so hard for me to do, especially so often (ex: I’d love to spend time with you, but I totally understand, I hate that you’re hurting and know you hate to cancel. Rest as well as you can and know I totally get it).”

28. “Ask if there are any upcoming appointments you need a buddy for.”

29. “Follow social media accounts that talk about and accurately portray living with migraine so you can get a glimpse of what my life is like without me having to explain more.”

30. “Ask if there is anything I need from the grocery store when you’re already going (ex: is there something I can drop off for you on my way home?).”

31. “Notice if I start going downhill when we are together or at an outing. Ask if I want water? Meds or ice packs? Need to go lie down alone?”

32. “Be interested in the treatments and medications I’m currently using. Ask questions that show you are curious and let me share in detail about my experience.”

33. “Offer to switch seats if I’m facing the TV or a bright window.”

34. “Be the one to ask the waiter if the music can be turned down.”

35. “Making phone calls on my behalf to schedule appointments, deal with insurance issues, refill medications, etc.”

36. “Switch seats with me if you notice the sun is in my eyes.”

37. “Opt for dimmable or tabletop lights instead of overhead lights.”

38. “Offer to take my dog for a walk.”

39. “Keeping up with the newest research and treatments to help me talk through my options.”

40. “Validate the severity and intensity of migraine to others so I can take a break from self-advocacy.”

41. “Make sure you are not wearing perfume when around a friend who experiences scent triggers.”

42. “Offering to make food and drop it off with no strings attached (don’t even need to answer the door!).”

43. “Offering to stop by for distanced porch socializing at the drop of a hat.”

44. “Hold space for my experience. When the pain is unbearably high, let me melt down and cry without trying to ‘fix’ how I feel — then sit with me until I’m ready to remind myself it’s going to be OK and I can get through this.”

45. “Offering to take you to the doctor or for bloodwork.”

46. “Cues making accommodations less disruptive to social flow (ex: subtle hand sign if too loud).”

47. “Being sensitive to light and noise in common living spaces, not insisting on things being bright and loud.”

48. “Offering company for a short walk around the block.”

49. “Not turning on all the lights when you enter the room.”

50. “Offering to run specific errands (like pick up medication).”

51. “If there is a social gathering, offering to come early to help with set up and/or clean up (non-COVID-19!).”

52. “Offering to help take care of pets or walk the dog.”

You can join our Instagram community at Mindful Natalie.

Original photo by author

Originally published: June 9, 2021
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