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It's Never 'Just a Migraine'

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As a person with chronic migraine syndrome, nothing infuriates me more than people writing my migraines off as a headache or saying “it’s just a migraine,” as if that should be enough to get me over it. I want to make something abundantly clear: A migraine is not a headache, it’s never “just a migraine” and it should never be dismissed as one.

Due to my CMS, I have at least 16 separate migraines a month, many lasting two days or more. That’s a migraine every other day, which is almost 75 percent of my life.

Please don’t assume that, because I’ve had attacks more often than not, I’ve grown accustomed to the pain. For many of my migraines, I can get on with my life by taking a pharmacy’s worth of painkillers, anti-sickness medications and other drugs. You may know me and not realize something is wrong, but I can assure you when I actually have to take time off school or work, or cancel plans, the pain is unbearable.

I think the problem is people just don’t understand what a migraine is and how bad one can be. Because most haven’t experienced anything like this, it can be hard to appreciate the gravity of the situation. All they likely have for comparison is the hangover they had last Saturday from staying out too late for Alex’s birthday.

So let me explain it a little:

A migraine isn’t just sitting at home on the sofa watching Netflix all day with a tub of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey. When you’re suffering from a migraine you’re lucky if you can even open your eyes, let alone watch the TV. As for eating ice cream? You can forget that. Migraines don’t just affect your head; they affect your whole body, including your digestive system. And when you have a migraine, your stomach can be thrown off for the duration of the attack, meaning eating is often out of the question, including taking the medications you may desperately want. 

A migraine isn’t just a bit of a headache that drinking some water and taking an over-the-counter painkiller will fix. When you’re suffering from a migraine, you’ll be lucky if a high dose of strong, prescribed painkillers reduces the pain from a 10 to a 9.5. To give you some perspective, a 10 is the worst pain you can ever possibly imagine. It’s somewhere between having all of your teeth pulled out at once with no anesthesia while being stung by a thousand bees and being hit by a truck continually for an entire day. 

A migraine isn’t just something you can “push through,” and if you ever say this to me, I will resent it forever. When you’re suffering from a migraine, all you are going to want to do is curl up in a ball on the floor because you really don’t think the pain will ever end.

Imagine having your head put in a vice as someone tightens the clamps until you can’t take it anymore — and then they tighten it a bit more just to spite you… 

Imagine feeling so sick to your stomach that you can’t bear to take the vital medications you need because the vomiting that will inevitably follow will only make the pain worse, and you can’t even think about drinking that water because you know as soon as it touched your lips, you’ll throw it back up… 

Imagine, every time you lift or move your head, the world spins, everything merges as one and your entire perception of the world becomes a blur. Things that were still, start to move and your vision doubles. Just the weight of your head on you neck is enough to make you cry…

Imagine your whole body aching, from your toes to you hands. Not like a pulled muscle or the feeling you get after going to the gym. It’s like running 65 marathons one after the other with no training or a break between…

I don’t blame people for saying it’s “just a migraine.” It doesn’t make me particularly angry, but it makes me disappointed. It makes me disappointed that, as a society, we think it is acceptable to minimize a person’s pain because we don’t fully understand it.

If you’re reading this and only take away one lesson, please let it be this: if someone comes to you in the future saying they’re suffering from a migraine, whether it is a one-off or a chronic longterm problem, whether you know the person well or not, please don’t belittle them by saying it’s “just a migraine.” Please say, “I understand you’re in pain, and I’m here for you.”

Originally published: April 23, 2016
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