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Remember This If You Feel Pressured to Go Out On New Year's Eve With Chronic Illness

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I remember my freshman year of high school on New Year’s Eve. I was struggling to make friends at the time and was very self-conscious. Until then, I had never placed much importance on New Year’s Eve. My family sometimes would celebrate together, but other times we’d just treat it as any other night.

I didn’t think it was a big deal to just spend the evening with my parents until my best friend asked me what my plans were, and I admitted I had none. Suddenly, I felt ashamed about my lack of plans, although it hadn’t even fazed me just two minutes ago. She told me I could tag along with her to some party she would be attending. It felt like such a pity invite that I declined. I still remember that New Year’s Eve as definitely my saddest one yet. I laid on my parent’s couch, alone, watching Nickelodeon’s countdown to midnight and feeling like the biggest loser on the face of the planet.

Like many of us, I wish I could go back and talk some sense into my high school self. First, I’d give myself a giant hug and remind myself that my worth is not based on how many parties I was invited to. Secondly, I’d warn myself that I was falling victim to typical, silly high school social pressures to be “cool.” It is all so meaningless in the long-run. And finally, I’d promise myself that I would find great friends and have more fun in the future. I may have been a late bloomer, but I wasn’t some miserable, social reject I convinced myself I was that night.

Of course, the older I grew the more I learned all of these things, whether I had New Year’s Eve plans that particular year or not. Still, if I’m being completely honest with myself, some residual insecurities still remain, even at the age of 26. I hate to admit that such shallow social pressures still bother me, but I think many of us have yet to completely overcome our tendency to judge and evaluate ourselves based upon others. Even though I’ve grown dramatically, this time of year I always still remember the depression I felt on New Year’s Eve 2006. Unfortunately, ever since chronic daily headache and migraine took control of my life, these social pressures and insecurities have greatly exacerbated.

“Isolating” is my top word to describe living with chronic migraine. Not only does the pain frequently prevent me from making plans or attending parties, but I often feel like I’m living my entire life under a veil of pain. I, quite literally, always have some degree of a headache and it’s sometimes enough to make me feel like I’m not truly apart of “the real world.” I’m not experiencing life as others experience it because my pain makes this impossible. When I was 14, I wasn’t experiencing a thriving social life because I struggled to make friends.

Now, I’m not experiencing a thriving social life because (1) the pain makes it much harder to make and maintain friendships, and (2) the pain has robbed me of the desire to go out in the first place. I genuinely don’t want to go to a New Year’s Eve party because I can’t drink, plus, the lights, noise and lack of sleep will exacerbate the pain. For these reasons, I know I won’t have fun.

I still feel some sort of social pressure to attend a party anyways. The insecure 14-year-old girl in me sometimes offers, “Well, maybe you really just are a loser, after all.” There’s a lot to unpack here, or I’m sure a psychologist would tell me so anyway. I don’t think my insecurities make me special. I believe there isn’t a human on this planet who isn’t sometimes concerned they aren’t “doing life right.” And I believe this is a mental battle those of us with chronic pain fight frequently.

1. Taking care of yourself is a worthy pursuit.

It always frustrates me when people complain about their New Year’s Day hangovers. I know I shouldn’t be so judgmental, but chronic migraines have drastically transformed my perspective. I haven’t had a drink for a year and a half, but still feel hungover every single day of my life. Even my “good” days are plagued by a low-grade headache, fatigue, weariness, and sometimes nausea. Forgive me if I have little sympathy for your self-induced hangover that will, most likely, entirely disappear come January 2nd.

Although this just seems hopelessly unfair, the reality is that excessive drinking isn’t a healthy choice for anyone: chronic pain patient or not. I’m not trying to condemn people who party a little too hard.  If I didn’t have headaches, I’d drink on New Year’s Eve too. However, let’s not overstate the greatness of alcohol. It can make life more fun for a few hours, but it’s not like we are missing out on some life-fulfilling tradition.

Although not nearly as sexy, drinking fluids, eating nutritious foods, and getting enough sleep on New Year’s Eve will improve your life quality if you’re living in chronic pain. I know you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, but we should be able to have one night of easy, mindless fun like the rest of the world.” And I hear you. It isn’t always a thrill, but taking care of your body is still one of the best gifts you can give yourself, whether on New Year’s Eve or any other calendar day.

I’ve never heard of people on their death beds regretting that they didn’t get drunk enough in their lifetimes. I do, however, hear of people of older age regretting not taking good enough care of their bodies and engaging in bad habits during their younger lives. I know I may sound like your hopelessly uncool mother, but it doesn’t make this any less true. Let’s not confuse our priorities here.

2. Don’t let social media turn you into a green-eyed monster.

I probably don’t even need to explain this one too much. We all seem to know that people use social media to make their lives seem more glamorous than they actually, and yet, we still allow ourselves to feel inadequate in comparison. Pictures of my Facebook friends in cute dresses drinking with other cool-looking people always makes me feel pretty uncool. But then I remind myself, that even if I were headache-free, most nights I wouldn’t even want to be at some random bar with annoying music and strange men encountering me and my friends. Going out can be fun, but so can just chilling at home.

In fact, last New Year’s Eve my now-husband came over and we watched a terrible Big Foot documentary. My husband, a huge Big Foot believer, and I argued about the “evidence,” which was shady at best. We found a picture that someone created that showed the image of the film’s director that slowly morphed into the face of the sasquatch he filmed. It was obvious that the director must have just dressed up like Big Foot and filmed himself. We couldn’t stop laughing. After that, we ventured to the kitchen and sipped on hot chocolate. Even with my headache, it was probably one of my favorite New Year’s Eve to date. Just because your night may not be “documentable” on social media doesn’t mean it’s less fun for than those who dressed up and partied. Don’t compare apples to oranges.

3. Even if you feel lonely, you’re not actually alone.

Unfortunately, we also have to cope with the real possibility that you won’t enjoy your New Year’s Eve at all due to pain. It’s very possible a level-10 migraine will strike this New Year’s Eve night and I’ll spend the night in total misery. It is also possible that some migraine-sufferers will have to be alone in bed during the attack. This is just one of those really tough-to-swallow realities when you’re living with chronic migraine. At these points, not only is the pain extreme, but so is the loneliness and utter social isolation.

As I type these words, I’m praying that this doesn’t happen to you on New Year’s Eve. However, if it does, please let this comfort you: You are never truly alone. Think of me, who has felt your pain so many times, and will likely continue to in the future. Think of the entire migraine community on The Mighty.  It’s all too easy to feel alone in our struggle, especially in the midst of an attack. But you’re truly not alone in the fight against migraines, pain, or suffering. You are but one soldier of millions throughout the world. we’re all on the same side and we are rooting for you.

Living with chronic migraine often leads to one knowing when and how to give yourself a break. Most of us have developed a keen awareness of our physical limits and have learned tactics and tricks to minimize migraine pain. This New Year’s Eve, let’s also learn to give ourselves a break from social pressures. We may not be able to eliminate every insecurity that ever rises to the surface, but we can remind ourselves of what we know is true: our lives are valuable, our fight is noble, and the choices we make to take care of ourselves are legitimate.

Getty image by gorodenkoff

Originally published: November 29, 2018
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