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The 'Invisible' Migraine Pain You Can't Tell By Looking at Me

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Can you tell how I’m feeling by looking at me?

Can you see the ice pick pain stabbing my brain, the nausea, the dizziness? The way it feels like my brain is armed with sledgehammers and is trying to break through my skull?

How about the migraine aura and light sensitivity playing havoc with my vision? The way I’m walking so carefully because I’m not sure I can trust my sight?

How about the way I cringe from a hug, because allodynia means I hurt all over? The way I wince in pain when someone speaks? Surely you can see that… surely you notice.

You can’t?

Are you sure?

You’re so quick to pass judgment, you who can’t gauge what I’m going through. ”Come on, it’s just a headache.”…”You’re always sick” (accompanied by an eye roll)…”You were just fine a few hours ago” and the ever popular, “You know, other people have it worse than you.”

Chronic illness.

Invisible disorders.

Chronic pain.

You may not see my pain — in fact, it’s medically impossible for you to see my pain.

And I used to try very hard not to show it, mostly because of reactions that range from skepticism to outright disbelief to insults as to my veracity.

That doesn’t mean I’m “better” today, and yes, I am in fact always sick — the definition of “chronic” is recurring symptoms.

The definition of “invisible” is unseen — not, as so many seem to think, nonexistent or unreal.

And how many people have it worse than me? What qualifies as “worse?”

Someone with a fatal, incurable disease? Guess what — migraine disorder can induce deadly conditions like strokes. Guess what — migraine disorder is an incurable genetic neurological disorder, just as much as diabetes is incurable. Some people with other diseases have a shot at being cured — I don’t. I’m not saying other diseases are not horrible or that those people don’t deserve every bit of compassion we have. I’m saying it isn’t a competition. Just because someone has it “worse” does not mean my pain is not as valid.

With as many as one in four American households including someone struggling with migraine disorder, chances are you know at least one person who fights the same daily battle I do just to make it through the day. Of an estimated 38 million Americans with migraine disorder, about 4 percent are chronic, which is categorized as 15 or more days of pain per month. Some, like me, are daily chronic, which is a hard to treat special hell.

We need your help to spread awareness.

Migraine and other headache disorders are among the most underfunded, under-researched disorders in America. There are treatments, but they do not work for many of us. Many current migraine preventives on the market are hand-me-down medications developed for other diseases — anticonvulsants, antidepressants, antihypertensives, Botox, and can come with their own risks or are too expensive or not covered by insurance for the disorder.

Help us shine a spotlight on the need to do more.

Failing that, please, at least don’t pass judgment on what you don’t understand.

Originally published: September 14, 2016
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