Sadly, like so many ailments in life, everyone thinks they have the answer or "cure" that'll magically fix migraines. After more than 30 years of listening to that well-meaning advice, I'm here to tell you there are things people who get migraines are tired of hearing.
I've suffered from migraines for as long as I can remember. In fact, when I was a toddler I complained to my mom that the streetlights were stretching into light shards, causing my eyes to hurt and my ears to ring. As I got older I realized that in times of stress, I would develop migraines that refused to abate until I sat myself down in a dark, cool room, and went to sleep.
Coincidentally, my husband also suffers terribly from migraines. While his are usually brought on from waiting too long between meals, both of us are painfully and acutely aware that it's almost impossible to recover instantly. In fact, it usually takes a solid night's sleep in order to find any sort of migraine relief. Obviously this can ruin a whole day of parenting, and it can be difficult to find a "good night's sleep" because, you know, kids.
When you are in the grips of a migraine you're in pain, vulnerable, and in desperate need of some peace and quiet. Unfortunately, this is usually when well-meaning but infuriating people try to "fix" your migraine, by offering up suggestions that us suffering from migraines would love to never hear again. Like, for example, the following:
"It's Just A Headache"
Nope. Nope it's not. It really is not. If I didn't feel like I was dying, I would probably kick you in the shins for even suggesting this is a little "inconvenient" headache.
"Have You Tried Painkillers?"
A painkiller? What is this magical elixir you speak of? There exists a potion that could rid me of this horrendous crippling pain? Why has no-one told me of this witchcraft before?
Yes, obviously I have tried probably every medication made available to me. Some work, usually when you take them immediately at the onset of your symptoms. Some don't work at all. Others incapacitate you, and make it nothing short of impossible to parent (or, you know, function).
"It's Because You Ate [Insert Whatever Food You've Had Here]"
A migraine sufferer's individual triggers vary as much as the individual, so just because your cousin's migraines are sparked when she eats chocolate or drinks red wine, doesn't mean mine are.
This sort of comment also makes the sufferer feel like they are to blame for their migraine, which is some sort of horrible shaming technique that serves no purpose. I mean, even if the food or drink I just consumed did cause the problem, I have already eaten it, so thanks for nothing, right?
"Let's Turn On A Light"
Let's not? Yeah, let's not.
The only relief I feel when I am in the grip of a migraine is to lie very still in a very dark room with a cold washcloth over my eyes, and even then it feels like I am near the end of my proverbial rope.
"Have You Spoken To Your Doctor?"
My mother reported my migraines to my doctor before I could even verbalize them, and they have been a point of conversation ever since. The idea that someone would actively choose to continue to suffer from a debilitating condition and not seek any medical advice is, you know, ridiculous.
So yes, I have spoken to my doctor many times. However, it's worth noting that although there are a variety of treatments available to those who suffer from migraines, there is no cure.
"Didn't You Have A Migraine Last Week?"
Sometimes I can go a few months between attacks, and sometimes I can have more than one migraine in the space of few days. I have no control over how often these attacks occur, but believe me when I say that if I could stop them, I would.
"Maybe You Should Try A Natural Remedy, Instead"
While I think natural remedies can be helpful, and I have been known to try a range of alternative therapies from aromatherapy and acupuncture to herbal medicine, sniffing some peppermint drops on a handkerchief is not going to help me with what feels like a meat cleaver in my skull.
"Well, Everyone Gets Headaches, So..."
Headaches and migraines are not the same thing. Migraines are much more painful than a simple headache, and are accompanied by a whole host of other horrible symptoms.
Personally, I get face pain, hear strange noises and see auras, while my husband feels immediately nauseated and always vomits during an attack. We occasionally get normal headaches, too, so I definitely know the difference.
"You Should Get Some Fresh Air And Go For A Walk"
I literally cannot lift my head off the pillow or stand without feeling faint when I have a migraine so, no, I don't fancy coming for a little stroll with you.
Because people can't see your migraine, it can be hard for them to believe you are really suffering. I've had people suggest I'm inventing an attack to get out of doing something else. Yeah, that's never fun.
Honestly, Anything That Isn't Supportive And Empathetic
The absolute worst thing anyone can say to someone in the grips of a migraine attack is, honestly, anything at all. For the most part we'll just be thinking, " Just please stop talking. Every word is like a splinter in my brain."
It can often feel that people who don't suffer from migraines just don't understand what it can feel like to be at the mercy of a savage migraine attack. In the end, though, we don't necessarily need you to understand. We just need you to be supportive, save your judgment, trust that our pain is real, and be empathetic.
If you need some advice on migraine symptoms, treatments and coping mechanisms visit The Migraine Trust.