Guilt and migraine walk hand in hand for many sufferers who often find the emotional burden as upsetting as the pain and other symptoms. Guilt comes from various sources, and left unattended can escalate into much more serious problems, damaging relationships at work and at home.
Where Guilt Comes From
As understanding of migraines becomes broader, more medical practitioners recognize the difference between migraine and a bad headache. Despite this, some sufferers still experience negativity when trying to get a diagnosis followed by appropriate treatment. Not all doctors really understand the complexities of migraine headache, and bumping up against a somewhat dismissive attitude early in the consultative process can trigger early feelings of guilt.
Thought processes that trigger guilty feelings run along the lines of:
- If doctors and other medical experts can’t find anything wrong, it must be something you’re doing that’s causing it.
- Maybe everyone with a headache feels like this, and you’re just really weak for not coping better.
Getting a correct migraine diagnosis is vital, for both physical and emotional health. If your physician doesn’t seem to take your pain levels seriously, or tries to minimize the impact your suffering has on you and those around you, ask for a referral to a neurologist with more specialized knowledge of migraine and its causes.
Some migraine experts suggest you take along family members when you go for a migraine consultation. They can not only back up and validate how it makes you feel, but gain a deeper understanding about what you need and how they can help.
Also, it’s important you learn about migraine, its causes, treatments and side effects, including emotional impacts such as depression as well as feelings of guilt. Get to know your triggers and what type of migraines you have so you can recognize early warning signs and patterns.
The Hidden Disorder
Once guilty feelings creep in, they’re easily amplified, especially when you run into other people’s ignorance: You look fine so people don’t realize anything is wrong.
- Resentment from coworkers is common if your employer makes accommodations such as altering light levels, rest periods, time off, or flexible hours. For some sufferers, just knowing they’re getting special considerations can cause feelings of guilt, even if coworkers are sympathetic.
- At home, the non-migraine partner often shoulders the brunt of household chores, from shopping to cooking, taking kids to and from school, and going with them to social or school events. Migraineurs who go out to work can just about cope with working, but it takes every scrap of energy they have with nothing left over for domestic life. Feeling guilty about not doing more to help is common.
Withdrawal is a common avoidance tactic. With migraine attacks being difficult to predict, the easiest way to avoid guilt over broken promises is to not make promises in the first place. So social invitations are refused and kid’s activities indefinitely postponed, Such avoidance, however, leads to isolation, lowers self esteem and can lead to depression.
The process of understanding guilty feelings is complex, with no concrete answer. Migraine can lead sufferers into a vicious cycle of broken promises, disappointments and simmering resentment. We all hate letting people down, especially those closest to us and most especially children, but for migraineurs it’s often impossible to do anything else.
An added layer of emotional burden comes from self-blame. No matter how many times those around you reassure you that it’s not your fault and they understand, feelings of guilt persist.
Getting to a place in your mind where you can forgive yourself for lost days and missed appointments isn’t easy. Self compassion means accepting yourself as you are, without censure or self-punishment. You can’t banish guilty feelings by trying to squash them or by denying they’re there. Feeling compassion for yourself doesn’t mean wallowing in self pity either. It’s more about learning to be gentle with yourself instead of harshly criticizing or judging.
Some sufferers advocate dealing with guilt one day at a time. Instead of making a list of jobs to complete, then feeling guilty because a migraine prevented completion of all the tasks, they make not feeling guilty the number one priority of the day.
Another way to help minimize guilt and include social events in your life is to devise strategies or coping mechanisms. For instance, if long stretches with people bring on migraine, arrange to arrive late and leave early. If the event is noisy, try to sit by a wall to minimize the activity and noise levels around you. Often, talking helps. If you can find a support group that honestly shares experiences, learning how others deal with migraine guilt can ease a sense of isolation.
Feelings of guilt should never be ignored or denied as they are often a large part of the migraine sufferers experience. If you find guilty feelings are overwhelming, speaking to a doctor is a useful first step towards developing a healthier, more forgiving attitude towards yourself.