How do you explain that a migraine attack is more than a routine headache when the pain is so subjective, the symptoms so strange, and each experience so different from the one before?
I don’t have a clue. That’s the problem. As regular readers will recall, my migraine attacks have become increasingly frequent since around the beginning of August. The summer heat combined with the stresses and lack of sleep inherent in the beginning of the school year (when both my husband, a teacher, and my daughter, a third grader, return to their daily grinds) equals a full blown attack by about 3 pm almost every day. An attack which my husband frequently describes as “a headache.”
Migraineurs know that “a headache” doesn’t even begin to explain or describe a migraine attack. There are a number of other symptoms besides pain that present during an attack, including nausea, lethargy, visual disturbances, disruptions of speech, light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, appetite changes, and more. But, they change (at least mine do) from attack to attack, which means every migraine episode is different from the one before – sometimes dramatically different. In addition to the myriad symptoms of an attack, using the phrase “a headache” to describe the intense, ice-pick-like stabbing pain of a migraine seems almost laughable. And, while I know he was trying to be understanding about my pain and the fact that I was ill, the lack of overall understanding apparent in his description left me feeling weak and discounted. After all, what kind of a wuss can’t handle “a headache”?
This is, perhaps, one of the most frustrating aspects of living with an invisible illness. I’ve tried telling him to research it, but there’s so much nonsense out there written by people who don’t really understand what it’s like that it seems futile to just direct him to the internet at large. What do you do? What helps you explain your illness to others?