Chronic Migraine: How to Ask for Help
Living with chronic migraine (CM), it’s easy to feel like a burden on the people around you. CM can ruthlessly limit your ability to “show up” as you’d like to and can strain your relationship with yourself and others. The challenges of CM become even more difficult if you don’t know how to ask for help from those closest to you. Friends and family may say, “How can I help? or “Let me know if there is anything you need!” This can be difficult to respond to when you aren’t even sure what your needs are.
During my five years living with chronic migraine, I’ve spent countless hours reading, listening to podcasts, and working with a wide variety of therapists and health coaches to develop tools, skills, and strategies to better advocate for myself. Learning how to ask loved ones for support in a constructive way (and without guilt) has been arduous. But the effort is worthwhile, and I’ve found my improved ability to communicate has actually strengthened many relationships.
Develop a pain vocabulary.
CM impacts most of my days, so having language that allows me to easily and clearly share what I’m experiencing is essential. My loved ones and I have developed a 0 to 4 pain scale (0=no pain, 4= debilitating pain). Having a common understanding of what each number means makes it easier to convey information to them. When they ask me how I’m feeling, I can simply say, “last night was a 3, so I’m taking it easy today.” They know exactly what that means and we have learned what type of assistance each number requires.
State your needs calmly and thoughtfully during times of non-crisis.
When migraine pain has skyrocketed to its highest level or isn’t responding to medication, even the most mindful migraineur is prone to panic. Figuring out how to communicate my needs while so physically compromised can be incredibly challenging. Instead, my family and I have discussions about what I need from them when I am not in the middle of an intense pain flare. This allows them to act independently and support me better when I am struggling.
Replace “I’m sorry” with “Thank you.”
I used to be a chronic apologizer. When I did ask for help, it was almost always qualified with an “I’m sorry, but can you please…?” It took me years to learn that this habit, which I thought was courteous, was actually damaging my relationships. By prefacing my needs with an apology, I was infusing them with the energy of “wrongness.” By expressing gratitude instead, my own perception of the request and how it was received by others was transformed.
Those who love you want to know what you are going through and how to best support you. When CM is the unseen “third partner” in a relationship, it’s imperative that you develop the skills to clearly communicate about its impact on your life. Sharing information about the limitations and realities of living with CM can alleviate much of the stress and confusion that can arise. Remember: you are not unreliable, your health is. Being up front about the reality of your health situation and practicing setting expectations is an effective way to help everyone in your circle navigate the ups and downs of CM with less turbulence.