Supporting a Spouse with Migraines
First of All, Migraines Are Real
Let us get this straight from the beginning. Migraine headaches are real. Not long after we were married, my wife started suffering migraines. Admittedly, at first I did not understand them, and I was not an understanding person. They just did not happen at times that were great for me. The more I was inconvenienced, the less understanding I became. I started to wonder in my own mind if they were even real. Call it karma, justice, or a random event, but one day after an explosive disagreement, I had a migraine of my own. Once I figured out what it was, I instantly felt terrible about the way I had been treating my wife. I am glad it happened early in our marriage, because it made a big difference in how I respond when my wife suffers a headache. I have only had about three migraines in my life, and each one has been a horrific reminder of what she goes through -- routinely at times.
So how should you respond when someone you care about suffers a migraine?
Shut Up and Listen!
Sometimes when your spouse tells you something, they just need to talk. They do not always expect you to fix it. Let's face it, if numerous doctors were not able to come to a sound conclusion on what was causing these migraines, how could I? Granted, I'm around my wife every day, and I can recognize patterns and help identify triggers, but sometimes with migraines there is simply no explanation. And telling me she has a headache is not a charge to figure out why. I learned that if I wanted to keep a journal or comments for later reference, I should really keep it to myself for now. When someone has a migraine, that is not the time to ask why. First, they need to get better. Spouses just need to be supportive during this time.
Remember Who Is the Real Victim
Regardless of how often I say it, I would not really want to trade places with her. I would not wish that kind of pain on anyone -- not even me. So when I start to feel sorry for myself that she doesn't want to go out tonight, I have to help the kids with their homework again, or I have to reschedule a meeting to take another trip to the doctor's office, I have to remember that I'm really the lucky one.
When You Cannot Genuinely Sympathize, Walk Away
If you think migraine sufferers are self-centered, you are probably wrong. My wife sometimes got treated like a second rate citizen by nurses and doctors. It took a lot of humility for her to seek medical attention. She already felt like a nuisance when she had to ask me to help, so what good would it do for me to make her feel worse? When I was argumentative and selfish, it only added to her stress -- prolonging the life cycle of the migraine and making her feel worse than she already did. But lets face it, I have my bad days, too, and sometimes I feel my own pressure and stress. What's important is that we don't compare battle scars. A migraine is not going to go away unless the sufferer is able to rest. The sharpness of the pain makes it hard enough as it is. Give them a break. No one wins if you butt heads.
Confide in Someone Who Understands
Sometimes it's your primary care physician. It may be a co-worker who suffers migraines or is married to someone who does. Maybe it is just a close relative or friend. Whomever it is, find someone who understands the situation. Vent to this person and let them hold you accountable to be supportive. If you have children who are not adults, choose someone else. It is important that your children be sympathetic as well, but you do not want to create an us-vs-them attitude or undermine your spouse's authority.
Don't Give Up on a Cure
After literally almost 20 years of neurologists, pain doctors, chiropractors, massage therapists, and MRI's, we had heard "I can't think of anything else to try" way too many times. Allergy tests, nerve blocks, and food journals...we thought we had tried it all. We had driven as far as 200 miles to see specialists and constantly felt like we were throwing our money away. Finally, when they were at their worst (3-5 severe migraines a week), we scheduled an appointment with a headache specialist at Vanderbilt in Nashville, TN. The appointment started out much the same: give me the list of all the things you have tried and schedule yet another MRI. Then we got to the list of things we still haven't tried. There were the usuals: botox and blah blah blah. Then, out of nowhere, the doctor mentions a medicine we had never heard of. It was a stretch, he said, because it was really for epilepsy patients. Besides, it had not been popular for many years as newer things had been introduced to the market. But before we do something drastic, we should try it. The end result was that my wife went from 3-5 migraines a week, to 3 migraines over a 12 month period. No more shots, no more guilt. Her quality of life has improved tremendously.