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6 Expressions People with Migraine Are Tired of Hearing

Woman suffering from migraine symptoms as coworkers talk about her behind her back
Getty Images / PeopleImages

"Unreliable," "lazy," and other misperceptions Jaime Sanders often hears about people with migraine.

Migraine can be debilitating. And there’s no cure. Yet, many people who’ve never experienced it are happy to offer unsolicited and misinformed remedies. Some also have harmful misperceptions about people with migraine.

Here are some of the most frustrating expressions I’ve heard about migraine and the people who experience them in the 30-plus years I’ve lived with the condition.

“It’s just a headache”

This is probably the granddaddy of all expressions that people with migraine hear most often. Migraine is not "just a headache."

Researchers think migraine is linked to genetic mutations that cause fundamental neurological abnormalities. There are several different types of migraine. Technically, you don’t actually have to have a headache to have a migraine.

Migraine attacks are more than your run-of-the-mill pain. They can last from 4 to 72 hours. The head pain can be severe and may include pulsation and throbbing. Other symptoms of various types of migraine include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • sensitivity to light, sound, and odors
  • worsening pain when you move
  • visual disturbances appearing as flashing lights, which are known as an “aura”
  • weakness
  • confusion
  • numbness or tingling

“You’re a picky eater”

Have your eating habits ever been the topic of conversation? Has anyone ever made you feel that you’re difficult due to what you eat or your lack of appetite?

Migraine completely affects how we eat. Certain foods are known to trigger migraine attacks. I have a long list of food triggers.

I try my best to avoid foods containing:

  • dairy
  • soy
  • gluten
  • sugar

Severe nausea and vomiting during an attack also decimates my appetite. Most food during an attack either seems unappetizing or aggravates nausea.

Either way, none of this makes me a picky eater. In fact, it actually makes me more aware of my condition so I can avoid attacks.

“She’s unreliable”

It’s hard to know when a migraine attack will hit. They still happen no matter how carefully I try to manage my known triggers and avoid activities that might bring on an attack.

This sometimes means that I have to cancel plans on the same day. And it doesn’t mean that I’m noncommittal or flaky.

I very much want to be able to show up for every event, to complete my work on deadline, and to be a social butterfly. The sad thing is, I’m not always able to do so because of the uncertainty of migraine.

“She’s so lazy”

I often heard comments like this when I was still working and had called in sick with a migraine attack. Many coworkers felt that it was an excuse to avoid work. It was so insulting to me and very unfair.

There I was, at home with a severe migraine and two small children, trying to make it through the day and struggling to complete simple tasks. Remarks that diminished my actual pain and assassinated my character were the last thing I needed to hear.

Having migraine does not make you a lazy person. We’re in fact the opposite. We strive to do more than our bodies can handle most of the time.

Many of us push through the pain and discomfort so that we don’t seem lazy. When we do call in sick, we’re legitimately too ill to do anything but rest and recover.

“You’re such a frigid person”

Being touched can sometimes feel awful when you’re having a migraine. It’s not uncommon to feel as though your hair even hurts during a migraine.

This sensation is known as allodynia. It’s an increased sensitivity to pain from non-painful stimuli like light touching.

Wearing your hair in a ponytail or even wearing a pair of sunglasses can feel painful. Clothing brushing up against your skin or someone touching your arm may also hurt.

So, if someone says that they don’t want to be touched during a migraine attack, it’s not because they’re frigid. They’re probably in pain.

“She makes no sense!”

Migraine has other less familiar symptoms that affect:

  • cognition
  • speech
  • memory

During an attack I have a hard time finding the right words. It sometimes sounds like I’m babbling. I can sound quite unintelligent. It’s actually pretty embarrassing!

I attend quite a few speaking engagements every year, and I’m usually in the middle of an attack during my talks. As a result, I often worry that I won’t be able to speak clearly and might sound uneducated or misinformed.

The most frustrating part is visualizing what I want to say but being unable to manifest it into speech. Words simply vanish from my mind, and I lose complete sentences at times.

When this happens, I take a breath and tell my audience that I’m in the middle of an attack. I explain the effect that migraine has on cognition and speech. Then I pick up where I left off. Doing so makes me feel better, and it can help educate others in the room about my condition.

The takeaway

You’ve likely heard some or maybe even all of these expressions if you live with migraine. It can often be frustrating and maybe even hurtful.

Remember you’re not alone. The best thing you can do when you hear these kinds of misperceptions is to educate the people around you. You just might change someone’s mind.

The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen. 


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