Last reviewed: 04/08/2022
If you love someone with chronic migraine, you may wonder how you can support them. Sarah Rathsack offers her tips.
It’s hard to ask for help. When you live with a chronic condition like migraine, it can be especially tricky. You often feel like you’re a burden to those around you, so you don’t want to add to the load by asking your friends and loved ones for support.
Learning how to ask was a big lesson for me, and I’m grateful to have the support of my family and community when migraine puts me out of commission.
If you love someone who lives with migraine — or any chronic illness, for that matter — you might be wondering how you can support them. It’s not always clear what your loved one needs, but a bit of honest and open communication can go a long way.
After living with migraine for 30 years, I’ve learned — and am still learning — how to help my community help me. If you’re wondering how you can better support your loved one, check out these tips.
Be flexible and manage expectations
First and foremost, it’s important to keep an open and changeable understanding of what a loved one may be going through or need, and also what they’re capable of. Be flexible when and if plans have to change. If you have plans to go out to dinner and plans are canceled, get takeout and bring it over another day or reschedule.
Making new friends and nurturing existing friendships can be hard for people with migraine due to the unpredictable and debilitating nature of the disease. Try to stay present in your friend’s life and follow up. Show that you’re still there while practicing healthy boundaries, and understand that your friend may have difficulty returning your friendship as you may require.
Learn about migraine
Many people don’t understand what migraine really is — I can’t count how many times people have compared what I’m experiencing to a headache. The reality is that migraine is a neurological disease that affects the entire body and its systems. Misperceptions of the disease often lead to those of us who live with it to feel judged or stigmatised.
Be prepared to listen and learn about what your loved one is going through. Ask about what they live with and what makes it the most difficult. Research it. This will allow you to understand the depths of the illness and quite possibly enable you to better help your loved one.
It may also help to follow other people’s journeys, through blogs or social communities. Sometimes learning about someone else’s experience can provide a useful perspective.
Try a little tenderness
Remember that you never know what someone is dealing with inside themselves. Show empathy toward what your loved one is going through and offer them comfort. Be a source of cheer and support.
Pay attention to cues
Learning to pick up on nonverbal cues can play a big role in supporting your partner or a close loved one during a migraine attack. After learning your loved one’s needs, you may be able to anticipate what’s needed without being asked.
When I have a migraine (both prior to and after an attack), it’s difficult to speak and think clearly. I’m often too exhausted to facilitate the process of asking for or receiving support.
Over the years, my husband has learned how to read me pretty well and knows that missing meals is a huge trigger for me. If I haven’t eaten, my body crashes. Once my body starts its migraine process, deciding what to eat becomes so complicated to me that I can’t make a decision or physically speak.
Once he recognises those signs, my husband either cooks or orders non-triggering food and gets me to drink water immediately. His ability to understand what I need in the moment is incredibly helpful.
Simple communication is key
Many times, it’s too painful for your loved one to speak, too painful for them to move, or too painful for them to ask for help.
Ask straightforward, simple questions: Can I bring you a healthy lunch? Do you need a glass of water? Are the lights too bright? Would you like me to turn them off? Can I babysit your children while you rest?