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Losing (and Finding) Friendships with Chronic Migraine

Reading time | 4 mins

There are many downsides to living with a chronic illness like migraine and I am not going to list them all here. For the most part though, I have been pretty prepared to handle them and the way the condition affects my life.

My consultant and my nurse explained the symptoms and consequences of migraine to me, and I have read various articles online about it to better equip myself to deal with my illness.

But some of the effects of chronic migraine have been rather surprising. One of these – the loss of certain friendships – was something I was not prepared for in the slightest.

Cancelling plans and losing friends 

I think I’ve always been a friendly and outgoing person. While I might not have been the most popular person in school or college, I always had great friends and I enjoyed socialising with them. When my migraine attacks first began during my 20s, they were periodic and I was still able to maintain friendships normally. But as my illness became chronic and I was having daily headaches, my ability to keep up with friendships became more difficult.

More and more often I had to cancel plans or pull out of events due to a migraine attack. I found this very difficult as I felt like I was letting people down. As a consequence, inevitably people stopped calling, the invites got fewer and my plans slowed to a trickle.

I would always explain to people why I was cancelling and try to make them understand what migraine was like. Yet, I honestly believe that unless you’ve experienced it for yourself you’ll never fully understand. Often I would hear that I was ‘just making excuses’ or that ‘everyone gets headaches but it doesn’t stop them living their lives’. I was called a drama queen (as if!) and accused of fabricating stories to get out of events. My social circle became much smaller and I lost a lot of friendships.

Trying again despite the self-doubt

As I said in the beginning, I wasn’t prepared for this and I started questioning myself. Was I a bad friend? Did I not try hard enough? Was my friendship not worth the trouble of my illness and what that entailed?

Before long I became quite introverted and self-conscious as my confidence was damaged.

These days I find it quite difficult to make new friends and if I do, friendships are difficult to maintain. When my son was starting school I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to make new friends around my local area. I was all set on that first day of school to meet with other parents who were in the same boat as me.

And I did meet some lovely people! I became quite close with some of the mums and we would meet regularly and catch up on local gossip. It was lovely. I was on maternity leave with my younger child, so it was great to get out of the house, meet new people and speak to other adults. My migraine attacks had also abated during this time as I was still breastfeeding.

However when I returned to work the days got so much busier. On top of that my migraine attacks returned. Getting the children ready for school or crèche, working a full day, coming home to prepare dinner and do homework and housework was hard enough, but couple that with a daily chronic headache and you can understand why I had to start cancelling plans again.

Once again, not everyone understood and some unkind comments were made – often disguised as jokes. We began to drift apart, and before long, we stopped seeing each other altogether. Even though I tried to explain my situation, I don’t think my new friends understood why I had to retreat. Slowly but surely these new friendships all but disappeared and I would be lying if I said that it didn’t hurt – even though I know it wasn’t my fault.

Friends through thick and thin

I have made other friends over the last while, but to be honest I prefer to call them acquaintances. It is great to have people to talk to and to organise play dates and parties with, but I have learned that true friends don’t come around very often and I have made peace with that. I also realise that I don’t open myself up to people as freely as I used to, and I am guarded regarding my illness so it’s not easy to build new relationships.

Turns out losing friendships was another consequence of living with my condition, and something that I have to deal with. This isn’t to say that I have closed myself off to new friendships in the future – in fact, I hope that there are still new friends to come! I just think that I will be more careful about who I open myself up to and who I share my personal details with.

But it’s not all bad. Over the years, I have quickly learned who my true friends were. People who were there for me, who understood what I was going through, and more importantly, who didn’t judge me for it.

Today I can honestly say that I can count my true friends on one hand and that’s OK with me. These are the people I want in my life – the ones who love me for me, warts and all. People always say the friends that stick with you through the good times and the bad are the ones you will have for life. I truly believe this and actually feel quite blessed. I don’t know what I would do without them.

UK/MED/20/0190 June 2020