We all have coping strategies when we’re ill. Whether that’s to push through another day at work, to care for our loved ones, or to keep up with commitments, sometimes our schedule doesn’t let us get sick.
But have you considered that these “coping mechanisms” can do us more harm than good?
Since she can remember, Daisy Swaffer has put on “The Brave Face” when experiencing a chronic migraine attack. Here’s her story.
Since I developed chronic migraine, there is one thing that has played a massive role in my life. I had no idea it was going to be such a big thing. It's so big, in fact, I encounter it every single day.
It's called “The Brave Face” (TBF).
Related: Understanding Migraine – Prodrome and Postdrome
The coping mechanism that doesn’t help me cope
The Brave Face is something I instinctively do, whether I want to or not, and I wish I had more control over it.
You can probably guess by what I've called it, but The Brave Face is exactly what it says on the tin. When I feel dreadful and I'm with other people, I automatically act as though I'm feeling much better than I am.
The Brave Face haunts me in my conversations too. When I'm talking about my migraines, I tend to use them as the butt of my jokes. I laugh about them and downplay the whole thing. I do this to make people feel comfortable, but should that really be my priority?
This is by far one of the most frustrating things I do, and I don't have any control over it. I'm ruled by migraine. My life often feels like it's on hold, yet I'll laugh and make jokes when I'm asked about it. Or I'll smile when I can feel the pain building inside me as I battle with a medicated but still present migraine.
I worry that if I show people how I really feel, they'll think I'm making a big deal out of nothing. After all, wasn’t I just the one downplaying the whole thing?
So, what else can I do? If I slink off early, I fear the whispers: "but she didn't look sick!"
This is a judgement everyone with an invisible illness has to battle. Many people think that migraines are "just bad headaches". Sometimes I wonder if people think of my migraines as "one of her headaches". Like I'm some whey-faced mass of petticoats and neuroses from an 18th-century novel.
Related: Why We Need to Destigmatise Migraine
The Brave Face forces me to hide my migraine symptoms
When I'm in pain, whether it be a "normal" headache or a full-blown migraine, I want to hide away from everyone else.
That's when The Brave Face kicks in. It won't let me. Every time I deploy The Brave Face, it's the price I must pay to spend precious time with people.
It's not just for select people either. My husband has to battle every day to spend some time with me. He's the only person I don't have to put on The Brave Face with, and yet I often do. If I can feel a migraine coming, The Brave Face comes out so I can finish playing that board game or whatever it is we were doing.
My face may look perky, but the rest of my body is not. The rest of me is screaming that it wants to be alone, so trying to act normal is very tiring. I do this at work too, although I'm trying to stop.
I'm not alone in this either, not by a long way. In Teva's recent survey, around 43% of 7,500 European migraine patients said they'd hidden migraine symptoms from friends, family or employers.
It's interesting that this number is so high. After all, hiding our symptoms from other people is only hurting ourselves.
The Brave Face and failure
I think The Brave Face and feelings of failure are interlinked. I have to live with this chronic illness, and I think The Brave Face makes it look from the outside that I'm not failing. I'm healthy, I'm successful, I'm. Just. Like. You...
Except, on the inside, I'm in so much pain. And it's relentless.
When I talk about my migraines, I know it's not a nice topic. There isn't a cure, so it rapidly becomes one of those "no hope" conversations. Instinctively, I want to please the person I'm talking to. I want to entertain them, even though I'm trying to convey serious information about my experience.
So, I make jokes and try to make the whole thing light-hearted and funny. That's not only for my conversation partner's benefit, though. If I didn't rely on humour, I'd be crying instead. That would be much worse, and not least because crying lowers my migraine threshold, making a migraine more likely!
Related: The Struggles of Living with an Invisible Illness Like Migraine
I wish I had a choice
I wish I could control when The Brave Face comes out and be honest with people. I wish I could tell someone how I'm feeling without minimising my experience and brushing it under the rug.
I can't help but feel that I'm "part of the problem", further contributing to the stigma and misunderstanding society already has about migraine. The Brave Face makes coping with this disease look like its easy.
It's not. I just can’t bring myself to show it.
NPS-IE-NP-00298 September 2021