Published May 2018. Updated August 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, 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. Now I'm over that hurdle, I'm grateful to have my family's and friends' support when migraine puts me out of action.
If you love someone with chronic migraine or any illness, you may wonder 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. Check out these tips if you're wondering how to better support your loved one.
Be flexible and manage expectations
First, it's essential to keep an open and changeable understanding of what a loved one may be going through and 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 old ones can be challenging for migraineurs. Because the disease is unpredictable and debilitating, it may be tricky to keep to pre-arranged plans. Try to stay present in your friend's life and follow up. Show you're there for them while practicing healthy boundaries. And please understand that your friend may have difficulty returning your friendship as you expect.
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. In reality, migraine is a neurological disease affecting the entire body and its systems. Misperceptions of the disease often lead those who live with it to feel judged or stigmatized.
Be prepared to listen to and learn what your loved one is going through. Ask about what your loved one manages daily and what makes it the most difficult. Research it. This will allow you to understand the illness's depths and 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 helpful 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 comfort. Be a source of cheer and support.
Pay attention to cues
Learning to pick up on nonverbal cues can significantly support your partner or a close loved one during a migraine attack. Once you understand your loved one's needs, you may be able to know what's needed without being asked.
It's difficult to think and speak when I have a migraine (both before and after an attack). I'm often too exhausted to start the process of asking for or receiving support.
Over the years, my husband has learned how to read me pretty well and knows missing meals is a massive 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 recognizes 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 migraine sufferers 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?
Better yet, just offer your help immediately if you know what needs to be done. Even the smallest things can make a huge difference. Follow up with a text message to show that your support is ongoing.
At the end of the day, asking for, receiving, and giving help can be difficult for everyone involved. The more knowledge and compassion, the better.
A healthy understanding of what your loved one requires will allow them to recover and battle migraine more effectively. Love, support, a positive presence, and a proactive approach are some of the best medicines.
Note: The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for managing migraine symptoms or caregiving for someone with the condition. Please consult a professional who can apply best practices and appropriate resources to your situation.
NPS-ALL-NP-00627 AUGUST 2022