Guilt, blame, and whose fault is it, anyway?

After a three-month stretch of miserable, awful migraines that required multiple rounds of steroids and several sick days, my migraine specialist suggested we add a fourth preventative to my regimen of medications.

“Now you really need to focus on lifestyle things, because you’re going to be on four preventatives and you’re not where you want to be. So, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, eating at the same time every day, exercising.”

Although I was not excited about the prospect of taking yet another prescription, my doctor’s insistence that I focus on lifestyle changes to manage my migraines—as if I wasn’t doing that already!—send my mood straight to the gutter.

I was frustrated, I was upset, I was angry, and I felt hopeless and helpless. More than that, I felt like my doctor was blaming me for having a bad three months, when the weather had been up and down and back and forth and my hormones decided to be just as crazy as the weather.

Sure, there are things I’m not doing. Consistent cardio is one of them. And, yeah, okay, sometimes I drink coffee. (Sometimes I need to drink coffee to get me through the work day.)

But I’m trying. I already go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, more or less (no one’s perfect). I eat at the same times every day. I drink more than enough water.

I have basically changed the entire structure of my life in an effort to control this disease. I’ve given up things I enjoy (red wine, oh how I miss you). I’m not as social as I used to be. I miss out on fun things because I only have so many spoons, and often I have to save them for work.

And now my doctor was telling me I wasn’t doing a good enough job? That the searing, eye-popping pain I was feeling was my own damn fault?

That moment made me want to quit taking all the medications I’m taking (which do help, even if they aren’t perfect), quit my job, apply for disability, and live out my life as a hermit who only leaves the house when the Internet is out and Netflix stops working.

As is usually the case with these things, my reaction to my doctor’s advice said more about me than it did about her. With some distance I can see that she wasn’t blaming me, and she wasn’t trying to be hurtful. She was doing her job. And she was right about one thing, at least: I need to exercise.

My reaction stemmed from my own feelings of inadequacy and guilt over getting constant migraines. I fear that because I am not living “perfectly,” i.e. not waking up at exactly 6:30 a.m. every morning, jumping on my bike and riding up and down the giant hill I live on, and then eating a hearty breakfast of two eggs, one slice of toast, and a cup of fruit without any kind of caffeine at all, ever, I am bringing all of this pain and misery down upon my own head.

Here’s the truth. I could do all those things. I could hire a drill sergeant to get my butt out of bed at exactly the same time every morning, exercise for an hour every day, never drink caffeine, eat at exact three-hour intervals, and still wind up with a killer migraine at the end of the day. Yes, I have control over some triggers. But I don’t have control over others, like the weather and my hormones, and how stressful my day at work is (though I can try to manage the stress better).

Maybe if those were the only things I had to worry about, I could do them “better.” But I have a full-time job, and two dogs to take care of, and a family with wants and needs, and I’m trying to build a writing career. AKA, I have a life. And managing my migraines are only part of that life, not the sum. It’s a balancing act, and some days I do better than others. Neither my doctor nor a drill sergeant can change that.

My migraines are not my fault, and neither are yours. I’m sure you know that already, but I know I need the occasional reminder. So, again: My migraines are not my fault. And neither are yours.

What makes you feel guilty or inadequate over your migraines, chronic illness, or disability?

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