When you don’t have migraines, it’s hard to know what you can do to help someone who does. Like me. You probably feel helpless to stop our pain. And while there’s no cure for migraines, there’s a LOT that caring spouses, friends, family and even co-workers can do to help us suffer less, live better and get better control over our disorder.
KNOWING YOU’RE BEHIND US IS SO EMPOWERING. YOUR THOUGHTFUL GESTURES SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS.
Wanna help? Here are a few ideas of things to do for someone with migraines. Don’t hesitate to ask us first before acting if you’re not sure because everyone’s symptoms and needs are different. And migraines go through four phases — what’s comforting during a prodrome or postdrome can be irritating during the acute pain phase. That’s just the nature of a migraine.
1 – Ask: “Is there anything I can do to make your life easier today?” Think: pick up the kids, call the neighbors, drop off a delivery, make dinner, get groceries, reschedule a commitment, and so on You don’t know all that’s going on in our overactive brains until you ask. And then if you do it, well, you’re our hero for the day.
2 – Adjust the lights. Replace the fluorescent bulbs, add a dimmer switch, close the drapes. Light actually hurts — it’s called photophobia, and it’s not a fear of light. It’s actual pain we can feel even when our eyes are closed. You have no idea.
3 – Ask: “Would that be fun for you?” Find fun things you can do together that won’t trigger a migraine. That might mean a drama movie instead of a 3D action adventure, yoga instead of mountain biking, listening to music instead of going to a rock concert. You can each make a list of what’s fun for you and see where they intersect. Just don’t make the migraine sufferer feel bad that they can’t-do what they might want to do if it didn’t cause pain. Focus on what you CAN do together.
4 – Say “no problem” when plans get canceled. One thing migraine sufferers feel really guilty about is having to cancel plans and letting down the people we care most about. (That’s you). So take the guilt away, even if you’re frustrated. Saying ‘no problem’ when I had to cancel New Year’s Eve plans at 6 pm showed compassion and kindness.
5 – Sacrifice perfume and pungent foods. Whatever smell nauseates them, keep it out of their inhalation zone. (Radishes are one of mine – but some people are sensitive to chemical smells, gasoline, and other pungent foods). Giving us a fragrance- and an odor-free zone is just plain kind. Because, sadly, we can throw up almost any time with the ‘proper’ odor.
6 – Make a migraine care package. There are so many things you can put into it, from earplugs to eye shades to ice packs to bland crackers to menthol to lavender to socks. You’ll find all kinds of strange and interesting things in the Migraine Again Store.
7 – Make a donation to Migraine Research in their name. We don’t want the next generation to suffer from this, and with more research, we may find a cure. It’s the 8th most disabling condition on the planet, underdiagnosed and underfunded. This says: I believe you, and I care.
8 – Cover for them, if you can. If you work with them on anything, step in and cover as you’re able to. Or let whoever is expecting them to deliver (boss, co-worker, volunteer colleague) know that they’re seriously disabled and most definitely not faking.
9 – Turn down the volume. Whatever you’re listening to, if it’s happening during an attack, it’s like nails on a chalkboard. The cacophony is extremely irritating because a migraine makes us sensitive to sound. Wearing headphones or enjoying silence is a sweet sacrifice you can make for us. Unless it’s the Final Four or Superbowl, of course.
10 – Take the wheel. People who get migraines at work often have a tough time getting home. If you know they’ve been suffering for days or weeks without any relief, offer to take them to the doctor, urgent care or ER. They may not be safe to drive after taking medications at home that didn’t work. Driving shows compassion in action.
11 – Give them gifts that show you get it. Anything that would make their daily life is better than scented candles or an itchy sweater. Get some ideas here. Pure lavender spray to ease the pain, Ginger Tea for nausea, soft bamboo pajamas for comfort in bed. You get the idea.
12 – Draw up a bath. It’s soothing, comforting and warm, no matter how bad we feel. dd, some magnesium (like lavender Epsom salt) and it just got therapeutic. Hang out with them if they want company, or put on some soothing music.
13 – Plan something fun. Migraines take a toll on couples, families, and friendships. Make reservations, line up a babysitter if needed, and plan fun things to do on feel-good days.
14 – Make a meal. Don’t ask, just do it. You don’t have to be a great chef. A rotisserie chicken and a bag of salad from the market isn’t fancy, yet so thoughtful. Much healthier than the other options: take out food or frozen (ahem) pizza — see #17.
15 – Go with them to the doctor. Ask questions. You may have been to the ER, but that’s during an attack, and those doctors aren’t migraine experts. They might appreciate you joining them to hold hands during Botox injections or ask questions about the symptoms and medications that concern you. Big brownie points for this one.
16 – Slow down, if needed. Even the day after a migraine attack, known as the Migraine Hangover, we’re still feeling sluggish. When you walk at their pace instead of yours, it shows you care. When you slow to our pace, it’s a small gesture of consideration that doesn’t go unnoticed.
17 – Support their latest diet. That doesn’t mean you can’t drink alcohol or eat pizza because they’re not. Try not to tempt them with foods and drinks that may cause them pain tomorrow. If they’re going gluten-free, at least try GF pasta before making two batches. If your favorite pizza place doesn’t serve salads, pick one that does.
18 – Toast their toes. More often than not, our feet are frigidly cold and would feel so much better warmed up by your hands, a toasty fire or a heating pad. However, during certain stages of a migraine attack, we don’t even want to be touched. That’s called allodynia when touch can be painful or uncomfortable, and it’s a very common symptom.
19 – Treat them to a massage. It’s not just a headache. Often with a migraine, our whole bodies ache, and a massage would be just heavenly. At other times, when allodynia is acute, it hurts to even brush our hair. So be sure to ask us how we’re feeling first, to be sure your sweet gesture is well received.
20 – Tidy up – If we’ve been in bed for days with a migraine and we feel like a total mess, chances are, the place is a mess too. Picking up hasn’t been a priority; surviving is.
21 – Drop them a Note – Whether it’s a card, text or scribbled a note, let them know you admire their strength and hope they’re feeling better. It’s hard to feel valued/smart/capable/useful when you’ve been plastered to the sofa in sweats for days. Let us know we’re still the same person that you value, despite the lost days and less charming appearance. Knowing that you see through all that and have already forgotten it is just awesome.