How to Build a Support Network to Help You Cope With Migraine Headaches
Migraine headaches don’t just leave the sufferer feeling helpless, they leave everyone around them feeling helpless. Learning how to build a support network helps empower those around us and takes some of the worry off ourselves and distributes our responsibilities to those who care about us during and after an attack.
What Exactly is a Support Network?
When a patient is diagnosed with cancer, doctors work with them to build a group of people around them to help them get through the treatments and to help their family function. This is not true when a patient is diagnosed with migraine headaches, though they are the fourth most disabling disorder in the world, according to the World Health Organization.
You probably already know that continuing to work and care for yourself and those around you during a migraine headache attack only makes the suffering worse. What if all you had to concentrate on was getting better? The stress relief alone would work to alleviate some of the suffering, wouldn’t it? Building a support network helps you to be able to accomplish this.
A support network is a group of family, friends, and even headache professionals who are willing to pick up the slack and help you find solutions to your pain. Each person in the network takes on different tasks, like driving you home from work, seeing that your office responsibilities are taken care of, picking your children up from activities, cooking meals, doing laundry… The list goes on and on, and is different for every migraineur.
I hear You Asking, “How do I Begin?”
The best starting place is to make up a list of things that you usually do during your days. Then you separate out which ones only you can do (this list should be short) and which tasks could be delegated to someone else. Once you have this list, it is helpful to separate these tasks between home and office responsibilities. Include the things that your medical professionals do for you as well.
There are other ways to separate your lists into more specialized categories like childcare or pet care responsibilities, household responsibilities, errands that must be run, bill paying, meals preparation, etc… Again, the list should be your own and reflect what you are responsible for on any given day.
Now the Question is, “Who Can Help With These Activities?”
It is much easier to decide who to approach for help once you have figured out what help you might need. For example, my youngest child is still in school and participates in several extracurricular activities which requires me to pick him up for school.
My back-up plans include the late buses at school and a neighborhood parent whose child also participates in most of these activities. Letting the teachers know of these plans means I only have to shoot them a quick email saying how he should get home from school activities. In the case of the carpool to church activities, it sometimes means that my husband or, if necessary, another parent, driving for me (if it’s my turn to carpool).
My son often visits our elderly (though she is more active than I am most days) neighbor to play games and do homework. You know how it is, they will often do things for others that you can’t get them to do for you. Anyway, if my neighbor is aware that I have a migraine, she will have my son come over and stay longer than he usually would. This keeps him occupied and the house remains quiet.
Let’s Look at Who Should be Considered
If you are married, it seems obvious that you should include your spouse. If you aren’t, you should consider your significant other or roommates. Everyone should consider friends and neighbors. If you have children, you should consider parents of your childrens’ friends. Sympathetic friends and neighbors are certainly a go-to for support and help.
The same goes for family members. Your family members should also be at the top of your list. This includes your children because being able to help you out empowers them which keeps feelings of helplessness at bay.
Co-workers should also be in the loop, especially your boss. They can help get the work done, and they can also help see that you get home safely so you can recover. Keeping them in the loop also keeps you from having to explain when things do not get done. This helps you avoid stress in the workplace.
At the very least, your boss should be aware that you have migraines and may sometimes need to leave work rather abruptly. Your boss can also help you avoid situations that can cause migraine, like placing you in a work area where you are not constantly fighting the glare of sunlight (or even harsh fluorescent light) on your computer. Remember those environmental triggers! With open communication with your boss, you may also be able to create a migraine friendly environment fr you at work.
You will be surprised at how helpful your friends and neighbors will be at finding ways for you to avoid migraines and migraine triggers when they are fully informed about migraines. (Some advice will not be helpful, but remember it comes from a good place in their heart.) My husband, in particular, will send me articles about migraines and migraine treatments. This has sometimes leads to better treatment and lessened pain.
The responsibility that you ask someone to take on should match their place in your life. You wouldn’t ask your boss to make sure dinner gets done, would you? Of course, you wouldn’t! That wouldn’t match their role in your life. It is helpful to look back at your original lists when delegating responsibilities.
Try not to ask too much of any one person, as this is not fair. Also, be willing to do favors in return. Most of all, DO NOT take unneeded advantage of these people as that only leads to resentment. Resentment leads to broken relationships and undue stress on everyone!
When giving responsibilities to children you must take into consideration their age and abilities. Some things they can do for you are playing in their room quietly rather than watching the television with the sound turned all the way up. My son knows where my ice packs are and he will check on whether I need another now and then. He will also bring me water or make me coffee if I need it.
You must refrain from having children take on these responsibilities when you don’t actually need them to. If you do, they will begin to feel burdened rather than empowered.
Communication is Key
When each person on the team is aware of what you need from them, things go much more smoothly. To this end you need to be specific and as concise as you possibly can be. Sure, there might be times when you need to ask an extra favor during an attack, but making a habit of not asking for more than originally asked of them will leave them open to helping out in another area in a pinch.
Once you define the responsibilities you are asking from each team member or your support network, you will need to establish a means of communicating with all of them. This is where a team leader or coach comes in. You can alert them and they can activate the other members of your network when you cannot do so yourself.
It is much easier if everyone is aware of your migraine as soon as you begin to feel it coming on. That being said, that does not always happen. Many people have migraines that strike suddenly without any warning signs what-so-ever.
Having one person that can help you alert your team that help is needed is essential to the success of your support network. Most of the time, this is my husband. He also helps me advocate for care, like the ER in the case of status migrainous. He wouldn’t be able to do that if I did not communicate with him about my needs before, during, and after my migraine headache attacks.
Other Things it is Helpful for Your Support Network to Know
Certain people in your support network should be aware of what you use to treat your migraines, in other words, they should know what is in your Migraine Toolkit. This would include both medications – both prescriptions and over-the-counter that you take for migraine – and natural or alternative measures that you use. They should also be aware of where your Toolkit is kept and where other measures like ice packs are kept.
It is important that those who are closest to you, like spouses (significant others), children (particularly adult children), roommates, and close friends are also aware of the side effects and signs of overdose for any treatment you use, especially medications. This is true even if you have not ever suffered a side effect from any of your treatments.
They should also be aware of when a migraine attack needs medical attention. In other words, the people closest to you should know what you experience during a typical migraine and what signs indicate you may have another problem. This means educating your children on when to call for help as well.
You don’t want to scare your kids to death by bringing these things up. Make sure they know that it is okay to call for help if they think it is needed (say if you become unresponsive), but they should also know that it is very unlikely that they will ever have to do this.
Your Medical Team and Local and Online Support Groups
Your medical team is a very important part of your support network. They can help you with medications and other ways of treating migraine headaches. If at all possible, your team leader or coach should also be involved with your medical team.
There are also a wealth of local and online support groups made up of other migraineurs like yourself. The people in these groups truly understand what you are going through. This is a great place to voice your frustrations. To learn more about support groups, CLICK HERE
There are many advantages to a Migraine Support Network, and it all begins with a list of what your needs are. From there you separate out that list according to categories that fit your needs. From there, it is easy to think of who in your life can be approached to help you.
Having a good team leader or coach and making sure you foster good communication is key. Again, you should make sure that you do not abuse the fact that these people are willing to do things for you, and you should be willing to do things for them in return. The last thing you need is more stress because your relationships with those around you are breaking.
I hope that this article has helped you to know how to build a support network not only for yourself, but for your work and your family as well.
Let’s Continue the Conversation!
I would love to know if you have any experiences with support networks or if you can think of anything I may have left out. Please leave these things in the comment section below.