The Pain of Invisible Illness

When people don’t believe you’re sick.

A Headache

On a recent Saturday morning, I rolled out of bed with a headache. When it didn’t dissipate after a coffee, I started to feel nauseated and dizzy, and then the pain worsened. I realized was experiencing a migraine.

I took my prescription medication for it and went back to sleep — strange for someone who’d just slept for eight hours — and slept all day, in pain. The medication didn’t kick in until after I woke up and took second doses at 5 p.m.

After that, I was groggy and exhausted. I tried to do homework, but couldn’t focus on the computer screen. Only the next morning did I feel well enough to type or do anything around the house. An entire day was wasted.

Yet, many people don’t believe me when I say I suffer from migraines. People tut, “It’s just a headache” and get offended if I have to cancel plans.

And from physically looking at me, it’s hard to tell that I have a migraine. I might be in bed with blankets over my head, complaining “It’s too loud” — but that’s about it.

A doctor can’t feel a migraine by palpation, or hear it with a stethoscope. The disease primarily affects women, and we really don’t know much about it.

When I mention my migraines to other women, sometimes they whisper that they, too, get them. “I’ve been to a neurologist, and he said there’s nothing they can do,” one said.

I was recently frustrated when I went to a medical presentation, and they described migraines as something that affects women because of stress. So be less stressed, the presenter seemed to be saying.