My first lesson on how to balance marriage and migraine came from my parents (who celebrated 50 years of wedded bliss last year). I vividly recall watching my mother have to lie down from time to time. It seemed random and I always wondered what triggered it.
My dad would explain quietly to me and my younger brother: “Your mother has a headache. Let her rest.” We knew if we knocked on that bedroom door or made any noise near it, he wouldn’t be happy.
I knew she wouldn’t be in the room long, but to a kid, it seemed like an eternity. I would miss her when she would escape behind the closed door of the bedroom at the end of the hall. We would all move to the farthest end of the house and do our best to keep relatively quiet.
What sent her to the room with a headache? Why are they so often? Was it something I said or did? Was she mad at my dad? Surely, it was my brother playing Mario Brothers way too loudly!
By the time I was about 10 years old, I knew the routine. When Mom would retreat to her room, the rest of us would find something quiet to do and leave her alone. My dad would step up to the plate and finish dinner, take us to practice, or whatever needed to be done. He did his best, but you know kids. We would be silently critical because, “That’s not how she makes rice,” or “Mom lets us watch Dynasty.” (Gosh, I’m aging myself.)
I would feel sorry for my mom and often wished I could do something. My mom would emerge from her room like a new woman. She’d go back to her this and that of fussing over us – packing lunches or folding laundry. I did wonder what happened in the room. But it would all soon be forgotten when she returned.
While it was probably only an hour or two, I do remember being so grateful that my dad would contribute – without complaint, without doing anything to make things worse and to keep things running smoothly. I didn’t know it then, but I was calculating in my head the type of man I wanted to marry one day.
Fast-forward a few presidents, several cellphone generations, and the death of Blockbuster, and I found myself walking down the aisle saying, “I do.” We had dated a few years, so I had the opportunity to see how my beloved would react when I too, had migraines like my mom did.
And just like that, I noticed the very same responses I observed in my dad. When I needed to lie down for a bit, he was quiet and understanding. He pitched in and ran errands for me if I just couldn’t move. Often, I’d wake up from a migraine nap with my favorite sandwich waiting for me – turkey and Swiss on white, with light mayo, spicy mustard, lettuce, tomato, and onions.
Or I’d wake up to washed dishes and a clean kitchen. Sometimes (on weekends especially), I know he’d opt out of a night with friends just to stay downstairs and wait to be sure I’m OK. These aren’t always things I ask for. He just knows.
As the years have gone by, my husband has leaned in fully in supporting me through my migraine episodes. He makes sure I follow up with my doctor when there’s an increase in my migraine episodes. He encourages me to try to catch them early. I’m always glad when I do.
After several years of marriage, he knows my migraine triggers – sometimes better than I do. He’ll encourage me to get my rest, ditch the stress, drink water, go for a walk, log off the computer, or whatever he might notice may be contributing to a pending migraine.
But it’s not all gumdrops and butterflies. A health issue of any kind can stress a marriage. There are times when I’m just in a foul mood because of a migraine. Or I’ll neglect some type of household chore or other responsibility without saying why. From time to time, I’ll have to skip out on a movie, a dinner, or even a family gathering because of a migraine. Sometimes, my patience is short. Sometimes, his is too.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestseller Eat Pray, Love, wrote: “To be fully seen by somebody, then, and be loved anyhow – this is a human offering that can border on miraculous.”
The most loving thing isn’t what my husband has done, but what he hasn’t done. He didn’t run. After the first migraine episode, and the second and the third, and by now over 100 – he stayed.
I would think it would be easier to be married to someone migraine-free. Someone who is less broken. However, he saw me, my migraines, and loved me in spite of it all. I’ve been blessed with two great men – migraine warriors along with me and my mom. I am grateful beyond words. This is my wish for everyone.
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