It’s all in your head

January 19th, 2008

Gotta rant today. I’ve been hearing too much about blaming the victims lately. And when we start down the road of “it’s all in our heads”there’s danger ahead.

What migraineur has not heard that as a put down? “It’s all in your head!”  What people mean by that is, it’s psychosomatic, or it’s psychological, or snap out of it – you can control this.  Migraines are in our heads – and in other parts of our bodies as well. They are a series of rapid firings of a bunch of overexcited neurons – in our brains, which happen to be in our heads, not our elbows or our spleens. So what? Just because something is taking place inside our head, doesn’t mean we have control over it. Try snapping out of it! Try snapping out of depression, or anxiety, or worse yet seizures, or a stroke. Try not thinking of an elephant while you’re at it. We can’t even do that!

Is that a statement straight out of the mind/body fallacy or what? The brain is a bodily organ.  It controls the rest of the body, to a large extent, but that doesn’t mean it’s not part of the body. Just because we use it to think thoughts, doesn’t mean we can control its processes or malfunctions. We like to think we are completely independent in producing thoughts, but our thoughts are strongly influenced, if not controlled, by our emotions, and emotions are produced by biochemical secretions. You can’t think your way out of an illness. Or maybe you can, who knows, but I can’t, I’ve tried!

On the other hand, our bodies influence our brains. We put chemical substances in – foods, nutritional supplements, medications, that help or hinder our recovery, relieve or trigger our migraines. We walk and exercise and that affects our moods and our thoughts.  And keeping a positive attitude, doing things to take care of ourselves, reaching out for support and helping others – all these things can influence our moods, and our health. They should be part of our migraine treatment plan. But they won’t take away the underlying condition. I cannot think or emote or eat or exercise my way to a redesign of my neurons.

This kind of thinking is particularly damaging when it feeds into our own perfectionism and guilt about being ill. The next person who says that, you might say, “I can’t think myself well, but you can think yourself tolerant!”  After all, their prejudices against migraine are all in their heads!

- Megan
Laying low with a headache – keeping migraine at bay

brain photo courtesy of Gaetan Lee

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Posted in Rant | Comments (6)

  • deborah

    boy have I heard these all! they kill me; both the statements and the people that have the audacity to make them.

    My fav is this; when I’ve heard someone say, “well, at least you don’t look sick.” and my response was; “kind of like you not looking stupid.”

    This gave her a look of somewhere between Duh? and Whoa!!! Wondering where I was coming from. Yeah, and I am the one with nerve! Go figure.

    Blame it on the migraine.

  • Megan Oltman

    Deb – You make me laugh! Gotta fight ignorance with whatever you’ve got… like they say, well-behaved women rarely make history!

    - Megs

  • Amy

    Oh gosh, I really hate that line, too!!!! I had a former boss who refused to recognize they were migraines, she would say “Oh, you have one of your little headaches again?” and then she would say “When I get a headache, I just will it away.” There’s a reason she’s a former boss (I quit as soon as I could just to get away from her!!).

  • Megan Oltman

    Amy – Maybe if we all really concentrate, we can will people like that away… Ready? 1 – 2 – 3 hmmmmmmm

  • Ellen Schnakenberg

    Hi Megan!

    You know, I think my least favorite is not the forthright comments to “snap out of it”, those people are just not informed, so I take it on myself to inform them. If that means they have to sit and listen to me drone on and on then that’s what they get, but with a smile! :)

    My least favorite is: “But you look so good.”

    Ellen Schnakenberg
    WEGO Health Migraine and Headache Moderadotor

  • Megan Oltman

    Ellen – what exactly are we supposed to look like? Cross-eyed and drooling? I certainly feel like that sometimes, though I rarely look it. I’m with you though on educating people – and with a smile – I’ll say, “actually, did you know migraine is a chronic genetic disease” and rattle on like it’s the most fascinating thing they ever heard…
    - Megs

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