Scripted Comebacks for Well-Meaning Advice: Your Response Can Help Break Stigma

By Shoshana Lipson, founder of Migraine Meanderings and Hope for Migraine

As most people who live with migraine are all too familiar, one of the challenges frequently faced is that of uninvited advice. There may already be eye rolls and groans as you read this! Flashbacks of unhelpful or even downright annoying comments may be coming to mind right now. In this shared experience we often find ourselves struggling to figure out how to respond.

How many times have you heard, “You should try Tylenol for that,” “You should try to push through” or “Have you looked at your diet?” The misconception that what works for one person must also work for you is common. There is a lack of understanding that migraine is not just a headache—it is a complex neurological disease that presents with a wide spectrum of symptoms, frequencies, severity levels, triggers, and treatment responses.

Engage and educate

However, it’s not too late to educate people about migraine. Here are some possible responses to questions and unhelpful advice.

  1. Isn’t migraine just a bad headache?
 “Actually, migraine is the second most disabling disease worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.”

  2.  I heard cream of tartar can help. “Thanks for thinking of me, but I see a great doctor to help me manage this disease!”
  3.  I think you just need to handle stress better!
 “Would you say that to someone with epilepsy or MS?”
  4. My friend treats her migraine with [ABC]. “I’ve already tried that and it doesn’t work for me.”
  5. I read about a great way to stop migraine!
“I wish it was that easy, but migraine is more complex than people realize.”

Other options include sharing an article from an advocacy organization, ignoring the advice, or even ending contact. Remember, it’s important to put your health, including mental health, first.

Much of how we respond will depend on how we’re feeling at that particular moment, how many times we’ve heard that piece of advice, and how often that particular person has made suggestions. It’s also likely to depend on whether the person is someone who cares about us, a health care provider, an employer, or even a total stranger. Importantly, each of these conversations is an opportunity to educate and reduce the societal stigma against migraine.

It’s like a puzzle that races through our heads every time we face it; a puzzle that our achy heads don’t want to face. But on those rare occasions when we really hit the nail on the head with a great response and the person hears us… well, that is a moment to celebrate!