Opening Up About Your Chronic Illness

A few tips to help you with this difficult task.

"I Want to Tell You About My Headaches.". Tetra Images/Getty Images

Many of us have experienced the frustration of canceling a meeting with a colleague at work or a social outing with a friend because of a headache, and this may be a frequent occurrence for those who suffer from chronic headaches.

When you do opt out of something because of a headache -- or as a result of another chronic medical condition -- are you candid in stating to others the reason for your absence?

Have you found the recipients of this potentially awkward dialogue to be supportive and compassionate? Did it motivate you to be more honest in the future?

Opening up about your headache disorder or any other medical ailment for that matter is a stressful task. Here are some tips to guide you:

You Choose

Remember, you are the one with the headache disorder  -- or other chronic illness -- so you get to choose who knows about it! Whether you prefer to keep it quiet, share with only a select few, or write a national blog about it, go ahead. All of these options are perfectly okay -- and you may change your mind throughout the course of your disease. For instance, I have generally viewed myself as a relatively private person -- sharing my medical history and all the worries and fears that encompass it with only a few loved ones. Over the past couple years though, I have become more open about it.

Do I regret it? I don’t think so. For the most part, I feel a huge weight off my shoulders after explaining to someone why I leave events early or complain of “not feeling well.” Only in the very rare occasion have I felt that others have avoided me because of my disease.

Be Confident

Exude self-assurance!

If you reveal yourself as positive and open, than your confidant will likely mimic that. Be sure to talk slowly, make good eye contact, and plan out what you will say beforehand. Choose a quiet, private environment and elect to talk in person, rather than over the phone. And if that person decides to give their input or advice -- when you really don't want it -- try not to be offended. They are just trying to be helpful. Take it with a grain of salt, smile, and say thank you. Inside, you know that you're the most knowledgeable of your disease! That being said, you never know -- their insight could be incredibly helpful and something you were sub-consciously seeking.

Prepare Yourself for Unique Reactions

Be prepared for a spectrum of reactions. You might get a hug or a pat on the back followed by a concerned look and nod of the head. Or you might get an expression of alarm — characterized by raised eyebrows and that person taking a few steps back. Try not to judge that person's reaction, just as you prefer to not be judged by your illness.

They too need time to digest and process it. Plus, you never know their prior experiences -- possibly, your conversation is triggering a repressed memory of a loved one with a similar illness.

Be prepared to answer questions too. Think about how much you want to reveal about your illness beforehand. For instance, you may be open about telling others you suffer from chronic migraines, but you may not want to reveal the results of the brain MRI you had or the medications you take. Of course, if you are comfortable answering all these questions, that's okay too.

The Bottom Line

Coping with a headache disorder is a complex task and sharing with others can be stressful. Use these tips to ease your tensions and make the experience more soothing. It's also a good idea to speak with your doctor about her recommendations for opening up to others.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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