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Does Fear of a Migraine Attack Hold You Back?

Does fear of a migraine attack hold you back from making plans or doing things you love? Do you have a doubt monster that lives inside your head? One that ticks off the reasons why we can’t go…wherever? I know exactly how this feels. 

Migraine has been my near constant companion for most of my life. Even on the days that I don’t have what I call an ‘active attack’, I have reminders that she’s around. Things like tinnitus, aural fullness, unexpected dizziness, stabbing pains out of nowhere and random light sensitivity. Most days, these symptoms are in the background and I don’t notice them like I used to. If I don’t sleep well, the symptoms are much more prominent. Then the doubt monster is more vocal. 

Plans change

I recently had tickets to go to a baseball game with my best friend. It was a chance for us to catch up and do something fun. Unfortunately, she had a work meeting pop up and couldn’t make it to the day game. I was disappointed to not be able to see her, but the game had turned into a double header! This is a whole game of FREE BASEBALL! I needed to find someone to go with me. Our daughter was out of town, and my husband was working, so our son said he would go with me. I had a plan!

And then…the doubt monster started in on me. Just the two of you? He doesn’t have his license. What if you have an attack and can’t drive home? And just like that…with two little questions, my enjoyment in the game had diminished somehow. I was thinking about ‘what if’s’ instead of the Cleveland Indians hunt for the division title against the Minnesota Twins. Clearly I needed an attitude adjustment. This fear of having a migraine attack is very real in the migraine community. Not just because of the pain or dizziness that it will bring. It’s for a whole host of reasons that usually involve others and the thought of leaving the safety of our homes.

The doubt monster’s true name – Anticipatory Anxiety 

Anticipatory Anxiety is just what is sounds like. Experiencing worry and fear about something that may or may not take place in the future. Having our thoughts spiral out of control with ‘what if’ scenarios. The Doubt Monster is a mild form of anticipatory anxiety, which can become very debilitating. The occasional attack can turn into daily or even hourly occurrences and for much smaller and more insignificant events. The symptoms can include shortness of breath and dizziness leading some to wonder if they are having a seizure or heart attack. These overwhelming feelings can lead to avoiding activities and the hobbies we enjoy. Sometimes medications like SSRI’s or anti-anxiety medications will be appropriate to help with this type of overwhelming anxiety. Speaking to a knowledgeable counselor is also helpful. Our blog about calming anxiety is a must read as well. 

Things the doubt monster whispers to us about

  • Disappointing others – This is probably the biggest one. Making and then breaking plans with friends and family members. Or going to the event and having to leave, and maybe making someone leave with you to take you home. 
  • Being out of control – This is a super uncomfortable feeling. We try to control our environment to limit our triggers. 
  • Not being safe – Some of us feel unsafe in public when we experience vertigo or symptoms that leave us partially paralyzed or unable to speak.
  • Being sick in public – Anyone that has ever had to vomit in public understands this. Enough said. 
  • Pretending to be well due to lack of understanding family and friends – Unfortunately, this happens a lot. When you feel like you don’t have support of family or friends because you are chronic, but that translates into ‘you’re always sick’ to them. It makes it difficult to feel like you have a safety net when you might really need one. 
  • Everything starts out well, and then it crashes and burns – How many times has this happened? The evening was perfect until it wasn’t. Too much stimuli and triggers stacking and then BAM. 
  • Being a burden and being thought of as weak – Gah. Absolutely nothing worse.

How to defeat the doubt monster

How do we combat against the doubt monster? Well, acknowledging that the monster is there is a good start. I think it helps to weaken its power. Having good communication about migraine with the people in your life that it might affect is huge. Sometimes they are receptive, and sometimes they are not. There are all different types of personalities in the world. If it will always be about them, and how much you disappointed them etc…they may never be supportive of your situation. You might need to seek the help of a professional counselor to help you work that out. 

A strong support system is key to overcoming the doubt monster and trusting that you CAN do it. Having trust in those that are closest to you is even more important. Everyone can be disappointed in what is happening, but celebrating the attempt is as important as celebrating the victory. Otherwise, the attempts will stop happening. Especially if there is recrimination for when the attempts aren’t successful.

Preparation is Key

Some of the other doubts and fear of a migraine attack can be handled with preparation. We often talk about this in our closed Facebook group. How to prepare for an outing that might trigger an attack. Some headache specialists will recommend pre-medicating with your acute medication before a triggering event. We find that ginger and magnesium can be very beneficial in these circumstances. Packing things that might help like sunglasses or migraine glasses, a ball cap, ear plugs, a migraine stick, head friendly snacks, rescue medication and making sure to hydrate. Feeling like you are in control in a situation that you have limited control of is huge for most of us. 

If leaving early is your concern, and not wanting to have to make someone leave with you, see if Uber or Lyft operates in your area. It’s a great way to leave when you need to without breaking up the party for everyone else. And it eliminates the guilt that you feel making someone else leave too. The Notes app is great to use if you have trouble speaking during an attack. Have some pre-typed statements in Notes that you can point to and communicate with others. 

The ballgame

The day of the game arrived bright and clear, a perfect day. We drove an hour to the ball park and had to hunt for a place to park in downtown Cleveland during a busy, weekday afternoon. We were almost a mile from the park, and it was a beautiful day. There were many things to deal with as usual, and the fear of a migraine attack is never truly far away. Heat, sunshine, the ever present ambient noise of the ballpark which is like a living hive of activity…and the high pitched screams of excited fans. 

Finding a quiet place anywhere in a ballpark or any public place is tough. Even the bathrooms have the game piped in through the speakers. And I’m really ok with that!! Who wants to miss the action?! Sometimes, just a few minutes away from the roar of the crowd and the ambient noise can be a life (or mind) saver. I found it behind the upper box outfield seats by the ramp at Progressive Field (I still call it Jacob’s Field). Glorious!! Shade too!! I realized how overwhelmed with all of the noise, sun, heat and everything else I was. 

I love going to baseball games with my kids. Sharing my love of the game with them. Always in the back of my mind is ‘what will happen if I’m hit with a bad attack and we are stranded?’ Well, realistically, we are only an hour away from home. My husband can come get us and bring one of our family members to drive my car home. It’s not like it couldn’t be managed. You know what I mean? It’s the idea of having to put two people out and have to BE managed. Ugh. It’s always just in the back of my mind. 

Me and Nathan at the game.


That’s where it stayed, in the back of my mind. We had a great time. The Tribe won. We saw great pitching and two new players. It was wonderful. The first game was all I could handle after all of the sun…and don’t get me started on the drive home. Our son was very empathetic and up for whatever. He was really hot too and we determined that if we did stay, we had to move seats to get out of the sun. In the back of my mind was the doubt monster talking to me about pushing my luck…

It’s important to remember we are probably more capable than we think. We are more than the sum of our fears. I’m proud that I pushed through the worry of stranding us at the ballpark (one of my favorite places on earth) and the fear of a migraine attack. I got to see a great game on a fabulous August day with one of my favorite people…and the drive home was quite an adventure. 

Does fear of a migraine attack hold you back? Here are 7 tips to living life freely with a chronic illness!

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About the Author

Eileen Zollinger

I began having migraine attacks when I was a teenager, but was never properly diagnosed until I was an adult. This began 18 years where I was chronic and mostly intractable, resulting in a migrainous stroke in the summer of 2014. By implementing the protocols from the Heal Your Headache book by Dr. David Buchholz and the Migraine Strong Treatment Pie, I have been able to reduce my migraine frequency to episodic and maintain that since 2015. The end result of continuing to practice these tools is being able to actively participate in my life as a wife, mother, family member and friend. My goal as a migraine advocate, educator, and wellness coach is to help others gain more control over migraine. Let us know how we can help.

View all posts by Eileen Zollinger