I’m Not Flaky, I Have An Invisible Illness

Written by Adele Paul on July 28, 2017

migraines misunderstood

I’m a reliable person. Honestly, I am. I’m a mom. I run two businesses. I honor commitments, get my kids to school on time, and pay my bills. I run a tight ship, as they say, which is why my friends and acquaintances find themselves baffled — annoyed, even — at times when I come across as a bit “flaky.”

Friend: “Remember that comedian we went to last year — the guy with the speeding ticket shtick?”

Me: “Yeah, that was a good night!”

Friend: “He’s in town on Friday. Want me to buy tickets?”

Me: “Sure!”

You have to understand, I had every intention of going. I wouldn’t have agreed if I hadn’t. I got a meal ready ahead of time, booked the babysitter, even chose something fun to wear for a rare night out. Everything was set to go, until 4 p.m. Friday …

Me: “Hey, any chance you know someone who would take my ticket for the show tonight?”

Friend: “Why?”

Me: “Well, I’ve got a nasty migraine.”

Friend: “Oh, bummer. I know when I get a headache, I take some ibuprofen and I’m good to go in an hour. You could still come?”

Me: “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Sorry about this. I don’t want to leave you stranded. I messaged a few people to see if anybody wants the ticket. Just waiting to hear back.”

Friend: “Oh. So you’re definitely out?”

Me: “Yes. I’ll make sure you get money for the ticket.”

Friend: “Understood. I’ll ask Carla from work if she wants to go.”

Well, luckily for all involved, Carla took my place. But as for the “understood” comment, I’m not sure what to think. Did she understand that after I hung up the phone I kept my body dead still for the next three hours because I was afraid any movement would bring me searing pain?

Did she think “a headache” was just a convenient excuse to get out of something I’d decided I didn’t particularly want to do? Did she understand that it wasn’t until Saturday morning that the pain had subsided enough for me to drag myself out of bed for a few minutes, and another six hours for the fog to pass?

Did she understand that doing this to her again was reflective of a chronic condition rather than of my own flakiness or, worse, my disregard for our friendship?

Now, I know people are no more interested in hearing all the gory details of my chronic condition than I am in relaying them, so I’ll just say this: Migraines are chronic in every sense of the word. To call them “a headache” is a gross understatement. They’re completely debilitating when they arise.

What I do want to explain in a little more detail — because I value my relationships — is why this condition causes me to be “flaky” at times. You see, when I make plans with a friend like I did the other day, or when I commit to a position on the PTA, or when I accept another assignment for work, what I’m doing is saying yes. Yes to going out and having fun with a friend, yes to being a contributing member of our school community, and yes to building my career. I don’t apologize for those things.

I know when I say yes that, for reasons beyond my control, there’s the possibility that I won’t be able to deliver exactly as I’ve promised. But, I ask, what’s the alternative? One can’t operate a business, a home, friendships, and a life with a big fat maybe at every turn.

“Want to go for dinner Saturday? I’ll make reservations?”

“Maybe.”

“Would you be able to have this assignment to me by Tuesday?”

“We’ll see what happens.”

“Mom, are you picking us up from school today?”

“Maybe. If I don’t get a migraine.”

Life doesn’t work that way! Sometimes you’ve just got to go for it! If and when a situation arises and a “yes” turns into an impossibility, a little improvisation, understanding, and a good support network go a long way.

Someone takes my concert ticket, a friend trades turns in our carpool arrangement, my husband picks up our daughter from dance class, and I return in kind another day. What I hope is clear is that any missteps that may arise from my “flakiness” are nothing personal — they’re just a product of trying to make the best of the hand I’ve been dealt.

All that said, in my experience, I’ve found most people to be on the understanding side of things. I’m not sure the scope of my condition is always clear and, sure, there’ve been some hurt feelings and inconveniences over the years.

But, for the most part, I’m thankful for good friends who haven’t minded changing plans now and then.


Adele Paul is an editor for FamilyFunCanada.com, writer, and mom. The only thing she loves more than a breakfast date with her besties is 8 p.m. cuddle time at her home in Saskatoon, Canada. Find her at Tuesday Sisters.

CMS Id: 128968