Living with migraine sometimes makes me worry about being perceived as a flaky friend. Here’s how I prioritize my health and my relationships at the same time.
In high school, after reading about celebrity crushes and cute prom dresses, I would flip to the back of a magazine to see my horoscope. I’m a Pisces, which usually meant having to brace myself for the latest warnings about our self-destructive behaviors and people-pleasing tendencies.
I remember doing one quiz about the flakiest signs in the zodiac. Guess who topped the list.
“I’m not flaky. Wait, am I flaky?” I wondered while going over my responses and trying to discern what exactly made me so unreliable. It felt a bit unnerving to peel back a layer of my personality and acknowledge how indecisive I can be at times. OK, all the time.
Whether you believe in astrology or not, having a chronic illness can sometimes make you feel as if you’re being flaky or selfish for putting your needs first. On days when your migraine symptoms prevail, just getting through work emails can sap your energy.
When other responsibilities take priority, responding to messages from friends and family members may get bumped lower on your to-do list. As the hours tick by, you might feel guilty for leaving their messages unread.
Sometimes, it takes me days to respond. And when I don’t hear back from them, I feel even worse and worry that they’re upset with me.
The joy of getting a text from them soon gives way to anxiety about what to say in response and then a flurry of assumptions about why they’re not responding to me. It’s a vicious cycle.
Because we’re now often communicating with each other on multiple platforms, it can be overwhelming to stay in touch. Here are some tips that help me cope.
Our culture often emphasizes a need for productivity while also insisting on a work-life balance with plenty of time for fun and leisure. This isn’t realistic for me as someone who lives with chronic illness.
Instead, I do something I call ‘productivity snacking.’ Some people enjoy having snacks between meals to replenish their energy and fend off hunger.
I treat productivity the same way. Sometimes, I need an uninterrupted block of time to complete a task that requires a lot of attention and focus (i.e., the big meals).
To get there, I try to do some snacking in between by completing smaller tasks that don’t involve as much effort. For instance, I might return a text message or comment on a friend’s photo.
Even if I can’t compose a full response or read all the messages in the group chat, making a small gesture keeps the lines of communication open.
Sometimes, I don’t have the energy or feel well enough to work on big projects. What I do on these occasions is write down tasks that have nothing to do with work and tackle them one at a time.
My list might look like this: Go outside with my dogs for 15 minutes, message a friend to say I’m thinking of them, and listen to a song I like.
I find it less daunting to reply to someone when I sandwich it between two feel-good activities. All I have to do is allow myself to get lost in play or music, which helps me get out of my head.
Sometimes, I worry that I’m either venting my frustrations or pretending that everything is OK when it’s not. Being in a better mood helps me respond without overthinking or feeling guilty for letting so much time pass.
If you’re like me and remember those days of reading horoscopes in teen magazines, you might also recall the hours we spent talking on the phone with friends. Nowadays, the sound of your phone ringing might shock you out of your seat.
We often rely on text or email to communicate, so the idea of phoning someone or doing a video call might seem daunting. While I still sometimes feel awkward calling someone out of the blue, scheduling a time to talk helps us stay connected.
It’s easy to underestimate how much we need to hear the tone of voice and see each other’s facial expressions and body language. During a call, we can fill in the blanks of the topics we discussed over text. Talking on the phone gives us the opportunity to laugh or commiserate with each other.
Each of us has different ways of interacting and communicating. For some people, an email or text message is an urgent prompt to reply. For others, it’s something that requires a more thoughtful response, perhaps when they’re in a better frame of mind.
Whether it’s with colleagues, friends, or family members, we can’t be present and engaged all the time. We need space to decompress after back-to-back Zoom meetings, in-person gatherings, or lengthy text exchanges.
In my case, I might not respond right away to a message. Or I might retreat from an interaction or start overexplaining myself to avoid conflict.
Behaviors that appear flaky on the surface might actually be motivated by a need to protect your energy. You don’t have to live with chronic migraine to know the benefits of rest and recovery, but you might have moments when you feel guilty for prioritizing your needs.
Letting time pass before you respond to someone can make it seem like they’re not important or they’re the furthest thing from your mind. But trust me, our loved ones know we are thinking of them, and taking time to plan your response reflects how much you care about your relationship.
Medically reviewed on June 27, 2023
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