We have a tendency to wear emotional and mental blinders, forgetting that the rest of the world is suffering so much more. It’s called ethnocentricity and Americans are notorious for it. It’s easy to get caught up in our own problems and lose sight of the big picture. I had a conversation yesterday that makes me grateful I live in the U.S. We complain about the limited number of headache specialists and the high price of treatments, but it could be so much worse.
Imagine instead that you live in a 3rd world country. Their medical systems resemble the U.S. system from the early 1900s. In their world, migraine is viewed in a much more negative light. If you think the stigma is bad here, try living in a world where there are absolutely no headache specialists and medicines we take for granted are either too costly or must be imported. Doctors routinely use narcotic pain killers to treat migraine and patients are called “lazy”, “stressed out”, and “crazy” when treatment does not help. Visiting the ER for out-of-control pain is unheard of. Chronic migraine is not considered a real condition. Instead, patients are blamed and told to “stop making excuses”. Given these circumstances, how well do you think you would do?
It’s easy to get caught up in the challenges and barriers we face and lose sight of the bigger picture. Migraine doesn’t just affect 38 million citizens of the U.S. It is a global problem. The problems faced by migraineurs around the world are so much more difficult than our own. Even at our worst, we are privileged. Imagine how difficult migraine treatment would be without access to electricity, refrigeration, clean water, and even basic OTC medications. How would you fare without ice packs, heating pads, cold water, hot showers, and all the modern conveniences we take for granted?
I’ve had a small taste of this reality when I would spend weekends on primitive campouts with Boy Scouts. Yet unlike my fellow migraineurs around the world, I had the option to give up this activity when migraines interfered. Most cannot escape. They are trapped in a world that is openly hostile to their suffering. Our migraine brothers and sisters are ostracized, ridiculed, and blamed for a neurological condition they cannot control. Even when they are able to seek help, the quality of care is poor. The medical understanding of migraine is decades behind our own. Migraine is all too often viewed as a psychological problem or character flaw.
Migraine doesn’t stop at our borders. It is the 7th leading cause of disability worldwide, yet most are without access to even the most basic treatments. There are over 1 billion migraineurs, worldwide. The stigma is so great that they feel they must hide their pain, even from their loved ones. Doctors and effective medical treatments are either unavailable or so expensive that the average person cannot afford to seek treatment.
Let us look beyond our own suffering to see the plight of every migraineur around the world.