I’ve been a huge sports fan ever since I was a kid. Professional athletes are cool, athletic—and most of all, they’re tough. To me, they were like superheroes because normal injuries that would sideline mere mortals like me would never keep them from playing.
I remember when I was a teenager, I noticed that a few athletes opted to sit out of games due to a migraine and I was completely floored by it. How could these guys be considered to be tough if they couldn’t play because their heads hurt? “They’re drama queens,” I thought. “I lost all respect for those dudes.” The bottom line is I couldn’t be a fan of athletes who couldn’t “man up” when they were needed the most.
A few years later I finally gained some perspective.
One day in college and I was sitting in my statistics class and felt really strange. My vision was blurred and I noticed a weird visual disturbance (I later found out it was an aura). I was sensitive to light and sound. I became nauseous. And the pain—man, that pain was excruciating. I had no idea what was going on.
I left class, stumbled back to my dorm room and buried my head under the pillow for hours. After the storm passed, I called my mom and she told me that I probably had a migraine. That’s when it hit me. “Wait a second,” I thought. “Isn’t that the same thing those athletes were complaining about?” Yep, it sure was. I couldn’t imagine playing sports feeling the way I felt that day. Hell, it was hard enough just to stay in bed. I gave those athletes a silent apology for trashing their toughness.
But that was only half of it.
From that point on, I was a migraine sufferer—but I suffered in silence around my friends because I didn’t want them to think I was weak. After months of my parents begging me to get help, I finally went to my primary doctor and he told me that my condition couldn’t be “that bad.” That was hard to hear because I interpreted his words as saying that I was being a drama queen who just needed to suck it up. I didn’t question him, offer a rebuttal, or seek a second opinion. I left his office feeling demoralized and suffered in silence for many more years to come.
In the years that passed, I became a social media influencer, and I will say one thing about this gig—it built my maturity and confidence to an almost unbreakable point. People can be downright nasty when they’re hiding behind a computer screen and I’ve learned to create a thick skin and stay true to myself and to my message. That philosophy is working very well for me on the Internet, but I finally decided to take the same steps in my personal life—especially with my migraine condition. Being a real man isn’t about putting on a mask of fake toughness in order to fit in. Real men keep it real—and my reality was I needed help and I was done with suffering in silence.
When I told a new doctor about my problems, he could tell that I wasn’t going to leave his office without receiving a plan to deal with them. “Whenever I get a migraine, I feel like I can't do anything,” I said calmly. “I don’t need a pep talk, or second opinions, I need help right now.” Thankfully he came through and said, “Usually women come to me about migraine attacks, but I know men get them too. I’m glad you are strong enough to come to me.”
My hope is that other men who suffer from migraine will refuse to suffer in silence. I get it—men usually aren’t comfortable with talking to others about their problems, and that includes talking to doctors. But there’s no shame in seeking help because a migraine condition is way too overwhelming to handle on our own.
As a grown man, I finally understand that any migraine sufferer (athlete or otherwise) demonstrated true toughness by acknowledging their limits. If I understood that as a teenager, I probably would’ve decided to take care of myself much sooner.
Looking for constructive help in communicating with your doctor about a migraine? Check out our customized doctor discussion guide.
Doyin R. is a real migraine patient. He has been compensated for his time.