Gravity's Rainbow

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Migraine may affect my personality, but my personality didn’t give me migraine

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Anna Eidt wrote recently about the “migraine personality,” an old and sexist idea that still influences how migraines are perceived and treated. It’s a succinct discussion and debunking of the idea.

The “migraine personality” was coined in the early 20th century not long after Victorian doctors thought migraine to be a purely psychosomatic phenomenon. Headache researcher Harold G. Wolff believed that people with migraine fell into a certain category of high-strung, perfectionist, anxious worriers and the like.(1) Without much scientific understanding of migraine aside from the dilation of blood vessels, these personality traits became generally understood as the underlying cause of migraine (especially as they were applied to sexually repressed housewives) and the “migraine personality” gained mainstream popularity by mid century.(2) For perspective, keep in mind this was time in the history of neurology when lobotomies were still performed by the thousands in the United States… (i.e. neurologists had a seriously long way to go in understanding how the elusive human brain works).

I also highly recommend Joanna Kempner’s Not Tonight: Migraine and the Politics of Gender and Health, which goes into this idea, its history, and its effects in much more depth.

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