Migraine doesn’t care if you are a politician or a rugby player

Finally, there is dawning acceptance that chronic illness can affect people from all parts of society

In the last fortnight I’ve learned about two individuals from very different walks of life who have spoken about their experience of migraine.

One is a UK Conservative MP. The other is a New Zealand rugby international.

Dehenna Davison, the self-described “first Conservative MP for Bishop Auckland”, recently confirmed that she was stepping down from her ministerial role due to ongoing difficulties with chronic migraine.

I looked at Davison’s X (Twitter) profile to discover a bio description that included “head probably hurts” and a video clip of the former MP in conversation with BBC’s Emma Barnett. “I think anyone with chronic illness will realise that you live with this every day, and if you did the instinctive thing and stayed in bed, you probably wouldn’t leave your bed for months, years,” Davison told the Woman’s Hour presenter.


According to Davison, it is for this reason that she could no longer give the job “what it needs to do it – to the level that I think it needs to be done”.

Granted, while it is a little demoralising to hear another person tread such familiar territory, the conversation also served to imbue me with a sense of validation. I too had left an important role as national safeguarding officer for a sports body when my migraine meant I could no longer ensure that I could uphold the welfare of the young and vulnerable people in my organisation. There are many more “mes” out there.

Or not “me” as was the matter at hand. Rather another person with chronic migraine, who was, in fact, entirely unlike me.

Davison and I would not agree on many political issues. Most perhaps. If we were to draw a Venn diagram of overlapping beliefs, the severity of migraine may be the only common feature. And oddly, this comes with relief. There is a terrific comfort in looking at another person with migraine and not seeing yourself reflected back. In fact, it possibly carries more weight coming from someone from a politically diametric viewpoint, particularly at a time when so many in the Conservative Party continue to feed the “Benefit Street” trope about individuals in receipt of disability supports.

Similarly, I do not see myself in the bones of the dazzling All Black winger Will Jordan, whose migraine-related condition has meant he has had to take extended periods away from the field.

As much as I may like to be compared to the Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year 2021, who is claimed to run speeds of up to 37km an hour, I can indeed throw a rugby ball, I just can’t make it go in a particular direction. Yet, I do empathise with the player’s cautious approach to travel and his assertion that migraine is a condition that must be managed “day-to-day”.

A number of months ago, my brother sent me a spoof reel by American actor Delaney Rowe captioned “the terminally ill character in every movie with a wicked sense of humour and ironic zest for life”. Rowe opens the parody sketch by saying “you can sit next to me, you know, it’s not contagious, although according to my mother my sardonic energy is”, before adding “I was diagnosed when I was 14, but you could never tell since I’m glowing and I was a pain in the arse long before that”.

While terminal and chronic illness are not synonymous terms, similar reductive stereotypes persist for people who live with chronic illness. It can sometimes feel like perceptions of chronic illness are limited to:

A) A sweet vulnerable thing who exists in a state of wonder that they are still alive in this glorious world.

B) An impenetrable cynic, who uses humour as a defence mechanism for their soft interior.

C) Malingerers.

The above examples serve as a reminder that chronic illness exists under many guises, in many spheres.

Certain cohorts of society tend to be quicker to articulate their own experiences with invisible disability and take it on as an issue and, while change is often lead by the progressive left, it does not denote that invisible disability is not spread evenly across all aspects of society. From LGBTQ+ campaigners to flat earthers, from people working in the arts to the far reaches of capitalism, invisible disability exists. It impacts gladiators, mediators and content-creators alike.

It is refreshing to see voices from all disciplines and world views acknowledging the severity of migraine and other chronic illnesses.

Chronic illness is indiscriminate. It does not just sit with us, quote unquote, “soft lefties”.