14 Days — a life with migraines

Charlie is 42 years old and lives in Baltimore. He’s married, has two kids, and works almost every day. He also goes to AA meetings and tries to meet his friends whenever he gets the chance. Charlie would have an ordinary life if it wasn’t for his migraines. In the past two weeks, they have gotten worse, and started negatively impacting his work, his relationship with his family, and his social life.

Charlie isn’t a real person, but a character from 14 days — A Life with Migraines. Created by Make Big Things through a crowdfunding campaign, the game helps people understand what if feels like to live with chronic pain.

Migraines: seriously underestimated

Migraines affect more people than you probably imagine. According to the Worldwide Health Organization, over 25% of adults in the world suffer from them. Migraine crises happen more than once every couple of weeks, and negatively affect both the individuals who suffer from them and society at large.

People who suffer from migraines are more likely to develop anxiety and depression. This isn’t surprising considering that their crises can impact their relationships and, in extreme situations, force them to drop out of school or abandon their careers.

Despite their debilitating effects, migraines aren’t perceived as a serious condition. Because they happen in episodes, are not contagious and don’t lead to death, their seriousness is often minimized or ignored.

Connecting chronic illness patients

Like most people who do not suffer from migraines, I might have continued to ignore their existence and the critical impact they have on the lives of who suffer from them.

But six years ago, I created Amizade Positiva, a social network for people living with chronic illnesses.

I originally designed the platform to help individuals suffering from chronic illnesses to connect and learn from one another. But today, many members are friends and relatives hoping to learn more about how to help and cope with the illnesses of their loved ones.

A game for understanding chronic pain

When I was introduced to 14 Days at a conference, I realized the potential that this game could have in terms of helping family and friends of people suffering from migraines to better understand the condition and support them.

Since 14 days is a game for two people, I invited a friend to live for about 40 minutes in the skin of a person with migraines.

How 14 Days Works

14 days

The game itself is relatively simple:

Each player picks a card. Each card contains basic information about the character (and migraine victim) the player will be.

Each character has three tasks per day to complete in one of the following areas of their lives: love, work, personal care, friends, housework, and hobbies.

What defines whether a character’s day will be productive, i.e., whether or not the character will have a migraine, is the roll of the dice.

A result of 1 to 3 predicts a normal day with all tasks completed;

4, a day in which one task will not get done;

5, a day in which two tasks will be left undone; and

6, a day in which the migraine the character will suffer will be so strong that they won’t be able to perform any tasks at all.

Players are also required to build a narrative for their character.

In this storytelling exercise, we are aided by basic information contained in the cards. From them, we are encouraged to understand and translate what our characters feel and how they cope with the problem of living with migraines. We imagine their frustrations, how their crises hurt their personal life, their relationships, and their work.

My friend and I playing 14 days

Building empathy

Data alone isn’t enough to help us understand the loss that a chronic disease can bring to the day-to-day of those who suffer from it. That’s what makes exercises like these so crucial.

At the end of the game, we are instructed to reflect on what our characters have experienced and what we have learned. We find a lot of ourselves in the characters we’ve imagined.

The game uses storytelling to bring a basic feeling to the surface: empathy.

If we are able to understand what it’s like to live with a chronic illness so little understood, we are better equipped to talk about it openly.

The more we talk, the more comfortable those with chronic illnesses are able to speak up about their conditions, seek support and more effective treatments, and realize that they are not alone.

Click here to read it in Portuguese.