Working with Chronic Migraine

January 5, 2019

Image Credit: Christine Hume

First would like to acknowledge that no two migraine are the same, it’s just a unique as your fingerprint. We’re each in different circumstances, with challenges and symptoms that vary greatly. I also realize there are many who have been forced to quit jobs they love, who have been fired or forced to go on medical leave. All of these stories are valid. It’s my hope that through sharing my story it’ll help raise awareness, and maybe help someone else battling the workforce and migraine.

Well, what can I say about working full time with chronic migraine? For starters, it’s the toughest thing to go through on a daily basis, sometimes without much or any relief. Physically there are symptoms of migraine that can last from a few hours to all week. For example, I’ve had blurry vision for a whole year now that fluctuates throughout the day, every single day. Emotionally it’s a battle and this is where my mindset, self care and having a support system really come in and save me.

Each job and person is unique. Not everyone has an empathetic work environment, or maybe they have to keep their migraines on the down low for fear of getting fired. Not to mention the varying triggers. There have been more days than I can count that I’ve worked through migraine. It’s never easy but here’s what that all looks like for me.

My Job

I’m a full time graphic design consultant, in contract with a corporate company. I don’t have company health benefits or stability of permanent work. I go home everyday with gratitude for my employment. I also hope and pray to have the means someday to work for myself or be able to quit if I still have chronic migraines, but for now financially I can’t.

Migraines at Work

  • I have triptans with me all the time if needed… but they are my last resort. If I have to take a triptan I also try to lay down for 10-20 minutes, otherwise I’ve noticed my body doesn’t respond unless I also give it the rest it needs.
  • Applesauce is in my desk cubby because I tend to get nauseous. I’ll eat this if I can’t eat my prepared lunch.
  • Give my supervisors a heads up. It’s usually low-key, I don’t want to make a big deal about it or cause reason for concern. If it’s bad and I know I’ll need frequent breaks I want people to know I’ll still meet deadlines (if that’s the case).
  • Ear plugs or headphones all the time! I have hyper sensitive hearing to everything and the smallest noise can often be a trigger.
  • Take frequent breaks. I’ll either go to the wellness room (aka mothers nursing room) or to my car if I can withstand the city traffic noise.
  • Cry… sometimes I hold back the tears because it will just make things worse, but sometimes it really helps to release (but always in private).
  • Meditate and breath deeply! I signed up for the Calm app. I put it off for awhile but with a holiday 50% code I purchased a year membership. So far I really love it and already see the positives to have this handy app while at work. They have so many options for whatever I need… from soft rain/white noise, every meditation and length, music and stories. Side Note: I couldn’t stand the guy’s voice on the Headspace app, but I love that they helped bring meditation to everyone and now we have other apps like Calm too.

Advocate for Myself

Choosing when to work from home or take a sick day (if it’s debilitating) is a real challenge for me.  Sometimes knowing I have meetings or if I feel paranoid that I’ve worked from home “too many” days, I’ll sometimes force myself to go into work when my body is screaming for a break. This can lead to a really awful day or multiple migraine days… when I probably could have rested and it would be half as bad. However, it’s always a gamble, no two times are the same and resting doesn’t always mean no migraine but resting is essential to not burning out.

My team is very flexible and understanding. At least two other coworkers also suffer from migraines. However, I get paranoid because I’m not an employee and it’s easy to replace contractors. Then again, I know there’s no protection with permanent positions. I have been let go in past jobs (prior to migraine) for not “feeling like a good fit”. 

Anyway, no one has given me reason for my own paranoia, and my contract continues to get extended due to the project I’m on. Furthermore, my direct supervisor is very empathic and will offer to pick up my task or deliver any projects if I absolutely can’t work. I never abuse this generosity and I struggle every time I do have to take a sick day, leave early, or come in late. 
Basically, be mindful of how your body is feeling and don’t make decisions based on guilt or paranoia. Something I have to continue working on.

Socializing Can Be Energy Draining

Most of the people I work with now know that I deal with migraines… It’s too difficult to hide now, especially with 15+ migraines a month. Some days I do wish no one knew because answering “how are you feeling?” two dozen times a day can be extremely exhausting. Lately I’ve started to fib a little so we can keep the conversation short, but mostly I’m honest and try to keep it positive even if my pain is severe.

Work Dress Codes

In my 20’s I was an executive assistant where I was required to wear business attire. Fortunately, switching careers has paid off and now I can wear whatever I want – especially in the tech industry! I wear a baseball cap everyday because of the fluorescent lighting. ?? This totally has helped my eyes so much! My next purchase is to buy some prescription EBD blue glasses. 

How to Save Your Spoons

  • Uber/Lyft, or carpool to work. Driving myself especially in Los Angeles can be the most exhausting part of my day. Sometimes I’ll be feeling mostly ok all day but my ride home gives me a major flare up. My husband has offered to give me rides and think I’ll start accepting more of those offers this next year.
  • Shower the night before. I use unscented wipes to freshen up in the morning. I know that may sound weird… but it’s really helped me save my energy for my drive or a 10am meeting.  
  • I wash my hair about 1-2 times a week now that I wear a hat all week… nobody knows it’s dirty. Washing and drying my hair can trigger a migraine or make a current one worse.
  • Prepare lunch the night before – my husband generously prepares all my meals (isn’t he a keeper?!). I usually put a sticky note on my front door because I’ll forget it

I hope this post was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or if I didn’t hit on anything that you might be curious about.

Thank you for reading!

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