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Migraine Disclosure at Work

How can I tell my boss that I am incompetent?  I know I’m not, but that is how I can feel while in the midst of a Migraine attack.  I have this disease that does crazy things to me; not only physically, but cognitively too.  My mind was always something I could count on and valued.

My boss understands Migraines and was actually my first Migraine teacher. His wife takes preventative medications for Migraines so he ‘gets it’.  My boss also likes to get the information he needs and to have it accurate. That’s really not unreasonable or too much for him to ask.

Let me give you an example of how good he can be. Not too long ago, I had a lot on my work plate with hard deadlines that needed to be met. I left work early the night before my boss was scheduled to have a day off.  He called me while he was out to check in on me.  I probably downplayed how I was doing and went through a list of things I needed to try to get through during the day.

I think he could tell how I really was not myself.  Against my protesting and my poor judgment, he MADE me go home. Under normal circumstances, I would have recognized I was past my go home point, but with the hard deadline looming overhead, my boss being out and just generally wanting to deny my Migraine, I couldn’t see I HAD to leave. As always, he was right.  I went home, medicated myself and slept it off until the next morning.

I have come to call myself a want-to-be perfectionist. I don’t like being wrong, giving out wrong information or forgetting things. Like all of us, I try to be a good employee and have been working to come up with better ways to do things and especially to not forget anything which is imaginably a very tall order.

With chronic Migraines and Migraine medications, it can be very challenging to not forget things or at least to stay on top of work at an acceptable level. Sometimes I can also have what I call either delayed hearing or delayed remembering; neither of which I will readily admit to anyone as having.

As you can presume, I have a hard time acknowledging, even to myself, when I have a Migraine. There are probably many reasons for this, but I think I can narrow some down to that I don’t want Migraines, I don’t want to be perceived as weak, I have to keep going and I just want to be ‘normal’.  When any of these reasons are present, it can make me feel like I am losing to Migraine.  I can be very competitive even if it is against a disease I cannot always control.

Because I have difficulty even admitting to myself when I have a Migraine, I have a hard time telling others when I am feeling off too.  This is where some of the struggles can come into play at work.  It was hard for me to hear that I may not be trusted any longer because of the misperception that I was purposely withholding information during a conversation around an issue because of a delayed remembering episode.  I want to be forthcoming; I have no reason not to and have many battle scars to prove that.

I don’t know if that made any sense, but basically because of a Migraine memory issue, it was believed that I intentionally held back information until I was questioned to the point where the information came out. My brain was not functioning at its right level which embarrasses me and can make me feel incapable of sustaining my employment.

I don’t like excuses, but especially from me. I think because I fight even acknowledging to myself that I am in the midst of a Migraine attack, that I feel it would sound like an excuse.  Worst of all would be if this ‘excuse‘ made it sound as if I was pretending to have a Migraine to get away with something.  I would never do that especially because of the stigmas surrounding Migraine plus it just wouldn’t be ethical.  I believe these stigmas can make it harder for me to say something since I don’t want to add to these misnomers.

I am open at work about having Migraine disease; just not as much while I am having an attack.  I also know that I try to be cautious of all of my actions during a Migraine because I may not have the proper work filters in place and I’ve learned that it’s better to err on the conservative side of any work conduct that can be easily misconstrued.

How open are you about your Migraine attacks at work? How do you modify your behavior during a Migraine? Should I be more open with folks and would it hurt my job if I were? With such an understanding boss, am I wrong not to give him this information all of the time or at least more often? At what point do you leave work because of your Migraine? Do you have any tricks that help you with your memory?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • sassy67
    6 years ago

    I wish my bosses had been as understanding as yours. I’m 46 & have lived with migraines since I was 18. I was at my last job for 10 years. I loved my job, in the medical field. It was demanding and stressful, but oddly enough, I work well under stressful conditions. But, eventually it would get to me. I’d wake up with a sick, nauseating, sometimes vomiting migraine & have to call out of work. By the way, most of you know there are migraines agre where you know you can function, or atleast try to, then there are the ones where you know it’s time for meds, a dark room & a cool compress. Anyway, when I’d return to work, I’d inevitably be called into my bosses office & get berated. This went on for 10 years.
    One day, I woke up with a migraine, called the office & told my supervisor I had a bad migraine & had to go to the doc. I was told it would be ok as long as I had a Drs excuse. So, my husband headed home from work & meanwhile, my boss called and told me they were letting me go. It didn’t matter that I would have a Drs excuse. NOTHING mattered. Then, he proceeded to tell me that I had a choice. I could resign so I’d have a chance at finding another job, OR they’d call it a termination, therefore I could collect unemployment. I wasn’t about to resign because I knew I shouldn’t have been fired. I collected unemployment, hunted a job for 2 years, then finally gave up & am filing for disability. ALL because of that little question on job applications that asks if you have any disabilities that might interfere with your job performance.
    Yes, I’m still bitter. I miss my job & my patients. I’m still embarrassed that I got fired & I feel guilty because our financial situation is horrible because of me. But, I’m trying to move forward & praying I am awarded disability. Right now, I feel useless. I’m only 46, intelligent and very competent but no one wants me because of migraines.
    I’m sure y’all can relate when I say I get tired of the words “I have a headache”. I miss family functions, vacations, outings & time with my family because of this disease.
    The next step for me, is Botox. But that’s atleast 4 months down the road. insurance has to approve it.
    Thanks for letting me vent,… especially to people that really get it!
    God Bless!
    Sharon Casey

  • Mary Ann Peddicord
    6 years ago

    Thank God, I have a wonderful husband, he has always been understanding and took me to many doctors over the years. After we had been married for a few years he went back to school and became an RN, so he was even more understanding. I worked for the State Government where we lived then, because they were always “reorganizing” I had many different supervisors, some of them were very understanding and some of them were horrible. One of them referred me to “the State Doctor” (because I always maxed out my sick leave) and he came back with a letter saying “She had Migraines when you hired her, she has had Migraines for the last 12 years and except for her missed time she has excellent evaluations, she continues to have Migraines, but appears to be an excellent employee.” So for the next 15 years I had very little problems at work about my illness. THEN they had another reorganize and I ended up working for a real jerk,he ‘counselled’ me, he wrote me up, multiple times. He told me, “I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH YOU, I HAVE COUNSELLED YOU, WRITTEN YOU UP AND GIVEN YOU DAYS OFF AND YOU ARE STILL NOT FIXED!” I told him “I am not a machine, you cannot “fix” me! AND if you think that you can “fix” Migraines GREAT! You can make a million. He told me I was not able to work and sent me to 2 State Doctor’s. They BOTH said “he caused too much stress and my office should try putting another person as my supervisor, as too much stress were most likely making my Migraines worse. They would not AND a few months later when I had 29 years and 8 months of service he FIRED me! They “called” it a lay off due to the budget but I don’t.

  • MigrainesAlwaysHaveOne
    6 years ago

    This is for sarals – I applied for disability for chronic daily migraines and got it on the first try. If you contact me I can explain how I did it to help you out. This disease is truly horrible so I feel for you as I do everyone that has this. I think if we looked as bad on the outside as we feel inside, we could stop a lot of the backlash, but the problem is, we look ok to most people even when under attack. I just look tired and drawn.

  • sassy67
    6 years ago

    I’d like to know as well. I applied, but was turned down. now I’ve hired an attorney to help me. I’d appreciate any help I could get.

    Edited by moderator – please don’t include personal information in posts! Thank you.

  • Jilly
    6 years ago

    Can you tell me about this also. I didn’t get my contract Renewed at my last job due to this. I hadn’t been there long enough to file FMLA.
    Jill

  • Leslie Coutsouridis
    6 years ago

    I’m so sorry to hear of your struggle, but it is common among those of us with CDM. Working full time can worsen your migraines and cause all these problems you describe.I tried to work part time for only 3 years in my life, and found I couldn’t do it. Now I have a very small job where everyone knows of my chronic disease. I freely tell people that I’m having trouble finding words, or have forgot something because of getting migraines, and apologize. I’m fortunate that they understand and I’m keeping the job under control. I had to make the decision to find a lifestyle like this for my health and happiness.

  • brenda de jesus
    6 years ago

    I read this article and it makes my cry. Finally I find out am not crazy or becoming dumb. I have always suffered from migraines but when I got pregnant from my daughter at age 35, the migraines became worst.

    In just three years the migraines have become Almost a daily thing. If I am having a bad migraine episode its hard for me to concentrate and remember things. Some times I feel like am having an out of body experience, Everybody else know what’s going on except me. I feel like a foreigner in a strange land all alone.

    I have explained to my supervisor the affects of the migraines how the impair my thinking making me to react late to questions asked or not to remember things, things that were said maybe second before. She says she understand that she has noticed it too, but today I caught her giving the old eye roll as if saying without words “she is so dumb again she messed up” It just devastates me. I take pride in my work.

    My life has changed drastically. I am tired of making plans and at the end having to cancel because I have a headache. I am tired of saying I have a headache. I look at myself in the mirror and I don’t see the same person. I hate my headaches, I dislike the fact that my mom and my kids have to worry, I dislike that I have to go the hospital to get rid of my headaches, I dislike the fact that they are dominating my life. But most of all I dislike the lack of understanding from people.

  • shine4him
    6 years ago

    Ugh. I can certainly relate. My boss has never had a migraine, and completely doesn’t get it. However, several coworkers do, so we support each other.

    I’m a member of Toastmasters at my work, and I plan to use my next speech assignment to talk about Migraine. Hopefully my boss and other coworkers will come and listen. It’s the only idea I have at the moment to try and explain things more fully.

  • lara
    6 years ago

    It’s hard to know what to do, actually. I have always adopted the policy of being upfront with potential employers and employers regarding my migraines because it was something that would present itself within the first month of employment.

    It was never a problem prior to 2009. I always found work because I was an excellent employee.

    After 2009? No one would hire me because no one wanted to provide the accommodations I needed. I had excellent references. I had great skills but I heard the same ridiculous excuses over and over again. Even after I returned to school, graduated with honors (AA computer science still working on my BS in engineering) it’s the same thing.

    I’ve now been out of work for so long that I have two strikes against me: disabled and long term unemployed. I had to file for disability. And I hate it! I am skeptical that I will even find work once I have my BS in Engineering even though the field is highly competitive and I’m graduating from a good school.

  • AmyBabee
    6 years ago

    @Karen Rudd, I envy you that your husband actually experienced what you go thru every time you have migraine. Wish every one of our family/friends would just get it for one hour only because I wont wish the pain on anyone longer than that even though we suffer more hours when migraine hits.I hope he is okay now though.I bet he is the most attentive husband now where migraine is concerned. 🙁

  • Still Smiling
    6 years ago

    This is like reading an excerpt from my own life! The only difference being that because of the nature of my migraines I HAVE to fully disclose my migraines and my attacks to my managers. But I too, have a hard time acknowlegding that I have a migraine and the total and complete destruction that it can cause to my life. In some respects, I’m in denial because sometimes, rather than admit that I have a migraine and find the time to get better by calling in sick, I try to power through, only to find the next day that the work I produced was nowhere near to the standard that it usually would be or that has come to be expected — or invariably, that I am sicker for longer than I would have been if I would have just admitted to how unwell I was in the first place. This is hard for me as I am, and always have been, fully conscientious and cannot stand for my work to be sub-par! It is so frustrating that a lot of this is beyond my control and I can do little to prevent the havoc that migraines wreak on my life, my work productivity and anything else in its path!

    I am noticing more and more that I don’t remember things; I even completely forgot a colleague’s name last week! Or I find that, now, as part of the aura phase, I find it really hard to follow conversations or even understand what is being said to me. I look and act like a complete moron, who can no longer understand their own native language — slightly more devastating than average considering I work in publishing!

    Annie, I too find it hard to then state that the reason I’m behind or not up to scratch is because of migraines. Even if it is a complete and honest reason, it sounds like an excuse; one that can be uttered at any time and for any convenience. I too, however, wouldn’t like to take advantage in this way, although, I do fear that any time I do say it, I worry that it could be construed that I’m only using as it an excuse for having a ‘lazy day’ or ‘pulling a sickie’ — which I would NEVER do.

  • AmyBabee
    6 years ago

    Yes, @still smiling, we all feel this way because people have projected this stigma on ‘us’ that its just a headache and we can work thru it. So we go far beyond and above normal to prove we are capable even though we are sick to death. I do the same at work too working as a personal assistant. My boss doesn’t know about my migraine because I am always at my desk come rain or shine. I have also met other staffers who are migraineurs like me. We comfort each other and do our best to work 35 hour-weeks. It is horrible to live this way.

  • Karen Rudd
    6 years ago

    Annie, I can certainly sympathize. I am a paralegal, and although I have daily chronic migraines (I have had them since age 11), I make every effort to be at work every day and to stay all day. My doctor has me on a pain treatment program, but even with the meds, sometimes my head goes way beyond the ability of my meds at times. To complicate matters, I am allergic to ‘triptans, which limits me to either OTC or my pain medications. We’ve worked very hard to work out a pain treatment regime so that I’m not drowsy, and don’t experience too many side effects. However, when a mega-monster hits, it does mess with my memory, my typing, my ability to read a computer screen, etc. You sound like you have a great boss, but I’m sure he’d agree that driving into the office when you have one is not safe for you. What I have set up is a remote link to my office on those days when I’m not at my best. You don’t mention what kind of work you do, but is this a possibility? I have the office forward my phone to my home, and I can work in bed if necessary. On those days when it would not be safe to drive, I work from home. I can’t say my boss loves it, but I did disclose the condition when I was hired, so that there would be no confusion later on. If they hit while I’m at work, I make sure to get up and move around every 10 or 15 minutes, just to change position, I keep my office darker than normal (where most of the offices have 6 fluorescent bulbs, I have only three. I don’t have any memory tricks, I just try to keep notes so that I know what’s next and what hasn’t been done. I keep the contrast on my brightness on my computer a little lower than most, so it’s not a source of irritation. On a very bad day I may forgo lunch for a nap in an empty office. Migraine is not an excuse, it is a disease that disables far too many of us.

  • Christine Carlson
    6 years ago

    But if he made me go home, I might not be able to drive. So someone would have to drive me home.

  • Sara
    6 years ago

    I wish full-disclosure for me was the same. While people sound supportive to my face, I late find they’ve said things behind my back. Better yet, was the time in the middle of a staff meeting, a coworker said, “why can those of us who never miss a day or call out on FMLA get some kind of recognition.” Total lack of understanding of how hurtful her words were.

  • lara
    6 years ago

    @Karen Rudd

    I’m divorced because of migraines. No, I’m not kidding.

    At first my ex gave lip service to my migraines and acted supportive but he really wasn’t. He didn’t understand the medication. He didn’t understand why I couldn’t/wouldn’t go on trips into the backcountry with him. Stuck in a tent for 48 hours with a migraine and then a 3 hour drive home? No thanks.

    It became a real problem when he discovered “chatrooms” in the 90s and others fed into his resentment and told him I was manufacturing my illness for drugs. He’d parrot drug addiction nonsense at me for taking medication and when I’d try to explain what various medications where for? He’d accuse me of trying to “confuse” him and that people “warned” him I’d manipulate him in such a manner.

    Crazy.

  • Teri-Robert
    6 years ago

    lara,
    You weren’t talking to me about your ex, but I want to tell you how sorry I am that happened to you. Wish I could say you’re the only person to end up divorced because of a lack of understanding about Migraines. It stinks.

  • Karen Rudd
    6 years ago

    Sara- Unfortunately, people that have never had a migraine don’t really comprehend how disabling they can be. Even my husband, for years, didn’t comprehend. Then, one day, he got one. He was in so much pain he was throwing things, screaming and thought he was having an aneurysm rupture. When I told him it was a migraine and gave him some medicine to stop it, he was amazed. He had no concept prior to that of the amount of pain I was in on a daily basis. My best response to people who think that migraines are an “excuse” or “all in your head” is to tell them that I hope they experience one, because I wouldn’t wish that level of pain on anyone. It seems to work.

  • Christine Carlson
    6 years ago

    Some people are so rude and ignorant. I’m assuming this person is young. I bet one day she will regret those words.

  • gailpearce
    6 years ago

    Thank you for this article. It put in words what I have been unable to express correctly at work. I am going to share this article with a few people who “don’t get it” to see if it helps them understand when I say “I don’t remember” even though I may have just done it in the last week or few months.

  • sarals
    6 years ago

    Lara, I also too am divorced due to my migraines. My ex allegedly got them too although he never went to the dr and was diagnosed or got medication, he just tried to sneak mine if he had a headache. I had to hide my triptans because they are not cheap and you only get so many a month. I was getting 18 a month and then it became a chronic daily headache to where it didn’t go away for 3 months. I did what I needed to for my children and got them to school, I wasn’t working at the time because he was always out of town for his job, and an affair I find out. But he recently told our 6yr old that he divorced me because all I did was lay in bed and sleep so he left me. I asked her if he also told her that I had one of my super bad painful headaches every day for 3 months so I was in a lot of pain. she said no. I also asked if she remembered me being in bed ALL THE TIME and not taking care of her –this was just 1 1/2 yrs ago and she said no you always played with me. So, Evidently if he ever HAD a migraine I don’t think it was a true one. I finally got some relief for 11 months or so with a Radiofrequency nerve block in my neck. Unfortunately it didn’t last as long as they hoped and I just had another but much stronger one addressing more nerves in my neck in August. This one took a long time to recover from and wow it hurt. The other one didn’t. I had these scheduled before I was hired on a new job and they became upset when I had to take days off or start later than they wanted. Then evidently I had much swelling in my spine from the intensity and my nerves were revolting so I just this past week had a Epidural in my neck to calm the swelling down. So far that has helped. We will see, but I already lost that job for missing to many days ( even though I was upfront about my migraines) and I’m a single mom with no one else here to help with kids if they get sick. So, Christmas is around the corner and I need a job. How do I know if I should apply for disability? Has anyone on here done that??

  • JayBaby
    6 years ago

    I could relate to this article a 100%. Sometimes people can tell that I am having a Migraine at work because I am moving slow and I look “mad or pissed off” which is different that the “I don’t feel good” look! During a Migraine, or before the Migraine, I have aura’s such as saying the wrong word, or I just cant think of the correct word to use, I usually play it off as I’m so busy that I cant think straight. I leave work or call in sick when I am feeling nauseous or I’m too dizzy and lightheaded to drive or work. The tricks with memory, I write everything down, and keep in a pocket sized notebook with me at all times. Sometimes I forget what time my lunch break is, so I have to write that down. My supervisor does know that I have Migraines and that I have 3 white spots on my brain. I do have a “dog eat dog” job, and I feel like others are watching me to see if I will quit or get fired. I do worry about my co-workers taking advantage of me when I’m not feeling my best to make themselves look better.

    I’m so glad I found this website!

  • Christine Carlson
    6 years ago

    I think sometimes our jobs cause migraines. I sure had the worse one every two weeks ago because of job pressure. I’m currently searching for a new job because I can’t stand the driving around and around in circles and then having to drive 45 miles one way to the main office. It is a royal pain.

  • Kara
    6 years ago

    I totally understand Annie. I was a nurse and I felt exactly as you do. I finally had to stop working and I am currently applying for disability. Which totally sucks!!! But I can not find a way around missing so much work and being a reliable, asset to the company I was working for. Now, I am finding that applying for disability is extremely hard and they make you feel that you are pretending to have migraines just to be lazy. I feel completely defeated at this point, but I have no other choice but to continue the fight. I have a migraine 99% of the time as well as fibromyalgia and bipolar. I really hate that people look at people like us and think that we are faking. I wouldn’t wish this debilitation on anyone, not even my worst enemy. I just wish that we didn’t have to prove to what seems the entire world that we are actually not faking and dealing with debilitating disease. Please keep us posted on your progress and remember, you, as well as other people who suffer with Migraines, are not alone!

  • sarals
    6 years ago

    Dragonsflight I so need to talk to you!! I was a Licensed MEntal HEalth Practitioner and worked as a very good therapist for 10 years. I have my Masters degree in Social Work. I LOVED what I did. then with my Ex’s job I had to stay home with the 4 kids for a while, that’s when the chronic migraines hit. I’m too bipolar, recently diagnosed, always been unipolar. But the depression feeds off the migraines. I soo miss my job and feel useless after 18 1/2 years of school (starting with Kindergarten) and now my last two jobs have been at McDonald’s and Home Depot? I honestly felt so humiliated even applying there, but my licenses were inactive, I needed a job, but my pride in my education and my desire to do my old job is there, but how can I still do that? I struggle with this all the time right now. feel free to contact me if you want to chat, I could really use a good friend to caht to about this. thanks.

  • Denene Ruby McBride
    6 years ago

    I wish I could provide a happy ending. But I don’t have one. I’ve had migraine since my teens and have seen several specialists. Chronic transfomed migraine has severely impacted my life. I’ve had 4 jobs in the last seven years and struggled with each. I’ve never had a boss or co-workers that understood and eventually the absences or mistakes during migraine took their toll. I am now starting a career in an entirely new industry hoping that having a flex schedule will help. My next stop is full disability. Unfortunately I have other medical issues that add additional stresses. I am former military so I have more support than many,and for that I am truly grateful. But sometimes its also depressing knowing that this is life in my mid 40s.

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