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I have a job, but I also have a migraine

I have a job, but I also have a migraine

Between making trips to the pharmacy, scheduling doctor’s appointments, and maintaining your treatment regime, having migraines can feel like a full-time job. One of the most challenging parts of dealing with migraine is keeping your symptoms from interfering with other areas of your life, and for many, this balance includes a full or part-time job. Recently, we asked members of the migraine community to describe their work/life/migraine balance, specifically “How do you decide whether to work or not?”. Do any of these work-related experiences sound familiar to you?

What choice? I can’t go to work.

“Well this is an easy decision when you don’t have much of a choice”
“I have learned not to go in if I cannot walk straight, see straight….”
“It’s pretty obvious to me when I can’t even lift my head”

If you are not able to drive, or are experiencing other debilitating migraine symptoms, there may be days when you just can’t make it to work. Many of you have expressed feeling guilty about missing work, but know you are not alone in this feeling, and we support your decision to take care of your health first. Depending on your type of migraine, or even just how you’re feeling that day, sometimes, getting to work may not be an option. It is absolutely possible to live a full life with migraine, even if some days, you just need to stay home.

What choice? I have to go to work.

“I had to go to work because we are shorthanded”
“I struggle with the guilt of not being there for my students”
“I have to work, it’s put up or shut up”

While many migraineurs have days when they just need to stay home, for many of you, there’s no decision- you have to go to work. For many people affected by migraines, the bills just won’t get paid if you don’t go to work. Although there are financial options for migraineurs who cannot work due to their illness, as many of our community members shared, these options can sometimes fall short of making ends meet. However, constantly masking your symptoms can take its toll, and we hope you will rely on your healthcare providers for guidance in making those decisions.

Should I just ‘push through’?

“Had this dilemma today. I finally gave up and came home”
“Pushing through makes it worse… I did that for years”
“I push through because I don’t have a choice”

When managing your migraine, the question often becomes “how bad will this one be?”. Sometimes, you can push through a migraine, take your medication, and be surprised at how quickly you feel better. Other times, you wish you’d never left the house. For many community members, the decision often becomes “Should I just push through?”, especially on a “half migraine day”. Although some people can power through their symptoms and stay at work, for others, ignoring a migraine only makes the fallout worse. While every person’s experiences and symptoms are different, we encourage you to confront your migraines by tracking your symptoms, learning your triggers, and always practicing self-care.

Is my workplace causing my migraines?

“I teach preschool… getting 4 year olds to stay quiet is pretty impossible”
“I felt that coworkers in the past were not respectful nor understanding”
“The light, the noise… I couldn’t take it anymore”
“…if I will be able to handle the busy, bright, fluorescent lighted office”
“I have an incredible boss who will send me home”

For many community members, balancing work and migraines comes down to where you work. Depending on your migraine causes and triggers, the workplace can either encourage or discourage your symptoms- especially when workplace lights, sounds, smells, or activities tend to spark an attack. Although many of you have shared positive experiences with coworkers and employers, some of our community members have found that people in the workplace are not so understanding. To combat your workplace-triggers, we urge you to talk to your employer about workplace accommodations, and know your health and medical rights. If your coworkers’ lack of empathy is affecting your migraine management, check out this sample letter for explaining migraines to an employer, or consider resources for talking to people about migraine.

Is it time to apply for disability?

“I’m fighting for disability”   
“Fortunately, I have FMLA”    
“I only get five sick days per year”

If you are affected by migraines, it may not surprise you to learn that migraine the 12th most disabling condition in the US. However, for many community members, it was a surprise to learn that people affected by migraine may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or benefits under the Family Medical Leave Act. Although many of you have had success with SSDI, the process for getting approved isn’t always easy. If your migraines prevent you from working, we encourage you to consider applying for SSDI, or learn more about your options under the Family Medical Leave Act. Connect with members of the migraine community to learn more about how they access these benefits, and know that we are here to support you on your migraine journey!


  • Christine S.
    2 years ago

    4 Years Wearing Sunglasses to Work When I can Go….
    I’m so lucky to have a cluster of co-morbid illnesses, all invisible: chronic migraine,, fibromyalgia, ibd, Reynaud ‘s, arthritis, depression/Anxiety and all the symptoms they entail. When I’m hit with the fibro fog and the fatigue from both major issues as well as some all over pain, I find it so hard to get out of bed much less work. The joint pain has increased over the winter, although my partner and I decided to head to Arizona to escape the Western New York winter. I stopped working last October to take this trip, and we have had many discussions about my applying for SSDI upon our return and subsequent discussions with my doctors.
    Florescent lighting is a trigger for me and I had to go in to work in the hair salon years ago in sunglasses sometimes to keep my head from exploding. I got a lot of nasty looks and comments even back then, and only had offers to go home I if my manager saw tears coming down my face, if then. My past 2 employers were much more understanding- my last one learned to guage my pain level any shift by how dark my glasses were that day!
    But given multiple problems, my partner- who is medically retired on SSDI- feels I have a good chance of acceptance once I apply, provided my doctors are on board. I HATE not working, and had many years of employee guilt between pain, appointments, having to call in or leave early. But I know that if I attempt to go back into the work force my body will rebel completely. And I know that well be able to live, simply, on what we both will receive. Difficult, but enough.
    I know that nobody really wants to go on disability. That doesn’t make it any easier.

  • Lorrie Wigand
    2 years ago

    I would “push through” and go to work. However, in doing so, my migraines became even more frequent. My performance at work suffered drastically. Everyone wants to be a “good employee” but what does that mean? Call in sick, or do a bad job? Currently, I am on disability. Not what I wanted. But now I can focus on controlling what I can.

  • dani416
    2 years ago

    Work is like a mine field for me. I work in an emergency room, and with perfume and cologne ( scented lotions…..) being my worst triggers I constantly worry. I have worked with migraine many times unless it’s one that I just can’t get out of bed with. It makes a 12 hr shift pretty exhausting. Most of my coworkers warn me if a room has a strong scent. But some people think I just ” don’t like ” perfume. I wish people understood just how sick I become after being around a trigger. I also hear people say if you really have a migraine you couldn’t work. They don’t realize how much pushing through it wears me out. And I work in healthcare!!!

  • rockhopper
    2 years ago

    I totally get it. I am an MRI tech and if i am lucky 5% of the ppl understand how i am affected. They are to remind the patients our hospital is a scent free environment when they are scheduled but they still come loaded in it all. I feel the scents in my head before i smell them and by then it is too late. Occ health just says “if you encounter a pt wearing scents put on a n95 mask” They do not grasp that it is too late and the damage done at that point. Add on the fact they trigger an asthma attack too. ARRRGH! Just today i have had to push through because we are short staffed. Did not get to a lunch break until 6hrs into an 8hr shift and am now home facing the reprecussions…..back tmrw to further bang head into wall and do it ahain. At least at home it is dark, quiet, scent free and i can take the heavy duty drugs

  • Newdancerco
    2 years ago

    I’m considering filing for disability, but when I mentioned it to my doctor I was told they “don’t just sign off on that sort of thing”. I would have thought my doc would be on my side, given 20+ years of history with migraines, up to and including surgery!

  • David
    2 years ago

    I have frequent migraines from TBI. The fellow I was working for when I was hurt took great care of me and kept me on the job no matter how little I could contribute, which was very little for a couple years. He finally sold the business and the new owner didn’t have much use for me which began a series of low paying jobs and layoffs. I always believed the best therapy for my injury was to be as completely involved in life as possible so I never considered disability. I finally disobeyed the rules for unemployment in Texas after my last layoff and took courses to become fully licensed in a trade that would allow me to operate as my own little bitty business, which is great, I make enough to live simply and if I feel bad I just tell the world “tomorrow” and pull the covers back up over my face.

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