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What If We Thought About Work Differently?

Earlier this week, I woke up with undoubtedly the worst migraine I have had in a really long time. I couldn’t hold my eyes open, pain pounded throughout my teeth, my scalp felt sensitive with a burning sensation, my jaws hurt, I felt incredibly nauseous, and my body felt as though a truck had been dropped onto it. I barely mustered up an affirmation to my caretaker when they asked if they could provide me with a cold pack and water. To make matters worse, I immediately threw up the water and medication. I couldn't eat all day, which was no service to me. It was rough and lasted for nearly 14 hours before the migraine finally began to break. My entire day was spent in bed.

Behind at work

Unfortunately, that was also an incredible busy day in my work life. It was the first day I returned to my email inbox after having taken off a few days around the Memorial Day holiday, a much-needed break. The emails kept rolling in, and I was only able to answer a few that day because I could barely look at my computer screen. That only compounded the stress of knowing I was far behind, which made matters worse.

Trying to keep up at work with migraine

Living with migraine and working is not an easy task, and can even be impossible. The debilitating pain can mean that accommodation and flexibility are necessary conditions of employment for some. I am lucky that my full-time job is flexible, but oftentimes I wonder if the stress of keeping up only exacerbates my pain. Sometimes I wonder if I would start to feel a lot better if I left work...but the bills pile up and I feel as though it isn't really an option. Navigating the murky line between ‘keeping up’ and knowing that stress sets me back is difficult and painful. This is the case for too many folks in the community.

Productivity doesn't determine worth

I think we all live in a society that places a lot of judgement value on productivity. From the time we are very young, we learn to work hard to get the best grades, work hard to get the best job, and work hard to live the best life. For many of us who live in constant pain and with disabilities, that often feels like an insurmountable task. It can lead to self-doubt about our worth when we don’t receive rewards based on our hard work, because debilitating pain seems to characterize our potential. That is my opinion anyway, and I have found it to be a dark and windy forest to navigate. 

For so many people living with migraine, flexibility and understanding in the workplace, and generally in society, is hard to come by. It seems the benefits afforded to many for working hard aren’t distributed equitably to those trying hard but who also live in pain. I just do not think that is fair.

Raising awareness of disability

What can we do? Education in the disparities between the opportunities and access to financial stability and good healthcare is a start. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in many places, including the workplace. However, many jobs and workplaces fail to provide roles that accommodate disabilities, and much of the messaging I’ve seen about ‘working hard’ throughout my life caters to a certain kind of hard work, usually with an able-bodied person in mind.

Re-evaluating the work culture

Education is important, but I think productivity and worth also need to be critiqued to be more inclusive. There is too much access, mobility, and stability tied to productivity for many roles not to be fundamentally more inclusive. For many of us living with migraine disease, I think that means a need for a restructuring of a super face-paced, super results-driven work culture and society. There are resources like disability insurance and workplace accommodation already available, but I believe a shift in thought about ‘work’ in general will do much to bring our society to a more inclusive place.

Accommodating for days filled with pain

Some days, many living with migraine just can’t be on the clock at 8 AM. There are many days where I need to catch up because the pain is just too great. I still deserve to live a safe and stable life without worrying about how I will eat or maintain shelter. Those of us who live with the reality of pain are not only worthy, but our labor is valuable and our worth is not determined by our ability to produce.

What are your thoughts on work culture, a fast-paced society focused on productivity, and debilitating pain? Let’s discuss in the comments!

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