What Can You Do When Migraine Impacts Your Career?
Last updated: March 2023
The impact of migraine disease on your life varies from person to person. Whether your migraine is episodic or chronic is another essential factor to consider. Let’s add the complication of trying to maintain a career with migraine disease, and things get challenging. Migraine affects billions of people worldwide. It is one of the most common neurological disorders.1 Unfortunately, that doesn’t diminish the stigma or the lack of understanding about this disease. I will share a bit of my experience and tips showing how I dealt with migraine disease while working.
How was I managing migraine at work?
I started out with episodic migraine in my teens. This pattern was stable until I entered my forties. At this point, it gradually worsened and negatively impacted my life. I was the person who never missed work. Powering through migraine attacks at work and school was normal for me. I never saw the danger in that until I became chronic, and migraine forced me to stop and assess its effects on my body and career. I tried managing the strain by myself but quickly realized I needed help.
Where could I receive help?
I needed to take inventory of my assets. My first asset was using my support system. For me, that meant leaning on my wife. She has been my most prominent advocate and is tenacious with my care and treatment for migraine. Next came my co-workers and a couple of caring supervisors over the years. A fellow supervisor gave me valuable information on the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and some tips on navigating the channels to get my illness documented with the company. Documentation is the foundation on which I built the bridge to get where I needed to go.
How did I document and make others aware?
The journey to get what I was experiencing and its impact on my life took some time. My wife was at the helm quite often. She helped with documentation letters, filling out FMLA paperwork, and compiling doctor’s notes, diagnoses, and tons of test results. I continued to work and ensured my illness was documented with the company’s human resources department. I did my best to educate those working with me about migraine diseases and how they affected me. I started with the pieces that had the most noticeable impact, like aphasia, cognitive impairment, pain, and medication side effects. There are always people who try to understand or know firsthand what it’s like to have a migraine attack, but quite often, most just don’t care. This feeds the constant stigma surrounding migraine disease.
Did I have to leave my career behind?
As a person with chronic migraine, I can see how others’ perceptions of me may be inaccurate. I will put on my best poker face and even try to smile during an attack. I just want to fit into life like I did before migraine took up permanent residence in my body. I used my tools and protections for several years before finally leaving my career after 34 years. It was not a graceful exit, but my body needed relief. That, unfortunately, did not include working full force anymore. It took me a while, but with support from family, friends, and my faith, I began repurposing myself. I found other areas to fulfill my purpose. All these transitions were made more accessible because I built the foundation of my illnesses on documentation. I also got some legal help along the way. It was just another tool to use that was forged by documentation.
What can you do?
If you are facing challenges in the workplace, I encourage you to begin looking forward.
- Can you continue for the next year, five years, or ten without severe negative impacts?
- Who will be there for you?
- What tools or programs are available to help you continue to work despite illness?
Only you can answer these questions. Feel free to leave any experiences you may have had or are having with the challenges of working with migraine disease in the comments.
Have others downplayed your migraine pain?