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Volunteering while Disabled with Chronic Migraine

The frequency and severity of chronic migraine pain and its accompanying symptoms can be consuming to manage.  For people who’ve been disabled by chronic migraines, volunteering can provide a sense of purpose and a reminder that there is more to life than pain.

Often people with migraine are Type-A in nature: driven, well-organized, and with high standards for themselves. It is interesting then to learn that one in four people stopped working, took medical leave, or reduced work hours due to migraine (a statistic which emerged from the recent from study). Here we are, trying so very hard and in many cases, migraines have effectively sidelined us from our careers. And when migraines disable us, we can be left feeling lost and rudderless.  Forced to redefine ourselves, it can help to find volunteer opportunities to feel productive within the confines of the condition.

Paradoxically, the very thing that might have taken us off the job market may make volunteering problematic as well.  The awful truth for those of us living chronic migraines who want to volunteer is that we can’t always be counted on to be in a certain place at a certain time. This is a terrible feeling. Especially for us Type-A folks. Many of us are incapable of committing to be in the same place at the same time every day due to the severe pain or related symptoms of migraine. The last thing anyone wants is to volunteer where help is needed and then have to cancel last minute. The trick, therefore, is to find ways we can help others that can be done with some flexibility – in our own time, on our own terms, and perhaps even in our own homes.

When seeking volunteer opportunities, keep in mind that you are likely well-suited to provide support to others. Living in a fairly constant state of pain can be a direct and eye-opening route toward compassion. When we struggle in a deep, long-term way, we can’t help but empathize with others who might be in the same or similar circumstances. Extreme challenges open our eyes and hearts to the hardships of others like nothing else can. When we have a painful health issue, we can’t help but put ourselves in the shoes of those who are wrestling with similar difficulties. We know what it’s like to feel isolated and deal with pain.

It’s also helpful to consider what you are passionate about. Migraines take so much from us; it may have been a while since you did something you really enjoyed. Do some brainstorming and some research.  Look online at local nonprofit organizations to see if any of them are doing work that intrigues you or are a good match with your professional background. Many of those organizations would welcome your help as a volunteer or board member. If you like cooking, for example, perhaps you can bake for Meals on Wheels. If you are a knitter, maybe you could knit blankets for the local hospital.  If you are tech or web-savvy, you could offer your services to a nonprofit looking to create, maintain or breathe life into their social media or web presence.

Whatever the task, it’s important to feel useful and to connect with and help others. Finding ways to volunteer when you’re disabled can provide the healthy perspective that there’s more to life than migraines and can help you to look up and out.

Have you found ways you can look up and out? Are you able to volunteer in spite of your migraines? If so, how?

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


  • dmae
    3 years ago

    I volunteer at a local public garden. Once you go through the short training, you can come and go as you please. I work for an hour or two here and there, always out of direct sunlight. I bring my own small tools and log my hours online.

  • DonnaFA moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi dmae! Thanks for sharing this awesome idea! It sounds like an exciting opportunity! And public gardens would have lots of structures to provide shade. We’re glad you’re here! -All Best, Donna ( team)

  • Debbie
    3 years ago

    I’ve been disabled with chronic migraine for 16 years now. At first it was hard to accept that I could no longer work, as my career was so much a part of who I was. But now, I am thankful for the life I have. I have the time and take the time to do things for my family – this work am working on a craft project for a grandchild. And I’m designing an invitation for a friend. These are things I enjoy doing and do in my own time frame.

    Finding volunteer opportunities where you can do what you can when you can without having to be committed to a set schedule is not easy, but once you open yourself up to trying, you can find many ways to help.

    My current volunteer areas:
    1) After adopting 2 dogs from a national rescue, have been processing applications for them for several years.
    2) Love to bake – so, besides baking for others, I sometimes take cakes to a local rescue, and once a month provide dessert to feed volunteers for another organization. I bake cakes when I feel like it and freeze. There’s always a need at some point for another cake!
    3) Using my “work” background, am able to help with financials for my church.
    4) Also for church, I am on a committee that washes tablecloths when needed.
    5) Another thing I enjoy is decorating for parties. I work with a local organization and decorate for their annual fund-raising banquet. Keeps me busy for weeks, but I build “headache time” into my planning, so as to have plenty of time to get the job done.

    There have been other volunteer positions over the years, but as with everything, there are seasons….

  • DonnaFA moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Debbie! Thanks for sharing your splendid suggestions, and for all that you do to make your community a better place. -All Best, Donna ( team)

  • Holly H.
    3 years ago

    Would love to hear what others are doing as volunteer work; this is exactly my circumstances, except I live in a senior towers apartment building. My 24/7 constant/chronic migraine with aura plus ocular migraine is only the beginning of my systemic limitations, including being able to use my eyes on detailed work or reading only for a limited time before the pain, aura, and blurriness become too much, and also not being able to drive.

    I called a couple of churches within walking distance. One wasn’t interested in volunteer work from a non-member. The other sympathetically said that the sound echoed a lot in their old building, plus there were tons of fluorescent lights, and she would be concerned that if it wasn’t too bad when I came, by the time I left, it could cause a spike for days.

  • DonnaFA moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Holly, if you live in a retirement community you may wish to check with the skilled care facility on campus. They always need volunteers to help with social programs and with feeding. You also may want to check with a local Methodist or Unitarian church. I have volunteered at both denominations without being a member.

    Thanks for being here and for sharing your thoughts. We’re always here to share support. -All Best, Donna ( team)

  • Tamara
    3 years ago

    I started fostering dogs – done in my own house, we go for walks when I feel well. Been having a really bad month so I have only taken on two 16 year old Tiny guys and a 10 year old shepherd (who got adopted). Also forces me to upright and outside since I don’t have a backyard for them to pee in – forced exercise 😉

  • DonnaFA moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Tamara! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Fostering is a wonderful things to do, and it really feeds the soul as well as letting our furry friends know that there are worthy humans in the world.

    There are added benefits for migraineurs because there is evidence that petting a dog or cat can actually mitigate pain. That makes having animals around a double win!

    Thanks for being part of the community, and for all that you do to give some furbabies a second chance. -All Best, Donna ( team)

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