Working with Chronic Migraine: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Working with Chronic Migraine: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

There are so many individuals who do not have a choice but to work despite having chronic migraine, even if they have daily chronic migraine. I was one of those individuals who worked until September of 2017, when my employer decided I was unfit to work. While on unemployment, I applied for disability with all of my medical issues. There are a lot of elements that go into working with chronic migraine. It is not a simple thing as many individuals who do not have migraine believe.

The good

There are a few benefits to being employed while having chronic migraine. For some individuals, it provides them with a sense of purpose and accomplishment. A lot of individuals with chronic migraine can start to feel like a burden at home or to their family. It also provides an additional household income. This can help to pay for various prescriptions and treatments that doctors want us to try such as Botox.

The bad

There are a few bad aspects about working while being a person who has chronic migraine. It is definitely a challenge when you are at work with a migraine. You have to choose to push through and stay at work or to go home early. Another issue of working while having chronic migraine is your family and friends start to assume that it means since you could push through at work that you should be able to attend any event they plan. This can definitely become a battle on its own. It is also draining on you when you work all day and then need to go grocery shopping on the way home. The same challenge presents itself when it comes to managing household chores.

The ugly

There are a few ugly aspects about working while being a person who has chronic migraine. One of the big ones is when you feel forced to stay at work even with a bad migraine and then you are stuck driving home impaired by the bad migraine. This is definitely not a safe thing but it really does happen, unfortunately. The office environment is a challenge all in its own. Things such as lights, noises, and computer screens are typically things that you cannot change at work but can have a big impact on your migraine. There is an issue with losing your personal life because you spend any time that you are not working trying to recover from the time you spent working, with the weight of housework weighing on your mind. The worst of the ugly is the risk of being let go from work when the bosses decide you are not fit for work.

Working part-time as a balance

Working with chronic migraine can be necessary or optional. If it is optional, I would definitely suggest somebody try to work part-time. This allows somebody to get the benefits of working, while hopefully minimizing the negative effects that can come with working.

Do you work? If you used to work, what were your experiences with working?

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

View Comments (19)
  • LJSF
    5 months ago

    I just wrote a long comment, where is it?

  • Joanna Bodner moderator
    5 months ago

    For some reason the comment seems to have been filtered out. It should be appearing now! Sorry that happened! Reach out if you run into any other problems & of course thanks for being here sharing your support. -Joanna (Migraine.com Team)

  • CaliAriesGirl
    5 months ago

    I do work full time. Can’t even think about cutting my hours to part time, my family wouldn’t survive. I’ve been having migraines for over 30 years now.
    Over the last several years they became very intense. My usual medication ( sumatriptan) is not always working anymore. And that’s the only medication that helped. The aura, smell of perfumes, lotions or chemicals. The tingling in my entire body, dizziness and numbing fingers. The horrible headache. And lately I’ve been forgetting the words. And I work in customer service. When I always have to have a smile on my face and be very patient. And inside of me I am crying from the pain and from being lost. That’s my experience.

  • Amanda Workman moderator author
    5 months ago

    I’m sorry to hear about your situation. You are definitely not alone. Have you tried various forms of your abortive to see if another form works better than the pill? There are many forms such as the tablet, the injectable SC solution, the prefilled SC syringe/cartridge with and without needles, along with a nose spray. I only mention this because the pills do not work for me but the prefilled SC syringe/cartridge with needle works very well for me. I hope you can find some relief especially since you must work customer service. Sending you lots of love and strength.
    Amanda Workman (moderator)

  • voicemail
    5 months ago

    I live by myself, so I have no choice but to work. I’m working full time as a teacher at the moment, plus overtime because we are short staffed. I’ve been getting migraines every day for the past few weeks and it’s horrible. I’m so nauseous and my head feels like it’s going to explode – even with medication, but I have to put on a happy face for my students.

  • Amanda Workman moderator author
    5 months ago

    I can’t definitely see how being a teacher could be extremely difficult when your migraines are acting up. Especially if your class has loud students. I’ve recently taken over care for my very young nieces and boy it can be a strain on you. I already know you can’t take an abortive daily but are your doctors at least willing to give you enough nausea medication to help you with that aspect of the challenge? Hopefully things ease up for you as everybody gets back into the swing of going back to school. Stay strong. Sending you lots of love.
    Amanda Workman

  • pigen51
    5 months ago

    Just from reading this, I also can tell that you are a true migraine sufferer. Anyone who is also part of the club, can also tell, I am sure.
    I worked since I was 11 years old, first babysitting, then mowing lawns, hauling hay, etc. My parents bought a restaurant, and I started washing dishes there for 50Cents an hour. That was at 14. At 16, I pumped gas at our local small town station, and did that for 2 years, until I graduated high school. Then, within 3 months, I got a job in a foundry, pouring steel, and spent the next 35 years plus there.
    I have had chronic near daily migraines since I have been an adult. I am male, 58 years old. I was covered under FMLA, and my employer, while fulfilling the letter of the law, did not like it one bit. Since I had been there so long, I knew how to do every job in the place, and so they used me where ever they wanted to. It was a non union shop, so I had little recourse. One day, I might be sweating my butt off pouring steel, the next I could be driving in and outside during the middle of a Michigan winter on a lift truck.
    Eventually, they fired me. They said that I had failed a random drug test, they had found alcohol in my system. Of course, that was not true, I am not a drinker, and I was 7 hours into my shift. If they would have known that I had opioids in my system, they might have had a case, but since I had a prescription for the norco that I took earlier that day, the clinic reported me as not having any illicit drugs. I still don’t know where they came up with the alcohol, since they would not give me any paperwork to prove it, without me getting a lawyer and threatening them. I decided it was not worth it.
    I got 2 or 3 other jobs, in area foundries, but by then, my migraines were so much of a problem, that I ended up getting a job part time for a trailer park as a maintenance man. They worked with me, if I had to miss work due to migraine, or if I had to leave early for the same thing.
    It was immediately after I lost my job at the foundry that I applied for Social Security Disability. I was denied, as seems to be normal, and got a lawyer to help me pursue a hearing. Eventually I was approved for SSD, but it took 3 years from start to finish. I ended up using up most of my retirement savings, but I had no choice.
    One good thing is that by waiting so long, the money kept piling up, and when I was finally approved, I received a lump sum, which was VERY large, and was able to not only catch up on some things, but also I now have a very nice cushion in my savings account.
    We live frugally, as we have gotten used to it, and our spending actually allows us to increase our cushion each month. We live in a newer mobile home that we bought brand new a number of years back, and it is paid for. We pay cash for our cars, so no payments there. We are completely debt free, and don’t borrow money for anything.
    I guess that what I am saying is that if you do choose to go the disability route, it certainly can be done. The more medical professionals you can get on your side, the better. Any co existing conditions also help. In my case, I broke my back at age 20, and now having worked as a laborer my entire life, it hurts every day.
    As to the lawyer, I will tell you that I used Binder and Binder. But I am willing to bet that most any of the popular ones are just as good. I do know that my lawyers worked hard on what they did for me, sending me things to sign and have notarized often, plus writing to my many medical professionals to get records. Another thing that I have heard, this from the lawyer who was at the hearing with me, is that being over the age of 50 also helps. I think that is because due to my age, it would be hard to retrain me for a job that was less of a problem for my conditions.
    One thing that both my wife and I noticed is that since I received disability, many folks think that my migraines are now at bay, and I don’t have to deal with them anymore. Of course that is totally wrong, but some people are closed minded.
    The other big plus at my getting disability has been that for the last year, my wife of 25 years has been dealing with breast cancer. Since I no longer work, I have been able to take her to every single doctors appointment, chemo treatment, radiation treatment, etc. So in that way, it has been a blessing.
    One other interesting thing is that while my wife was getting chemo treatments, she often got dizzy at home. Chemo fog, some call it. She fell on one occasion and broke a bone in her back. She had to have it fixed, with a combination of an inserted balloon to reinflate the compression fracture, and then a cement to hold the bone back where it belongs. So she was in a wheelchair. I was pushing her out to the car after a chemo treatment, and after she got in, I somehow got my clumsy feet caught in the chair, and it flipped onto it’s side, and I went over it head first, planting my nose and face into the pavement. I broke my nose, and while I didn’t let anyone know, I also had a mild concussion.
    The reason I told no one about the concussion is that my only concern at the time was for my wife and her health. That I know I had a concussion is because I had about 5 or 6 in high school, and have now had 3 since getting out of school and away from football.
    My wife and I are both doing well now, thankfully. And I know that I have written similar posts here before. I just want people to understand that it is quite possible to get disability for migraines. Remember though, that it is a long process, sometimes. If you have fantastic records of things like when you stop or start a new drug, or of any specialists you have seen, those help. You will also be asked about your lifestyle, and how your condition affects it. So the more records you can have the better. I even included a journal that I had kept for a year or so, just to show my state of mind, and how and when I went to the medi center for a shot of a narcotic, which sadly, is no longer available, due to the people who are misusing pain killers.
    I consider myself one of the fortunate ones. My income during my working years was fairly high for a laborer, and so my Social Security Disability is actually enough for us to live on. Some might not have that luxury. But there are always things to help when your income is low. My wife and I went to food trucks on several occasions, when our income was only my part time work. I ended up selling a few things that I had such as fishing tackle, and a gun, that while they didn’t actually give us a huge amount of money, it did help.
    No matter your situation, never give up. I know it is often hard, just dealing with work, and your health. Many was the time that I had to work 12 hour shifts for the entire week, without stopping on the weekend. Thus, the reason that I risked having taken medication for migraine while knowing that I had to work. I don’t recommend that for anyone, and doctors and most employers also would not accept it. I can only speak for myself, and I did what I felt I had to do at the time.
    Best of luck, whoever reads this, and know that you are not alone, even though at times, it seems like it. There are millions of us who walk in your shoes, who understand just how hard it is.

  • joyrobbedbypain
    5 months ago

    What a long, painful road to finally have SSD. I am glad that your wife is doing better. It is quite frustrating to try and function at work while dealing with a migraine. I was finally able to get SSD as well. Still working with my neurologist to find a medication that works to get rid of my migraines. Amovig is our next step. I will post how it goes. That will probably be in a couple of months. I have an appointment the end of September when I will get a sample and am told the injection is once a month.

  • Amanda Workman moderator author
    5 months ago

    Your story reminds me so much of mine except that I’m younger and debt is an issue. Working in a steel foundery is extremely hard work for a healthy person, much less one with any kind of healthy issue. If they fired you like that, I would have filed for unemployment because then they would have had to prove that you failed the drug test. I lost my job and they couldn’t prove a legitimate reason to unemployment so they had to pay while I started the disability paperwork. You are definitely correct. It is best to add every possible health issue that you may have when applying for disability. I know people assume if you are not working that you should be better but it doesn’t work that way. Honestly it was something I even had to come to realize on my own as well.
    https://migraine.com/living-migraine/disability-battling-spoon-theory/
    You are also not alone in the section on people who took Migraine medication to get through a work day even though we know we really should not take it away from home. But when you know you had to support a family you find yourself between a rock and a hard place. Thank you for being so open and honest here. I do believe it can help others. Stay strong.
    Amanda Workman

  • Andrea
    5 months ago

    I was working full-time with chronic migraine until I was forced to take short-term disability due to a stroke (which I’m on now). Another story. The stress (a trigger) of my job, plus working in front of 3 computer screens (trigger) definitely contributed to my multiple migraines a week. I have no choice to work as I’m single, live alone and need the income to pay for living expenses and the health insurance to pay for my multiple medications, Botox, trigger point and nerve block injections and all the other medical stuff for multiple medical conditions.

  • Amanda Workman moderator author
    5 months ago

    I’m so sorry to hear you had a stroke!! How are you recovering from it? You could try to start an application for disability considering you mentioned multiple medical conditions ontop of the migraines and that Work is full of migraine triggers. After short term disability there is an option for long term disability. If you want to help try to push things through faster, there are lawyers who help you fight for disability for free and only take payment when you win. It’s just an option. Otherwise make sure you heal and continue to communicate with your employer while you are out on short term disability. Sending you lots of love and strength.
    Amanda Workman

  • Anyankaa
    5 months ago

    You hit the nail right on the head. I currently work full time, and I just have to push through. I’m currently working on getting accommodations to be able to wear sunglasses when a migraine hits me at work. Things are looking up, but in the meantime, my managers are awesome and working with me so well! I really got lucky with them.

  • Amanda Workman moderator author
    5 months ago

    It’s always great when your managers are understanding!!! That’s definitely a benefit Sandra a rare occurrence it seems. I hope by things are looking up, you mean you have a treatment plan that is helping you with you migraines!! Sending you lots of positive vibes!
    Amanda Workman

  • sooky
    5 months ago

    Took the words out of my mouth when I worked full time 20 years I was a cosmetologist/ hairstylist for who doesn’t know the term and it was hectic on me and on top of that my mother was diagnosed with cancer and died within 8 months
    And just had a child and suffering with post partum Despession went 5 years after all this before being diagnosed for migraines I’ve been on many different meds injections Botox etc nothing seems to last
    After 1999 I wirk part time doing different jobs that wasn’t so demanding just so I could junction
    But looking at pictures from from 80 to now I’m terrible housekeeper take me every oz me to get simple things done and I don’t have no support from my husband grown kid and his girlfriend that still live with us
    I have sleep apnea too and I’ve fallen sleep while driving for decades but no one seems to be concern or if I have a migraine and ask plz turn radio down then husband mad
    Last job I had was working part time at school cleaning lighting just was to bright and they kept adding more and more chores to my list where my 4 hrs changed to 6 to 8 hrs no break finally told them I couldn’t do it any more once I got home I could barely get out of my car climb the stairs into the house
    And I would just cry cuz there be a mess for me to clean here
    Sorry didn’t mean to vent but I can’t do both anymore

  • Amanda Workman moderator author
    5 months ago

    You are perfectly fine. That is part of why we are here, so people can learn they are not alone and they can vent. It’s extremely frustrating and difficult when a spouse is not supportive at all. My attempts to be but trust me when it comes to ‘house work’ we still have to have a few come to Jesus meetings over the fact that I am not superwoman and he needs to help!! The same should definitely go for a grown child living at home. They should not have a free ride either! Pain and sleep make a viscous cycle. Pain can affect your ability to sleep which is probably what caused you to fall asleep while driving.
    https://migraine.com/living-migraine/the-terrible-two-fatigue-insomnia/
    If you do not have support at home, you definitely need and deserve to have support within the migraine community. You are not alone in this. Sending you lots of love and strength
    Amanda Workman

  • GinaD
    5 months ago

    This is spot-on. I work full time, and have had chronic migraine for 20 years. It is a constant struggle. Thankfully my employer has granted me my own office so I can control lighting and some environmental triggers, but that’s only a part of it. I used up all vacation and sick time, and worry about how long I can continue. But I need the medical insurance and income. And am afraid that being unemployed would stress my husband, who also has health issues.

  • Amanda Workman moderator author
    5 months ago

    Having your own office does help you manage some migraine triggers but it definitely doesn’t remove the challenge of working with chronic migraine. You could apply for disability so that you would still have some income if you would think that would help your husband some with the possible stress. We ended up not having much of a choice unfortunately. You definitely have to continue to do what is best for your health and not put your health in danger. Even if you have to miss a day of work without pay. Stay strong
    Amanda Workman

  • blancj8
    5 months ago

    I have spent my entire migraine life working full time. And this is pretty spot on.
    If we throw in my cluster headache “season” I have definitely driven to and from work impaired. I got to the point I keep a value sized bottle of acetaminophen at work just so I can take a bunch to get a point or two of pain reduction for 30 to 40 minutes to get home less dangerously.
    Also a full day tends to wipe me out; as soon as I have the kids home and squared away I typically pass out on the coach.

  • Amanda Workman moderator author
    5 months ago

    Trying to work with a migraine all day, than drive home, take care of kids, the house and kids is beyond exhausting. Just getting through work and home is exhausting in it’s own. So you definitely carry a full load. You definitely do have to take care of yourself though. Sending you lots of love and strength
    Amanda Workman

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