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Photography Major with Migraines

I’ve been dealing with migraines fairly regularly since I was 17, but they’ve only now starting getting to the point where I need to see a doctor for them (I had 16 in the month of February but I normally just have 3-4 a month). These migraines are also heredity, as my mom has been dealing with them since she was like 16 and our symptoms are nearly the same, only her migraines affect her Occipital Lobe and mine affect my Frontal Lobe. I also was in a car wreck when I was 16 and have been dealing with an misaligned spine since then. I haven’t been seen for my migraines yet, but in 2 weeks my college goes on Spring Break so I’m seeing my Dr then.

I’m now a 19 year old Photography major at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Yes, I’m a Photography major with migraines. It seems almost that every aspect of my major and just being a college student triggers a migraine. I don’t have normal sleep schedule (although I try my damnedest to have one), I can’t wake up at the same time every day due to my odd class schedule, I can’t eat every meal at the same time every day, I live in the dorms (If you’d ever lived in a college dorm, you probably know what they’re like), because of my major I have to spend x amount of time a day editing photos, and I also have to work with bright lights and strobe lights. I’ve just now starting to figure what might be my triggers and how to avoid them, but some triggers I just can’t avoid – the strobe lights.

Some days it’s really frustrating dealing with migraines while trying to be a fully functional and social college student. There has been many times where I had to leave Game Night with my friends because it was nearing midnight or because I got a migraine. There has been other times when I just couldn’t even go to Game Night because it was started too late a night and I knew that if I went, I’d prolly pay for it the next day. Thankfully my roomies understand and are kind enough to take care of me whenever I get a migraine by getting me some juice, water, crackers, outing all the lights in my bedroom, and keeping quiet while I’m having an attack.

Any advice or suggestions about how to manage migraines while being a functional college student would be very, very appreciated (except for quitting my major. I love photography and I refuse to give it up, unless I’m told to by a neurologist).

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  • HorseAndCarriage
    6 years ago

    I’m a photographer with chronic migraines. Migraines that are triggered by light (namely fluorescent lights and sunlight). Good match, right? 😛 I can’t tell you that it is easy, but it is worth it to do what you love doing and are talented in doing. I don’t know what kind of photography you want to do, though I suspect in school you’ll be taking classes for multiple kinds anyway, but I do fine art photography. I originally wanted to do portrait photography, but can’t do that right now because of my migraines (I can’t be cancelling appointments all the time due to migraines! My migraines always come with diarrhea as a symptom, plus can have vertigo and nausea, so I can’t just “work through them” if my work is away from the home or office, especially in an outdoor session in a park or something!). So, I won’t say that migraines won’t impact your plans, but life often changes plans, so it is okay. 🙂

    My tips for you:

    1. Get a pair of TheraSpecs precision-tinted migraine glasses! I would suggest the larger-framed pair they have to block the most amount of light from getting to your eyes. This will help with fluorescents, if they trigger you (I’m assuming they do, since you mentioned a problem with computer monitors which usually have fluorescent backlights, except the newer LED-backlit Eizo CG monitors [as far as color-correct monitors go] – I highly recommend these, though as a student you probably cannot afford one), or with the light sensitivity that you might get as a migraine symptom when you have a migraine. I have two custom-frame pairs (one larger frame, which I wear when I know I’ll be under fluorescents like when I take workshop classes and such, and one frame that is similar to their regular black frame) of TheraSpecs and always wear one (except when I’m outside needing to wear my sunglasses, which are made for migraineurs and are nice and very dark! They are called MigraShades). You wouldn’t need to always wear one if you’re not triggered by light.

    2. I’m guessing that in school, you can’t avoid using strobes (or flashes, for the lay person – these are not the kind of strobe lights nightclubs use) without not graduating, but when you get to the “real world”, you can avoid them by using natural light and continuous light sources (NOT fluorescent/CFL lights if they trigger you, but halogen [though they get hot, so should not be used for shooting babies] or LED lights work) for your work. When you do need to use strobes, block your eyes in any way you can for the situation, be it putting dark sunglasses over your eyes and closing them before releasing the shutter or covering your eyes before releasing the shutter or closing your eyes and looking in another direction or something else. I find just closing your eyes doesn’t help much at all. It will be easier to do these things if you’re in the studio rather than, say, shooting handheld in the field, of course.

    3. Avoid fluorescent continuous light sources. If you have a class that uses them, see if you can get a reasonable accommodation from your school for the class to either use a different light source in their soft boxes or for you to take the class a different way, such as online or as a directed study. My migraines permanently worsened (gained more symptoms) a whole lot when I attended a one-night + one-full-day workshop where a whole kit of CFL soft boxes were used constantly. I now avoid all lighting workshops because most of them use CFLs or strobes. (If I knew in advance that only LEDs would be used, then I could attend said workshop.)

    4. This one I’m really bad at doing because once I get into editing and such, I can’t be distracted, but it is always a good idea to take a short break every hour. (This is also good for other reasons, like to prevent blood clots from sitting for so long and for posture reasons and to prevent carpal tunnel and such.) Setting a cell phone to go off every hour can remind you to take these breaks – get up, walk around, maybe grab a snack or drink (this will help keep you hydrated, too, since you mentioned an issue with that). The break doesn’t have to be long, so five or so minutes should be good enough.

    5. If sleep schedule changes triggers migraines in you, like you mentioned it might, then you should get up at the same time each day regardless of your class schedule. I know it is tough to not get that extra sleep all college kids (heck, adults, too!) want, but if changes are giving you migraines, you need to keep the same schedule. So, whatever is the earliest time you need to get up for class in any given semester, get up at that time every day. If you don’t have a class until later, you can use the time to relax/do something you enjoy or to work on your classwork or whatever. This will also mean you need to schedule your day life well so that you are going to bed at the same time instead of staying up late working on projects – that will be the hardest part (you’ll get used to waking up early every day in a short timespan)! With medical issues comes changes to your lifestyle so that you can be better, feel better, and do what you want – it is just a part of life, but not a life-killer.

    6. Move out of the dorms. While I never had to live in dorms (thank goodness!) in college, I can imagine they’re not a good place at all for migraineurs between fluorescent lighting, loud noises, too many ppl in small spaces, etc. If your college requires you to be on campus, you may be able to get a reasonable accommodation to live off-campus due to your migraines.

    7. You mentioned not being able to eat at the same time of day. Try snacking throughout the day in between meals. You should be able to get a reasonable accommodation to be able to eat in class, when needed, just as a diabetic person would. Make your snacks something healthy and, obviously, something that won’t trigger your migraines if you have any food triggers. Also remember to drink water throughout the day!

    8. Make the choice to be healthy over going to social activities. I know it is hard and you don’t want to miss anything and you want to spend time with your friends, but paying for it with health issues that make doing your classwork difficult or delayed, perhaps getting you lower grades than you deserve, is not the way to go. Health issues often come with sacrifices and hard choices, but remember that the point of college is actually to learn and do your studies/work, not to socialize at every get-together. If they are your true friends, they will understand and make time to meet with you at a time and place that won’t trigger your migraines.

    9. Proper lighting when you’re editing photos. Although the proper lighting for editing is in a dimmed room painted neutral gray (though I’m guessing you can’t paint your dorm room or even an apartment you can hopefully get off-campus), that doesn’t mean you make the computer screen be so bright it is glaring at you. Don’t use it in the dark. You need to make the ambient lighting bright enough that the screen brightness isn’t a bother to you – and make sure that when you profile your monitor, you use the same lighting, of course!

    10. If your migraines are worsened by motion, be careful about scrolling on your computer or tablet (or typing via an on-screen keyboard on your tablet). Scrolling can make my vertigo and nausea worse, as does using on-screen keyboards, and can even trigger a migraine (since mine are triggered by light), so I have to be very careful about these things. I try to use a physical keyboard with my tablets whenever possible (one has a built-in slide-out keyboard and the other I bought a Bluetooth keyboard for it).

    I hope this helps! Just remember to NEVER GIVE UP!! It will be rough, but sticking it out will be worth it!

  • Chere
    5 years ago

    You could not get better advice than given by horseandcarriage. Heed his kind (and hard earned) words!
    When you are in pain, go back and re-read them…you might have forgotten something important. (Maybe clip them and put them on your mirror.)

    If you have not kept a food diary, it might help identify triggers that you can avoid. No one will care about your pain more than you. Diaries/Migraine Apps really help you solve the migraine puzzle.

  • susan
    6 years ago

    I have to say…this is some of the best advice I have read here…from experience…and it all can carry over into any ones life so thank you. Yes, please stick with it.

  • Sharon C.
    6 years ago

    I understand completely the strobing and flashing lights. I’ve gone to several movies that have triggered my migraines. If it’s possible I recommend sunglasses that dim the lights. Don’t continuously look at the lights or try to block the view with a wide palm and fingers wide and out. I do not watch or play video games! It is very similar.

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