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Migraine and Careers

As I called in to work on my third week of a new job, I said the dreaded words: “I have a migraine; I can’t come in today.” And then I thought of all the worst possible things my boss could think about that call, partially because I already think he’s unhappy with me (for reasons I can’t figure out), but also because I fear this with every new boss.

Then I remembered that they don’t all think terrible things about me when I first expose my illness. My last job was for a company that actually created a product to help migraineurs (along many other diseases). And once I told them I got migraines, and continued to get them through the course of the next year of working there, I was met will real empathy from my bosses. Because they knew what it was like from working on that project.

And then there was Jana. Jana was my superior at not one, but two, consecutive jobs. I worked for her for 5 years. And because her mom had suffered from migraines for her entire life, not only did she forgive me for calling off repeatedly, she helped me by connecting me with an amazing specialist.

So after today’s call with my new boss, I thought, “Maybe his wife gets them so he knows what it’s like.” I mean, it’s so prevalent that most people know at least one person who suffers from migraines. But then comes the issue of thinking they know a migraineur, when really they just know someone who gets headaches. I can’t even count how many people I’ve met who say they get a migraine a couple times a year, or they had one once a long time ago, or they get them every day but they just take tylenol, so they know what it’s like. But as people who’ve actually been diagnosed with migraine know, migraine isn’t just “a headache”. I get headaches too — in fact, I had a headache my entire first week at this new job. But it wasn’t something that was stopping me from doing my work. I don’t even treat those headaches with pain killers. Those are a cakewalk.

Every time someone says they get migraines, but they actually don’t, I think their doing a disservice to the real victims. Because it creates this illusion that migraines aren’t that bad, and aren’t something that should keep people from coming to work and doing their job. This illness is so misunderstood it enrages me. I’m not sure if other migraineurs feel this way, but I feel like I have this illness nobody takes seriously. And so if it’s not bad enough that I have to endure them, what is this doing to my career?

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.


  • Elaine
    3 years ago

    I have two wonderful bosses. I may have to take off work maybe 5 or 6 times a year for my migraines and nothing is ever said. They know my struggle and would give anything to help me. They have even come to me with a doctor’s name in hopes that doctor could help. But, of course, my bosses know that I would come in over the weekend to make up for it if need be. They know my work ethic, which helps tremendously.

  • Tonic
    3 years ago

    Agreed! now I have so much anxiety due to fear of having migraines whether I am at work or traveling because I get so disoriented, dizzy and the pain is debilitating. My speech, vision, personality all changes. It can be terrifying. Preventive meds help with daily headaches but I still get severe migraines. People who don’t have them may sympathize but will never understand. Still praying for a cure…

  • hemi
    3 years ago

    I do not understand how anyone could work at any job while unable to speak or walk, and while vomiting? It is simply physically impossible.

  • Rose
    3 years ago

    I began getting migraines when I was 23 years old. I am 62 now. I went to Dr after Dr. Multiple trips to ER due to nothing worked. Noone understood, except my mother who had them. I had a boss tell
    Me once if I would quit worrying about my children I wouldnt get the headaches. Other co- workers who swore they got migraines but excedrin worked or one said “just go make yourself throw up and it will
    Be better, that works for me”! I knew they did not have migraine but could not convince them. About 10 years ago a dr started me on a med called Maxalt, it worked. Still get them, not as often, and the Maxalt is only med that works for me. I get so frustrated with people who say “i just deal with it, wait it out. They have no idea!

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Winnie,

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. You are not alone in your feelings – migraine stigma is real and frustrating.

    I’m not sure if this will help, but many of us go through each day with some form of migraine pain, be it mild, moderate or severe. We seem to adapt to our pain to make it though life.


  • HaraTK
    3 years ago

    I had a 30-yr. career as a market research analyst/consultant. I loved working and the life I had! Migraines began in 2003 – and by 2009, it was all gone. The meds made me stupid, and the pain was just too much. Today – I still struggle, but now I take care of my 89-year old mother and 3 mo. old grandson. A new season of life.

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