Migraine at Work: 13 Ways to Survive
I often get asked how I survive migraine at work. It’s a long complicated answer, but I do it with a lot of communication and accommodations. It comes with a full range of emotions from frustration to anger, gratitude to growth, annoyance to comical.
This post contains memes that are meant in good humor and no seriousness. They aren’t my creations but they made me laugh.
Finding work that fits migraine and chronic illness can seem like an impossible task. A job that understands and accommodates my illness ends up getting my best. The probem is, it’s REALLY HARD to find work that fits chronic illness needs. It’s all a tricky balance between what I am able to do vs what I want to do vs what I need to do vs what I have to do. Everyone is different and I wish you good luck in finding work fits your needs!
1. Work Part Time
I work a few days a week and seem to have letdown migraine attacks on my days off. I save time for self-care during those day and save my spoons for when they are needed throughout the day and week. Previously, I worked full time and my migraine became chronic. I did not return to a paying job for several years. It’s very difficult to be sick enough to not work, or work less. The stress of not making enough for myself and family is stressful! Yet a full time high stress job would not work for me at all so that’s not an option.
2. Use flexible work time, if possible
I am able to get a lot of my work done outside of the classroom. I am also a busy mom and find that planning and prepping can be done once they go to bed. Instead of staying late at school, I bring a lot of my work home and also plan ahead. By being over prepared I am able to relieve stress. If I’m sick in bed and worrying about work, I get sicker. When I have everything done, having a migraine for days doesn’t stress me out as much about work because I know I’m prepared. Planning and being prepared makes my life, in general, much easier.
I am constantly battling whether I am ok enough to go into work or not. With chronic illness, attacks and flairs are unpredictable and finding a job that is flexible with that is hard
Tip: Know time off policies and if a substitute is available
3. Find coworkers who support you
While working full time, my boss was arrogant and my coworkers were judgmental. With my part time job, my coworkers are supportive and my boss is understanding. This benefits the group! I’m not motivated to work out of judgment or consequences but out of commitment and love for the job and workers I call friends. Loving what I do and who I’m working with is a benefit to my health and work.
4. Ask for accommodations at work
I requested that my classroom be on the side of the building that does not get direct sun or heat. I also have control over the lighting. Heat and lights (fluorescent) are especially big triggers. I use Axon Optics or Theraspecs glasses on days I need extra light protection for my eyes. I use other lotions, oils and natural products to treat myself topically. Control in my work environment decreases migraine triggers.
Dealing with Migraine at Work
I found that when I disclosed that I had chronic migraine to my boss at one job I was judged and at my current job was understood better. The same goes for clients. I found that the families I work for were very open and appreciated of my honesty. I was unsure what the feedback would be. Understanding the children and families I work for has allowed me to personally connect more. I feel like my families want the best for me as I want the best for them and mutual respect once again motivates me.
6. Manage Stress
With a part-time position, my stress has decreased tremendously. I am able to focus on myself, my family and other aspects of my life other than my job. Stress was my main reason in turning episodic to chronic. I now have a handle on how to deal with stress and my priorities are different. As a teacher without children and now with children, my views on teaching are very different. I have always had a passion for teaching and love children. The reward is huge!!! Being someone who is making a difference every day and seeing growth in my students is so rewarding.
It gives me pure joy and joy is great medication! Find joy in your job.
7. Set realistic goals and expectations
Putting pressure on myself to be something I’m not only raises stress. I have realistic ideas of what I can do, what I want to do and how I’m going to attain those goals. Setting myself up for failure will only derail my treatment. I set goals I know I can reach and am proud when I meet them. A positive attitude and learning from the past allows me to move forward.
8. Adjust Commute
Driving is extremely difficult with even a low pain-scale migraine. At my old job, I had a longer commute and found that many days I was throwing up on the side of the road before and after work. At times I liked it to decompress but most of the time was pained from the drive. I now have a short drive that I can drive to with my eyes closed (don’t worry, I don’t but I could).
9. Drink or eat water, coffee and snacks
Caffeine can be a benefit or migraine trigger. Coffee is beneficial to my migraines and imperative at work! I teach small children…I need coffee! During my morning of teaching, I drink coffee before the students arrive and drink a huge water bottle throughout my day. As a class, we have scheduled potty breaks and snack time so we all get time to refuel.
9. Sleep schedule
I wake up the same time every day whether I’m working or not. Staying on a consistent sleep schedule in order to be refreshed and ready for my day. I live with a chronic illness so never feel refreshed but a schedule helps my migraine brain.
10. Take breaks
A migraine attack can come on at any moment. During the day, I have to take a break, focus, drink more coffee, water or have a snack. Just allowing 5 minutes of quiet and focused breathing and refueling makes a world of difference to my well being. In fact, we teach breathing and yoga in my preschool class and that short break benefits all ages!
12. Moving my body and distraction
There are days I go to work with a migraine and am completely consumed by my students. The minute my students leave and all is quiet, the pain comes flooding back. I’m so distracted and filled with endorphins while I’m at school that at the end of the day I’m punished more. There have been days that I work till lunch and am in bed until the next day. The distraction of a job that I love helps me get through many mornings.
I have a job that I am active in which helps. Stretching and moving keeps my body less tense. I am not able to sit at a desk staring at a screen all day. My body needs to move and my brain needs a break from technology.
13. Money vs time
As a part time employee in the teaching field, you can imagine I’m not a millionaire. Working part time, I do not make a lot of money but am able to do what I love with people I care for. Sometimes money isn’t everything (although it pays for my medical expenses, so I really need it).
With all of this said, I found a dream job. Not everyone gets to work part time (either financially or in their field of interest). Disability is difficult to get as a migraine sufferer and most jobs it is difficult to find balance. Time off isn’t always possible without consequences and substitutes are not common. Falling behind on work is inevitable. Finding coworkers that are friends is not a choice but a lucky draw. The same goes for bosses.
All circumstances and lives are different. I encourage you to find something you love. Find a part time job, work online, find a job that can be flexible and a job that makes you happy. Migraine is the definition of pain and unhappiness…..find something you love and makes you better. Easier written than done, I know!!!
To be honest, was not sure if I’d ever be able to go back to teaching with how severe my disease is. Taking a chance at an offer I was given paid off. I was very aware that it may not be possible, but I never let that deter me. Not every job works but I’m so glad I took that leap.
Want to know more about migraine at work? Check out this migraine at work guide