Working and Managing Chronic Migraines

The bright fluorescent lights, the TERRIBLE desks that all come from the same terrible place, the chairs that DO NOT provide proper posture…these are ALL things that I have dealt with in the workplace while managing chronic migraines. Trying to work when you are in a full blown attack is a misery that I would not wish on my worst enemy. The questions that always come to my mind when the topic of working and managing a chronic condition is, how much do I share about my said condition with my (a)coworkers and (b) my boss. Because I have had many jobs where I have shared with both, which made my work life a bit more sticky of a situation then I would have liked.

Currently, I am not working, not full time anyways. I am lucky to have a husband that is making enough money that we can get by with one salary. But with the mountains of medical bills, most, if not all that have been directly related to my condition, means that at some point, I am going to have to go back to work. But the question then arises, when? When is the “right time”. For me certainly not right now that I just rolled out of an intensive inpaitient program, which main focus was to get my migraines managed, NOT CURED, but managed. I think there are so many misconceptions about migraines. You would not believe the number of people who have asked me, well are you cured, fixed, no more migraines. Well, I WISH it was that easy, I WISH there was a magic pill, but unfortunately this is written in my DNA and like asthma or other chronic conditions, this is something I will have to live with for the rest of my life. But I will get better at managing it.

My last full time position I held prior to having our son, and my chronic pain COMPLETELY derailing and coming off the tracks; was a high stress role. I was serving as the manager to a small staff, as well as meeting with students for their academic needs. I was straight up EXHAUSTED (I’d also like to point out that in addition to chronic migraines I was pregnant at the time so, it also played HEAVILY into my exhaustion!) by the end of the day, some days I would work through lunch JUST so I could go home at 4 and lay on the couch. BUT, I did end up talking with my boss, and she was VERY cool about my situation, and wanted to make sure that I had all the tools necessary to be successful. Here are some things that I did, and I will say they were helpful with differing degrees of effectiveness.

  • Requested an office needs assessment. I was working for a university, so this went through a division of HR, but most office settings should have some sort of protocol where adjustments to office environments can be made for individuals with chronic conditions. Also its the law, they have to help you!
  • A standing desk- this by far was the BEST thing for my back and neck issues. I spent most of my day hunched over a computer (as most people are these days), and having the ability to stand when I needed to stand and keep working was a GAME CHANGER for me.
  • If you get a standing desk, make sure to get a good pad to stand on. My office was in an old building on campus with concrete floors. Concrete floors are cool, but not for someone with cervogenic migraines. So I requested the best gel pad I could find to stand on.
  • GET RID OF FLUORESCENT LIGHTS. I had a ton of windows in my office so I brought a few lamps from home to make it less like a dark dungeon when the overhead lights were off, BUT it did help TREMENDOUSLY with my pain, when I was in a full blown attack.
  • Diffuse essential oils that help with headaches. I bought a little diffuser and would diffuse lavender and peppermint oil to help to ease those pounding headaches.
  • Keep an yoga matt in your office (if you can). I would take 15 mins breaks throughout the day and would do some gentle yoga stretches that helped to relieve the tension from stress as well as sitting/standing. MAKE this time for yourself…it will make you a better employee!
  • Be careful who you tell what. I am an open book and often share with others whats going with me, BUT be careful who you share with…this one totally bit me in my last office environment! Share enough so that they are thoughtfully concerned but not so much that they begin resenting you because you came into work late, or leave early.
  • If you have the flexibility, ask your boss if you can work from home one day a week. I did this a few times and it helped tremendously when I was in a full blown attack or could feel one coming on.
  • Pick one day a week where you LEAVE your office and go for a walk, get some sunshine stretch your legs, bring our sunnies of course to block out that bright evil sun! But, a few minutes outside can change your entire perspective on your day. Maybe you are in pain agony and need to go home, or maybe you just need to go for a walk get a ginger ale/tea/snack and get recentered.

Again, I don’t claim to be a professional on any of this, this is all from my personal experience living with chronic migraines for almost 6 years now. For most of the 6 years, I have worked, off and on— changing jobs for better ones, or for horrible bosses, or because I had another neck surgery and needed time to recover. I have NO idea when and IF I will ever be able to return to the work that I love. Oh, I also forgot to mention, as if I dont torture myself enough, I also defended my dissertation for my Ph.D while pregnant and managing chronic migraines, graduating in August 2017. I worked HARD for that degree, and I want to use it…but at this point, I just don’t know if I will be able to. Not at the capacity that I had always hoped and dreamed— but that is for another blog post!

But what I do know is that if you stay positive, focused and make some provisions to your life…work is just may look different than you ever imagined.

If you have more to add to my list, please comment or send me an email! I would love to have more tools in my tool belt and also share more with our little chronic migraine community.

I hope you all are having a fabulous pain free friday!



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