This sounds quite dramatic, and is not necessarily the course of action I’d suggest for others, but I realized that I had to put my health first. I needed to concentrate solely on getting these migraines and other related health issues (my dodgy neck etc) under control once and for all, otherwise I could never have a career.
Unlike other migraineurs, I have always been very lucky with my bosses. My first real boss at a Head Hunting firm was actually a Doctor and an old family friend (yes nepotism is a wonderful thing), so was always incredibly understanding; as she knew about my car accident that had, for me, been the start of my migraine journey. I actually even started that job as a form of physical rehab, starting off 2 days a week. When I eventually moved to a bigger firm, I was a bit of a coward and didn’t know what I do now – that you can declare migraine as a disability (more on why this can be wise and brave below.)
Instead, truthfully, I asked if I could work for 4 days a week as I had to go to physio for my neck and needed other treatment. Working 4 days in that office was agony, I got occupational health to assess my desk, so my computer was set up ergonomically correctly and, yes, soon had to miss days due to migraine and my bosses were understanding. I felt awful letting down clients and co-workers. But I always stressed the physical aspect of my condition, that I had spine damage – not wanting to incur any of the usual plethora of misconceptions that go with migraine. But trying to sit at a desk for a full day was probably too much for me then and my migraines spiralled. Luckily I then got a scholarship to do a Masters Degree at New York University and do what I really love…..no brainer really – even though it means I’ll be broke for the rest of my life.
But when I came back from America (or rather was kicked out by immigration – really do I look like a terrorist?!) I decided I needed another ‘day’ job to help pay off student loans while I appealed my visa. So, I started another part time job helping to set up a recruitment company. Again, sitting at a desk was killer on my back, bright office lights and other migraine triggers started to come into play – and at this point I still wasn’t quite aware of the extent of the damage to my neck. And it was trying to do this job that I had my mega neck spasm after a 3 day migraine and the descent back into chronic migraines began. I had to miss so many days I felt bad for my lovely boss who, while being terribly understanding, was trying to set up his new company; the last thing he needed was me being a weight around his shoulders. Did you know absences due to migraine and headache cost the UK economy £2.25 Billion! I was also starting to make stupid and potentially disastrous mistakes – a result I’m sure of the migraines! So I decided to resign. For me, this was an incredibly tough decision. I stubbornly refused to quit for a while. One morning I woke with the start of a migraine, tried to get ready to go in, not wanting to call in sick yet again, and nearly fainted in the bathroom. Mum found me crying on the floor and begged me to give up the job.
Although this was by no means my dream job, giving it up meant I would have to stay permanently with my parents, give up any hope of independence and give into the fact that I was, once again, an invalid. Aged 31, it was soul destroying.
But weirdly, once I’d made the decision that I was going to give myself a year (psychologically I needed a time frame) to concentrate completely on getting to the bottom of my migraines and chronic neck pain and spasms, I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. And a couple of months later this blog, Migraine Monologues was born!
This was in June 2011.
So why am I boring you with this tale of woe? Well, yesterday the mighty Migraine Trust unveiled results of a survey of migraine in the work place. What I find scary is that prejudice against migraineurs is worse now than when a similar survey was conducted in 2006!! Why is this? How can we stop this?!
I know I have been very lucky with my work place experiences – but this survey shows I’m clearly in the minority. Since I no longer work in the corporate world I’m much more relaxed about telling people I suffer with migraines. I’ve found creatives are much more sympathetic! Yet, I still have to brace myself a little when I let people know in a work setting. I am worried what they’ll think of me, but if I don’t make it crystal clear that this is a neurological, health condition that I have absolutely no reason whatsoever to be embarrassed about – then how on earth are the misconceptions and prejudices about migraine ever going to diminish? My theory now is that if I’m as clear, concise and as informative as possible about my condition and what I need, then there will be little room for outdated, ignorant assumptions.
The next time I apply for a full time or even part time position – I will be giving my new employers the Employment Advocacy Toolkit that the Migraine Trust launched today. As part of their User Group I got to see an early draft and I can’t tell you how much I wish I had access to this information (both from a legal and supportive angle) when I was working. You can declare migraine as a disability if appropriate – and if you do so then your employer is obliged to make “reasonable adjustments” accordingly. i.e you’re far more protected and your work place environment will be much more comfortable for you.
I do, totally, understand why people will be hesitant to ‘come out’ as it were – there is a stigma attached but if Ian Watmore, former Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office and Chief Executive of the Football Association can be open – so can we:
"I always declared to my employers once I knew I had migraine and all were supportive, as were fellow employees when I made it public. Being open about it enabled other employees to feel it was OK to admit to migraine attacks and not feel stigmatised.
I am living proof that it is possible to achieve your personal ambitions at whatever level while suffering from this dreadful condition.” (Taken from Migraine Trust Survey Results)
What to do if migraines are affecting your work?
1. Download the Employment AdvocacyToolkit.
2. Contact the Advocacy and Policy Manager – Hannah Verghese for further advice. This is a FREE service. You can also email Hannah at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7631 6973
3. Remember that it is often easier to address the issues 'head' on - getting signed off work for a period of time by your GP might be the right option for you to give you time to try new treatments etc. Communication is key.
Remember you’re not alone!