I’ll never forget the first time I experienced that searing pain right behind my eye that has become a commonplace occurrence for me over the years. My age that first time might be a bit hazy, but I know that by the time I was 13 years old, I had stayed home and suffered through enough of these headaches to finally warrant being diagnosed with chronic migraines. The diagnosis of course included CAT scans and MRIs along with eliminating caffeine and sugar from my diet for a few weeks to make sure they weren’t the cause of my pain. I was found to have no abnormalities in my brain and the change in diet did nothing to get rid of the headaches
In the academic world, I was always able to find understanding due to my stellar grades. However, that changed during my senior year of high school. During the 2006-2007 school year, all of the students in Elizabeth were informed of a change to the attendance policy that reduced the number of allowable absences to 10. After this point, credits would be withheld from the student, regardless of their GPA. At the point in the school year that it was announced that credits would be withheld, I had already amassed 10 absences, and although I was ranked in the top 1% of my graduating class (of over 1,000 students), my parents received a letter informing them that my class credits would be withheld if I missed any more days of school. I was now in jeopardy of not graduating. At the suggestion of my guidance counselor, I was evaluated for and granted a 504ADA Accommodation Plan, which negated the absentee policy of the school district.
I was able to use this accommodation plan for a short period of time during college, but once I arrived at Kean University, I was told that my condition was “not disabling enough” to warrant accommodations. Luckily, I have been studying in a helping field that is concerned with the wellbeing of people. Due to this, my professors have always been helpful in allowing me to make up missed work. The fact that most of my work can be submitted online has also been helpful, as I can still get my work in on time even when I can’t make it into class. I have missed out on conferences, lectures, and demonstrations because I haven’t been able to get out of bed due to the intense pain.
My personal life has suffered greatly because of my migraines. I have come to a place in my life where I have a core group of friends who know of my condition and who do understand when I can’t hang out or have to cancel plans at the last minute because I’m too nauseous to move. However, I have had many friends lost because they think I’m blowing them off or don’t understand that it’s more than “just a headache”.
Something I had to learn to do very early on was to advocate for myself. This has spilled into every aspect of my life, including my work life. I have held two part-time jobs in my life, and when I have to call out because of a migraine, I have had managers who understand, and those who think I’m just trying to get out of work. When I was a student at Union County College, I worked on campus and was able to use my accommodations plan at work. As a college student, being able to earn money is crucial, however, it’s not always easy to get a part time job and hang on to it when you’re sick in a way that’s not visible.
The biggest thing I’ve had to struggle with as a chronic migraine sufferer is the fact that migraines are an “invisible illness”. I don’t require any kind of physical accommodations and have no outward demarcations of my illness. This sometimes leads people to assume that I’m not really sick or that I’m exaggerating the pain I experience in order to garner sympathy. Suffering from chronic migraines brings it’s own headache of explanations and dealing with people who are not understanding of the kind of physical agony they cause.