Managing work and migraine: examples of good practice

I am about to celebrate 25 years of running a small business as a migraine sufferer. Looking back over time I can see that my periodic collapses - 2 days once a month at my best more frequently when stressed or tired - forced me to adopt a collaborative method of working, never doing anything alone but always working with a partner, rationing my time and being very disciplined about what I committed to. These reluctant compromises have left me with a wealth of business collaborators who have become friends, better overall health than colleagues who worked flat out and a much stronger business than I could ever have developed by myself. I would be very interested to hear examples of how other people have combined work and migraine and the compromises they - and their employers - have had to make. Does modern technology make it easier or harder? What about worklife balance and is there a tipping point where you are just too sick for too much of the time for any kind of work to be possible? We are holding an open seminar in Milton Keynes at the OU on 23rd September to discuss these topics and would be very glad to hear from you,

4 Replies

  • I have suffered from hormonal migraines for many years, although (as my doctor once predicted) I am "growing out of them" now I am in my 50's. However, at their worst I could be in bed for 3 days at a time, and feeling ill for a further 2 weeks, on a regular monthly cycle, so I rarely felt well at all. I have managed to hold down a 4 day/week job for the last 8 years, but I have always kept Wednesday as my day off. This means I only work two days at a time, and then have a rest day or weekend. This regime has enabled me to keep working, despite feeling ill much of the time. I have also had to take sick days off when a migraine struck me on a work day, and of course I have spent many of my days off, weekends and annual leave days in bed or otherwise feeling too ill to do anything much at all. Consequently, work takes up all my available energy, but I could not survive financially if I worked less than 4 days/week. I am grateful to my employer for not harassing me over the number of sick days I have to take, but I understand that migraines count as a disability when it comes to employment law, and sick days due to disability cannot be counted negatively on employment records.

  • I work part time and have an understanding boss, and colleagues who also have migraines sometimes.

    There is now a policy whereby 4 occasions of sick leave in a 12 month period leads to dismissal. So I really can't afford to take time off for migraines - I didn't know migraines counted as a disability - should read up on that so i know what my rights are! I get the ones with headaches and the ones without, and sometimes they are quite minor, so I tend to stay at work and see how it goes. It's very rare that I've had to go home, and I can't usually drive home anyway in the thick of it anyway. But somtimes they are very bad and I'm a bit limited as to what i can do.

    It does mean that I have to take less effective medication at work - something to dull the pain but not make me drowsy. I tend to cancel appointments and give less priority to jobs that I won't be able to concentrate on or will make things worse. I make sure I've got food and drink on me so my blood sugar doesn't drop too much. I also have chronic pain so I've got a heat pack and free access to the microwave.

    I've learned that if I have a migraine I have to rest as soon as possible - so if I've been at work I'll have to sleep as soon as I get home, and usually the next day if I'm not at work (which isn't always possible). Otherwise I go on to have more migraines that week. That does get a bit annoying sometimes, putting my work before life at home, but I suppose that's what you do if you want to stay employed.

    I think I work much harder to make up for the sense that I'm slacking when I'm not feeling well - which is perhaps a bit unfair as I'm probably working quite hard during migraines anyway.

    We have a certain degree of flexible working so I can come in late, or stay late if I've had to go early, but as everyone is so over-worked and under-resourced these days I am usually working late more than sloping off early. My boss is good in that she lets me work flexibly to take time off for hospital appointments, otherwise it would mean taking annual leave. I can see why employers can't / don't allow people to just take time off for hospital appointments but it feels rubbish having to use holiday to sit in a hospital having botox.

    I am careful to organise my workload so it's not too arduous during a "botox week" as I am usually shattered after the injections.

    Mostly, I would say that I'm well-supported by my immediate colleagues. I think there are little things that could be improved on generally in the organisation, that would make life easier for all sorts of people with what might be seen as a "minor" health issue - eg we're expected to hot-desk, but swapping desks effects my posture which triggers migraines - in theory this is supposed to be covered by health and safety and occupational health policy but in practice it's quite hard getting support.

    When I started this job 3 years ago I didn't want to tell anyone about the migraines at first. I think I thought it would be nice to not be the sick one and it was about making a good impression. I managed about 3 weeks before having to explain why I was being a bit slow - no one batted an eyelid, it's not that they didn't care, it's just that a few other people also had health problems too, and it does help a bit, knowing that people care.

  • Hi all, thanks for replies. Looks like we all get by by trying not to overcommit and spending a lot of time resting when not working. I like the idea of having Wednesdays off. I do think migraine sufferers are good workers because we try to make up the time so employers get more than our part time out of us. I wonder if we are better suited to backroom jobs. I had an academic job for a while and the freedom to sit and think was good for the migraine - but got too boring in the end

  • I also work part-time - Wednesday is day off - but the main driver for that is being susceptible to depression rather than migraine.

    I'm lucky on one level with the migraines as they generally respond well to medication - and small quantities of medication at that. However, there have been times when I have had to leave because of a migraine - times when I will be late in because of recovering from one and times when I have missed days because of one (problem not so much the migraine as the gut spasms that go with it which are occasionally very severe).

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