Driving home from work, I knew relief from my migraine medicine was waiting for me. My eyes saw an empty space in the lane to my left, but I knew I was being deceived. It was rush hour traffic, so my mind was confident another car occupied the space.
I didn’t change lanes in case my mind saw reality clearer than my migraine-impaired vision. After a couple of blinks of my eyes, the car returned into view outside my driver’s side window.
My shaky grip on the wheel tightened. Fear and nausea rose in my stomach during the remaining miles to safety.
In the early 1990s, I knew little about migraine. Rescue medication was in the form of a shot, not a pill. Tightening of the chest and difficulty breathing were medication side effects lessened by lying down immediately after the needle released the drug into my body.
Treating an episode at work was impractical. At the office, I had no place but the floor to lie down. Leaving work early before symptoms progressed wasn’t an option, either. This point had been made clear to me on more than one occasion.
“When your co-workers get a headache, they take an aspirin and keep working.” I took four ibuprofen and kept working. I knew this common headache treatment would be ineffective. The pain and nausea were only muffled enough to get through the rest of the day without vomiting.
“Sick leave is a privilege that can be taken away from all of us if someone abuses it.” I wasn’t pretending to be sick. Leaving work early to medicate myself and arriving at work the next morning with no outward signs of illness didn’t mean I wasn’t sick.
My migraine knowledge was young. My employers’ migraine knowledge was missing. Neither of us understood enough about my illness.
I could’ve hurt the innocent souls travelling down that highway beside me. We got lucky and made it home safe. This was my wakeup call to learn more, to educate others more, to manage the work/migraine relationship better.
Through the decades that followed, I began talking with my bosses and my co-workers about migraine. No longer apologizing for my perceived weakness, I shared my knowledge with them, whether they wanted to hear about it or not. I hoped they would gain an understanding of me, and others like me.
My 30-year accounting career ended as an accounting manager for a better employer who acknowledged my skills, my integrity, and my disease. Migraine knowledge has come a long way since my early years in the workforce. I hope the trend continues.
My work focus has changed from numbers to words nowadays. As I write this story, my brain is in the hazy fog left behind by this morning’s migraine episode. Without regret or apology, I accept the need to arrive at my home office later than usual. Armed with understanding, I know my work and my life with migraine can and must go on.
Photo Credit: Willie B. Thomas via Getty Images