Migraine vs. Career

Defying limitations and winning - so far!
September 28, 2018
Stacy Herman

"You will never be able to be anything more than a housewife."

These were some of the first words I heard after my diagnosis with migraine condition at the young and impressionable age of 13. Not from my own inner voice, not from an ignorant and uninformed acquaintance, but from a doctor... not just any doctor -- the mother of one of my classmates who I trusted and looked up to. A mother who felt it was appropriate to tell a young girl just given a diagnosis of an incurable life-long condition that she would never amount to anything more than somebody's wife.

Those words have stayed with me along my journey with migraine in some way or other throughout the years and whether I like to admit it or not they have shaped a lot of my decisions. I've used them as fuel and motivation to become anything but a housewife. This is evident in not only my lack of anything even remotely resembling a relationship -- a minor detail on the road to becoming a housewife 101 -- but also by the fact that I have worked hard to make sure that I was always working and fighting to maintain one of the most basic and normal existences for as long as humanly possible which isn't easy for someone living with a chronic condition.

I had jobs throughout high school and college even though I was lucky enough to have parents who didn't require me to have one. In college I pursued degrees in English Writing and Communications, which were subjects I was passionate about. I met professors that encouraged me. I made lifelong friendships. I studied abroad and traveled all around Europe. When I graduated in 4 years, like I was supposed to, I followed my dream of moving to New York City where I entered the real world.

Throughout my professional career, I've worked hard to establish myself as a reliable and dependable employee. I'm proud to say I'm good at my job. My job is stressful. As a Graphics Production Associate in the television industry, I work holidays, long hours, and don’t get paid for time off. Yes, as a woman living with a migraine condition, I chose a career where I work freelance. I was proving that doctor wrong every day of my life.  Up until recently, I was handling it all pretty well... or so I thought.

I've been at my current job for 5 years and it wasn't until March of this year that I had to tell my bosses about my migraine condition. As a result of an intense flare-up I had to be out of the office for two consecutive weeks -- the most amount of time I've ever taken off from work. I couldn't keep up the facade any longer. As a person who lives with a chronic illness,  I walk a fine line between sharing too much and too little with my employer. I was always afraid that if I shared too much my bosses would think I couldn't handle the workload and then it would affect my career negatively. But if I shared too little when I did bring it up I was afraid they would think I was faking it. So as a compromise, I opted to say nothing. I instead acted like everything was normal until I couldn't hide my condition any longer.

At first everyone seemed really understanding. I was asked 1,001 questions and offered 501 alternative treatments to try (as if I hadn't already heard of it all), but that just comes with the territory of living with a chronic condition. About a month after my big reveal, I was pulled aside by one of my bosses. She wanted to put me on a special project, but she was worried about my health. She was concerned because the project required long hours and heavy workloads, and she was concerned I may not be able to handle it because of my migraines. I was crushed. I told her I would be fine and it wouldn't be a problem. Just like that, I went back to living a lie.

I had no way of knowing how I was going to feel during those weeks that we were working on the project. I don't have a Magic 8-Ball and I can't predict when an attack will occur. But I didn't want to miss out on the opportunity just because I might get a migraine. It wasn't fair. It's times like these when those doctors' words come back from my past to haunt me. I’m always pushing through to defy those words.

Did I waste all of that time in college and pick the wrong career? Or maybe I'm just not meant for a career at all. Is a housewife truly all that I'm able to be? Never mind the fact that I can't cook, I only clean out of necessity and I send out my laundry. Just a few more of those minor details.

I want to have the freedom to take off two days for a DHE infusion and not fear that my job will be in jeopardy or that my bank account will suffer for it. I want to be able to take care of my health without sacrificing my wellbeing.

I don't believe deep down that a housewife is all I'm destined to be but I'm also not sure that what I'm doing now is best for me either. There has to be some sort of happy medium. I just need to find out what that is. How I'll do that? I'm not quite sure yet. I do know that my 13-year-old self would be really mad at me if I didn't at least try. She was an idealistic, stubborn little thing with an obnoxiously positive attitude. I just don't want to let her down. I know if I do, she'll never let me forget it.

 


 

Stacy Herman lives and works in Manhattan while managing her chronic migraine condition. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with degrees in English Writing, with a concentration in Journalism, and Communications. Stacy has made it her mission to fight the stigma that migraine is "all in our heads". She finds joy anytime she can escape to the beach, spend time with her dog nephew, Teddy, or make it to a pilates reformer class. Check out her blog on Wordpress and follow her on Instagram.
@miss_migrainiac