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What to Do If Your Colleagues Don’t Believe You Get Migraine Attacks

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Has migraine led to discrimination at work? Michelle Rivas advises affected employees to contact their regional ADA branches.

My migraine journey started in my early 20s. I was pushing myself to excel in a communications career at a high-profile agency and pursuing a master’s degree full-time. I worked roughly 50 to 60 hours a week and spent another 20 hours on schoolwork.

I knew that stress and exhaustion were my two biggest migraine triggers. They were my constant companions in those early years.

It wasn’t until my migraine symptoms started impacting my work life that I realized I needed medical help.

My migraine attacks began occurring more frequently. I was sensitive to light and needed to work in dark conference rooms. I had to call in sick at the last minute. I would have to run to the bathroom on more than one occasion to throw up after a migraine with an aura hit.

Over-the-counter medications and herbal remedies didn't address all of my symptoms. But finding the proper treatment for my migraine wasn’t the biggest hurdle I faced. It was convincing my boss that my migraine attacks were legitimate.

Running away from migraine at work

My manager then didn't think migraine was a "real thing." They believed that migraine was just another fancy word for headaches and an easy excuse to dodge work responsibilities.

I was struggling to cope with migraine. My relationship with my boss lacked trust, and I needed help.

The irony was that I was working on a communications project about migraine. I was thrilled that my job allowed me to participate in a project that helped others, given my years of experience with migraine.

My boss revealed their true thoughts about migraine and the “type of people” who experienced migraine attacks during a brainstorming session. I was furious and jumped on my soapbox to defend people like myself who struggle to control migraine.

I had all the facts on my side.

Such as how migraine affects 29.5 million people in the United States, 3 out of 4 being women. The condition is a legitimate neurological disease with disabling symptoms, including vision disruption, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and extreme sensitivity to light, sound, and smell. I was living proof that migraine with aura can be debilitating.

I was met with opposition. I was exhausted and didn’t have the energy to keep fighting.

When the time came to call in sick for a migraine, I knew my employer wouldn’t accept my explanation. That was one of the many reasons I decided to find a new job that day. Luckily, it took only a short time to land a new role with the social support I needed.

Why and how to stand up for yourself

In hindsight, I was too quick to run away from the problem rather than fix it. I was young, tired, and impressionable. I wanted to make an impact and was willing to sacrifice my health.

I realize now how discriminatory that experience was.

You have rights in the workplace. Migraine may be considered a disability covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if it substantially limits, impairs, or interferes with your ability to complete one or more major life activities.

The ADA requires employers to offer workers with disabilities “reasonable accommodation” to do their job. This might include adequate and individualized lighting, a fragrance-free or soundproof workplace, or a work-from-home policy.

You’ll likely need documentation from your doctor to prove you have a condition that qualifies to be covered under the ADA. Contact your regional ADA office about the steps you’ll need to take to apply. You may also want to speak with an attorney or legal counsel before checking in with your supervisor or human resources department.

I’m lucky to have a new team of colleagues who understand and respect my health needs. I know my rights today. I’ll never go back to a role where I’m not supported.

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen​. 


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