Miss Migraine: The trouble with migraines in college part 3: A solution

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on my blog of the same name on September 1, 2012. I wanted to re-post this series now, in hopes that it will help anyone getting ready to head off to college for the first time, or going back to college. College is hard enough without migraines! Read part one and part two.

The trouble with migraines in college: A solution

After failing to get recognition or respect for the serious health condition that was affecting my school work, I felt angry, drained, and frustrated. I mentioned my frustrations to my neurologist, and she said to me, quite simply, “Go through your school’s disability services.”

Out loud, I believe I said something like, “Oh, that makes sense, I hadn’t thought of that.”

But internally, my reaction was more along the lines of, “I CAN DO THAT?! I QUALIFY FOR SPECIAL ACCOMMODATIONS?!”

The next day, I approached disability services to get the process started. I happened to know the disability services coordinator well. She was aware of my condition, and when I told her I wanted to apply, she said, “You should have done this much sooner!”

If only I had known I could! The thought never once crossed my mind before my doctor suggested it. None of my other doctors had mentioned the possibility, even when I’d told them about my problems. (In my opinion, that’s another reason to see an actual headache and migraine specialist, because he or she will know and understand how serious the condition actually is, and be able to help you get services and accommodations you may need outside of the doctor’s office.)

The moment my disability paperwork was processed and approved, and letters were delivered to my professors, I felt a relief so powerful I almost cried at work. Now, finally, someone had recognized how much pain I exist in every day. Someone had recognized that what I do is not easy for me to do, because I have to do it through this cloud of pulsing, aching, and often confusion. Someone had recognized that I wasn’t making any of this up, that I wasn’t trying to get out of homework or class, that I simply wanted to get through my classes, learn as much as possible, and not ruin my health in the process.

My particular accommodations call for flexibility with deadlines. That doesn’t mean I can hand work in whenever I feel like. I have to communicate with my professors. I have to tell them what I need, and when I’m not feeling well. I have to be open and honest with myself about what I can and cannot accomplish within a given time period. That’s the most difficult part for me.

I do not like admitting weakness. I do not like asking for help. Nor do I like handing in sloppy work. I’m paying a lot for this degree in writing, and I want to get my money’s worth out of it. That means that when I hand a piece of my writing to one of these talented and skilled people whom I am indirectly paying a large sum of money, I want it to be as good as I can make it, so that they can help me make it better. I get nothing out of handing them a slip-shod story with many problems that I could fix myself given more time.

So I’m learning that asking for help isn’t a weakness, but a sign of self-awareness and strength. I’m not weak at all. I’ve accomplished incredible things with migraine hanging over my life, and I will continue to do so. But there’s simply no reason for me to struggle against disbelief, misunderstanding, and the bad or lazy intentions of students who’ve come before me. So I don’t, and I’m grateful that there’s an easier way.

How do you handle your migraines in college, graduate school, work, or another stressful environment?

The trouble with migraines in college part 2: Grad school edition

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on my blog of the same name on August 29, 2012. I wanted to re-post this series now, in hopes that it will help anyone getting ready to head off to college for the first time, or going back to college. College is hard enough without migraines! Read part one here.

The trouble with migraines in college: Grad school edition

After my undergraduate experience, I didn’t bother approaching any more professors about my migraine problem–this was a mistake, even if it was an understandable one. I had switched my treatment to a local headache clinic and was doing all right. But during my second semester of grad school, my migraines took another turn for the worse, and I once again found myself having trouble keeping up with my three classes, part time job, and one day per week internship.

One professor scheduled the due dates of all of our major class assignments to fall within March. Although I attempted to work ahead, I found that the increasingly severe migraines left me needing an incredible amount of down time to remain functional, and instead of working ahead, I fell slowly behind.

JKM Library at Chatham University in late summer

The library at Chatham University, where I attend the MFA in Creative Writing Program. Taken with my cell phone.

I could have and absolutely should have asked sooner, but instead I waited until the day before the due date of my final essay for a class workshop (where every student reads and comments on the draft). My head was pounding and the words weren’t coming out. So I asked for an extra day or two, explaining my situation and offering to provide documentation from my neurologist.

My professor responded in this way: “It is unfair to me and to your classmates to give you an extension. If you need an extra day or two, take it, but I will have to let them know that I gave you extra time because of an illness” (quote approximated).

To say I was livid at the time would be an understatement. It took me most of the night to finish the draft. My husband helped me with some research and rubbed my shoulders and let me cry and rant to him. The next day, my migraine had only worsened with the effort of writing through incredible pain and the lack of sleep.

When my professor asked me how I felt at our next class, I responded with a curt, “Awful.” This professor, unlike my rather heartless professor from undergrad, did believe that I was in serious pain. I imagine that if she didn’t believe my email, she believed my face. Some of the blame for this incident is mine: I never spoke to her in advance about my condition, and I was unwilling to ask for help before it was too late.

But although I believe my professor was trying to be fair to everyone in the class by presenting me the terms she did, her actions made me feel as though I HAD to finish my paper on time or have someone else talk about MY health problems to people I did not know very well on HER terms, not mine. I don’t hide my migraines (obviously, because I’m writing this blog about them), but I have the right to tell people about them how, when, and where I choose.

In retrospect, I should have taken the extra day, gotten some sleep, and asked my professor if I could address my classmates and explain the delay myself. It’s hard to think rationally in the grip of a migraine, though, and that’s another reason why I should have discussed my migraines right at the beginning of the semester.

Thankfully, when I mentioned this incident to my neurologist, she had an excellent solution, which I’ll share next week in “The trouble with migraines in college part 3: A solution.”

Miss Migraine Runs: Wrap-Up

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. June was National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, and I ran as part of the Miles for Migraine Virtual Challenge to raise money for migraine research. Read parts one and two.

Ten of you fantastic people helped me raise more than $400 for migraine research in June! I will be sending you all cards, but in the meantime, thank you! Overall, Miles for Migraine was able to raise $3,500—quite a bit short of the $10k goal, but still nothing to sneeze at.

While my original plan was to train in June and July and run a 5k in August, that bought of runner’s knee I experienced mid-June delayed our progress quite a bit. Our new plan is to train through September and run the Miles for Migraine 5k race in Philadelphia on October 6.

A brain hat, a race medal, and a pair of socks with the Miles for Migraine logo.

Unfortunately, runner’s knee is not the only setback I’ve dealt with so far. I also had trouble getting past the third training week workout because of my asthma, which would kick in around the 2 minutes of running mark and leave me wheezing and gasping for air. My doctor gave me a new inhaler, which I use about 20 minutes prior to each run and helps significantly.

I’m not yet tracking how many miles I run, as I’m still focusing on time spent running. Again, my progress hasn’t been as quick as I’d have hoped, but the important thing is that D.J. and I have stuck with our three-runs-per-week regimen since late May, with the exception of the weeks in June I had to use the elliptical instead of running.

Something else that’s interesting is the way the connection between my migraines and exercise has changed. A workout can still trigger a migraine, especially if the weather is bad or I’m already on the edge of one, but for the most part, running hasn’t caused any migraines. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s helped keep them at bay. I feel significantly better after a run, and have been generally less migrainey the past two months than the months prior. Now, I feel crappy if I have to miss a run–D.J. and I have even woken up at 5 a.m. multiple times to get our run in before he has to go to work!

Most importantly, though, Miles for Migraine sent me this cool brain hat and a medal, which clearly means I win, right? ;p

Again, thank you all for supporting me, donating money to this important cause, and spreading migraine awareness!