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.”

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