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?

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

  1. This actually gave me a huge breath of relief. I’m going through this process now and it’s difficult to say the least. For me it started in high school and went untreated until my first year in college when the stress only worsened it. The first medication I received quit working and the next medication I received actually sent me to the ER when I quit breathing in class. It was terrifying and yet I still ended up in class the next day, unsure if I could even make it. It never occurred to me that disability services was something I could use until a professor brought up my class absences. For me, I haven’t made it to graduate school, I’m still a sophomore and I worried about what I could do. So thank you for sharing your story.

  2. I know this was posted a long time ago but I still want to say Thank You a hundred times! I’ve had chronic migraines since fourth or fifth grade and it’s been so scary to think about what’s going to happen when I get to college (I’m a highschool senior), but this makes me feel a lot better! –Still scared of missing a class though, but hopefully the disability service people can help me with that.

    • Missing class can be hard, especially if it’s a highly discussion-based class. I think the key is to prioritize and get into a good self-care routine. My first semester of college was rough–I got homesick a lot, so it also helps if you have a solid support group you can check in with on a daily basis.

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