Mathew’s experience of migraine with aura

My employers were not very understanding

I had migraine attacks in primary school

My first memory of having a migraine attack was of holding my head at primary school, it was all I could do to stop it dropping and hitting the old wooden desk. It was raining outside and my head was banging as though a T-Rex and Triceratops were battling it out inside my skull. Suddenly the wooden chalkboard rubber bounced off the desk, missing me by little more than an inch, followed by the shouts of the teacher saying that if I didn’t start paying attention she would send me to the headmistress.

So my life with migraine began.

I have aura before my migraine attacks

It doesn’t help that my migraine aura makes me hyper, talkative, even very active. Something that as a child I struggled to control, and to some extent still do today. So when an hour later I’m holding my head in pain, people think it is an act, a lie, that I am faking it.

Even as a child I had experience of migraine. My mum got them. She would hide away in a dark room, taking tablets to knock her out. However, at this age, it never occurred to me what my pounding pain was. After all, it was different from my mum’s. She hid from the light but light didn’t bother me; neither did sound. For me, it was movement. My head would naturally start to droop downwards before the actual pain began. I soon learnt to see this as a warning that the pain was coming. Other people close to me saw my mood change as a sign I was getting a ‘headache’.

It wasn’t until I was in my early teens that I realised I had migraine. While I had an attack it was the worst pain in the world, a pain so great that I would have done literally anything for it to stop. However, once I was free of that pain, I found myself strangely reluctant to go to a doctor, as if that act would in some way confirm and strengthen their power over my life.

Eventually, after many home visits from the doctor in the night and a stint in hospital, I was forced to confront it. I went to a doctor, and was told there was nothing they could do, other than give me tablets that would knock me out. I did not want this. I had seen way too much of this as a child, and I did not want that life.

Impact on work

However, in time it started to affect my work, or rather the HR office claimed this. I had multiple single days off work. The total amount of time off was not a lot, and there were many other members of staff who had more time off than me, but it was the number of occurrences that was the problem.

The excuse of a migraine was frowned upon. It felt as if they thought I was lying, “It’s just a headache!” they would say.

Not a good thing to say to someone in the middle of a migraine attack, my mood changes dramatically; for the worse.

I saw a specialist who informed my employer that I did have migraine. They went on to explain it was a condition that I had no control over and when I had a migraine attack it would not only be impossible for me to work, but even driving to work would not be possible, not to mention dangerous.

My employers were not very understanding. They told me that no action would be taken about my days off due to migraine, twelve that year, as long as I never ever had any other sick time off for anything else at all.

I asked what I was to do if I broke my leg, and was told bluntly that it was not their problem.

Obviously I had no option but to leave that job, which was a shame because I liked it and had put a lot of myself into it. In fact, the day before I was told this by HR, I had been given a reward for commitment and dedication to my role from the head of the Learning Resources Department, my direct boss.

It has affected my career

I have changed medication, which has been a life changer beyond words. However work colleagues still look at me as if I’m lying when I say that I am having a migraine attack.

I have been able to work days when I would have once had to go home. However, working with a migraine has more than one drawback, including confusion, and forgetfulness. I can make mistakes and by the next day I have forgotten a lot of what I have done. This has the effect of making me look like I don’t take care or that I am scatty at best.

I am aware this has stunted my career progression, and I have been the butt of many a joke behind my back and sometimes to my face (made worse by the fact I am visually dyslexic and often pronounce words incorrectly or use the wrong word entirely). It would not be a lie to state that migraine has had a role in making me somewhat socially awkward.

Showing what I can do

However, in many ways I would have to say I would not be where I am today without migraine. At school I always felt under-valued as my migraine attacks were misinterpreted as ‘not paying attention’. I was not expected to achieve much.

Mat and his family

However, almost unnoticed by everyone, I left school with more qualifications than anyone realised or expected, and in time studied for a Diploma in Computer Science and from there a Degree in Computer Studies and Psychology. Without that extra push to prove myself, I may have settled for the nine to five job after leaving school which was very much the norm back in the late 1980s.