At 30 years old, Larissa has never been able to work full time due to chronic migraine. She still works when she can with an “extremely part-time job” that takes six hours a week and sells her beautiful knit goods on her Etsy shop, Purl Knitting. Larissa is also studying arts and cultural management in a part-time distance learning program. Her determined, hopeful spirit shines through her responses.
I have migraine symptoms mixed with tension type headache every day that includes muscle pain and tension, moderate head pain, light sensitivity and nausea. About twice a week it will worsen into a more severe attack. My migraines go in cycles of severity as well, so I will sometimes have a very severe migraine for 2-3 weeks. My pain can be either one sided or all over my face and head, and is usually around a 4-6 out of 10 on daily basis. I would say my most bothersome symptoms are widespread constant muscle pain and tension throughout my face, neck and shoulders, nausea and lack of energy.
What are some of things you find most frustrating about having chronic migraine?
My lack of ability to plan anything or know if I will be able to do anything, and the limitations that it places on my day to day life. I have to constantly pace myself and reign in my activities and energy output to be able to make it through the day.
How has your career been affected by chronic migraine?
I have never been able to work full time because of chronic migraine, and I am now only able to work limited hours from home as an arts administrator. I have had to leave jobs because of it and I’ve had to be on employment insurance because of it. I trained to be a dancer and would like to dance in some way now, but migraines are really holding me back. I feel that although I have the skills and experience needed to do the jobs that I want to do, I don’t fit most job descriptions because I can’t be there in person all the time or work in a traditional way.
However, I consider myself very lucky to be able to work a little bit and also run my Etsy shop, Purl Knitting. Knitting is something I can do 98% percent of the time even if I am quite sick, so it is amazing to have something like that in my life. I am also completing a certificate in Arts and Cultural Management online from Grant MacEwan University that I have been working on for a few years now.
How do you manage work and school with chronic migraine? Can you share any coping or planning strategies that you find useful?
To balance work and school I first do a lot of upfront communication with my employer and with my school professors and staff to make sure they understand my condition and how it can affect me. I am registered with the Disability Accommodations office at the University. Then, I am a very careful planner and make sure that I stay well on top of my work and school so that I always have a buffer if I need to take a few days off being sick. I do plan in a way that no day will have too much work in it but also will allow me to get ahead of schedule. As I said, I do both work and school from home so I can work in small chunks and then rest, eat, walk and nap in between.
What coping strategies do you use to deal with chronic migraine?
The most important thing I’ve done to deal with migraines emotionally is to accept that I have them and will for the rest of my life. When someone first suggested that I needed to do this, I was incredibly angry because it seemed so wrong to accept something like this into my life. Doing so has allowed me to move forward and focus on what I can do. I see a psychotherapist once a week to work on coping strategies which has been extremely useful and made me much more resilient. I have generalized anxiety disorder and have had depressive episodes so I keep a close eye on myself and have my husband and doctors do this as well to notice any flare ups. I find it very important to catch them before they get too bad because if I get into bad mental state my migraines will spiral out of control.
What do you wish people knew about migraine?
I wish people knew that migraine is more than just a bad headache, that it is a neurological disorder that causes you to experience widespread symptoms and severe disability.
What else would you like to share?
For people with migraine: You are enough, and you do enough.
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