People with migraine are often unable to work or function normally during an attack, meaning that even those who are able to remain physically present may be absent in other ways. Dr. Rosen points out that “it’s easy to measure absenteeism—when one isn’t there—but much harder to measure presenteeism—when one is there but not really performing as they should.”
Felicia, a social media director in New York City, says that migraine absolutely affects her professionally. “I have to pause life completely for those 24 to 36 hours,” she says. “Often I have to take a sick day so I can sleep [it] off and take care of my body. I’ve missed or had to reschedule interviews and important events, which when I was a one-woman social media team, meant we were losing out on content and coverage.”
In certain industries, a migraine attack can mean missing out on income. “I have had to skip work frequently because of my migraines,” says Rose, who works in the hospitality industry in Boston. “Because of my industry, it’s very hard to find coverage, and up until very recently we didn’t even have paid sick days…if I have a migraine and am scheduled for a shift that I have to miss, I am losing money.”
Migraine also impacts your personal life—from friendships to romantic relationships.
It’s not uncommon to hear someone with migraine say that they’ve had to miss out on things because of their illness. The unpredictability and all-encompassing nature of a migraine attack means that we sometimes end up disappointing not just ourselves, but also the people close to us.
Migraine “definitely [has] an impact on my personal relationships,” says Rebecca, a consultant in Washington, D.C. “I feel like I’m unreliable when I have to miss yet another event because of a migraine, and I worry that people feel like I’m just making an excuse about why I can’t show up.”
Although most people I spoke to stressed how supportive their friends and family have been, not everyone is prepared to stick by you in both sickness and in health. “I lost many a boyfriend because they didn’t want to take care of me like that and that often,” says Kristine, a poet and adjunct professor in Queens. According to Dr. Rosen, “romantic relations may be threatened when people don’t know how to respond when someone needs hours, or even days, to themselves.”
I know firsthand what it feels like to watch something completely out of your control negatively affect a relationship. An ex-boyfriend once said that he was afraid to marry me because migraine made me seem “sickly,” and he didn’t want to be saddled with my medical bills. We didn’t date for much longer after that.
Parenting with migraine can feel like an impossible feat—particularly for single parents.
Tami, a working mom of two in Ohio, says that “migraines make it difficult to parent the way I would like to. I often find myself irritated more quickly due to my pain levels and not thoroughly enjoying the little things as my children get older.”
Hanna, a lawyer and mother of two in New York City, echoes Tami’s sentiment. “I always feel terrible having to take myself away from my kids,” she says. “My husband is supportive and wants me to rest and feel better when I get one, but because we have young kids, my being out of commission puts a big extra burden on him, and that’s really difficult.”
For single parents with no one there to handle parental responsibilities during an attack, parenting can become a painful juggling act. “It makes it so hard when I have to lie in a dark room with an eye mask and ear plugs for a few hours and can’t go do things,” says Georgia, a clinical psychologist and single mom to a six-year-old daughter. “I try my best and explain I’m not feeling well, but I feel guilty for not being present and [hate that] it makes her worry about me.”