Migraines and Job Hunting — Why Is It So Hard to Find Employment?
I’m in a Lyft. It’s a cloudy Friday afternoon, and I’m somewhere between UCLA’s hospital Westwood facility and the Pacific Coast Highway. My job interview is in 30 minutes. I’m nauseous, seeing double, and experiencing vertigo that could qualify as extreme. Then I feel it…That familiar curdling feeling: I need to vomit.
Somewhat prepared, I pull out my bottle of peppermint oil, close my eyes, and take long, slow breaths. It’s the second day of my migraine, and I’m about to hurl in the back seat of a black Toyota Prius driven by a kind, older man named Sven.
I glance around me, hopeful for a Starbucks or Peet’s Coffee – anywhere where I can quickly run into the bathroom, puke, and fix my face – but I’m surrounded by craftsmen cottages and charming Spanish-style homes, topped with red stucco roofs. Bougainvillea drape groggily over a fence. My driver is lost. This is winding, hilly terrain. He makes a U-turn. My already-agitated vestibular system goes into hyper drive, the car’s interior spins violently around me. I tell Sven to pull over before throwing up in a thick swarm of lush ivy. I take a few moments to recover, deeply regretting that I forgot to restock my emergency stash of Zofran. I check my clock: My interview is in 17-minutes.
It’s been over two years since I’ve held a full-time job. Vestibular migraines and chronic migraines with brainstem aura knocked the wind out of my sails and I’ve been recovering ever since. I’ve freelanced, but now I’m ready to work full-time again. I’m hungry for projects, deadlines and networking. And recently, I’ve made considerable improvement. This current migraine is the first in three weeks.
I take another whiff of peppermint oil and get back into Sven’s tidy Prius. We arrive at the interview location a few minutes early. I sneak into the bathroom to splash water on my face and do a thorough mouth rinse. I correct mascara smears under my eyes before pinching my cheeks, hoping to add a bit of color. Puke and rally; dial-a-smile. I step into a standard start-up office space (complete with yoga balls as desk chairs) and wait in the conference room. I slowly drink water. Still seeing double and considerably dizzy, I make a last-minute decision and take half a Valium – this is my ultimate “break in case of emergency” solution. At least this will tame the vertigo.
My head pounds. Nausea is mostly gone, kind of. The interview is benign at best. It’s hard to be peppy and witty and remarkable when seeing two of the person interviewing you. It’s hard to remember past projects when brain fog becomes thicker than the encroaching marine layer. I tank on key questions. My brain isn’t working at its usual pace. This brain…My once-remarkable brain now feels exhausted and violently war-battered.
The interview ends and I take a car ride home. We zip along the Pacific Coast Highway as the marine layer settles thick upon the Santa Monica beaches. I keep the peppermint oil bottle open and breathe deeply. Once home, I throw up again before taking a Zofran and assuming the comfortable couch fetal position. Then, I wiggle my toes and meditate.
Once upon a time, job interviews were a moderately simple thing. During my career prime, recruiters contacted me on a daily basis, inviting me to consider positions all across the United States. Sometimes I’d meet with a company and during a daydream imagine working elsewhere, but there never was a sense of urgency. Now I’m desperate. Medical and credit card bills are piling up, I need an income. But I also genuinely want the motivation, human contact, and sense of accomplishment. Hire me and I’ll be the most grateful employee there.
If you want to talk about being humbled, try searching for a job after a two-year hiatus, while still learning how to live with sporadic symptoms. Try a pre-interview puke and rally, knowing that you most likely won’t get the position. Try responding to an interview question with mild aphasia. That’ll humble you right up.
And so the cycle continues. I submit my resume to between five to 10 companies a day. A few times a week I’ll get a nibble, will interview, and maybe qualify for a second round. They all want to know about my two-year break, why I went from being such a strong candidate to a faint whimper. Sometimes I’m honest and explain that I took two years off to get better so that I could be the dynamic employee I once was; other times I keep details vague. Fortunately I have my consulting work so people can see that I’ve remained moderately busy.
So far the process has been agony. I follow up with recruiters, send my resume and book of work to companies, and excitedly open my email only to be disappointed with my inbox. I want to scream, “Hire me world! I will be your best employee! I will work my little heart out for you. I’m a loyal employee. Plus, I’m super creative and determined. Migraines be damned. I’ll ignore those feisty hell beasts in order to make a deadline.” But life doesn’t work like that.
I’ve worked so hard to get to this point. I’ve given up so much in order to be this functioning. I’ve listened to my doctors and trialled so many meds that it’s silly. I have more determination and will than I’ve ever had before. I’ve been truly humbled by circumstance. So why is it so hard to find a job? Somebody, anybody…Hire me?
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