When My Migraine Advocacy Meant Bringing My Own Cleaning Products to Work


I did something new for the entirety of June. As it was Headache and Migraine Awareness Month, I made a point to talk about it. I made a point to let others know that this is a serious condition and I struggle with it.

I discovered very quickly that a lot of people out there are in the same boat as I am, or completely understand as they have family or friends with the same condition.

What I also discovered is that talking about it isn’t enough. It is no secret that people who struggle with migraines know way more about this nightmare than the general public does.

It is also no secret that we cringe when people show their ignorance and ableism.

This month was hard.

I missed one full day of work and had to leave work on another occasion. Those two days don’t even touch on the days off I spent laying on my couch in agonizing pain.

I’ve barely cooked real meals this month. I’m just now doing laundry for June…it’s the first of July.

But let’s go back to those days of work that I’m mostly inevitably going to miss.

The first day, I simply called out. My boss is a very understanding individual and coverage was good so it wasn’t problematic. No questions were asked.

Let’s fast forward through the days that I pushed through, counting down the hours until I could wrap my face in icepacks. Fast forward through the mornings where I had to use various pieces of furniture to prop myself, but couldn’t leave because eventually the side effects would calm down. Fast forward to the moments I went blind and couldn’t see who was standing in front of me. Fast forward through the head collapsed in the break-room, cold water bottle braced against my neck…

I took a stand and said,  “Hey, I’m going to be really really sick.” We had way too many people working for the lack of customers coming through the door, and if I didn’t lay down I’d end up in the ER.

“But you don’t look sick.”

I didn’t care that my disease is invisible. What I care about is what happened shortly after in my absence.

Advocating. On my behalf. One of my coworkers, who has been gracious enough to ask questions and listen and bond with me, without ever questioning how I’m treating my condition…advocated to me to staff members who thought I was faking it.

My disclosed disability.

Even the staff members who have “sympathized” on days where I’ve been at work, not feeling great. Didn’t believe I was sick.

Sorry. I’m chronically ill. But people don’t know what “chronically ill” means.

So I’ve spent the month advocating for my condition. Making people around me aware of it. That isn’t enough.

A few weeks ago, someone decided to Lysol wipe the entire front desk. I blatantly lied and said I was allergic to cleaning products. Why? Because an allergy is often taken more seriously than the real explanation of “the chemicals in the Lysol wipes are extremely strong and being exposed to them will trigger a severe migraine.”And here I am. I just purchased cleaning products for work. Why?

Because yesterday, that same coworker made a sly comment about someone here not liking cleaning products. I, again, said it was me.

I was told to go some place else. The chemical smells don’t just go away. So even though my medication that had allowed me to get to work had starting kicking in, the chemicals said “screw you” and I spent the rest of the day in agonizing pain. I’m still in agonizing pain over 24 hours later.

I don’t think a reasonable accommodation is making a company change what cleaning supplies they purchase. I do, however, believe that me providing an alternative cleaner to be used when I’m there, is a reasonable accommodation.

So, when I say talking about it isn’t enough, I mean it. Now I’m doing something. Today that something involves buying better cleaning products that won’t negatively affect me, which will allow me to be 100 percent at work. Headache and Migraine Awareness Month may be over, but spreading awareness and working to create change is a constant battle.

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