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6 Tips for Navigating College With Chronic Migraine Attacks

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I struggle with chronic migraine attacks and have for a few years now, but recently things changed. They got worse and college got harder. Suddenly, I had to explain this surprisingly complex condition to professors and friends and tell them why I was starting to miss more and more class and why I was going out with friends less and less. These are a few of the tricks I’ve learned about how to handle college life when you’re dealing with chronic illness and chronic pain.

1. Stop hiding.

Life is so much easier if you can ask a friend to pass you medication or if you can complain about a new symptom or a recent flare-up. Then, friends can also check in with you if you’re acting spacey to see if you’re all right. Life just gets easier when you stop letting worries about what people will think stop you from building a support system.

2. Accommodations are your friend.

I was scared to go to my university’s accommodation center because I wasn’t ready to admit that my migraine attacks were affecting my life to a significant enough degree. That was a ridiculous way to think because you have just as much right as anyone else to flourish, and if getting allowances for absences or extensions on papers make it so that you’re able to succeed just the same as someone not handling a chronic illness, then don’t be scared to ask.

3. Communicate.

Professors tend to be much more understanding than most students give them credit for, so tell them if you’re starting to struggle. Don’t wait until you have three late papers and a slew of absences; tell them up front what you’re dealing with and then you can work with them to find a way to help you succeed.

4. Taking a day is OK.

I’m the kind of person to always feel guilty when I miss a class, a hangout or a day because of my migraine and to avoid doing that as much as I can. That usually leads to me overstretching myself and making myself worse in the end. This year, I taught myself it’s OK to miss class or to cancel plans in favor of staying in because my body has different needs from other people’s, and that’s OK.

5. Mental health days are just as important.

This pairs with the previous one, but chronic illness is mentally and emotionally hard just as much as it is physically. Being in pain most of the day takes a big toll on you, and knowing there isn’t an end for your symptoms in the near future makes that even worse. On top of it, being in bed for most of your free hours can be incredibly isolating. So, it’s OK for you to need a day to handle every other day. Being depressed is just as legitimate a reason to need some time as physical illness is.

6. Power strips are your friend.

When I’m in pain, heating pads give me life. So, I’ve learned to always have at least one power strip in my room. Not only does it make getting to outlets leagues easier, but you have more options. I have one by the head of my bed that has a heating pad and my phone plugged into it and one at the foot of my bed that my string lights connect to.

7. Alarms, alarms, alarms.

I don’t just mean alarms to get up in the morning, I mean alarms for everything. When brain fog makes me lose sense of time or I’m just forgetful, having alarms that remind me when to go to class or club meetings takes a weight off my mind because I know I’m not in danger of missing something because brain fog wiped it from my mind. I also set alarms that remind me to eat food because that’s a very important part of the day.

If you’re a college student who lives with migraine attacks, what tips would you add?

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Originally published: January 30, 2019
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