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What It's Like, #1
What It’s Like is a series launching for Dalhousie Accessibility Week, one that provides members of the Dal community with an opportunity to share their first-person perspective on living with a disability. People are welcome to share with their name or anonymously.
Submitted by Anonymous:
I have suffered from chronic migraines my entire life — my earliest memory (age 3?) is having a migraine attack. For people who’ve never had chronic headaches or migraines before, they are usually dismissive when I say that I have a migraine. “It’s just a headache.” Except that it isn’t just a headache. It’s a headache that doesn’t respond to over the counter pain relief that you might turn to if you had a hangover-induced headache or were sleep deprived. It’s a headache that means if I stand up, I feel so dizzy that I need to sit or lie down. It’s a headache that means if I lie down, I feel so nauseated I might throw up. Add to these symptoms a general sensitivity to light and sound, you can imagine that when a migraine attacks I am completely unable to perform my work or participate in the daily activities of life.
I can’t count the number of work days or personal events (the first ~ 10 of my own birthday parties in life, holidays, celebrations e.g. high school & under graduations) that I’ve missed because I was having a migraine attack. I was genuinely concerned I would miss my own wedding due to a migraine (thankfully, I didn’t). There is medication for my particular kind of migraines but it is not preventative (it only treats symptoms) and it doesn’t always work. And, it also causes rebound migraines, so it can make a typical migraine attack go from 1-2 days to lasting 5 days. I carry these magic meds with me everywhere, just in case. Insurance companies consider the cause of my migraines (hormones) a “pre-existing condition” and therefore my pre-existing expensive (1-2K per year) prescriptions are not covered. I am grateful to the coverage that I now have from Dalhousie as my employer.
Tell us a little about yourself and your role here at Dal.
I have a PhD from the natural sciences and until recently was a research scientist. At Dal I serve in an administrative role that utilizes my training as a researcher.
What do you wish people knew about your disability?
As indicated above, I wish people knew how debilitating a migraine is and also how unreliable the available medication is! When I have a migraine, the only thing I can do is close my eyes and find a dark, quiet space – I cannot simply work through it, as many friends and colleagues have suggested to me over the years. I have no control over their timing (no prevention) and I can’t always stop them once they’ve started. Even so, the side effects of the prescribed medication (when it works) means I am disoriented, sometimes shaky, and simply not myself. These are a few of the contributing reasons why I left research, where my altered state presented a real hazard to myself and possibly others in the research environment.
What accessibility changes would have the biggest impact on your experience here at Dal?
For my own disability, flexible work hours have been critical to my success. I was fortunate to have a highly flexible undergraduate environment where I could reschedule lab courses if necessary, meaning I didn’t miss mandatory laboratory work when I had a migraine. The format of graduate studies in the physical sciences also meant that I had considerable flexibility during my PhD, and similarly during my research as a post-doctoral research fellow. My choice of current work was made, in part, because of the flexibility it offered. Dalhousie should continue to encourage flexible work arrangements such as remote work, as I think this a major retention as well as recruitment tool for staff. I would like to also suggest that the same considerations be extended to undergraduates. Facilitating “make-up” sessions for mandatory participation in course work (labs, tutorials) shouldn’t be as difficult as it appears to be at Dalhousie - to be clear though, I did not do my undergraduate at Dal. I wish every student could have the same support that I had in my undergraduate as it made all the difference to not only my completing the degree but my being named as the top graduating student at both the department and faculty (Science) levels at that institution.
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Interested in sharing your own experiences?
We'd love to hear from you. Please take a look at our questions below and how to submit them. Please note that you can choose to remain anonymous if you wish. (Note: names will be visible to individuals receiving submissions by email).
Our questions for you:
- Tell us a little about yourself and your role here at Dal. (Note: If remaining anonymous, this prompt can be skipped — or, simply share as much detail as you feel comfortable doing).
- What do you wish people knew about your disability?
- What accessibility changes would have the biggest impact on your experience here at Dal?
If you’re interested in sharing your experiences navigating university life with a visible or invisible disability, please contact us at email@example.com with answers to the above questions or to set up a short interview.