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Friday, September 10, 2010

Pursuing a Degree with Migraine Agony


September 2010 Headache Blog Carnival:  "Students and headache disorders - How have migraines & headaches affected your schooling? How has a headache disorder affected your school age child? How did you cope with balancing school and headaches or migraines?" - There are some great posts for students with headache disorders (of all ages). Take a look at the above link.

During my late teen years, I had some problems with headaches; but none really interfered with my life. If I had headache/migraine problems in college (undergraduate), they didn't prevent me from going to classes, completing assignments, etc.

I felt that my health had improved enough to begin graduate school in the Fall 2009 (about 10.5 months after the car accident that spun me into a whirlwind of pain).

I didn't seek out assistance because I didn't want to be viewed differently. I tried to keep my chronic migraine disease to myself. I tried to pace myself, especially with long-term assignments, so it wouldn't be a dire situation if I had a migraine attack at the last minute. This was a huge step for me. I was the one in school that planned ahead, but typically procrastinated (you know, writing papers the night before they were due). Keeping up with the reading was difficult - sometimes I could concentrate/focus and read, and sometimes I couldn't... my memory worked only part of the time, and it was impossible to predict.

When I continued to fall behind in my classes, I finally decided that I needed to reach out for help. I talked with my professors and with a couple of my peers. It got to a point where I needed more assistance than I wanted to accept.

I set up a meeting with the director for the Center for Student Academic Support. But, it was too late in the semester to really help. I remember filling out the form to get academic support/assistance... it tore me apart. How could all of this be happening?! I went to a great liberal arts university and did well during my undergraduate years (i.e., before the accident), taking 15-17 credits per semester and working 20-25 hours per week. And, now, here I am... unable to keep up with school work (even with accommodations), unable to fulfill the 20 hours of work required for my graduate assistantship... unable to live my life in any sense of the word "normal." It ached me to be filling out paperwork asking me about whether I had ever been tested for learning disabilities, been in special education or remedial classes, and then rating my skills (reading  rate and comprehension, test-taking skills, etc...). What a horrible blow to my self-confidence (which was already pretty low). We discussed accommodations - extended time in a secluded room for taking exams - which helped a little.

Unfortunately, my migraines worsened as the semester(s) progressed. I struggled through my first semester, which resulted in me being placed on academic probation. I was able to improve my grades during the spring semester, which resulted in me being taken off of academic probation. It definitely took a toll on my health, though. But, I was missing out on so much of the graduate school experience - doing research, spending time with other students, etc...

I took the summer off from school, and I am taking a leave of absence for at least this semester. I'm still trying to figure out how to successfully continue pursuing my master's degree, while I continually suffer with chronic migraine pain.

My Advice:
- Seek help early on (professors, school disability office, peers)
- Communication is key (be direct, consistent, forward)
- Be realistic of your limitations (and stay within them) - only you can know what your limitations are and what you need

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