Monday, June 1, 2020

Wear Purple & Headache at Work

June 1 is the first day of Migraine and Headache Awareness Month (MHAM). Today, we’re highlighting a headache awareness initiative and headache at work. 

Wear Purple to Work (at Home)

The National Headache Foundation (NHF) created an initiative to help promote migraine and headache awareness: Wear Purple to Work (at Home). On June 1, wear purple and share a photo on social media to show solidarity for the 40+ million people in America living with headache disorders. 

When you share on social media, please use the hashtags: #MHAM #MHAM2020.

Headache at Work

Work often includes facing a slew of headache and migraine triggers that can stack and result in increased attacks: bright lights, computer screens, strong odors / scents, loud noises, stress, rigid schedules and deadlines, the list goes on. 

Many people are working from home during the pandemic. For some, work being moved to a virtual / from home format is proving to allow the flexibility needed to be a more productive worker and have improved quality of life.

It’s unclear what the work landscape will look like, as more workplaces decide how to move forward. It remains important to recognize the need for employer accommodations for those living with headache disorders. Hopefully these months of virtual workplaces will provide the evidence needed for companies to consider offering employees more options moving forward. 

Once workplaces bring people back to the office, the Migraine at Work campaign provides tools and resources for employers and employees to utilize. 

"I don't have a dis-ability, I have a different-ability." - Robert M. Hensel

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Migraine and Headache Awareness Month (MHAM) 2020

June is Migraine and Headache Awareness (MHAM) Month. This year’s theme is: You need community. #MHAM #MHAM2020 #YouNeedCommunity

If you're interested in learning more or getting involved, Migraine Headache Awareness Month is a great resource for information regarding upcoming activities being hosted by various individuals and organizations within the headache disorders community.

I’ve participated in Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, since it started in 2012. Some years, I’ve been able to participate more than others. One thing that hasn’t changed, is the excitement of coming together with others in the community to share our stories and do what we can to raise awareness, decrease stigma, and make the invisible visible. 

In the past, there have been daily blog and social media challenges. I’ve enjoyed participating in those ways, but I’ve also struggled with feeling guilt and shame for not being able to keep up. That’s something I continue to work on, as the pressure to perform is self-inflicted. 

I’m not sure how this year’s awareness month will look, from my participation standpoint. Perhaps I’ll take the opportunity to share some photos and stories from previous advocacy activities and even some attacks (I’ll be sure to label with the date, so it’s clear when they were). Whatever it looks like, I’ll write and share… and, I’ll be proud to be part of a community of people that “get it.” 

Here’s how to find me and follow along: Blog subscribe by emailFacebookInstagram.

“One of the most important things you can do on this earth is to let people know they are not alone.”
 - Shannon L. Alder 

Thursday, March 5, 2020

An Update & More Migrainous Musings

I have been struggling with a rough stretch of status migrainosus. I sometimes get flashes of clarity or expression, when I'm in the midst of deep distress... sometimes I'm able to capture the words, scribbling them down wherever I can. Last year, I shared some Migrainous Musings. I'm here, again, yet there's little comfort in the familiarity of this place. The timelessness and dominance of pain described in Pain has an Element of Blank continues to resonate and ring true to my own experience.

I continue to share, and hope you'll excuse the raw, unedited migrainous musings / ramblings of a brain in pain.

There's an emptiness inside me that knows no bounds.
Sometimes it tries to swallow me up.
Is it the pain? The anxiety? The depression?
Or is this emptiness me?

To know me truly,
See the darkness inside me,
Then don't turn and run.

The darkness surrounds.
Is it here to stay this time?
Please don't consume me.

I do not fear the darkness in others. I generally don't fear it in myself. But, there are times that it becomes overwhelming, and I can't see the light.

I feel like I'm disappearing. Shattering into tiny pieces and blowing away in the wind. Like I'm a fragile shell, being crushed by the weight of darkness. Do I still exist? What is left of me, when the pain overflows?

I'm not ok. I know I've been in this place before, and somehow come out the other side. But, that doesn't compute right now. This feels like my forever. Like I'm trapped.

Update 1 (March 3):

I've spent most of the last week in the hospital getting infusions to try to break this status migraine.

Six days. Three IVs. Loads of meds. My mind and body are still in turmoil, and I don't know how long it'll take to feel like me again. I've been here before. I know that I get out. But, I don't know how. It feels too hard. I feel too weak.

Update 2 (March 4):

Today is filled with more pain than I feel I can bear. I'm not sure how I can survive it. I've treated hard. I'm trying to give myself rest. Nothing feels enough. I know I'll get through it... somehow... because I always do. Every time. Yet, even that gives me no solace in this moment.

Update 3 (March 5):

I woke today feeling more me than I have in a long time. Pain levels are lower. My mind and body are so weary and I can feel the weight of the battles fought. But right now, in this moment, I'm praising God for His provision and the respite.

"At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can." - Frida Kahlo

Monday, February 17, 2020

Headache on the Hill: Behind the Scenes

As I began writing about my Headache on the Hill 2020 experience, I found a post that was written but never posted from last year's event. The following post is from 2019, though much of it is timeless.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash
In writing about my experience and the asks of Headache on the Hill (HOH) 2019, I realized that there's another side that needs to be shared.

Every person that went through the process to participate in HOH has their own story of the event. Some people weren't able to make the trip because of health, financial, or other reasons. Some pushed to make the trip, but were then unable to attend training and/or their meetings on the Hill because of health. Some pushed to participate, and then crashed hard afterward.

Headache diseases can be unpredictable. And, everything that participating in a lobbying event like HOH entails adds up and can be difficult to do while living with the uncertainty of chronic health conditions.

Sometimes you can push through, and sometimes you can't. There is no shame in that. Oh! But, I know that those unable to attend their meetings were overwhelmed by enormous emotions.

Traveling alone

I haven't traveled much alone, since I became chronic after my car accident in 2008. My husband and I have traveled, but my only solo travel has been to visit and stay with family. Attending HOH was the first non-family related travel that I ventured out on my own. I was both excited for the independence and anxious about managing on my own. Knowing that I had friends also attending HOH helped put my mind at ease.

The day before the HOH training was a travel day for me. I flew across the country alone. Time in a plane is hard on the body, and I was hurting badly, when I arrived in Washington, D.C. I made it to the hotel, checked in, and collapsed onto my bed. A friend of mine invited me to dinner and encouraged me to come, despite my exhaustion and pain. I appreciated being around people that get it, and I know that my body needed an actual meal after a day of snacking. I made it back to my room after dinner, but I was completely spent. The weather outside was worsening, and my head and body pain mirrored that.

Reaching out for support

I reached out to my sister, in tears. The exchange of messages revealed the spiral that pain often takes me on.
"When I hurt, my brain catastrophizes. I'm trying to not be overcome with thoughts about not being prepared tomorrow, should I take meds today, if I take today I can't take more tomorrow, etc... It's just a spiral I go through. It's hard."
My sister doesn't experience migraine herself. She has a truly beautiful heart, though, and has taken note of things that I've mentioned help me in the past. She recommended heat... all I had were hand warmers, but she encouraged me to use them to try to help manage the pain (specifically my neck pain).

One thing that I appreciated was that she made a couple simple recommendations (heat and ice), which can sometimes slip my mind. She acknowledged what she wasn't equipped to guide me on. Through it all, she offered me what I needed most... herself. Knowledge that I wasn't alone. Prayers being sent up on my behalf. Reminders that my my painful groans are wordless prayers that reach our Father, when we cannot find the words. Sharing a beautiful song to speak truth to my heart in a way that it could hear it. The song she sent on that night: Fear is a Liar by Zach Williams.

The person that was supposed to be my roommate wasn't able to make it because of a status migraine, but she did her best to try to help from afar... even going so far as to try to get some supplies delivered to me to help me through the attack.

I ended up treating the migraine attack, and made it through the night. My mind and body felt the effects of the battle that had raged on the previous day, but I was able to attend the training day. After training, I gave my body rest and quiet.

The day we went to the Hill for our meetings, one of the people in my group was having a bad migraine attack. I offered support in the ways that I was able to, and checked up on him throughout the day. We shared that he was missing the day's meetings due to a migraine attack, which highlighted the impact of this disease.

I've observed, heard others' stories, and experienced first-hand, the love and support that this community has among its members. There is an often unspoken understanding that we all experience pain and other symptoms, allowing for deeper connections and support in ways that can feel like home. There is such great power and hope in knowing that we're not alone.

“Give your weakness to one who helps.” - Rumi

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Headache on the Hill 2020

This week, I joined a group of 174 advocates from 45 states in Washington, DC at the 13th annual Headache on the Hill lobbying initiative, which is organized by the Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy (AHDA).

2020 Headache on the Hill
This was my second time participating in Headache on the Hill (Headache on the Hill 2019: My Experience). We spent Monday in training and preparing for our Hill visits. On Tuesday, we loaded onto buses to head to the Capitol for a group photo, before splitting up to head to our congressional meetings.

Team Arizona
Team Arizona

The group for Arizona was made up of six amazing advocates: Kerrie Smyres, Dr. Amaal Starling, Amy Tees, Jenn Tingwald, Jamie Valendy, and Don Vanderpool.

We had a full schedule, meeting with the offices of: Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Senator Martha McSally, Representative Greg Stanton, Representative Ruben Gallego, Representative Paul Gosar, Representative David Schweikert, Representative Ann Kirkpatrick.

Our meetings went well, and we were able to make some connections with the staffers we met with. I never cease to be amazed at the prevalence of headache disorders. Everyone has some connection to them. It reminds me that my voice and story speak for so many others that live with migraine or other headache disorders... and that gives me a push to continue advocating.

Migraine Impact

The impact that migraine has on individuals, families, and society is profound. Sharing my story with legislators gives a face to the disease, while sharing statistics speaks to the pervasiveness and burden of migraine and other headache disorders. 

Migraine is a prevalent and serious public health issue:
  • Migraine is the 2nd leading cause of disability in the United States (1).
  • 47 million Americans will have migraine attacks this year (1).
  • 5 million Americans with migraine will have 10 or more days with headache per month (2).
Migraine is part of the Chronic Pain Crisis in the United States:
  • There are more than 1.2 million emergency department visits for migraine annually in the United States (3).
  • 59% of emergency department visits in the United States for migraine include opioid treatments (2).
  • Opioids are not indicated for the treatment of migraine (4), and opioid use may increase the frequency and severity of migraine attacks (5).
Migraine disease management requires patient access to headache medicine physicians:
  • At least 8 headache medicine physicians are needed per 100k people with migraine (6).
  • There are currently only 1.2 certified headache medicine physicians per 100k people with migraine in the United States (7).
There are only 574 headache specialists in the United States (6). Given the prevalence and burden of all headache disorders, the disparity of current and needed headache specialists is devastating.

The 'Asks'

The United States is facing a huge shortage of doctors, including specialists (8). The Opioid Workforce Act H.R.3414 / S.2892) would fund 1,000 new physician training positions in addiction medicine, addiction psychiatry, and pain medicine.

However, there is a problem with the bill language. It explicitly supports "approved residency training programs in... pain medicine." However, residency training programs do not exist in pain medicine. There are only approved fellowships in pain medicine. There is also no specific mention of headache medicine, which also has only fellowships.

The asks:

  • Urge amendment to H.R.3414 / S.2892 to ensure support of US physician training in:
    • ACGME-accredited pain medicine fellowships
    • UCNS-accredited headache medicine fellowships
  • Co-sponsor the bill and support pain medicine and headache medicine fellowships.

Advocacy Work

Taking part in advocacy work is an important part of my journey living with chronic pain. Being surrounded by others that are passionate about coming together as a unified voice for all people living with headache disorders fills me with hope. There is power in sharing our stories and making connections with others. I'm honored to have been able to participate in Headache on the Hill, again; and I look forward to continuing to do so. 

"Unity is strength... when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved." 
- Mattie Stepanek

(1) GBD 2016 Headache Collaborators (2018). Global, regional, and national burden of migraine and tension-type headache, 1990-2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. The Lancet. Neurology, 17(11), 954–976.
(2) Blumenfeld, A., Varon, S., Wilcox, T., Buse, D., Kawata, A., Manack, A., Goadsby, P., Lipton, R. (2011). Disability, HRQoL and resource use among chronic and episodic migraineurs: Results from the International Burden of Migraine Study (IBMS). Cephalalgia, 31(3), 301–315.
(3)   Friedman, B. W., West, J., Vinson, D. R., Minen, M. T., Restivo, A., & Gallagher, E. J. (2015). Current management of migraine in US emergency departments: An analysis of the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. Cephalalgia, 35(4), 301–309.
(4) Loder, E., Weizenbaum, E., Frishberg, B., Silberstein, S. and (2013), Choosing Wisely in Headache Medicine: The American Headache Society's List of Five Things Physicians and Patients Should Question. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 53: 1651-1659.
(5) Thorlund, K., Sun-Edelstein, C., Druyts, E., Kanters, S., Ebrahim, S., Bhambri, R., Ramos, E., Mills, E. J., Lanteri-Minet, M., & Tepper, S. (2016). Risk of medication overuse headache across classes of treatments for acute migraine. The journal of headache and pain, 17(1), 107.
(6) Begasse de Dhaem, O., Burch, R., Rosen, N., Shubin Stein, K., Loder, E. and Shapiro, R.E. (2020), Workforce Gap Analysis in the Field of Headache Medicine in the United States. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 60: 478-481.
(8) The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2017-2032, AAMC, April 2019.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Headache on the Hill 2019: The Asks

In my previous post, Headache on the Hill 2019: My Experience, I shared about my personal experience at the annual advocacy event. Below is what I wrote at the end of my time in DC. The majority of this post, however, will speak to our 'asks' for 2019.
"The last few days have been an amazing, exhausting, powerful experience. I joined a wonderful group of patients, advocates, headache specialists, and other supporters in Washington, DC for the 12th annual Headache on the Hill. We met with lawmakers to raise awareness, request increased research funding commensurate to the burden of headache disorders, and demand equal protection and just coverage under Social Security Disability Insurance. I was honored to participate - it was especially rewarding to be working alongside my headache specialist. I will continue advocating for all those affected by headache disorders, and look forward to future visits to the Hill."
This year, we asked our members of Congress to support increased research funding for headache disorders from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and to support requests directing the Social Security Administration (SSA) to revise disease listings for determination of disability benefits for those disabled by migraine and other headache disorders.

Our 'ask' for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was to prioritize research funding commensurate to the burden of headache disorders. Congress has already appropriated funds for the HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-term) Initiative to address the need for non-opioid therapies for chronic pain. Some of those funds have been set aside for research in specific areas (back pain and hemodialysis pain). Our request was that some of the appropriated funds be allocated specifically for headache disorders, in proportion to the disease burden.
  • Migraine is the 2nd leading cause of all global disability (1).
  • Headache disorders are the least funded NIH research area among the most burdensome US diseases (2).
  • Migraine research comprises just 0.6% of all NINDS extramural funding (3).

Our 'ask' for the Security Administration (SSA) was to seek equal protection and just coverage under Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). When a person applies for SSDI benefits, they are faced with an unfairly arduous process. When that person is filing a claim for benefits due to a headache disorder, they are often initially denied. What I didn't know until Headache on the Hill is why...

The SSA uses a "Blue Book" listing of impairments, when making decisions for disability benefits. If one's impairments meet or exceed the listing, benefits are granted. However, there are NO listings for any headache disorder!

When a person applies for disability due to a headache disorder, the claim is compared to impairment listings for epilepsy. There is no guidance on how to apply an epilepsy listing to headache disorder impairments, and the two aren't sufficiently comparable.

This is unacceptable, given the prevalence and impact of headache disorders:
  • 1 in 7 Americans will experience a migraine attack this year (4).
  • Active migraine attacks disable with impacts comparable to severe dementia or amputation of both legs (5).
  • Only 37% of Americans with chronic migraine are employed full time (6).
  • Socioeconomic status decreases as migraine prevalence increases (7).
Our 'ask' was to reform the Social Security Administration (SSA) Blue Book for fair adjudication of headache disorder claims. We requested that the SSA offer clarification for how SSDI claimants with headache disorders should apply current Blue Book listings, ensure that all listings are updated at least every five years (it was last updated in 2016, but before that was 1985), and add a listing for headache disorders at the earliest opportunity.

UPDATE: On August 26th, the SSA released a new Ruling or SSR with guidance specific for "Evaluating Cases Involving Primary Headache Disorders."

More information about Headache on the Hill 2019:

(1) GBD 2016. Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 328 diseases and injuries for 195 countries, 1990-2016: a systemic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. Lancet 2019;390:1211-59,
(4) Global Burden of Disease study, 2016,
(5) Salomon JA, et al. Disability weights for the Global Burden of Disease 2013 study. Lancet Glob Health 2015;3:e712-23,
(6) Stewart WF, et al. Employment and work impact of chronic migraine and episodic migraine. JOEM. 2010;52:8-14,
(7) Stewart WF, et al. Migraine prevalence, socioeconomic status, and social causation. Neurology. 2013;81:948-55,
Disclaimer: Nothing on this blog is intended as medical or legal advice.

What I write on this site is my own, and if it is someone else's, I take special care to attribute it to the original author. So, please don't use any of my material without proper attribution or permission. Thanks.