The pain of migraines: one civil servant shares their experience

The condition can be crippling, but what can be done to ease the symptoms? To mark Migraine Awareness Week, Paul Scullion shares his own experiences
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By Paul Scullion

03 Sep 2021

For the last three years, the civil service has teamed up with the Migraine Trust to mark Migraine Awareness Week to help promote greater awareness of migraines.

This year, Migraine Awareness Week runs from 5-11 September, and we want as many civil servants as possible to benefit from the support available – sufferers and managers alike.

I don’t always know exactly what triggers my own migraines, but it’s likely to be a mixture of what I eat and drink, sleep (or lack of it) as well as the health of my immune system, excess artificial light and stress. 

I take medication to ease pain from migraines which can last for a few days or more at a time. I try to keep a regular routine and limit my caffeine and alcohol consumption. I also try to stay hydrated and take regular breaks from my laptop, and exercise.

Research undertaken in 2020 by the Migraine Trust suggested that migraines tended on average, to be more frequent and painful during the pandemic. One challenge I faced was being unable to accomplish my work objectives through face-to-face meetings. I also became reliant on my laptop and the artificial light that it exposed me to. During the pandemic I therefore tried to take breaks from the screen and conduct some meetings by phone instead.

When someone experiences a migraine, it requires understanding and support from managers and teams. Often it might just be a case of tweaking priorities and deadlines in agreement with colleagues, or making adjustments such as using phones rather than screens.

Changing work environment

The move to hybrid working and the return to the office is another significant change civil servants are embarking upon. I think it offers opportunities for reducing problems associated with migraines. But everyone is different and some people’s migraines are likely to get worse, at least for a time, due to their individual circumstances.

Migraine sufferers and managers will therefore need to monitor this closely and make adjustments where required. How we do this is going to be an important topic we discuss during Migraine Awareness Week. We look forward to hearing your experiences and views.

Civil servants have demonstrated resilience and adaptability throughout the pandemic, so this is a challenge I know we are up to it. I hope migraine sufferers and managers find Migraine Awareness Week, and the associated resources below, both useful and stimulating.

How can you get involved

You may have seen one of our migraine posters around your office or the e-posters circulated during the pandemic. There are many ways you can help support your colleagues and raise awareness of migraines.

Sharing the Toolkit: The Migraine Trust is in the process of developing a Managing Migraine at Work Toolkit for the Civil Service – watch this space, but in the meantime please check out the Managing Migraine at Work Toolkit

Attending a Workshop: The Migraine Trust are running two Migraine Awareness workshops for civil service staff on 8 September. The events aim to raise awareness of, and increase understanding about, migraine, and how it affects people. You will be given guidance and practical tips on how to manage someone well with migraine.

The events also aim to start a conversation about helping people with migraine in the new hybrid workplace. The workshops will be on Zoom and you can sign-up using the Eventbrite Link: Workshop 1 (11am-12.30pm) and Workshop 2 (2-3.30pm)

Reading our Blogs: There have been a number of very useful blogs by a fellow migraine sufferer, Zamila Bunglawala, Director at the Department for Education, over the last few years. Please check them out:

Coping with more migraines during Covid

Support and understanding in the Civil Service

Paul Scullion is legal secretary to the Advocate General, one of the UK government’s law officers.

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