You're in the middle of a busy day and then all of a sudden you feel a deep sense of dread and see something that isn't really there. No, you're not going crazy...you're experiencing a migraine aura. In my case, the aura usually looks kind of like sparkly golden snow falling or a mirage. Other people may see flashing lights, wavy lines, or dots, or they may have blurry vision or blind spots. Some migraine sufferers, or migraineurs, don't have an aura at all.
A little while after the aura, the migraine attack hits in full force. Many people refer to a migraine as a headache, but head pain is just one of the many symptoms of this complex full-body neurological disorder.
Unfortunately, a migraine is so common that everyone either knows someone who suffers from migraines, or struggles with migrainea themselves. That being said, there is a wide variety of symptoms and severity from person-to-person and even migraine-to-migraine. I've suffered from migraines since I was 12 years old. At their best, they're disruptive to normal life. At their worst, my migraines result in me having to lay still in a dark room for multiple consecutive days. As you might imagine, I do everything possible to avoid the next attack.
"There is no known cause for migraine, although most people with it are genetically predisposed to migraine. If you are susceptible to migraine there are certain triggers which commonly occur. These include stress, lack of food, alcohol, hormonal changes in women, lack of sleep and the environment." - migrainetrust.org
It's More than "Just a Headache"
Over the years, I've identified my key triggers and experimented with almost every preventative option out there but I still experience way more migraine days than I'd like.
Since I can't work normally during an attack, I've had to get creative on figuring out how to minimize migraine's impact on my career. During a particularly bad stretch of chronic migraines during my pregnancy with my second son (after having almost none during my first), I realized that migraines have actually helped me in my career. While that might sound crazy at first, please hear me out.
Time to Think
Product Management professionals are notoriously over-scheduled. With so many hats to wear and teams to collaborate with, we often find ourselves with a calendar full of meetings every day and evenings/weekends packed with an attempt to catch up on "actual work." Sound familar?
Over a decade ago, my Director at the time (Paul Apodaca) shared a satirical list with our team: Top 10 Ways to be a Terrible Product Manager (or something like that). The one that stood out to me the most was: Be busy all the time.
Few of us have the discipline/luxury/support for taking large chunks of time to REALLY think, but migraine has forced these time blocks into my calendar.
When I'm laying in the dark for up to 72 hours at a time I have the opportunity to digest, reflect, and wonder without any distractions. Some of my best thinking happens when I'm forced to stop doing everything else.
Better Meeting Prep
An old tv commercial depicted migraines as a meteor that crashed into an unsuspecting woman as she went about her day in the park. If you have a big presentation coming up and you know that it might have to happen without you (because of...meteors) how far in advance would you finish your slides? Any of my lingering high school procrastination/perfectionism habits had to die...done is better than perfect. My team at gap intelligence have been incredibly accommodating in working with me to make sure we have padding in our preparation timelines and the result has been better agendas and more productive meetings.
When most knowledge workers are going to be out on planned vacation they typically cram in all their work before or after. Migraine means I could be out of the office at any time so I have to have clear handoff plans and train a backup for each facet of my responsibilities well in advance. Seeing the effectiveness has made me a believer so we strive to make this the norm across all the Product Development teams I work with. People actually get to take real vacations: no slack, no email, no "just this one conference call." Supporting one another strengthens our relationships and improves the services we provide to other departments.
It's well-documented that regular exercise boosts our productivity and problem-solving skills. Exercise also happens to be one of my best migraine preventatives. Win-win!
Severe migraines are a disability that's protected by the ADA, but many employers don't realize that or don't care. Choosing to work for a values-led company like gap intelligence makes all the difference. They've consistently gone above and beyond the legal requirements for accomodations to be truly supportive of me and my family over the years.
I don’t sweat the small stuff. In the software world, a lot small stuff comes disguised as emergencies. It might sound cheezy or a little too zen for some people, but my experiences with learning how to manage pain and frustration have helped me develop a steadiness that I probably wouldn't have otherwise. By operating with less baseline stress than many of my counterparts across the industry, I'm able to focus more on solving problems for customers and building a stronger team. As I've battled with an invisible disorder, I've developed more patience and compassion for the invisible battles others might be fighting. I wouldn't wish migraines on anyone, but I've even learned to be thankful for them because of how they've helped me.
Do you have what it takes to be a gapper? Head over the careers section at gapintelligence.com to learn more about open positions. Find more info the bottom of our about page.