The headache & heartbreak of doing academia with chronic migraine

I can relate to this so much. I barely made it through my college schooling with my disability.


Against a red background, a skull screams, a malevolent creature sitting on its head Migraines: not “just headaches”.

I’m a part-time PhD student, with a chronic illness and a family. I have a grant that pays my fees, but everything else I need to live on I must earn by working part-time. Going into the PhD I had grand plans of world-changing research (don’t we all?). Since I’d managed my degree fine, I had the idea this would be OK too. Except I hadn’t worked when I was doing my degree; I was a full time student. And a PhD is so very much more than a degree.

I guess I went in a little naïve, but that’s not entirely my fault. You see, no-one talks about it being difficult for students with disabilities/chronic illness. No one discusses how these things are dealt with – or not – by the academy at large. No one explains that your inability to “keep up” due to…

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Psychiatry, meet Cannabis…

I am a 31 year old female with Bipolar Disorder, ADD, and chronic anxiety.  I have a sleep disorder that has been very difficult to treat with conventional medicine. I’m also a recovering addict.  As you can imagine, I take a lot of medication and work closely with my therapist and my doctors.  I have been sober since 2009, and I recently quit smoking after multiple failed attempts.  I happen to smoke pot on a regular basis.  I have not shared this information with my medical team.  This is inherently deceitful, and it threatens the effectiveness of my psychiatric care.  Yet, I have good reason to be afraid to be honest with my doctor. 


The psychiatric field holds the false notion that marijuana is a “gateway drug” and “mood altering substance” that patients use to “self-medicate.”  I have had several well-educated and well-intentioned medical professionals tell me that smoking pot “counteracts the medicine I take” and will lead to a “relapse into my addiction.”  This stance on cannabis use is wholly inaccurate.  It serves only to further the stigma against a safe and effective medical treatment.



There is solid research on the burgeoning field of medical cannabis.  I have found valid and trustworthy research on the benefits of cannabis as an anti-psychotic.  Personal experience has shown me that a small amount of marijuana helps with my nightmares and anxiety/irritability.  Scientists are now able to separate out the many components of cannabis so that treatment can be tailored towards specific medical conditions.  This includes the ability to remove THC so that addicts are less likely to become psychologically dependent.


Marijuana is slowly being accepted into the field of conventional medicine.  It is only a matter of time before it becomes widely legalized for medical and/or recreational use.  I look forward to the day that weed is available for more than just cancer and glaucoma.  Until that day comes, I will continue to be fearful of the random “pee test” or routine traffic stop.  I also, however, will continue to have more peaceful sleep and less anxiety. 


I predict that marijuana will be legal in all fifty states before the psychiatric field changes its unfair stance.  I hope that I’m wrong…




If you think I’m crazy read this article and then read some more

“Slow and Steady Wins the Race”


I saw my shrink again the other day.  It went pretty much as I expected it to, which in many ways is a good thing.  I explained that the combination of adding Chantix and then quitting smoking changed my med levels dramatically.  I “backed up” my theory by explaining the over-sleeping, chronic fatigue, and inability to lose weight.  I handed him the lab reports — all normal — that my primary doctor ran, just to rule out a physical cause.

Dr. O not only agreed with me, he said he is actually surprised I haven’t gained more weight.  It turns out, the medicine I take to help with my sleep problems is also prescribed for anorexia.  No f***ing wonder my pants aren’t any looser!  He then went on to say that he wanted to keep all of my meds the same, despite everything.  I wasn’t at all surprised.  Chantix is notorious for causing severe mood problems, so the fact that my mood has been (mostly) stable is a small miracle.

I walked out of the clinic lost in thought and retrospection.  I’m bummed yet slightly proud of myself.  I have another 4 months of Chantix — creative block and sexual side effects to boot.  I most likely won’t be able to wear my “skinny clothes” this summer.  I will probably spend a lot of beautiful days sleeping late and going to bed early, and I won’t be the most pleasurable company to keep.  Yet, what a difference three years of experience can make!  The “old me” wouldn’t have been able to handle feeling crappy for a few months.  I would have argued with Dr. O in vain, only to make my own med changes… and the bricks would have come tumbling down.

Instead, I feel like the last-place runner in a marathon — the tortoise that wins the race.  Even as I struggle to think positive and all the happy stuff I learned in therapy, I feel an inner drive that keeps pulling me back on track.  Perhaps all those years of struggling — the vicious mood swings and frequent hospital stays  — were worth it in the end.