Image Credit: Getty Images / Sturti
Nurse being interviewed for new job, not allowing migraine to get in the way of her career.

How I Stopped Migraine from Getting in the Way of My Career

Reading time | 6 mins
Many people know how important daily routine can be with chronic migraine. With stress as a leading trigger for migraine attacks, following a strict working, eating, and resting regimen can help your body find stability. 
But, working in the same job role for 13 years, Ciara O’Rourke wondered how much a chronic condition should control your life. Her career was “safe,” but it was stagnating.
Yet a new position could invite all sorts of stressors, worsening her chronic migraine.
In this article, Ciara explores the ups and downs of changes in the workplace and how they can affect migraine symptoms. 
“Facing these challenges head-on allows me to achieve my dreams,” she says. “Even when living with a chronic illness!”


I have been a nurse for over 20 years and love my job.

I don't think you can do a nursing job without a passion for healthcare and helping others. Being a nurse is a core part of who I am, and I take the responsibility of this profession very seriously.

I've worked as a clinical nurse specialist for 13 years. The role has allowed me to grow as a professional and, over time, has provided much of the stability I need for managing chronic migraine.

In other words - I've done the job for so long that I'm rarely taken out of my comfort zone!

This is a blessing in many ways. One of my migraine triggers is stress, and I depend on routine (at home and work) to manage my condition.

That said... While routines lessen my chances of a migraine attack, years without change can get dull. I had to face the truth: I felt stagnant in my current nursing role.

Should a “migraine-friendly” routine always come at the expense of growth?

I'd felt like this before. Yet, as I was juggling the usual busy lifestyle, I convinced myself that the "status quo" at work was what I needed. The last thing I needed was to jump into a job change and deal with the fallout from my health.

I have lived with chronic migraine for so long that it is a core part of who I am. Over the years, my boss has made huge strides in understanding and accommodating my condition. That's not something you throw away for a bit of excitement!

But the feelings of stagnation didn't go away as they usually did.

Then, over the summer, a post became available at the hospital I work in.

It was a management position, away from the hands-on nursing I'd known for so long. I've looked at similar job listings before, but I've always managed to talk myself out of applying. This time, however, the pros were definitely beating the cons. I looked at the job advert daily and imagined what I'd do if I got the job.

But then I'd think of my migraines and the impact a change like this would have... and I'd close the tab. I dallied for so long, the closing date for applications came, and I still needed to send in my CV.

Last-minute encouragement persuaded me to apply for the post

As time ticked on, I decided to ask my colleague about the role and whether I should apply. Thank goodness I did - they were encouraging and supportive, giving me the boost I needed. I spent the next few hours updating my CV - squashing 13 years of experience into a few bullet points was a task and a half!

Thankfully, I got the application to Human Resources in time. Looking back, I'm grateful for the mad rush. Although it was stressful, I didn't have time to brood on the supposed cons and talk myself out of applying (again).

From there, everything went quite smoothly. I was invited to interview and used the few weeks to prepare. My interview was successful, and I got offered the role!

I was thrilled. Instead of the usual unease that I was stagnating, I could revel in a huge confidence boost.

I worried that the job change would worsen my chronic migraine

But, after this initial rush, the joy turned to fear. Over the next two days, I had a horrible migraine that caused severe headaches, nausea, and vomiting. I spent most of the time in bed, lights out and curtains drawn, waiting for the worst to pass.

I had yet to start the role, and the stress was getting to me. Were my fears well-founded, or was I piling on the pressure when it wasn't needed?

I worried about adjusting to my new hours, the increased responsibilities, and managing a team. Worse, what if my new boss didn't understand my condition and how it could impact my ability to work?

I returned to the hospital to tie up loose ends with my current role and prepare for my transition.

Looking for the positives of change rather than the negatives

I was fortunate to work with the person who was leaving my new role, which helped to ease my worries. They filled me in on some expectations of the position ahead of time, which was invaluable.

I also reasoned that my new post was at the same hospital. I'd skip the stress of relocating and wouldn't have to build stakeholder relationships from scratch.

Reminding myself of the above kept some of my anxiety in check. Plus, I couldn't overthink too much, as my last few weeks as a clinical nurse specialist were so busy. Rushed off my feet, I had to ensure that I spent my "free time" getting enough nourishing food, water, and rest. I couldn't afford to push myself into illness through excessive worry.

I started my new role in early September. To say I was nervous on my first day is a complete understatement!

I was upfront about migraine with my new boss and colleagues

I had a meeting with my new manager during the first week and told them about the full extent of my condition. Amazingly, she was so understanding! She even gave me great advice for caring for myself and not putting too much pressure on myself in the new role.

It was such a relief to me to know that I had the understanding and support of my manager. I advised her that I would keep her updated on how I was feeling and let her know if I needed time.

I also called my migraine nurse specialist for advice about starting a new job with migraine. She, too, gave me some great pointers for lifestyle adaptations and medication management during the transfer period.

The new role has been a massive change for me. But, honestly, I am so grateful to work with a fantastic group of colleagues. They all helped make my adjustment period so much easier.

I can still achieve my dreams – even with migraine

It hasn't been all plain sailing; my migraines and daily headaches were very much present during the early weeks of the move. Likewise, fatigue can still be a struggle as I adapt to new people, responsibilities, and hours. I don't think I have ever been this tired!

But my health is at the forefront of my mind as I want to be successful in this position. I'm doing what I can do and being kind to myself. Putting my foot on the gas and trying to grasp everything within a few weeks is 1) setting myself up to fail and 2) a guaranteed way to exacerbate my migraines.

But I don't regret the move at all. Even with the increased pressure and headaches, it has been worth it. I have always tried to live with migraines rather than let them control me. Facing these challenges head-on allows me to achieve my dreams, even when living with a chronic illness!

NPS-IE-NP-00679 January 2023