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Disability Narratives

Susannah has been diagnosed with chronic migraines. It took several attempts to find the right drug treatment and lifestyle changes before she could get them under control. In that time Susannah felt her managers treated her like a human, not a box ticking exercise.

Portrait of Susannah© Disability Narratives


at the time of the interview – 2016

Susannah is a Quantitative Researcher in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences.

Ethnic Background/Nationality: White British.

Extended biography

at the time of the interview - 2016

Susannah has worked at the department for around six years. As well as leading her own research projects, she assists with several other projects. Susannah also teaches on a Masters course.

Susannah has had migraines since she was a teenager. A couple of years ago the number of episodes increased to three to five a week and she was diagnosed with chronic migraines. Susannah said that her symptoms sometimes meant that her vision would be affected, so much that she could not see properly. She also suffers varying degrees of headache pain, which could be very severe. After an episode, Susannah said that the fatigue could last from a few hours to a couple of days. At this time she said she finds it very difficult to think clearly, which was not helpful in her role.

Susannah explained that it took a long time to find the right medication to treat her migraine. Part of the problem was that it takes weeks for many migraine drugs to start having an effect. Some of the drugs also had bad side effects, such as making her very drowsy and this would prevent her from working. If after several weeks a drug did not work or the side effects were too problematic, then she would have to start the process again. Susannah found that this trial-and-error process was initially quite difficult for her line manager to understand. A serious concern for Susannah was that if she took too many days off, her fixed term contract would not be renewed. As a result, Susannah came to work despite having a migraine on numerous occasions.


[Be] aware that the person that's dealing with it doesn't necessarily have all the answers either. That they're probably kind of feeling their way through this too.

Susannah has had a lot of support from her previous and current line managers. However, it was how Human Resources (HR) intervened that was most helpful. As Susannah had to return her sick-leave forms to HR, they had a better understanding of how much sick-leave she was taking and why. HR referred Susannah to Occupational Health (OH), which she was initially concerned about as she felt it was a step towards not having her contract renewed.

Susannah said that OH were very helpful and contrary to her initial fears helped her get changes to her role that helped her to manage the migraines. They recommended a trial period of reduced hours of four days a week, so she could have a 'recovery day', which Susannah has now taken up permanently. Susannah said that her line manager's response – that if she had to be part-time to be healthy then that is what they would work with – was very helpful in relieving the worries she had about reducing her hours. OH also recommended that Susannah worked at home one day a week. Susannah said it was very helpful to have this option, as it gave her the flexibility to manage the early stages of a migraine.

Susannah reflected that these changes to her working patterns came at the cost of reduced finances and the possibility that the speed of her career progression may be hindered. Susannah initially struggled with the idea that her migraines were a disability. However, she found that she did need the help that was provided through disability services and guidance, which in turn helped her recognise that it applied to her.

Biography at the time of the interview - 2016