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Oppression as a Migraine Trigger: Navigating Chronic Illness in a Fat, Brown, Queer, Immigrant Woman’s Body

Real Talk

October 29, 2021

Content created for the Bezzy community and sponsored by our partners. Learn More

by Krystal Kavita Jagoo, MSW, RSW

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Stacy A. Henigsman, DO

Medically Reviewed

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by Krystal Kavita Jagoo, MSW, RSW

•••••

Stacy A. Henigsman, DO

Medically Reviewed

•••••

•••••

Health is often viewed as an achievable goal and a moral obligation, but chronic health issues can make that impossible.

Anyone who has referred to migraine as “just a headache” has likely never experienced the debilitating reality of a migraine attack.

Beyond the head pain, the back pain and sleep issues that accompany my migraine episodes have made daily functioning especially challenging.

Often it feels as though migraine has dictated a great deal of my life.

Too often, health is viewed as an achievable goal and moral obligation, but I know firsthand the reality of how chronic health issues can make that impossible.

This is especially true for someone like me, navigating a healthcare system that seeks to make a profit, in a fat, brown, queer, immigrant woman’s body. My efforts to seek out care are further complicated by xenophobia, white supremacy, homophobia, misogyny, and fatphobia.

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When managing migraine feels like an impossible contradiction

I’ve spent over two decades trying to find ways to minimize the negative impact of migraine on my daily life.

I have come to learn how essential it is that I maintain regular sleep patterns, limit my alcohol consumption, avoid loud noises, and wear sunglasses to avoid light triggers.

While I’ve found strategies that have helped me cope with migraine, these strategies aren’t always sufficient.

Managing migraine gets particularly challenging during my period, as hormone changes tend to trigger migraine episodes for me. Adding to the challenge is the fact that during my period, my back pain gets worse, which adds to my difficulty sleeping.

While I have experienced migraine attacks since I was a teenager, I hadn’t heard it referred to as a neurological disorder until more recently, when I was refused a prescription for birth control by my doctor. I was told that taking certain hormonal birth control with migraine was contraindicated because both could raise my risk of having a stroke.

I remember advocating for myself, saying that I needed to take birth control to help manage the blood loss and the resulting low iron levels I was experiencing during my periods.

Despite standing up for what I felt I needed for my body, my doctor didn’t budge. She reiterated that she felt uncomfortable providing me with the prescription.

Months later, after enduring increasingly heavy periods and fatigue since being off birth control, I sought out a second opinion. Thankfully, the new doctor understood my concerns and agreed that birth control was a necessary prescription for me.

This doctor believed that my risk of stroke was relatively low, because I didn’t have other risk factors. He prescribed a progestin-only form of birth control (to offer hormones without risk of stroke), but this needed to be taken within a strict 3-hour window every day.

Migraine can often feel like an oxymoron. I was told I couldn’t take birth control because I live with migraine, but not taking birth control made migraine symptoms worse.

Migraine makes it harder for me to sleep but, at the same time, not getting enough sleep makes my attacks last longer.

Constantly worrying about trying to avoid a migraine attack can be stressful, and stress is also a trigger for migraine.

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Oppression and migraine

As a social worker who’s committed to anti-oppressive practice, it’s no wonder that migraine torments me.

Throughout my career, I’ve often had to confront the stressful reality of white supremacist ableism. I have yet to decipher how to manage the trigger that is oppression.

I’ve also encountered many people who cannot relate to the impact of chronic migraine. As a result, many underestimate the effects it has on my daily life.

Despite all the work I put in to manage the impact of migraine, when I disclose the challenges I’m facing to others, they often don’t think my experience is valid — as if I’m just not trying hard enough.

Once I had to go as far as to take legal action against the executive director of my doctor’s office for harassment. Such trauma continues to impact me. When I force myself to attend appointments with healthcare professionals, it often serves to reinforce my fears that I exist in a body that is deemed disposable by service providers.

This fear has been underscored in the past year as I’ve seen Communities of Color disproportionately harmed and underserved during the COVID-19 pandemic. Personally, the pandemic has forced me to take stock of how I exist in this world.

While some may be returning to in-person gatherings, the struggles I navigate daily make me far less comfortable seeing others in person. I have come to accept that this is the reality of living with migraine. I’ve realized that given my trauma history, I need to prioritize managing my own stress during a time of unprecedented uncertainty.

On some days, the combined distress of migraine and back pain, after a night of poor sleep, means that I won’t be able to check off all the things on my to-do list. In order to manage my health without getting overwhelmed daily, I plan to do much less — and that’s OK.

The bottom line

For some of us, there may be no medical breakthroughs. Many of us have experienced doctors who dismiss our pain and victim blame us for the oppression we face, willfully ignorant of the role they play in it.

I have come to accept that my survival in this body may look different daily.

Despite how these chronic health conditions debilitate me, I cannot deny that they have also informed how I approach my work as a social worker committed to anti-oppressive practice. This is what I remind myself on the particularly difficult days of navigating pain after long sleepless nights.

Article originally appeared on October 29, 2021 on Bezzy’s sister site, Healthline. Last medically reviewed on November 2, 2021.


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Connect with thousands of members and find support through daily live chats, curated resources, and one-to-one messaging.

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About the author

Krystal Kavita Jagoo, MSW, RSW

Krystal Kavita Jagoo (She/Her/Hers) graduated from York University with a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Windsor. Jagoo is passionate about equity, as can be seen from her published work in Everyday Health, Huffington Post, and Prism, as well as facilitation work for NASCAR, Doctors without Borders, etc. She is registered with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers, and a member of The Association for Women’s Rights in Development, and the South Asian Journalists Association. She can be found on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook.

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