Kat Harrison left discriminatory work environments that worsened her migraine. As an author and patient advocate, she spreads awareness for the emotional impact of migraine.
Kat Harrison was a magazine editor until workplace triggers made her chronic migraine unmanageable. Since then, she pursued employment that was a better fit for her health. Now she’s become empowered to prioritize rest and care while speaking out about migraine.
Life With Daily Migraine Attacks
Kat Harrison has lived with chronic migraine since she was in high school. At 15 years old, she developed a pseudomonas infection in her ear and skull that progressed to ototoxicity. The illness resulted in bilateral vestibular loss and oscillopsia, or near-constant bouncing vision. The loss of her balance system and persistent visual disturbances caused intractable migraine.
Kat says chronic migraine has affected every aspect of her life. “I can only make one outing per day, and that means sometimes going to the grocery store knocks me out for two to three days,” she says. To attend events, she needs to rest for days in advance and needs just as long to recover afterward. Personal plans are also a challenge to maintain. Due to constant migraine attacks, she isn’t able to spend as much time with her friends as she’d like. She’s also typically sick while with her family.
Working in magazine editorial, Kat’s work environment exacerbated her migraine attacks. She had to attend press events after working 40 to 50 hours a week, making her pain unmanageable. While struggling with workplace triggers, she didn’t feel comfortable disclosing her diagnosis to previous employers. “Company policies and antiquated workplace structures, such as requiring a doctor’s note for sick days or dictating ‘ideal work hours,’ pushed me to keep my diagnosis under wraps,” Kat says.
Finding Accommodations and Support
Since leaving her magazine editorial position, Kat has pursued remote contract work as a content producer. Working from home with benefits such as unlimited time off and flexible work hours helps her manage her migraine and rest when needed. Her employer provides accommodations to help her avoid triggers, such as allowing her to turn off her camera on video calls so she can wear an ice hat or sit in a dark room.
“I am not asked to provide a lengthy dissertation or doctor’s note when I need to start or end a day early, or when I need to miss a day (or more) entirely,” Kat says.
Kat advocates for the importance of workplace accommodations for people with migraine. She also sheds light on the importance of employers to consider the emotional burdens the migraine community lives with.
“Workplace stressors aside, I live in near-constant fear that migraine will steal something from me, be it my already limited quality of life, the inability to perform a mundane task like laundry or cooking a meal, a relationship or a holiday,” Kat says.
Kat is an example of how offering accommodations and helping employees achieve a better quality of life can retain their employment and foster their talent.
“Having to consistently ‘prove’ my pain in the past has cost me – and by extension, those companies – my best work,” she says. “Making room for our disease in the professional landscape allows us all to thrive.”
Speaking Up About Migraine
As a patient advocate, Kat helps expose the emotional impact of living with migraine. “Chronic pain totally warps your mental health and warps how you feel about yourself, and you feel guilt and doubt in your ability to be a person.”
She participated in the American Migraine Foundation’s 2018 Giving Tuesday campaign: Picture Your Life Without Migraine. In the video below she discusses how chronic illnesses can become intertwined with personal identity. She also talks about how it takes resilience to then reclaim pieces of your life.
Kat’s children’s book Migraine and Mia educates young readers about the symptoms and impact of migraine, and teaches them how they can support someone living with this disease.
By being honest about her experiences with chronic migraine and ableist policies in the workplace, Kat is helping communities from children to employers understand how to build a world that is more supportive of those living with disability, chronic illnesses, or mental illness.
If you’re interested in bringing the IHS-GPAC Migraine Fitness at Work Program to your workplace, learn more about IHS-GPAC and find helpful tools to help you make a difference on the IHS-GPAC website.