Migraine as a dynamic disability

“Dynamic disability” is a term coined by Brianne Benness and describes conditions that have fluctuating symptoms that can cause a person to have different needs and abilities at different times. This is in contrast to disabilities that could be considered more ‘static’ that are unlikely to create varying levels of symptoms or abilities.

I think that migraine is a perfect example of a dynamic disability, especially when experienced frequently, chronically or constantly. Someone who experiences a migraine attack may go from their full ability to needing significant care and experiencing loss of their ‘normal’ abilities within hours or even minutes. Symptoms of migraine can include loss of vision, loss of speech and partial paralysis, in addition to many of the more commonly known symptoms including severe pain. The onset of any one of those symptoms would create immense challenge in continuing with planned activities.

Yet, migraine isn’t a condition that people think of when they think of disability, but migraine (including medication overuse headache) was found to be the second largest cause of disability in 2016, comprising 5.6% of global YLDs (Years Lived with Disability).

People with disability are generally protected under law and are often legally allowed to request accommodations or support for living and working – but migraine is not always recognised as a valid form of disability under the law. In addition to the challenges of not always being legally recognised as having a disability, the ‘dynamic’ nature of migraine can really hard to ask for clear accommodations or support as people unsure or afraid of asking for something, knowing the might not need it all the time. This may be a result of not wanting to cause inconvenience or fearing that their requests will not be taken seriously, as migraine is often written off as ‘just a headache’.

Identifying as having a disability can be challenging for people with migraine, even those the are unable to work or do ‘normal’ daily activities due to that stigma of it not being taken seriously. But for me, it’s helped me accept support when I’ve needed it, and ask for accommodations at work like reduced lighting, due to consistent photophobia associated with my chronic migraine. And the term ‘dynamic disability’ has been a part of helping me to accept that my experience with my conditions counts as a disability.

I hope that people who live with migraine, who experience frequent and significant impact to their abilities due to migraine symptoms can grow comfortable with the term ‘dynamic disability’ if it resonates with them, and feel empowered to ask and advocate for the support they require and deserve.

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