Academia and chronic disease
I recently read the book “De Professor als Proefkonijn” in which economy professor Irene van Staveren details her study of the literature around migraine, and her own implementations of possible solutions. What called my attention is the way in which the height of her migraine attacks and her burnout coincided, and she ultimately had to put her health and well-being first.
This book made me reflect on the ableism in academia, as well as on how I’ve been dealing with various chronic diseases over the past years:
- Migraine: I was diagnosed with migraine at the age of 10. I remember the frustration in not being taken seriously as a child with very bad headaches and all the other symptoms of migraine. I lost vision in class one day, and nobody even believed me. I was on medication until I started university, when I wanted to bring down the pills I was taking, but at the same time the frequency of the migraines worsened. I remember writing exams while holding my steel ruler against my head in an effort to numb the pain a bit. During my PhD, I had a 4-day long migraine that kept me in bed. I also used to faint frequently. Luckily, with changing my diet, my migraines have mostly disappeared.
- PCOS: Diagnosed when I was 18, and never really got a treatment for it, except birth control pills. I dabbled in hormone-directed diet, but got a major event a few years later in which one of the cysts ruptured. Worst pain ever. Things have luckily cleared up with moving to a plant-based diet, trying to monitor my stress, and after having my daughter.
- Thyroid disease: I’ve been with hyperthyroidism in the past, hypothyroidism during pregnancy, and back to struggling with the symptoms of hyper over the past years. It gets worse when I don’t sleep enough, stress too much over work, and drink too much coffee. I’m able to handle my symptoms, but it means that often I have to step on the break for myself. I also haven’t found a good doctor in Ecuador yet who doesn’t want to just nuke my thyroid and who wants to help me monitor symptoms and symptom management.
- Other things: I have skin allergies to turn into irritated patches when I’m stressed or in a damp environment such as the Lowlands. In recent years, I’ve had a recurring breakout of my skin allergy on my eyelid. Fun times. I also have chronic sinusitis which makes breathing through my nose hard, especially during workouts. Because of my risk profile, I get monitored every six months for breast cancer, alternating a mammogram and ultrasound with an MRI.
I praise myself lucky that, all in all, my problems are mild. A lot has improved over the past years – but it does mean that I have to be careful with myself, my energy, and my body. Because when I don’t, things can get ugly pretty quickly. And thinking more about how I’ve been struggling with various things has made me more compassionate towards those who have other and worse conditions.