Nicole Lapin has worked in television since she was 15, and it was at the ripe age of 18 that she was offered a job as a business reporter when, she says, she'd faked it until she made it. And she most certainly made it! But it hasn't all been easy.
Today, the former CNBC news anchor is a New York Times best-selling author of "Boss Bitch" and "Becoming Superwoman," as well as a career coach helping women pursue their own career goals. But Lapin has been living with migraines for nearly a decade since her mid-20s.
As an on-air CNBC TV anchor, the long days under hot, bright studio lights made her career an especially difficult one for her. The lights occasionally triggered her migraine symptoms and, while she managed to power-through, it took a toll on her health.
"Dealing with migraines, I'd feel nauseated and I'd feel pressure around my head and my face," she says. "I remember one time that I was recording major breaking news that required me to be on the air for hours and hours, and I was experiencing a migraine that day. I'd sneak off any time I could to go into the dark confines of my wardrobe room to try and rest."
Because migraines aren't visible, no one really knew about Lapin's struggle. And it wasn't until recently that she decided to speak up about living with a chronic illness like migraines.
In fact, women make up 85% of all migraine sufferers — making this a distinctly gendered illness — and they're likelier to miss work because of it. According to a new study by Cove, a migraine treatment platform, 157 million sick days a year in the United States are attributed to migraine headaches. That's because 90% of sufferers say they can't function normally during a migraine attack, which can last anywhere between four and 72 hours, according to the American Migraine Foundation.
As a result, 47% of people with migraines feel it has held them back from advancing their career. That's about 10% of the female workforce who worry that their invisible chronic illness is just one more barrier for them.
We caught up with Lapin to hear her top tips for coping with migraines in the workplace — and advancing despite of them. Here's what she had to say.
The first step is to be open about the fact that you do indeed suffer from a chronic illness. You have migraines, and others should be aware of that so that they can support you.
"I've been really lucky, as I've always had supportive managers and coworkers, but I certainly feel like I've missed a lot of work because of my migraines," Lapin says. "The more vocal we are, the more people will recognize migraines as a disease."
Migraines are too often misunderstood.
"A lot of time, folks will say, 'Just drink water — you'll be fine!' but it's like, no, no, this is more than just that," Lapin says. "It's important to have an open and honest talk, especially with your manager and others."
Lapin says that the more you share what you're going through, the more educated and supportive others will be. Because popping an Ibuprofen or drinking some more water don't do the trick.
"We're all struggling with something," Lapin says.
You're not alone, so do your best to stay optimistic. Lapin recommends exploring treatment options and using the migraine-free days to consider your career goals and actionable ways to achieve them.
"For people who now have more time and they're looking to re-enter the workforce or for people who are just looking at career options moving forward, really focus on the new things you can do with fewer migraines," she says.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.
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