I have just celebrated my 10 year anniversary in my current job so it seems apt to tackle a subject that I know is huge for some people – When do you, How do you, Why should you… tell your work colleagues you have MS? This is my story.
Having spoken with many MSers over the years it has become overwhelmingly clear that I have been incredibly fortunate when it comes to getting support from the people I work with. There is no law to say that you have to inform your workplace of this condition and many choose not to disclose it. Personally, it never entered my head to keep it a secret. For me I felt that the people I worked with were best placed to help me through this tough time, after all I spent more time with them than anyone else and they weren’t just colleagues to me but friends.
Very few people knew of my symptoms leading up to diagnosis. Sure, there were occasions when I couldn’t hide things – I frequently bumped into walls and furniture and laughed it off, my voice would slur intermittently and I would just go silent mid-sentence until it passed, and my vision would be all screwy after walking back from a break so I would just sit for a moment with my head in my hands until it restored itself… But if I could help it I kept my symptoms quiet. And there were many reasons for this – I didn’t want any fuss, I believed that what I had was fixable and therefore not worth talking about, plus what was happening to me was just too weird to explain. I believe my diagnosis, therefore, came out of nowhere to all those I worked with.
As it happened, I was at work the day after my diagnosis. The news hadn’t sunk in yet. I was in complete and unwitting denial. I thought I was fine. But when I entered the office and saw all those friendly faces I just couldn’t get the words out. I’d planned to come straight out with it but I couldn’t, so I just sat down and got on with my job. Until, that is, I had to deal with a difficult customer over the phone. The woman began shouting at me about something she wasn’t happy with and I burst into tears. Everything she was saying to me seemed so petty and cruel and I couldn’t cope – I passed the call onto a colleague and ran (stumbled) out of the office, swiftly followed by my lovely duty manager to whom I blurted out the whole sorry tale. Red eyes and puffy cheeks meant that my return to the office elicited a lot of interest and sympathy – less than 24 hours after the news went in, the news was out. It was a relief and I can never thank those colleagues / friends enough for helping me through that tough shift and those that followed in what was to prove a very turbulent year.
Stubborn as ever, I have never taken time off work for my MS, despite being advised to on numerous occasions by my ever patient Nurse. I remember virtually crawling into my office at one particularly low point and batting colleagues away when they showed concern. A lot of what I go through is not visible but I receive a heck of a lot of support from all those I work with. They’ve seen me at my worst, they’ve witnessed me go from an active gym-bunny who ran my socks off in our Race For Life team to someone who can barely walk across the office. But we all have a laugh when I fall into their laps or give them a sudden and jolting hug from behind because I have unintentionally strayed into their personal space. Just imagine if I did all of this but without telling anyone I had MS; it just wouldn’t work for me.
Although the amount of hours I work has gradually become less and less I am so thankful to be able to work at all and to do so under such understanding and flexible conditions.
Thank you Mum & Dad for kicking the pants off all other grandparents by going above and beyond and for enabling me to go to work. Thank you also to the awesome 19 (plus a few strays) who I am lucky enough to call my friends and work-family… and who will nearly all be reading this because that’s how great they are!