Let’s be real: A multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis isn’t easy. Coming to terms with the fact that you need to integrate the illness with your professional life is a whole new ballgame.
When you don’t mentally and physically feel your best, it’s hard to navigate your career. You may often be left questioning, “How am I going to physically get it all done?”
Like many of you, I asked myself that question as I came back to the office after a bout of optic neuritis — temporary vision loss — brought on by my MS. I remember staring at an excel spreadsheet and almost bursting into tears because I was still unable to read the words on the screen.
Other times I remember needing to excuse myself for a quick walk around the block to clear my head because my “brain fog” was so bad that I couldn’t concentrate.
And let’s not forget about the never-ending tingling and numbness in both my arms and hands. Even my head would feel like pins and needles every time I was overwhelmed or felt stressed out. With a new baby at home, I knew I had to make a change.
So, I did the unthinkable: I quit my stable, corporate job that I had worked my tail off to get. I needed to focus on myself, my health, and my family.
I knew at the time that I would work again, but I wanted more flexibility, autonomy, and better work-life balance. I needed to keep my stress to a minimum, but I also wanted to continue the career trajectory I was on. I didn’t want to skip a beat.
Easier said than done? Maybe.
First, I took some time off to spend with my daughter. Then, six months later, I started my own virtual marketing firm, SocialChow. Being my own boss was critical for so many reasons, but the number one benefit was flexibility. I could now manage my own time, which meant being able to manage my MS and my family time.
Whether I needed to go to the hospital to administer my MS medication, go to doctor appointments during the day, or take it easy when I was having a tough time — I could do it. Running my own business meant I could work when it worked for me and my health. I also had the ability to control my workload and select the clients I worked with. I soon figured out my limits and accepted only what I knew I could accomplish.
Being your own boss is certainly one way to approach managing your career with MS. But I know that may not be realistic or possible for some. So, I’ve outlined the key items that I believe underlie my success, which are also feasible in nearly any situation.
Prioritize your workload
At the beginning of every day, I map out a list of all of the things I need to accomplish. Then I identify the most time-sensitive items to tackle first. The truth is, with MS, you don’t know how you’re going to feel throughout the day, so it’s best to accomplish any pressing items first.
Set expectations ahead of time
No one knows you better than you know yourself. Depending on your mental or physical capabilities, tell your boss or clients what they can expect and when. I’ve found that people are very understanding — even if you have to push things back — but they do like to be kept in the loop and updated. This helps make it clear that you’re taking your responsibilities seriously.
Daily exercise is critical to overall health and wellness, especially for those of us with MS. But, as a mom and business owner, it’s hard to find the time to fit it in. In fact, it’s always the first thing I give up because it’s so easy to put everything else first.
I’ve learned that the best way for me to fit in exercise is actually to integrate it into my schedule. I do this by either walking to or from work — or both! — going to the gym during lunch, or even scheduling calls when I know I can be walking and talking. Figure out what’s best for your schedule.
Communicate how you’re feeling
The truth is we are all human. If you’re having a bad MS day, your coworkers and your boss or your clients will understand. While I don’t do this often, I’ve found that if and when I’ve needed an extra hand, or an extension, and I’ve been honest about my situation, I receive empathy and understanding from those around me.
Take mental breaks during the day
I’ve been known to go-go-go, and while I like to be productive, I’ve found that both my body and mind work better when I allow myself time to rejuvenate. This could mean a 15 min walk or time to decompress with a cup of coffee. Once you reset, you’ll have the ability to refocus, which will ultimately give you the energy to continue.
Part of my job is scouting out unique places to market my clients’ products. This gives me a chance to get out and about while I look for places that are unique and make a statement.
Get the nourishment your body needs
This may sound basic but don’t underestimate the impact of a solid, healthy diet and proper nutrition. Since my diagnosis, I’ve made an effort to eat only “real” foods, and I rarely opt for processed or fast foods. I also make sure to stay hydrated, which means carrying a water bottle with me at all times. Even with a balanced diet, it’s possible to be deficient in key nutrients. Consider talking to your neurologist to figure out if you might benefit from taking nutritional supplements.
Set your own boundaries
Whether that means leaving the office at 5 p.m. every day or not turning on your computer at night when the kids go to bed, set your own limits so that you can better manage your mental and physical health. The truth is, there is always more you can do — and quite frankly there never seems like enough time in the day to get it all done — but setting limits is a healthy exercise that you’ll thank me for in the long run. It’ll force you to maximize your time in the office, teach you to push back on meetings you may not need to attend, and make you more efficient so you can shut off work when the time comes.
When I think back to my MS diagnosis three years ago, I truly didn’t know what my life would be like today. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to have a career, have a family, or be physically able to do some of the things I love to do. But the truth is, you adapt. You figure it out. You may need to modify your routine or change the way you do certain things, but you can adjust. You will figure out a “new normal,” just like I did.
Diagnosed with MS at 29 years old, Angie Randall has made it her mission to show you can live an active and full life with multiple sclerosis through diet, medication, and positivity. Angie aims to educate as an activist, motivational speaker, and top fundraiser, and through her award-winning blog, Well and Strong with MS. Angie is also the founder of SocialChow, a social media marketing agency, but her most cherished role is wife to Bill and mom to Chloe and Oscar the Shih Tzu. Visit her blog, Facebook or Instagram.