* Due to confidentiality purposes, our interviewee’s name has been changed in this piece
Meet Jane. Since she was a teen, this high-powered thirty-something-year-old banker has been working at one of the most prestigious banks in Canada, She started as a customer service rep before steadily working her way up the corporate ladder. Today, she’s an award-winning assistant branch manager who made quite the name for herself across North America.
Worrisome Symptoms at a Young Age
Then she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2016. The next year was a big one for Jane. She was ready to get married to her partner of seven years and was dealt the blow just months before the wedding. “I had many things running around my mind. How will this news affect my family and husband? How will it affect my career? Will it get worse when I get older? Will I be able to have kids? The diagnosis changed how I saw myself, but staying strong and taking it day by day was #1.”
Symptoms for Jane started with what felt like a muscle strain in her left leg. Eventually, the pain kept getting worse until it ran up her entire leg. Her doctor prescribed her anti-inflammatory meds and muscle relaxants, which had no effect except nearly turning her leg limp. She was in the height of her career in banking at this time, and as she was still a woman “in her prime,” getting an MRI took months. From acupuncture and massages to physio, nothing seemed to work, and eventually, she started to lose feeling in her left leg. After these advanced symptoms occurred, she was hospitalized in May 2016.
Being diagnosed with MS forced Jane to miss out on a lot from the age of 26 onwards. As she puts it, “ I don’t feel young, even though I’m only 31. I couldn’t wear heels anymore – instead, I was spending money on comfier flats. I couldn’t have fun going out anymore because I was constantly thinking of myself as a cripple or someone that would always require extra attention. I had no clue what was happening to my body.”
When women like Jane go through illness, they often keep it to themselves. As women, the worst thing is being perceived as weak, and we’re constantly fighting against that stigma. Instead, we have to constantly display as much strength as our male counterparts. Jane mentions, “I found aspects of it embarrassing, like the weight gain and physical disability.”
A Thriving Support Network
Even though she was embarrassed, Jane received resounding support at work. Sometimes, her treatments mean that she’ll need to be out of the office for days, weeks, or even months at a time. Rather than fostering secrets and keeping people guessing, Jane was upfront and honest about her struggles at work and goes on to say, “It was an eye-opening experience after I told people about my diagnosis. It opened a door for people to ask questions and learn about the disease, along with relating their own stories, or stories of a loved one. It turned into a way to learn and relate. And further, you have to see it in a way that’s like: “what’s the worst that could happen if I share this info?” Because if you don’t, the stress of the secrecy itself will be a high price to pay.”
Dealing with Multiple Sclerosis is a map that Jane is still navigating. But there are some aspects that are tougher than others to deal with.
“The worst part of my MS is the fatigue and Over Active Bladder. I have to wear a diaper when I go out in public or to work. This affects how I see myself as a woman in my 30s – it’s not exactly appealing. I used to take it as a weakness that prevented me from doing day to day activities because I was worried about having access to a restroom or wearing a diaper. But I feel more capable when I’m able to go about my regular routine, like work and shopping – even the mall. I sick it up and wear a diaper – just in case of an emergency. I try not to depend on it and instead schedule bathroom breaks accordingly.”
It’s been four years, but Jane is still learning how to live with her MS. It’s a lifelong struggle, but one that she faces with steadfast courage. She ensures she gets a lot of rest so that she has energy for her daily routine and hobbies that help her stay positive. She expands, “ I love cooking different types of food, which is calming to me. I also like trying out different arts and crafts projects, like sewing.” Spending time with friends and family is also key to keeping her uplifted and motivated.
In terms of support, Jane attended support groups in a nearby city, but since she lives in a rural area and the drives are too long for her condition, she didn’t attend often. “I downloaded some support group apps which have communities of people with Multiple Sclerosis. People can discuss their journeys – all my experiences with it were encouraging experiences that I learned from. Still, having a great support system at home is what got me through a lot of my emotional and mental hurdles. Depression is not easy to deal with and if you don’t have a good support system at home, I 100% recommend seeking help.”
Take it Day by Day
When I ask Jane what words of wisdom she has for other female MS survivors, she admits that she’s still learning on her journey, and understands how difficult and unique everyone’s story is.
“It’s about you, and no one else. If you’re not confident in yourself, you’ll fall into a depression, or think inside limited possibilities. Take it day by day. “
Even though Jane is a superhero in our eyes, she doesn’t see the full silver lining yet at this point in this invisible but debilitating disease. However, she does acknowledge that it’s made her stronger mentally. “If I didn’t have that mental strength, then I wouldn’t be physically capable to do what I can today. I’ve pushed myself to learn how to walk again. To live an active and somewhat normal life. But whether it’s a new treatment or relapse in your MS, strong mental health is key, because you’re going to need to be prepared for what might come your way. The hurdles that arise, because you never truly know what to expect.”
Even superheroes get scared sometimes. Jane is still navigating the bumpy terrain of Multiple Sclerosis, but she’s not letting it get in the way of her life. Instead, she sees it as part of herself, though it can feel like an internal battle at times. Jane can’t control the new symptoms that might pop up or new meds that might be required. But she is in control of how she copes. Her resilient support system in work and inter-personal relationships have helped her thrive. If Jane teaches us one thing, it’s that we can’t take anything for granted, but we’re always in control of how we handle our struggle.