My buddy, my pal, my friend.

As a parent, you work had to protect your children and give them a childhood free from the challenges and responsibilities that come from adulthood until it becomes time -preferably when they turn 18 and leave the home. But for me, I never thought the tables would turn before I reached my 35th birthday with the diagnosis of my MS.
My life story may be long and complicated, but the real hero of my story has been my daughter, Becky. I never realized how important she would become to me, not only as a 20160229_193909friend but as a caregiver to me and her brothers. As a child she witnessed me being abused by my ex husband, she saw me struggle as a single mom that was homeless with 2 young children while trying to get back on my feet. Then I received my diagnosis 2 years ago, and she was the one who came to the rescue to help me when I had a husband who was dealing with his own demons. She cooks, cleans, manages to keep straight A’s and prepare for high school next year while keeping up with her 3 brothers -2 have ADHD and require constant supervision. From the very beginning I chose to be honest and open about my diagnoses. She went with me to pharmaceutical dinners, I provided her books from the NMSS that were geared towards teenagers to help her understand what I was going through and how it would affect her. She has had the hard task of explaining to her friends why she can’t hang out with them sometimes or why she has more responsibilities then they do. Never once has she complained how hard her life is. I have moments of guilt with her doing so much for me, but I love her and give her more freedoms as reward for her hard work. I’ve had a long talk with my daughter about her life and learned the hard truth that my life has been MS first and family second. My own daughter felt unable to tell me how she felt and be selfish with her life because mom has always come first.
MS is part of my life but it doesn’t have to be a us priority. We need to never forget that our children are “living” with MS too. They may be hiding their true feelings because they think we are too tired and don’t have time to listen to them. Take time to have mommy and me time. Do something special for your younger caregiver to show that they are loved and appreciated. <3

Quality Over Quantity

IMG_2148

When you are diagnosed with a chronic illness like MS, a lot of things change after. If you think your life won’t change you are in denial because it does at some point.  Some friends you tell about your diagnosis are there for you no matter what and provide you unconditional support.  You know the kind of friend where it doesn’t matter how much time has gone by when you talk or get together it feels like you never were apart when you see each other again. Others unfortunately avoid you after you are diagnosed like the plaque or they slowly treat you different over time. Even people who were friends for awhile before you got diagnosed disappear or don’t want to keep in touch or return your phone calls anymore. At first I used to wonder why they would do this to me or beat myself up worrying if I did something wrong.  This has happened to me as I’m sure it has to many of my fellow MSkuteers but this has shown me that its more about the quality of my friends for me now than it is about the quantity.  I was once told you can always count your true friends on one hand. This is still true for me today. I have had friends come and go in my life but the closest ones to me in my life I can always count on.  I know these chosen few I can count on my one hand who are always there if I need to pick the phone up to talk. I have always taken it personally at first when a friend decides not to be a friend anymore.  Why do some friends leave us? It’s not like they can catch MS from us. Do they think for a second that we wanted to get diagnosed with such a nasty MonSter?  I might be physically different than I was before but I am still the same person inside. When this happens we wonder why we said anything at all to them about our MS.  If they knew us well enough and tried to understand our chronic illness they would know we have good days and bad days like anyone else. It is awful if I have made plans and I end up not well that day so then have to cancel but its not like I wanted to cancel its just that I knew my body wasn’t up to going out.  If I know I have something I am going out to coming up I have to prepare and get my rest many days in advance. I know the average person might not have to do this but we with this MonSter do.  I mean the energy it takes to get ready from having a warm shower, to doing your hair & make-up to getting dressed takes a lot out of us in terms of physical exertion. It’s like I am all dolled up ready to go out and I have no more energy left to actually go out sometimes.  My close friends that know me well know this and don’t even second guess if I can’t go or can’t stay out too long.

Going through some good times and hard times with many friends (even some friends who also have MS) has also taught me the ones worth having around don’t make things hard on you. They just love you for being you and you don’t ever need to worry about their caring or loyalty because they are always there if you need them.  These are the true friends you focus your time and energy on because lets face it life is too short and none of us know how long we have on this earth. Some friends may come in your life for a season and then go after awhile and that’s okay too. They came into our lives for a reason in the first place and were not meant to stick around for the long haul.  So take the time when you can to show these close friends in your life how much they mean to you. These are the friends I truly cherish.

“A true friend reaches for your hand and touches your heart. ~ Author Unknown”

Until next month,

Michelle

Diagnosis is Not all of Who You Are

IMG_1360You are much more that your Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis. I like to candidly say that MS is merely 2 letters that are in my medical record. Sometimes those two letters impact me directly, but sometimes it is something else. When I was newly diagnosed (dx 2001) it seemed like I had way more “symptoms” because it seemed that nearly anything under the sun qualified as an “MS” symptom. It took me a few years to realize that on top of having this diagnosis…I am still a human being.

That sounds wrong, I knew that I was a person of course, I still had my college classes, homework, jobs and more to keep me from focusing too much on the diagnosis. It wasn’t til later that I realized how easily I was impacted by things that seemingly have nothing to do with MS though. For example it was a HUGE aha to learn that one of the most MS-ish symptoms I’d had could also be caused by a deficiency in B12. The symptom I am speaking of is called L’Hermittes, it is a totally weird symptom to experience that I can only describe as feeling like my spine felt like it was transformed into a guitar string that was being plucked every time I looked down. I was kind of excited the next time I felt the symptom because I had a new tool, I didn’t just have to wait and hope that the symptom went away, I could just try taking a vitamin, and it might work! I have been luck to learn about lots of random tips and tricks like this and because I have lots of little things to try it keeps me from going to the doctor so much. I’ve read a few Tim Ferris books (like 4-hour workweek) and I use myself as my own test subject. I am not as good about keeping notes and reporting back on them but for the things that affect me I tend to remember, or at least find myself checking the same sources to find the same answer.

Being a Mom is of course a huge part of who I am. I am also a graduate of a prestigious design school where I managed to earn my Bachelors of Fine Arts. I moved a lot as a kid from Alaska and went to more than 10 schools though still graduated HS on time. All of this was unfortunately before Facebook and so I’m not connected to as many childhood friends as I would like to be. Some people don’t realize that I was a single mom, before I created the Moms with MS sites but well after being diagnosed and becoming a mom I successfully worked at a software company full time for a few years! It wasn’t until after I got married and during my second pregnancy (and recession) that I was laid off and created the online peer support communities with my nervous energy between looking for jobs and nursing my baby. I’ve considered a huge amount of other career paths ranging from “Art Therapy” to learning some code and more. I’m still exploring and still learning every day! I love gardening too and have the idea in the back of my head that I should perfect the home vegetable garden and help people get their own started! I just need to neaten up my process…

Seeds Sprouting

There is of course even more to me but I’m really interested in hearing about you, and who you are other than being an “MS Patient”. I bet we all have our own unique stories and a lot more to talk about than just that one diagnosis. It definitely helps to get that story told but there is always more. Do you agree with this?

Happy New Year to my fellow MS Moms

Aside

IMG_3438

 

The New Year gives us a chance to reflect on the past year and be thankful for what we do have in my lives.  When you have a chronic illness like we do everyday we wake up and feel well enough to get through the day is a blessing isn’t it? We often might find ourselves making goals for the new year that are unattainable thus disappointing ourselves if they don’t turn out. I like to be realistic and set one goal because I found this is more doable. This year I am sticking to my goal of being more active as I can (or that my MS will let me of course) but I am a big believer that “if you don’t use it you will loose it”. So for one with mobility issues such as myself this means I am walking with my aids as much as I can to keep my legs moving. Others might only have the option of using their arms more now and that’s ok as long as you do something right? One of my  Dr’s who is practiced in Functional Medicine once told me avoid being sedentary. You could grab a water bottle and do some curls for about a minute every hour.  Some other activities may include walking, stretching, or trying a mindful workout. This means 10 minutes of quiet time to your self without distractions. I know this is a challenge in my house because with young children when do we actually get quiet time?  But really trying to make quiet time for even for 10-15 minutes a day for you can do wonders.

No matter what stage of illness we are in, whether we’ve just been diagnosed or we have lived with Monster for decades, there are adjustments we can make to increase the joy in our lives and to live more fully:)

 

Until next month take care of yourselves,

Michelle

Accommodation you ask? Why that’s only for special cases.

I have been wanting to write this post for some time, but in all honesty this was such an anxiety causing problem for me all summer that I only feel ok now to share my story. The short and long: I needed to seek accommodation at my last place of employment due to my MS and never in a thousand years could I have imagined how it went. I am proud that I managed to walk away from this mess with my head held high, despite wanting to further fight this, but what is the fight really worth? It came to a point that I realized that I would not want to work for an employer that discriminates against their staff. When I first got diagnosed with MS I heard horror stories of people being discriminated by their employers and I thought who on earth would be that awful?! It was a real shocker to find myself now at the center of one of those stories.

In March I had a routine MRI and two weeks before I was to return to work I went to see my neurologist to get the results and have a check up post baby. Since having my son I had really hard days riddled with pain and weakness, some days I felt like I couldn’t even hold him as I was not strong enough. I write this with tears on my face, as no mother wants to feel like she is too weak to hold her child.

When I went to see my Neurologist I told her of the pain, and I broke down as I was worried to hear that this could indeed be my MS being active. I expressed to her how terrible I had been feeling and told her I was not sure if what I was feeling was post partum changes in my body or MS, or a combo of both. After examining me she confirmed that it was indeed my MS that was to blame. She then showed me the results of my MRI, which was not that great. I had new lesions and she was worried about the progression of the disease in my body based on the symptoms I had described. She suggested that I ask my work for a few more weeks off to figure out what would be best next steps for me and she suggested that if I decided to return to work that I ask them for an accommodated work schedule.

I loved my job and I had always intended to return to work. I drove home with tears streaming down my face the entire way, scared of what could be brewing in my body, worried about my job security and sad that as a new mother I had this MS jerk in the way of me enjoying my son the way I wanted to. That same evening I tried to pull it together to call my supervisors to discuss my options. I had always had a good relationship with my place of work and was a good employee so I didn’t think there would be a problem. He was not there so I left a message letting him know that I needed to talk to him ASAP about my health and how it might affect my return to work, I followed up with an email. Almost nine days later I still hadn’t heard back, sorry but that’s just rude. I get that people are busy but when an employee leaves a message saying it’s health related, there should be some urgency to your repsonse. I called and left another email, and the reply I finally got was that he was too busy and the acting supervisor would call me.

When I finally spoke to the acting supervisor and explained the situation, I let her know that I wanted to return to work but I would like to see if I could seek accommodation to work from home two days a week (I worked four days a week) her answer was and I quote “I am not sure as we usually only reserve the right to work from home for special cases.” UMMMMM SPECIAL CASES? How special is special because I am pretty sure that a letter from a neurologist is pretty special!

I was so upset and we ended the call with nothing solved. My neurologist had connected me with a Social Worker at the MS clinic to help advocate on my behalf, and when she called to speak to my acting supervisor she too was told the same thing, that working from home was for ‘special cases’ and she offered this suggestion: I quit my job and come back as an auxiliary employee and work casually at the front desk. Apparently this would me flexibility to work when I felt well. UMMMM WTF! I could not believe my ears when my social worker told me this. So let me get this straight: leave my job of almost 8 years, go to a role four pay scales less than what I earned, loose my benefits and all job security and work on call?! Not to mention what about my contributions related to my current role being valued? Work on call? How on earth would I get childcare last minute? My Social Worker let me know that they were violating the Human Rights Code (Duty to Accommodate) and at that point suggested I file a formal complaint.

By this point we were already two months in and nothing was decided and I kept asking for my sick pay, which they would not answer my request for, not even to let me know if I had access to any. Finally I got my Union involved who also confirmed there was a violation based on the Human Rights Code and they wrote my employer a letter telling them I was entitled to my sick pay (I had 160 hours banked!) and reminded them that they had a duty to accommodate. I would like to thank my CUPE 15 representative, had it not been for him I am not sure I would have received my sick pay.

The battle went on and truthfully I began to put my head in the sand. I felt so hurt that I was being discriminated against as a person living with a disability and chronic illness. I decided to seek legal advice who confirmed that my employer had acted unjustly and that I could put in a complaint with the Human Rights Commission and even go after my employer for lost wages and the discrimination that they displayed. They also told me it could be a long battle and for me to think about the energy I had to take this further. My health was suffering, I was riddled with anxiety and I just wanted to end this all.

Not only was I dealing with the results of the MRI at the back of my mind, but all this too now. To add salt to the wound one of my fellow employee’s, who I called a friend, called me one day and told me that it appeared at work that I was ‘milking it.’ That‘s a pretty skinny cow because I was not getting a penny! I was shocked he would even suggest such a thing. Not to mention how would he have heard anything as I had only spoke to the acting supervisor.

My lawyer helped me write a letter detailing all that happened in which was sent to upper management. Two weeks passed and not one of the four I sent it to responded. I continued to feel disrespected by my employer, and question if I really wanted to spend time away from my child in a place like that? After much thought I finally decided to hand in my resignation, with yet another letter letting them know why I was leaving; I had been discriminated against as a person with MS in need of accommodation and did not want to work for an employer that had no time for their employee’s. I encouraged them to review their hiring practices when putting people in supervisor positions and that they be trained on employee rights and the duty to accommodate. I suggested that staff and management engage in sensitivity training and that I hoped no other employee would have to face the rudeness and discrimination I had to.

There are many more ugly details to this story that make it go from bad to worse but the important details have been stated. You must be thinking how can there be more, right? Like the Acting Manager gossiping at a dinner party about wanting to get my fired to her friend in front of someone that she had no clue knew me, using my first and last name. Smooth move there Mrs. Manager, smooth move. I have left names out on purpose when writing this post as my goal is not to point fingers at any specific person or the organization; if you really want to know who these people are I am sure a quick visit to LinkedIN will help answer those questions for you. Upper Management did eventually tell me (three weeks ago) that they were looking into this issue but by that time it was just two late (this all started in May!) If they had a solution, by that point I was no longer interested. I write this to close the chapter in the pain this caused me, to share with others that this still happens and let people know we have rights! Not only was I discriminated against as someone with a disability, but also as a woman returning off her maternity leave, and this was also stated by my Union rep and my lawyer. I made some mistakes along the way as I was not thinking clearly, mostly forgetting to follow up with emails and try and get as much as possible in writing. I hope my tips below will help others should they ever be in this awful position.

A few tips if you ever find yourself in this situation:

  • Accommodation is a legal right that all employers are obligated to fulfill. PERIOD.
  • If you are part of a Union go to them right away! They are helpful.
  • Write everything down and keep a folder of all emails (luckily I did this).
  • Send follow up emails after phone calls.
  • Know that you have rights and the employer is legally bound to accommodate you based on the Employment Law Act and the Human Rights Code.
  • Get a lawyer! Even if to settle your mind, get some feedback and help with the support you might need during this time. I am extremely grateful to the legal advice I was given and the support they offered me.
  • Don’t feel bad to send a letter letting people know that they are wrong. You have the right to express yourself and hold people accountable for their actions.

Lastly I want to say thank you, to anyone that might read this that I worked with (both staff and volunteers and board members) for the great times we had together. I enjoyed working with you all for the last 7.5 years and I left with a heavy heart, not having the chance to say a proper goodbye. My amazing volunteer team gave me the energy to come to work each day, leaving me with fun stories to tell and a big smile on my face daily. The generosity these volunteers showed as active members in their community always warmed my heart. I learned so much from everyone, built friendships and will forever remember the time spent with you all. I am grateful for the opportunities I was given and the chance to work with a great staff team and amazing group of volunteers and have the chance to learn so much about the arts. I wish you all the best and hope I run into you in the future.

Are any of us really ready for this?

IMG_2021

No one can prepare you for the difficult and/or awkward questions that your children may have about your MS.  I have had the MS diagnosis before I had children so they have grown up with this and not known me any other way but many of you have been diagnosed after and both scenarios have their own sets of challenges. I was still afraid for this day to come and dreaded the tough questions but it already has already happened in my household.

My children have asked

  • “Mommy will you die?”
  • “Mommy will you always have MS?”
  • “How did you get MS Mommy?”
My best advice is to be honest but to keep the facts age appropriate when you are talking to your children.  My children are young so I didn’t want to scare them. I was worried about telling them too much or not saying enough. I just trusted my gut instinct when doing this because no one knows my children better than me right? I did some researching on the internet for some helpful advice so I was prepared beforehand but as best prepared as you try when it comes to children and asking questions expect the unexpected. Are any of us really ready for this?
I just typed this topic into the search engine and pages of websites came up but here are a few example
Top three traps to avoid I would suggest are
  1. Avoid using medical terms they will have no clue what they are and it just confuses them
  2. That MS is NOT contagious and they can not get it by kissing or hugging you
  3. There are researchers all over the world that are searching for a cure everyday
Whenever I have had to explain anything important to my children I try to end whatever conversation we are having with a positive one so that they are not scared or worried when we are done talking. I reassure them that we take our lives one day at a time and enjoy it as best we can. We don’t waste our time or energy worrying about “what ifs” in the future. I sympathize with you if you are going through this right now because when it comes to our babies we want to shelter them from anything scary.
Do those of you who have been in this situation before have any advice for our Moms with MS family? Please feel free to make comments under my blog I would really like to know how others have handled this.
Regards,
Michelle