An exhausted woman is taking a nap at her desk on top of her laptop. She has her eyes closed, hair a mess, and her reading glasses pushed up on top of her head.

The Challenge of Consistency and Employment

Going to work. Preparing and cooking meals. Cleaning your residence. Exercising. Showering. Taking medication. These are all common activities in our day to day lives and they all have something in common: they require consistency.

So many aspects of life require consistency

So much about our lives requires us to be consistent, to do them regularly. Many even require us to do them at specific times for a specific duration. When you live with an unpredictable illness like multiple sclerosis, that can become problematic. The unpredictable nature of symptoms, coupled with the various ways they are triggered, lead many with MS to live extremely inconsistent lives, making employment in a world that requires consistency extremely difficult.

We can't predict when our symptoms will strike

One of the biggest challenges of this disease is how unpredictable it can be. You can be fine one minute and laid out on the couch the very next. This tends to be more and more true the longer you’ve had the disease: the more exacerbations you’ve experienced and the more myelin that’s been damaged, the greater the problems. Exacerbations (or relapses as some like to call them) can come on with no notice as our immune system silently attacks the insulative lining of our nerves (it becomes apparent when there’s been enough damage to have an impact on the signal traveling on those nerves). Individual symptoms can also seem to appear suddenly, triggered by an outside source like heat, stress, getting sick, or even loud noises. No matter how hard you try to avoid certain triggers or predict when you won’t feel well, you simply can’t predict when your symptoms will rear up and become a problem.

How do symptoms impact our ability to function?

We’ve established how unpredictable MS symptoms can be, but how much of an impact do they have on the consistency of our life? Well, fatigue, one of the most challenging symptoms, is enough to stop a person in their tracks. Imagine suddenly being overcome with complete exhaustion and feeling like your entire body is trying to move through mud or molasses. Mobility issues also make it difficult: foot drop and numbness and weakness in our limbs can make it difficult to simply get from point A to point B.

These symptoms can pop up without warning

Brain fog and other cognitive issues can come on suddenly and make trying to do simple tasks extremely difficult as well. Spasms and tremors, in addition to causing us to drop or bump into items, can ruin our ability to concentrate on any task at hand. Speech related problems can make a task as simple as talking on the phone challenging. Sudden bouts of pain can affect just about any task, completely removing you from whatever you were doing. There are many more symptoms that can pop up suddenly and have an impact on your abilities, but I think you get the point.

Lack of consistency can lead many people to disability

That unpredictability combined with the effects of multiple sclerosis symptoms make consistently doing tasks difficult. While I’m sure you can imagine some of the problems that can come up from not being able to bathe or prepare your own food consistently, I think it’s important to talk about a different and also important area this can impact: one’s ability to be employed. This inability to be consistent is what leads many people with MS to disability. Let’s face it: most jobs require you to regularly show up at a certain time for a regular duration of time. That becomes near impossible when you can’t predict when you won’t be feeling well, or when you might not be able to even stand, or use your hands, or think straight.

We don't know how long good days will last

Even if you had a job where you could work only when you were able to, you might still go stretches where one month you get a lot done but the next almost nothing. It’s hard to be consistent and it’s hard to predict when and how often we’ll feel well. That creates some difficulties because many of us do have a lot of moments when we feel OK, even good. Times when we can function pretty well and could probably even work. You just never know when or how long those moments will last.

My body isn't dependable enough to work consistently

It’s extremely frustrating, not only to us, but to others who see us (normally during these good moments) and can’t fathom why we don’t work. The reality is, that this inability to be consistent each day affects our dependability which directly affects our employability. If we can’t even rely on our own bodies, how can an employer rely on us? So it’s not only our symptoms that thwart us, it’s not being able to predict when those symptoms will be especially active. Not knowing when you will feel OK is tough on its own, but it’s even more problematic when it impacts your ability to work.

Thanks so much for reading and always feel free to share!

Devin

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