Returning to the Office While Living With Multiple Sclerosis
Last updated: November 2022
The pandemic seems to end, and many of us return to work after being away for nearly two years. Striking a balance between work and personal life is like walking a tightrope. It can feel insurmountable when you factor in additional pressures like managing a chronic illness, being a parent, or keeping up with housework.
When I was told I had multiple sclerosis (MS), I quickly learned that I would have to move slowly. I got sick right before the pandemic, which made 2020 even crazier. I've seen firsthand how people who have long-term illnesses like MS have to worry about how their health affects their ability to do their jobs. Some symptoms, like brain fog and tiredness, have made it hard for me to work.
Tips for working in an office while living with MS
There is a fragile line between staying productive, doing your best work, and caring for your mental and physical health.
Talk to HR and discuss accommodations
Your boss might understand, but you should also talk to the person in charge of Human Resources. It's important to tell someone in authority about your illness to know what's going on, in case you get mistreated. Also, check your company's discrimination policies, so you can protect yourself.
Talk to your boss if you need to change your work hours or how you do your job. Ask if there are any changes you can make to help your health and work better. For instance, you could ask to work from home a couple of days a week. If your doctor's office hours make it hard for you to make appointments, ask if you can change your schedule to fit your appointments better.
At first, I was afraid to talk to my boss about my needed accommodations. I'm glad my job has been flexible and understanding about my appointments. If it's hard for you to talk to your boss, write down what you want to say. So, you'll have something to refer to at your meeting and remember everything you wanted to talk about.
Master how to say "no"
It can be challenging to say "no" in the workplace, but setting boundaries is essential. The first step is to be specific in your justifications. It may be helpful to explain what you are currently working on and why you cannot complete another assignment. Exerting yourself beyond your limits will only exacerbate the situation, creating the potential for a flare-up.
In the past, I've experienced anxiety when explaining why I could not complete a task due to an MS flare or my symptoms. However, I was honest about how my symptoms affected my ability to work. I was also fortunate to have a boss who was understanding. It is your choice whether or not to discuss your health with your boss. I also use the term "bandwidth" to describe my capacity to complete work assignments. "I don't have the bandwidth" is my favorite piece of business jargon.
Talk to your supervisor and peers. It is best to be forthright and honest with your boss (and possibly coworkers) if MS interferes with your work. Rather than going into great detail about your illness, I would recommend focusing on how it has affected your career and how you can accommodate it. You can be open and honest while maintaining your anonymity using this approach. Further explanation is welcome if you wish to offer it. Your level of ease is of utmost importance.
Remember to be kind to yourself
You probably have told yourself something like, "I don't need that, I'm fine" or "There is no time for self-care." Unfortunately, many of us fail to put ourselves first. We tell ourselves that we must prioritize our jobs, families, and children. Yet, taking care of yourself is essential because it allows you to prioritize your requirements. It doesn't have to be some massive show of affection. Both excellent examples are taking a hot bath or watching an episode of your favorite show. Whatever you feel is necessary, do it.
Keeping yourself healthy and safe on the job should always be a top priority. Taking poor care of yourself will prevent you from giving your best effort at all times. If your discomfort permits, take frequent breaks. For example, go to the break room instead of eating lunch at your desk. Be sure to document your daily emotions as well. Do not forget to inform your doctor of any shifts. Don't try to force yourself to function through pain or ignore other signs of illness. If you're ever feeling unwell, it's imperative that you see a doctor right away. Managing your symptoms can help ease concerns about how a flare-up might impact your productivity at work.
What does advocacy mean to you as someone living with multiple sclerosis? Please select all that apply: