When Katie Silverthorne was diagnosed with MS when she was just 23, she had no idea that her condition would one day spur her on to open her own successful business. In this blog, Katie writes about coming to terms with her MS diagnosis and how it gave her the courage to take a leap of faith and start her own business.
I was originally diagnosed in 2004 at the age of 23 when I became numb down the left hand side of my body. I remember looking at slices of my brain from the MRI scan and thinking, ‘There has to be some sort of mistake!’ But my floppy and desensitised left foot suggested otherwise. The diagnosis was conclusive.
Those early days were dark and desperate. I was a young woman with her life ahead of her and it felt chronically unfair that this debilitating and uncertain illness should land at my feet. At the time I was told that I probably wouldn’t get any better than I was at that stage - which was decidedly unwell. It was made very clear that I shouldn’t expect any further recovery from the initial relapse.
With that decision came the reality of hiding the MS and pretending that it wasn’t really there. For many years I hardly ever told anyone - it was very much on a ‘need to know’ basis. From the outside you couldn’t see that there was anything different about me. I was still in debilitating pain, tripped over my feet regularly, got dizzy suddenly and was so exhausted that some days I didn’t feel like I would be able to get down the stairs.
But I was afraid of something far more than the illness and that was of being judged. Of being put into a category. ‘You know the girl I mean - the one with MS,’ was my biggest fear. To be labelled as something that I didn’t ask for or deserve was more than I could bear. It felt like an added insult on top of having to deal with the symptoms of the illness. I could never, ever entertain the idea of someone feeling sorry for me.
I decided there and then that no matter what, the MS would not define me. I was determined that my diagnosis would not become my identity.
I was very lucky and the initial dramatic symptoms of the illness did mostly remit to a workable level. I was given a chance to figure out how I could live with this illness one shaky step at a time. It took many years to work out a way of living that worked for both my brain and my body. I am a naturally active person and rarely stop unless I have to, but of course with MS this can be taken suddenly out of your hands.
I eventually realised that regular acupuncture to deal with pain and fatigue, a positive mental attitude, keeping fit, not drinking alcohol and healthy eating were excellent ways of fending off my relapses. Each one on its own is small but together they are bigger than their individual parts. Nothing would completely future proof me from relapses but I was determined to do the most I could. I also realised that the world isn’t full of judgemental people who will categorise me according to this illness. And those that do, don’t concern me.
One thing that always niggled me was how difficult I found it to work in a full-time job - in a career I wanted - when my body was so unpredictable. I longed to make a mark in the world that had meaning not just for me but for the people I touched. This was highlighted further after my daughter was born as I couldn’t possibly see a way that I could go back to work - even if I wanted to.
I started my own business - Memory Zoo - almost by accident when my daughter was one. I made a keepsake bear for her from her old baby grows, put the pictures of it onto Facebook and before I knew it there were orders for them coming in. I didn’t intend to start a business but I’m so glad that I did! It has given me focus, control and meaning beyond this life altering illness. Memory Zoo has become my biggest and brightest accomplishment to date (except my amazing daughter of course!). Running my own business has given me the option to work hard when I have the energy, and to take my foot off the gas when I don’t. I am in control of when and how much I work.
For me, it’s been a saviour and a joy to watch my business grow and flourish, not in spite of the MS but because of it. If I didn’t have MS then I doubt I would have taken the terrifying leap of faith that everyone needs to run their own business. There seemed to be no other choice! If I can live harmoniously with MS, then I feel like I can pretty much do anything. It’s honed my desire to get things done NOW and not put them off until an unspecified distant point in the future. It’s taught me to live my life in the best way I know how to - honestly, deliberately and with love.
If I didn’t have MS then I doubt I would have taken the terrifying leap of faith that everyone needs to run their own business. There seemed to be no other choice! If I can live harmoniously with MS, then I feel like I can pretty much do anything.
I have been lucky enough to be invited to write a chapter in the bestselling series ‘Mumpreneur On Fire’ about my journey through MS and the business world. I aim to help people see that although they can be broken, tested, fatigued and frightened, that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Treating your body and your illness with tenderness and love, whilst striving towards a goal - no matter how big or small that goal is - makes all the difference between a life well spent and one that is wasted.
Don’t let this illness waste your life for you. Find your passion and run, wheel or slowly stumble towards it with all your heart. Find what you can do, and do it. If I can do it then so can you. ‘Mumpreneur On Fire 4’ is out at the beginning of January and contains 25 inspiring stories from women who have seen and experienced it all. I invite you to join me in the revolution of lifting up those who are cast down, depressed and frightened and making the world the beautiful place that we all long to live in. You are the start of the revolution. Make this moment count.
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