Recently diagnosed with MS, Letisha Charles-Thomas talks about how her diagnosis affected her search for a new job.
At the time of my diagnosis, I had to give up work for a few months. I had two relapses back to back and they both made it difficult for me to leave the house. I stopped working in May 2019, the same month I was diagnosed and waited until I had recovered from my relapse before seeking new employment. Having to stop work and being diagnosed at the same time was tough, but I wanted to focus on getting better without the worry of work.
I found the job search process more draining and tiring than I ever had in the past, it felt like a full-time job! I had over 20 interviews – all different types; ones with tests, competency-based interviews, informal and formal interviews.
Not once did I reveal that I had MS.
At the time, I had only been diagnosed for 1-2 months, so my MS was very fresh and I was still coming to terms with it. I also find that as a black, young adult, it is quite hard for me to get a job in a corporate environment and I felt disclosing that I had a disability would only hold me back further.
During the job search process, I found my anxiety was increased. I wasn’t sure if I should look for full-time, part-time or temporary positions. I was also worried about starting a new job and then being too fatigued to show up for work the next day, or experience a relapse and have to take time off and potentially lose the job.
After three months of unemployment and about 2 months of job searching and interviewing, I was offered a role as a full-time Personal Assistant in Central London, which fit with everything I needed at the time. I didn’t divulge that I had MS until I started my job. I didn’t tell everyone, I only told people who I felt needed to know; my manager and a few other colleagues who I work closely with. If I’m honest I felt nervous, awkward and quite anxious when disclosing my MS as I didn’t even know how I would feel talking about it and what to expect from others, as it was new to me.
The main reason I decided to inform my employer is because MS is so unpredictable and you can’t get the help and support you need if they don’t know. It was well received and accepted. A few of my new colleagues know people who have MS or similar neurological conditions, so they are aware of some of the symptoms and challenges I experience.
I have been back in full-time employment for 10 months and overall, I manage well. I do have set backs and find it challenging at times. Fatigue and cognitive issues are a real problem for me. I find it hard to concentrate at certain times of the day but I’ve found solutions to help me manage these issues better. I start and finish work earlier to avoid full-on rush hour, I have a healthy, filling breakfast and a later lunch so I don’t start shutting down too early.
Another thing that really helps is the ability to work from home (currently I am working from home full time due to Covid-19). Prior to Covid-19 I worked from home 1-2 days per week, which really helped with my fatigue.
Working with MS is a new challenge, one that I’m still adapting to.
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