I’m 31 and living with MS.
For many, this comes as a surprise, because when you meet me, I seem pretty healthy. That’s because many people who live with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) go through bouts of remission, followed by an exacerbation (also known as a relapse or attack), and then more remission, then another attack . . . you get the picture.
There are days when I feel great, excited to take on the world, be a participant in my community, and really enjoy my work as a CLAC representative. Then there are days when I run into walls, constantly drop my fork on the floor, and feel too tired to be the version of myself I’ve grown so accustomed to.
MS can sometimes present itself as an invisible disability, a limitation—whether mental, sensory, neurological, or physical. Other invisible disabilities can include hearing loss, learning disabilities, mental disorders (like anxiety), and physical disorders (like fibromyalgia).
According to the World Health Organization, over a billion people around the world have some form of disability. In Canada, 3.8 million adults identified as having some kind of limitation. And these stats date back more than six years ago. I can only imagine how much this number has grown.
The work I do as a CLAC representative gives me the opportunity to work with some incredible people living with invisible disabilities. Mental health awareness has been a major focus at CLAC, and we make it a point to encourage our members to reach out and get the support they need—but that can be hard to do. I hear it time and time again from our members: it’s hard to talk about a disability like anxiety or depression when there are little to no physical signs of anything being “wrong.” I speak from experience when I say that the weight of the disability itself can sometimes feel minor in comparison to the weight of always having to justify that your disability exists.
If you’re struggling with an invisible disability right now, here’s what I can tell you: we hear you, we see you, and we believe you. No matter how small your limitations are, they are real for you. It can be hard sometimes to know how to be the best worker, parent, friend, and version of yourself. CLAC is committed to finding ways to get you the support you need, and to help you navigate what it means for your work-life and your relationship with your employer.
One example of this support is an employee and family assistance program (EFAP). If you don’t know if you have an EFAP through work, or you need information, reach out to your CLAC representative or stewards, or your health benefits provider. EFAPs are instrumental in providing confidential, short term professional counselling assistance—both in person and over the phone—to you and your family members. Some even offer legal and financial support, fitness support, and stress coaching—all areas where individuals with disabilities face barriers.
Some days are just going to be fork-on-the-floor days, and we get that. Know that there are supports around you.