In 3 days I leave behind everything I’ve known for the past 4 1/2 years and start a new journey. In 3 days I will develop new habits and new skills. In 3 days I will make new friends. In 3 days I start a new job, disguised as someone that I am not and I’m absolutely terrified. I’m not scared because it’s new or different and I’m not afraid that I won’t do well.
I’m scared because they don’t know that I have MS.
When I was offered the position several weeks ago I knew right then and there that I wasn’t going to disclose the fact that I have MS. Not right away, at least. I chose not to disclose because I don’t want to be defined by anyone’s perceptions of MS. I don’t want my supervisor to think that I’m less capable or that he has to treat me differently because I have MS. I want people to get to know about all of the things I can do before they learn about the things I cannot do. MS is still pretty new to me. I’ve only been diagnosed for 8 months now with symptoms presenting about 2 years ago. I’ve learned a lot since then and the one thing that still really upsets me is the fact that most people immediately start treating you differently once they know that you have MS. It changes things. You suddenly become fragile.
I had always heard that lots of people with chronic illnesses or disabilities go to great lengths to hide their illness from their employer. In a country with so many job protections I always thought that was weird because why wouldn’t you want the people you spend the most time with to know something so important? I think I get it now though. It’s not about fear of losing your job. It’s a fear of losing your independence and your credibility. Once people hear it, they can’t get it out of their mind and most will treat you differently, even if they try not to.
That’s what I’m most afraid of with this new job. I worked with my current co-workers for several years before I was diagnosed so they had a chance to get to know the real me. The strong, opinionated, hard-working me. They knew that I was the real deal and when I told them I had MS, most of them didn’t bat an eye. They were totally awesome. They treated me no differently than they did pre-MS and I love them for that. My life has definitely changed, but it’s still a life. I’m not sad or mad or even confused about it. It’s just something that I live with and work around. I still work just as hard. I still meet deadlines. I still exceed expectations. It’s going to be so hard to leave them behind and start over somewhere new, disguised as a healthy person but I’m going to do it and do it well.
I know that one day I will disclose my illness to my new employer. I just don’t know when that day will be. Maybe it will be out of necessity during my next relapse or maybe it will be because I feel comfortable enough to do so. However it happens, I know that I will recognize when the time is right and I will bravely shed this mask that serves to protect me.