How I balance my MS with life's demands - Virginia's story

Virginia is 56 years old and lives in Canberra with her husband. She works as a business development manager at an interior styling company.
Virginia
What does balancing life's demands mean to you?

It means taking time out for yourself and doing whatever you need to do to feel well; finding things that rejuvenate you. I love gardening and relaxing in my garden; it's my Zen place. I combine something I love doing with zoning out from the rest of the world.

When did you realise that your life was not in balance?
I was diagnosed with MS in 2007. Looking back, I was in denial that anything was wrong with me, and I just ploughed through, working long hours and trying to pretend I was Super Woman. In 2010, I realised that I wasn't Super Woman and needed a rest and to not work the 70 to 80 hours I was working. I was physically and mentally exhausted from my career and I thought I wanted to retire.

What did you do to restore some kind of balance?
When we moved to Canberra from Adelaide in 2012 for my husband's job, I had decided to retire. I reached out to the Gloria Mckerrow House and found the MS nurse who talked to me about new medications, different therapies and supports to help with my MS. I started having remedial massage and found information about the other things that people with MS can access. I joined MS groups, including a peer support group that met for coffee on a Friday in different cafés in Canberra.

Why did you decide to re-join the workforce?
At an MS function I attended in 2017, I met Gillian Kennedy, a lovely lady from the MS Employment Support Service [ESS], and she said, "you're great with people, you're vivacious, you would be such a Godsend to a company who needed that." This prompted me to reconsider my decision to retire early and start looking at the jobs that Gillian would email me, which led me to work in my dream job as a business development manager and head stylist for an interior design and styling company. I realised that I did need to work; I needed to be mentally challenged and stimulated!

How does living with MS impact your working life?
I look like every other person that is walking this earth. So, sometimes, that has a negative impact on my job, as everyone forgets I have MS. And I forget I have MS as well. In that respect, sometimes I have to say, "I need this afternoon off" or "I need this day off" to be able to sit down and relax.

How do you find balance between taking the time to do the things you need to do in order to feel well and the responsibilities in your life, such as work and your relationship?
You have to allocate times for specific things. I like to go Nordic walking twice a week; I go to Pilates twice a week. I only work three days a week now, as my work-life balance was becoming a little too much work and not enough about me. Thursdays and Fridays are now my days off, and they are the days that I've allocated explicitly for me. You have to be strict with yourself and those around you, husband, wife, partner, children or boss. Your health is essential, so you need to ensure that you're not overcommitting yourself.

What would be your advice to somebody who may be struggling to find balance in their life right now?
You have to be strict with everyone around you. Whether it's exercising, having a coffee with a friend, or just laying down for half an hour with a book, you have to say to people, "this is my time," and they have to learn to respect that, otherwise you don't turn off and you can't get that relaxation that you need to boost your energy levels. 

How do you balance your MS symptoms?
Fatigue is my biggest thing, and it's a hidden symptom, so no-one would even realise that I'm fatigued. How can you tell unless someone's eyes are droopy and they're falling asleep at the table? You wouldn't know because physical fatigue is entirely different from just feeling tired. It's absolutely a hidden symptom, and it affects so many people with MS. We push through it generally because we're expected to do this and do that, have a social life and be this miracle parent and a superhero at work, but we can't do it all.

So what I do is exercise, which is vital for anybody, doesn't matter if you have MS or any other condition or if you're fit and healthy. You have to exercise. It's good for your mental health and for your physical health as well. 

Do you think that often, people don't allow themselves to say "this is my time" because they feel guilty?
I was probably the biggest culprit of that before, but now if you want to call it selfish, you can. I am entirely selfish when it comes to getting downtime. If I need to rest, I'll say to people, "I’m sorry I can’t catch up with you today. I need a break”, or “I’m sorry I can’t work today.” 

I hate to be sexist here, but I think that as women, we feel that we have to carry the whole family on our shoulders, we have to provide a clean house, we have to provide dinner, and we have to provide all the clothes washed and ironed and folded. We put so much pressure on ourselves, but we can all access the NDIS. I have someone who cleans my house every week and someone who does my ironing, both through the NDIS. 

What has going through the experience of living a very fast-paced life to restoring life/work balance taught you?
I’ve learnt that it has to be all about you; you have to be selfish. And you should also always talk to people; the conversation could be something beneficial to both of you, even a word of advice, “try my doctor” or “try my naturopath.” It’s those little connections that you make with people that can turn your life around. 

If, like Virginia, you want to see how the MS ESS can help you find a job, support you with strategies to improve your work/life balance, or stay employed, contact us on 1800 042 138 or email msconnect@ms.org.au. The ESS is a free service to MSL clients.
 

 



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