Sheila's blog: To Reveal or Not to Reveal?
I have MS, it doesn’t have me. I am a full time cityworker, wife and mother of two daughters (12 and 10). I was diagnosed with MS in 2019 but the doctors think I’ve had it since my early 20s. It is a difficult illness to diagnose and there is no known cure yet. My main symptom is limited mobility; I use two canes for short distances and a wheelchair or mobility scooter for longer distances. My mobility has deteriorated, and I have gone from fully mobile in 2019 to my present state.
Like other diversity characteristics, a choice that I take in work and daily interactions is whether to reveal my illness or not. Many people choose to cover or minimise their diversity and there are various studies and papers written by diversity academics on this subject.
A classic example given when it comes to mobility challenges and covering is that of Franklin D Roosevelt, the 32nd US President. Roosevelt was paralysed from the waist down after being diagnosed with polio at the age of 39 – he became US President at the age of 51 and served an unprecedented four terms in office. He chose to ‘cover’ his disability as he didn’t want to appear disabled or weak to the American public. He developed various techniques to help with this including asking the media not to photograph him walking, manoeuvring, or being transferred from his car. He was often photographed in his chair but with a blanket covering his knees so as not to bring attention to the wheelchair (his wheelchair was a dining chair with bicycle wheels so as to again minimise his disability! He also arrived at meetings before other attendees again as to avoid attention to his disability.
I constantly face the same choice that Roosevelt faced in both my personal and professional life. For example, the rise of virtual meetings means that some people I have met over the last couple of years, I have never met in-person and I have not had to disclose my mobility challenges. This makes the first in-person meeting one that I need to navigate and decide when and whether I need to disclose my use of canes or use of a wheelchair.
If I do decide to disclose, there is the inevitable reaction which is always, always well-meaning but can sometimes create a “pity-party”. People then use words like “inspirational”, “hero”, and “resilient” to describe what I am faced with daily. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate these sentiments and garner positive energy from the comments but what other choice do I have but to keep living, to keep working and to keep trying to be the best wife, mother and human I can be. Randy Pausch, author of the “The Last Lecture” said “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” I choose to play and to win!
Sheila has worked in the asset management industry for over 15 years. She is married to a wonderful husband, is mother to two amazing children, has Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis and lives in London. Sheila goes to the MS Therapy Centre in Harrow for physio and hyperbaric oxygen therapy once a week. Donations to support this wonderful organisation are very welcome. Sheila can be found on Instagram @MS_in_the_City.