Celebrating My Five Year Mark By Going Back to Work – Living with MS

Jamie Tripp Utitus
Written by
Jamie Tripp Utitus

I remember when I had to pack up my desk and say goodbye to my students and my title as a special education teacher. After holding on for a year-and-a-half after my diagnosis with multiple sclerosis, I knew it was time. I tried to fight it, to hold on, but the nature of my job was progressing my disease. A part of me felt like a quitter; or rather a statistic.

Within five years of being diagnosed, the overwhelming majority of those diagnosed are on disability. By the five year mark, we also are expected to have progressed, as in worsened on the scale that doctors use to measure the degree of disability.

So, I became a writer. I relaxed and focusing on gratitude for what I had and my body began to heal. I stayed home with my children and bonded with them and the idea of being a domesticated type of person. I was one of those mom’s whose house where you can smell cinnamon and apples wafting through the air on a fall day. I juiced and meditated and learned a new lifestyle. This I thought, was my life…

Then two weeks ago I was offered a job at a school as an aide in a classroom of five students. Less stress. Hmmm… I never thought of that. I took it.

So what have I learned about going back to work at the five year mark of my diagnosis?

Hope. When I was first diagnosed, I panicked and imagined I’d be a quadriplegic at the 5-year mark because of my spine and the scale; the 5-year mark typically marks progression. But I am NOT a statistic, our disease and their courses are so individualised. I never dreamed I had a chance of coming back to teach, let alone walk! I can still change the trajectory of someone’s life! I walk into work every day remembering that.

Relax. Because of my absence in the traditional workplace and my change of lifestyle, I don’t sweat the small stuff. I don’t sweat the big stuff either. I TALK with my coworkers in a non-defensive way, with love. We are a team trying to solve solutions for children. It is as simple as that. When you face something so scary and life-threatening like MS, sweating stuff doesn’t happen. Life becomes more JOYFUL with this understanding. Coming back has helped me better gauge the joy I have - I didn’t even realize.

Give. Giving is the greatest way to heal. Some people living with MS are not as lucky as me where they can come back to a job. Whether you can go back to work or not, try to help someone in ANY way, no act is too small. Report back to me on how it changes you. Do this consistently and you will see how it heals others and you.

It’s easy when dressed up and “in the rat race” to forget you have MS. It’s easy to forget you only have so many spoons. We can pretend we are the same as our coworkers, but we are not. We must be proactive, prioritise our battles, and love ourselves as much as we love others. Remind yourself to slow down, let things roll and let love lead. And when you need to sit, sit. And gratitude, always, always remember to be grateful. No matter what.

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