For Brisbane local Anne, life was pretty good. She was a uni graduate with a business degree, working on various projects across government and not-for-profits, until things changed in 2001.
“I started feeling unwell. It was a strange feeling and I knew something wasn’t quite right. I was easily fatigued and getting funny tingling sensations. In 2002, I had a massive MS attack which affected my whole left side, like a stroke victim.”
Anne was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and from that moment, her whole life changed its course. Her illness meant she was no longer able to work, and eventually she moved back home with her mum. Having a sister with intellectual disability, Anne was familiar with some aspects of disability, but nothing could prepare her for her own challenges.
The invisible disability
Because MS is often an ‘invisible’ illness, it can be hard for people to understand it and its symptoms. “It’s not until you go through it yourself, that you realise what people can face.”
Then, there’s navigating the workplace. One instance she recalls is being asked by a potential employer why she wanted to work part-time. When she explained her condition, how she manages it and all the great things that she could do, she was met with the response “I get tired too, but I can manage it”.
Finding the right job
Due to her symptoms, Anne couldn’t work for the first couple of years. To keep herself busy, she instead enrolled in part-time study from home. “It was hard because I was still recovering, but it was really good for me and my mental health.”
When Anne felt ready to return to work, she knew her symptoms of vertigo, fatigue, pain and ongoing left-sided weakness meant that part-time work was the best option for her to navigate the workplace.
Employers that understand
She eventually found the right fit for her, working in contract roles in Human Resources. She had the flexibility to work from home, which has helped her best manage her symptoms.
Anne says that over time she’s found that educating employers and being open and honest has been key. “I’ve always declared my issues and been open and honest, it’s the best way to work because the best employers respect that. Open communication keeps the door open.”
Having an employer that understands that things can sometimes change, and that symptoms come and go, is another key to Anne’s success in the workplace. “A couple of years ago my symptoms got worse, and recently I was diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis, which means working onsite is too hard for me now, so instead, I freelance from home, which is great for both me and my clients.”
For Anne, being honest with herself and others has been important on her journey with MS. “A lot of people struggle with acceptance but once you accept, you can move forward. Never apologise for being you, never apologise for your disability, never apologise for what you are going through.”
Finding meaningful work
Anne wants people with disability to stay positive and remember that it’s okay to want to find meaningful work. “You don’t have to settle for just any job! If there’s something you want to do, look at different ways to achieve your goals. Maybe it’s study, maybe it’s meeting the right people, maybe it’s doing something related to what you want to do and moving into it from there. Look at all the different avenues, because there is always a way!”
Supporting the Can Van
So, how did Anne come across CoAct’s Can Vans and why did she decide to enter our naming competition? “I like advocating for different issues, (which has really helped me in my own journey) and I’m pretty active on Facebook. When the Can Vans competition popped up in my newsfeed, I was instantly intrigued. What the Can Vans are doing really resonated with me, so I entered!”
What inspired the Can Van nickname ‘Hope’?
“I was going through a difficult time when I came across a famous quote from Stephen Hawking, “Where there is life there is hope”. This is something that’s always resonated with me. Hope gets me through each day and reminds me to never give up. There’s hope for better treatment and better cures.”
Focusing on the can
Anne’s message she wants to send to other people with disability, especially those who may be having a hard time, is to “work on accepting your situation, and more importantly, focus on what you can do. Also remember that it’s ok to have a bad day and it’s ok to ask for help!”
When asked what message she would like Hope the Can Van to spread, Anne says “authenticity and a celebration of being true to yourself”.
“It’s important not to compare yourself to other people – too often what people post on social media is fake, and it can really wear you down. Focus on yourself, because that’s what matters. It’s ok to do things differently!”
The road ahead
Despite being on a break as her symptoms have recently flared up, Anne really enjoys the flexibility of freelancing and would love to do something else permanently working from home. “I’m thinking about the things I like doing and what other extra projects I might like to work on.”
For the Hope the Can Van, she’ll be hitting the road spreading Anne’s message, helping people with job search support and raising awareness of the benefits of people with disability finding and keeping meaningful work.
If you or someone you know is looking for support to find or keep work, get in touch with our friendly team today.
You can also stay in the loop with our Can Van adventures and find an event near you here.
MS is an autoimmune disease affecting the brain and spinal cord. In simple terms, the immune system attacks the central nervous system. Symptoms include issues with motor control, fatigue and other neurological issues like vertigo, pins and needles and visual disturbances. It affects over 2 million people worldwide, and to this day there’s no known cause, no cure, no predictability in progression and its symptoms affect everybody differently.