I Have MS and ADHD, and I Am Black and Fabulous

A new diagnosis has brought new challenges, but I'm more me than ever

On Aug. 17, 2021, I woke up feeling pins and needles from my breasts down to my feet. As an active person always looking to exercise to keep my anxiety at bay, I had spent the previous weekend lifting, hiking, visiting the zoo, and enjoying multiple walks. Until the last one when my boyfriend literally had to pick me up and carry me home. On Aug. 19, I was diagnosed with MS.

I've been a quirky person since birth, so showing up as my true and authentic self is something I've mastered. I'm not afraid to show up as me. I have ADHD, so I talk fast and furiously. I go down rabbit holes but always get back on point. Historically, people at work have strived to hide their differences. But mine are what make me unique. I've learned to work with my quirks, not against them.

Now, with MS, my brain moves more slowly. I'm tired. Exhausted, really. I have to sleep when I have to sleep. Tune out when I want to tune in. But I'm finding ways to work within my realities, thanks in large part to the inclusive talent and leaders at Marcus Thomas.

It hasn't been easy. From my first trip to the ER, where, as a Black woman, I had to advocate for a CT scan and other diagnostic tests. For the first few weeks, I was practically paralyzed from the waist down. A week in the hospital led to a loss of 17 pounds I didn't have to lose, complete loss of mobile dexterity, and the disappearance of my ability to shower and brush my teeth. Six weeks of short-term disability followed, along with my employers refusing to let me rush back to work when my symptoms were under some control. To say I'm grateful for the empathic support I received from my Marcus Thomas team during my entire journey is an understatement. I know I'm valued as a person. And that means everything.

I officially returned to work the following October. As a Black woman who has always had to push that much harder to pave the way for me and others following my lead, I was admittedly worried that my illness could impact my standing. I was so wrong. My experience has illustrated that showing up honestly and authentically is the only path forth.

I wasn't emotionally and physically better until March. And while that wasn't a schedule I coveted, it was what it was. I had to accept it. Accept all of me. Just as I've always done.

My diagnosis and recovery have reinforced mantras I have long lived by and taught me a few new lessons. The most important, perhaps, is that it's OK to slow down, and jump in and out of life and work. Being nimble and flexing for the moment is paramount. So is giving yourself grace to heal. You know your workplace is the right fit when your leaders see you as a whole human and not just an employee.

There are nights when I feel slight pins and needles in my fingertips as mini relapses break through my medication. But I'm a fighter. I've learned that women are more likely to be diagnosed with autoimmune diseases. As a young Black woman living with MS, I've had to push to get the answers I've needed. The support of my work family and friends has meant everything.

I'm still learning how to give myself more grace. I'm naturally a high achiever, but I am learning that I don't have to be perfect. I am where I am in life, and perfection has new metrics. And they are much more human.

Waking up and not finding words is a new normal for me. If my brain is foggy one day and I can't conduct a conversation to my preferred caliber, I pivot. Sometimes just getting up and out of bed these days is my holy grail. Every day looks different, and navigating what's before me has led to a mental reset of what matters. It's me. It's going to be a long time until I can work a nine-hour day. Being allowed to do what I can, without shame and embarrassment, in an ecosystem where my impact affects the entire organization, is a gift Marcus Thomas continues to give me. It turns out my diagnoses have taught the agency a few lessons, too. They've sparked courageous conversations and allowed others to reveal their personal struggles. It has freed many to proclaim they are a hot mess, too. It's raw, open, honest and undeniably refreshing.

As I work to diversify our troops and the messages we contribute to the world, I'm even more inclined to celebrate my unique differences that make me the human I am. I have a mountain of laundry to get to, that my MS and ADHD team keep me from cleaning. But all will get done. One way or another. One individual load at a time. After all, anything is possible. Everything is not.

Profile picture for user Joy Smith
Joy Smith
Joy Smith is senior equity and inclusion manager at Marcus Thomas.

Advertise With Us

Featured Clio Award Winner



The best in creativity delivered to your inbox every morning.