I have MS, I work as a builder and I am studying for a PhD.
For a lot of people the above sentence makes zero sense.
- Female builder?
- Doctorate student?
To be fair, if you’d said that to me seven years ago, I’d feel exactly the same.
It’s a bit easier if you know that I was diagnosed with MS when I was 38, was sacked from my job for having MS, ended up working for my friend’s building company (which I helped him set up years before) and decided to stretch myself academically.
It was either that or go under. I’m not joking, I was in a bad place. My sofa seemed preferable. It was molded to my shape. It supported me through the worst of times and I was sinking fast.
After my two-year pity-party-for-one, I finally woke up. I had accepted the most invasive MS drug. I signed up for working as a builder and I put my name to a Master’s at University. Which has now led to Doctorate studies.
It was a crash course of sorts; juggling a pregnant-woman diet in readiness for the MS treatment, getting up to speed with foundation concrete depths and researching narrative styles. It was nothing if not interesting. And varied.
So I juggle these three personas and luckily I have a lot of support. I may still turn heads as the fat, female builder in warehouses early in the day, but I know what I’m doing.
MS dominates my working day, so I start as early as the Boss can cope with (if it was my way, it’d be 5am), and then crash when I get home. I no longer cope with heavy loads but I’m experienced and (I think) it’s valued on our work sites.
As for academia, it’s a case of as and when. I’ve learnt to take a book and notepad to work at all times. It’s amazing what five minutes here and there can add.
If I look back to when I was 38, my goals were to become a social worker and meet a nice man called Geoffrey, who had a beard and read the Guardian. He probably ate croissants and made his own pizza dough.
Illness didn’t figure – why would it? I imagined breakfasts at locally-sourced-food cafes, long days spent reading newspapers and French novels in translation plus the occasional city break in Europe. A bit Bridget Jones.
Now, that’s all gone. I’m a happy builder, more than confidant to deal with the enduring patriarchy and smash misconceptions, I have MS, and I’m dealing with it. I may not have Geoffrey, but I have something indefinable.
MS – it can change your life, in more ways than one.