Both living with MS and being queer can be a lonely journey at times, but during LGBTQIA+ Pride month I’m constantly reminded that I’m not alone. I’m surrounded by a wonderful community of people who love and accept me for exactly who I am: MS, queer and everything in between.
How did I get here?
In 2021 I was 26 years old, I’d just finished my PhD in Microbiology, and I was excited to continue my dream of working in academia as a post-doctoral researcher.
I’d only been working for 2 months as a post-doc when I was very suddenly admitted to hospital for 10 days after struggling to walk and feel my hands and legs.
After countless neurological exams, MRIs and a lumbar puncture, a neurologist told me I had a transverse myelitis and it was highly likely that I had MS. But we had to wait and see.
I struggled during this period. My life had turned upside down and I had to make decisions about what I was going to with my future. Eventually, the decision was made for me. A year later, I went to sleep and woke up with optic neuritis, leaving me temporarily blind in my left eye.
After I left hospital, I decided I needed to take care of myself. I left my job in academia with no plans for what I was going to do with my future.
For a period I felt lost. I was surfing for jobs and feeling uninspired, until one day I spotted an advert for a Research Programme Manager at the MS Society. I thought: “why not?” I applied and was offered the job.
Until this point, I was still in the wait and see stage of my MS journey. Then I experienced another episode of optic neuritis and received an official diagnosis of relapsing remitting MS. And – you really can’t make it up – I received my diagnosis the day before starting my job here.
I love my job
My mum likes to say that life has a funny way of eventually working out. For me, that’s proven true. I love my job and I feel like I’ve found where I fit.
The work I do managing our research programmes blends the best of what I loved about working in academia. Members of the public work so hard to raise money for us and we hold the immense responsibility of making sure that money is spent on research that makes a difference.
I’m in awe of all the incredible science our researchers across the UK produce, as well as our programmes like the UK MS Register, the Tissue Bank and our Cambridge and Edinburgh Centres of Excellence. And getting to work so closely with Octopus is the icing on the cake.
London pride 2022
This year marks 10 years since I came out to my friends and family and last year I had the privilege of walking alongside my colleagues, friends and partner in my first pride since my MS diagnosis.
For me, pride means never feeling alone. It means being surrounded by love and support from people who accept you exactly as you are. Accepting that I have MS has been, and continues to be, difficult for me. But walking hand in hand with those who mean the most to me was a display that I never have been and never will be alone. I’m so lucky to have a wonderful support system of friends and family who are with me every step of the way, no matter how hard it is.
All people have a right to exist within LGBTQIA+ spaces, with acceptance and without limitations. Unfortunately, disabled people too often face exclusion in the LGBTQIA+ community. Spaces and events are inaccessible and we’re left feeling alienated. There’s still a lot of work to be done to make sure that all queer people can enjoy queer spaces.
Despite these barriers, what I think is so amazing about Pride is seeing people from all walks of life representing every corner of the LGBTQIA+ community. Visibility truly matters, and if we showed even one person with MS that there’s a whole community of people who support them, then that’s a magical thing.
I’ve struggled throughout my life being proud of who I am. I didn’t want to be gay. I didn’t want to have MS. But working here, I’m lucky to work alongside so many incredible people with MS who volunteer their time to shape and drive our research programme.
I’m constantly shown by members of our Research Network what you can achieve when you put your whole heart into something you believe in, despite the challenges MS can throw at you. I’m so happy that for the first time in my life I can say I’m truly proud of who I am and what I do.