Currents of Resilience: A Trade Worker's Journey with MS

Christine’s Story

“After leaving the veterinary field for health reasons, my late brother suggested I consider joining a trade. I started my apprenticeship at one of the largest utility companies in Canada in 2017, I received my construction and maintenance electrician 309A certificate of qualification in December 2021 and became a subforeman in 2023.  

I was diagnosed with MS in February of this year, but I’d been struggling with symptoms for years with no clear answers. I experience loss of balance, clumsiness, dropping things, numbness in my arm and leg, muscle spasms, bladder dysfunction, brain fog, fatigue, difficulty swallowing, intention tremors, and the ‘MS hug.’ There are days when I have crippling fatigue, and it feels like my legs are made of lead. It can be embarrassing when I need to use the bathroom often or when I almost choke on food.

Working at a utility company is challenging at times but worth it to help deliver safe and reliable power to thousands of customers. I work on the construction side, so we build big transformers, breakers, and switches in the power stations and wire up the protections for all the equipment. My job varies from day to day depending on what we’re building. Some days I throw a harness on and assemble a transformer, other days we’re pulling cable or assisting the protection and control technicians with wiring in relay rooms. 

I check in with myself every day to determine what kind of tasks I’m up for. I might not be able to climb ladders or put together steel if I’m feeling fatigued or my balance is off. There are some days I’ll spend more time mentoring my apprentices. It gives me the opportunity to take a step back while still playing an important role in the daily tasks. On my good days, you would never know I have MS. In fact, some of my coworkers don’t know that I do. 

Working in a male dominated industry also has its challenges. Most of the men have been fantastic, but I do run into a few that aren’t used to working with women. I haven’t had too many issues because I stand up for myself and don’t tolerate disrespect. Even though I may not be as strong, there are usually different ways of doing things and tools available to get the job done. 

With my diagnosis, I’m learning that I need to slow down. I work out of town a lot and try to fill up my weekends to make up for lost time. I struggle with getting chores done at the house because I don’t have the energy to participate in my hobbies and clean up. My partner is good about most things, but he also works full time and takes on the bulk of the responsibilities with our pets. 

I have horses and love to ride in my free time! I started noticing that my balance if off, and sometimes I struggle to give the correct cues to them. I’ve learned not to dwell on it, but it was very frustrating at first. I’ve been riding since I was 11 years old, so it felt like I was going backwards. 

I’ve learned it’s ok to ask for help, at work and in my personal life. I’ve always been independent, but I’ve realized I don’t have to do everything alone. It’s also ok to take it easy sometimes. The biggest lesson that MS has taught me is to give myself grace. Life isn’t perfect and that’s ok. Don’t spend all your time worrying because stress isn’t going to help you in the long run. 

I recently read a quote that resonates with me: ‘I have MS, but MS doesn’t have me.’ I hope that in the future, I’ll still be working in the stations and that I’ll still be able to ride my horses. I’m optimistic that my disease modifying therapy will help me keep my MS in check so I can continue doing the things I love.  

For anyone who’s newly diagnosed, a good support system is so important. I’m not just talking about family and friends. Get a good healthcare team to help you with your goals. Get information from reputable sources like MS Canada and MS clinics in your province, and don’t go down the Google rabbit hole. Reach out to support groups to have discussions with others who may be going through similar experiences. You aren’t alone in this.”