Life after multiple sclerosis: How this disabled veteran and single mother turned lemon into lemonade
This savvy mother discusses her business, being labeled, stereotypes, and motherhood while living with Multiple Sclerosis
Nikole is a single mother and owner of Urban Essentials. She is also a disabled Air Force veteran that was diagnosed with MS (Multiple Sclerosis) in 2011 while serving in the military. Check out her interview below where we discuss her experience in the Air Force, dealing with MS, starting a business, and motherhood:
- What was your experience in the Air Force from a women's perspective? Being a woman in any branch of service has its good, bad, and ugly. I have experienced the broader spectrum of the three. Physically, the military is not forgiving on a woman's body. For example, women with wayward cycles will be looked down on and told to suck it up. I've even experienced supervisors telling troops that they need to be at work instead of seeking medical attention. Throughout my diagnosis I was told I was faking and malingering to get out of work. The sexual assault factor is also present and racism still exists. All things are covered up to fit the new standards but these problems are rooted deep within the culture. As a woman in the Air Force I have learned that life happens and we are designed to go through many seasons. I feel like being a woman gave me the strength to endure that season of my journey and grow from it.
- What is Multiple Sclerosis? Multiple Sclerosis is a neurological disease that effects your nervous system. It is considered an "invisible" disease, in that MS has no face and can be so many things. A person can go from being blind and losing hearing in both ears, to having bouts of numbness, memory loss and major depression. The disease has become easier to diagnose and treat. However, at the moment there is no cure or real idea as to what causes the disease. Many researchers argue that the disease stems from environmental vs genetic origins. Personally, I believe that this disease is caused by predisposed genetic factors accompanied by our toxic environment.
- How did you cope with being diagnosed with MS and how did your life change after? My life changed drastically to say the least. Although I was relieved that I finally had a diagnosis, I questioned why. It was also difficult for me to learn how to deal with my new life in a non-destructive manner. In the beginning, I alienated my family and friends. However, the moment I allowed myself to feel hurt and be open, I began to recover. My diagnosis changed my lifestyle and I became more cognizant of the to the toxicity we live in. I began to become interested in Yoga and leading a healthier lifestyle. When my medicines wouldn't work I replaced them with herbal supplements. I can honestly say it worked!
- Do you feel that being disabled has a stigma attached to it? Absolutely! When people hear the word disabled or disabled veteran, they immediately look for something physical. You have no idea how many times I have gotten "no, you're too pretty to be sick". I didn't know that disabilities or diseases were assigned to unattractive individuals! If that even exists. I had older people look at me when I park in the handicap parking space and tell me that I'm not handicapped. I even had an older gentleman leave a note for me on a piece of sheet rock telling me that the space I parked in was for "old white men". It sucks when you feel like you have to explain everything that you do because people don't understand that you have an invisible disease.
- What is your advice to women who feel ashamed or less capable because of a diagnosis or disability? Stand Up and then Sit Down! You do not owe anyone an explanation for what is going on with you. If you want to educate and open up - Do it! If you choose not to than don't! Choose your choice and understand that it's your right to change your mind about your choice. After you've made your choice accept your condition and make it a part of you. I used to be jealous of people that could hang out in the hot sun and not pass out or people that could go for long runs in any weather. Last week, I saw a few women out in the blistering heat of Atlanta and just smiled. I didn't feel sorry for myself or wish I was them. I had to learn to stop looking out of my window, watching others pass by. Listen to your body and quiet your mind. Shame and jealously can no longer dwell where it is not invited.
- What inspired you to start your own product line and business (Urban Essentials)? I was always business savvy but wanted a partner! I had two businesses that never made it to launch because I waited on someone else. Urban Essentials is something special because it intertwines with my own self healing. After being diagnosed and accepting my new life, I had to accept my new form. It made me research plants, products, and natural remedies. I found that what we put on our body effects us too. Our skin is the largest organ on our body and we neglect it. Fitness isn't just meal prep and getting to a healthy weight. It also encompasses how you treat yourself mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. This made me want to share my products with the world. Just like we say "there's an app for that", I say "there's a plant for that"! At the end of the day I want to educate everyone about the benefits of using plant based products.
- Any tips to mothers who are venturing into a start up? Do the work and don't be afraid to ask for help! Be fearless, the word "no" should not stop you. It may mean "not right now" or it may be the universe redirecting you. Pay attention to trends from all markets there may be something from another market that will help your product sell.
- How do you balance motherhood, business, & living with MS? I'm actually working on my balancing act! It's challenging but a blessing to have so many wonderful things happening in your life to balance. My family is my universe and my son is my moon...He comes first! I go to school while he goes to school and work on the business throughout the night.
- What example do you set for your son and why do you feel it is important? I am constantly showing him that everything I do has a purpose. My purpose and declaration is to shift our culture. Move into an era of buyers not renters, bosses not employees, leaders and not followers, lovers not haters. In my heart of hearts, because I love him and I love people. I want him to understand that there is so much love in this life and he is a product of that love.