Skip to main content

My earthquake: Getting diagnosed with multiple sclerosis

I was exactly where I was supposed to be for the big career I’d always dreamed of. Then came the numbness and tingling.

March 6, 2023 | 5-minute read

Victoria Reese, Media professional, CEO of We Are ILL

Victoria Reese
Media professional, CEO of We Are ILL

It’s early 2012. I know it’s a little hard to think about how different things were then, but stay with me.

I’m 25 years old, and I’m going all in. I’ve just moved from New York to Los Angeles to start a training program that I hope launches my career in talent management.

I’m living my best life, going to clubs, getting to know L.A. and Hollywood, networking. Yes, I’m broke, living with my two roommates in the Valley, and eating microwave dinners and lunches. But I’m having fun figuring it out.

Victoria Reese, before and after her diagnosis of MS.

This is me, excited to be training for talent management (left) and me in a hospital gown terrified after learning about my MS diagnosis (right).

You get to negotiate

To be a talent agent in L.A., you’ve got to be tenacious, patient, assertive — all traits I’d need when my earthquake hit that fall.

My training program was super stressful — a very “The Devil Wears Prada” culture. It was a year-long program, and as soon as you enter the door, you’re in the mail room, and you have to compete to get assigned to an agent’s desk. Show them how committed you are.

Then you’re assigned to an agent, and you have to be 10 steps ahead of your agent. If they come in at 8 a.m., you get in at 6 a.m.

It all sounds intense, but I was very career focused. When I was little, probably around 5 years old, I wanted to be a lawyer. It was the Murphy Brown show and those TV car accident lawyer commercials that got me: “Get in a car accident? Call me.” For Christmas, I asked for briefcases. When I was 7, 8, 9, it was always, “Let’s play lawyer!”

I started out pre-law (a legal communications major) at Howard University, but by my senior year, I knew a career in law wasn’t for me.

So I was trying to figure out how to merge entertainment and law, and that’s how I got to talent agent. Without a law degree, it was the closest thing to the type of law that I wanted to practice. You still get to negotiate.

My first symptoms

So I’m putting everything into my training program — it’s super stressful, super crazy, but I get my desk after just two months.

It wasn’t long after that I started to notice numbness and tingling in my legs, mostly when I was at work. I noticed it but just kind of thought, oh, maybe I can’t wear heels anymore.

Then I started to realize … there’s no way that my legs should be going numb after standing for 5 minutes. No way I should be stuck in stairways because I can’t walk any further. One time, it happened on the way to my car in a parking structure.

I started to worry, what if it happens when I’m driving?

I went to my primary care provider and described my symptoms. He asked what kind of work I did. Was I under a lot of stress? I’m a Black woman, young, Hollywood talent agent assistant. I could tell he was sizing me up based on preconceived notions.

He ordered an MRI on my legs. After reviewing it and seeing nothing, he felt that it must be an emotional thing. So he prescribed me an antidepressant. I couldn’t speak from experience, but I knew I wasn’t depressed.

Still, I listened to my doctor and went on with my life because that’s what you do. I took the antidepressant.

Everything changed

A few weeks later, the migraines hit. Just excruciating migraines that would come from the back of my head in the afternoon and last until the next morning. I couldn’t drive myself home — I couldn’t see.

Then one day I woke up from one of those migraines with the left side of my face from scalp to chin tingling and numb. My doctor recommended seeing a neurologist and doing another MRI — this time on my brain.

It was Sept. 25, 2012. That’s when everything changed.

Nine lesions. Classic first symptoms. Confirmed diagnosis.

Relapsing. Remitting. Multiple sclerosis.

It’s like an earthquake. Your normal is gone. Like, gone. And you’re trying to figure out, what is multiple sclerosis?

You do this quick Google search, and you get to WebMD, and it’s terrible and terrifying and because you see “diseases of the central nervous system,” you think, SOMETHING’S WRONG WITH MY BRAIN? And then you go to YouTube and see very severe disease progressions. People in wheelchairs.

And then you get to work.

My multiple sclerosis story

I started to realize…there’s no way that my legs should be going numb after standing for 5 minutes. No way I should be stuck in stairways.

CEO of We are ILL

Victoria Reese

At Optum, we offer resources, programs and clinical support for multiple sclerosis.