A new element of my work is to give training on soft skills such as active listening, how to praise and avoiding labelling people among others; I realise that anyone who has known me for some time just read that and thought….. ‘what? and I really can’t blame them for that! My own soft skills were not really very strong in the past but this is where time and circumstance can lead to change. Time, increasing age and with that greater experience of life brings more understanding of the situations of others. At least it should do. For circumstance, it goes without saying that MS a factor. The side effects of MS initially made me hesitant to get involved when my colleagues asked me. Problems with speech and memory lead to a feeling of vulnerability. Even when they are not noticeable to others, I know they are happening. On a more positive note, it has also increased that sensitivity element I mention above.
Of course, things can actually go wrong, the risk of which adds to the sense of vulnerability. Especially when it feels like the world is watching.
A Global Audience
With this new work it has sometimes felt like the world has been watching. Literally! One of the best things about my work is the international element and the current group embodies this, being Latines based in the Americas. People from Mexico, Colombia, Argentina… All connecting via the wonders of the telecommunications in to my living room where I present with two colleagues.
Well, last Thursday it was one colleague. The other had been afflicted by Covid. A small issue to cover for him. I like make sure as much as possible is planned for these sessions but that was out of the window. But it was nothing that could not be cooed with and, in any case, pretty trivial when someone is ill.
So on to the lesson itself. And the software we use for the conference call also seemed to also have MS that day. It did not really want to help. Various features were not working and I found myself talking away whilst my colleague tried to figure out what was up, getting the class underway. Talking without a script, just some prompts. It was enough and I kept going for thirty minutes.
The Brick Wall
Then it happens. A combination of fatigue and also a long day and perhaps a little more stress than expected, although I did not feel worried at all. It was was going well. I was beginning to present on the second topic of the day’s training and was going to make a reference to the first topic we covered a few minutes earlier, build a bit of interlock, have a good flow, help everyone understand how inter-related all the topics we covered are…
Only… what were we talking about?
It feels like my mind has smashed in to a brick wall and come to a sudden halt. My memory was blank. I made fast apologies and scrolled back through the PowerPoint presentation. Ah, of course! Joint Problem Solving! I had a nice way to tie in to the subject we were covering which was encouraging autonomy in others. How they tied in with each other even though one is about working together and the other is about building confidence in someone to work independently. I could refer back to my notes, get a nice smooth flow again!
Except that, within a minute, I had forgotten what I was talking about. Again. A fairly solid wall.
(Not) The End of the World
There was a screen full of people looking at me. My mind was floating, words were coming out of my mouth but with not centring on any subject. Uncontrolled. I was completely adrift. The train was wrecked, in my mind at least. I asked my colleague to take over and she did so, no problem. It was near the end of the class anyway. Within a short while I got my control back, making points toward the end.
In my mind a catastrophe had just happened. Humiliation, a total waste of people’s time. A stuttering, mentally meandering mess. I felt fairly bleak in those first few minutes after the training.
Bleak, but for no reason.
A quick review with my colleague and some online messages from the class group made it clear it was fine. Indeed, a lot of the messages from the attendees were actually very complimentary. There was no mention of what was clouding my mind. Perhaps no-one had noticed or just thought little of it.
And that, for me, symbolises a lot about the invisible symptoms of MS. They always on my mind, a constant source of concern. Will the wrong things come out of my mouth? Am I going to forget something crucial? Do people think I am an idiot? These issues are actually not that noticeable to most people and, when they are, there is a lot of understanding.
The morale of the story? I need hold my issues in perspective, put them in their right place and not allow them to dominate me. They are not that obvious for most people so why worry? The feeling of vulnerability will persist, though. It is difficult to shake off something that has been with me for so long. Perhaps the best way forward is to reduce its influence. Problems do not always occur and I should not live in fear of them as, when they do happen, it usually does not matter that much. Half the time the only one who notices is me, so why worry?