So here it is. My first dictated article. I knew this day would come. I also knew that come this day I wouldn’t be ready to accept it. So with a big chunk of frustration and a dash of interpretation, I ‘speak’ my first article.

Just like any other day

Today started just like any other day. I woke up; I had a scolding salt bath. I walked the dog. Everything was normal. Then I sat down at my desk in my home office, grabbed the mouse and logged in. Within minutes I had pins and needles in my forearm, seconds later, my right hand started going numb, within 10 minutes I’d lost around 70% of the feeling in my right arm and hand.

Now to most people, this would be a shocking experience, but as somebody who has spent the last five years with what I can only describe as flares causing numbness, burning, pain and weakness in my arms and legs, it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to.

What I cannot get used to, however, is the feeling of frustration. The feeling of being hamstrung, running sub-optimal, knowing what I can achieve under normal circumstances. It’s a feeling that weirdly makes me feel as guilty as it does justified given the circumstances. I should feel grateful that I can do as much as I can, but nothing can compare to that feeling of grief that you feel when your independence or mobility is taken away, regardless of how temporary.

The challenges

I started working in IT from a young age; it was suggested by my rheumatologists to my parents as a future career path given my outlook. Over time, my career went from the technical to the managerial, and I’ve spent the last 15 years managing technical teams.

People management is tiring and unpredictable, but you find ways to juggle the demands on your time. The constant questions, challenges and conflicts. It’s easy to forget amongst all that, you also have your own work product to produce: reports, training plans, emails – so many emails.

Over time, you set a standard, an expectation. So when you log on to work with a stacked diary and 60+ unread emails on a Monday morning without the use of your dominant hand, all plans are ruined. But this isn’t something you can explain. Nobody would understand if you tried. Most days, at some point, my left foot feels like it’s submerged in a boiling bucket of water – imagine casually dropping into the conversation!

There’s no time in the modern world. There is no time in people management, so many of my frustrations and fears over using assistive technologies come purely from pressures on my time. In a world where people send you a chasing email the same morning that they sent the original, when is there time to train my voice to the software, to build confidence, to do things at half the speed of what others would usually expect from me?

Finding my voice?

I love to type, especially when I’m writing creatively. There’s something about striking the keys at pace, the hypnotic tapping, the flow. I’ve had the ability to dictate my words by Dragon dictation software for some time. However, it’s been more my anticipated fear of the experience than anything else stopping me.

Of course, I had the usual concerns over speed, errors and how the technology would work for me, but above all, I was worried I would lose my writing voice when using it for my hobby. For my awareness work.

You see, you naturally develop a writing style. You don’t sit down one day to write a certain way, it just happens – and you should let it, with minimal influence, so it’s unique to you. For me, it’s short, sharp sentences, broken up by multiple commas reiterating the point. I came from a musical background and spent a lot of years writing songs. I learned what catches people’s attention; repetition, lists of three, hooks – and I apply that in my writing. Every writer should be able to look at a paragraph and instantly recognise it as their work, much as an artist would a painting.

I had feared that I would lose this, what makes me, me, by speaking my words, rather than typing them. Of course, I was wrong. It’s stupid, really, why would I lose my voice? It comes from the same place. If anything, it allowed me to think about how the words sounded as well as how they read, and I am already thinking about how this can inject greater emotion into some of my more personal and sensitive pieces.

As humans so often do, I made a mountain out of a molehill. I pictured an outcome far worse than what would realistically happen. Yes, there was frustration, and I have a long way to go in terms of learning commands and speeding up the editing process of voice-only writing but the fear and stigma of making use of such tools has, for me, faded.

Sometimes, taking a different approach can open doors to new opportunities you never imagined – and every so often, something as simple as dictating an article for the first time can remind you that accepting help is the strongest thing you can do.

Speak soon, Joel.


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Arthritis and Psoriasis Patient Advocate, Writer And Consultant. Owner Of The Pain Company.

I share my story of Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis to raise awareness and specialise in pain, parenting (with disability) and the mental health impact of living with chronic illness. I write and campaign for leading charities and organisations. In addition, I provide patient experience consultancy for both charities and global healthcare companies.

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