Writing this week has been a heck of a challenge. Not because of a lack of ideas, or because of a lack of opportunity to write. It’s because I have multiple sclerosis and it makes it such a difficult situation that it’s hard to explain it.
But I will try to do so, briefly.
I am mentally a right-handed person. I was physically a right-handed person until somewhere around 2009, when m.s. decided that I should be forced to become a left-handed person instead. That was not a pleasant experience. I have nothing against left-handed people; My beloved grandmother was a lefty, from writing with her left hand to reading the newspaper backwards, and even using a left-handed scissor. But for me, learning how to write left-handed was not a pleasant experience because it wasn’t a natural predisposition for me the way it was for her. It wasn’t something I had any choice about at all.
Learning how to sign my name in cursive, left-handed … yeah, that was fun.
Along with that came the need to type and text with my left hand only. First, about texting … Have you ever had to try and do that? Not just text with your opposite hand from whichever is your dominant hand, but also hold the phone only in that hand at the same time? It’s rough. When I hold my phone in my left hand and have to work on it at the same time with only that hand, I am almost constantly partially covering the screen simultaneously while typing or reading. It’s incredibly frustrating.
And somehow typing is even more frustrating than the limited typing required by texting. For the things that I do in my life I have to type a lot of documents, and a lot of emails. From the time I was about 19 until 2009, I was a fast and accurate typist on a couple of different devices. I was timed on a couple of occasions at 86 and 88 words per minute as my word processor speed. That required 2 hands and all 10 fingers.
I can no longer use a regular keyboard because I can’t get the right angle over it. I need to use a touch screen setup. With the volume of typing I have to do, it’s very important that I have a reliable device. For awhile I used an iPad, and then the larger iPad Pro, but it would glitch at inopportune times and a project or paper I’d worked on for a week would disappear, even though I had saved it. I had to get into the habit of printing everything multiple times in process so that if it vanished I could re-type it from the printed version. What stress!
A few years ago I saw somebody using what turned out to be in Microsoft Surface. The keyboard flipped back out of the way and it could be stood upright on a kickstand, and the touch screen used that way. At that point I was just starting to work on my master’s degree program, and was doing a bunch of writing work entirely separate from that. I was anxiously trying to figure out a better way to work on a computer, and the Surface turned out to be an excellent choice. I wasn’t happy with the price tag, but I was happy with the performance and the way it worked for my needs.
But MS isn’t that ‘simple’ to appease.
My Surface set on a table-top that is several inches above my lap, in tablet mode so the touch screen works. In addition to being forced to use only my left hand, I have to deal with the inescapable fact that left hand gets tired. My left arm gets tired. When I use the word ‘tired,’ I mean really, terribly fatigued, kind of like the feeling you get when you have the flu.
Sometimes I try using voice dictation, but that has a whole host of problems. The computer doesn’t always hear the words correctly. It can be very difficult to achieve correct punctuation. The system can only take in so many spoken words at a time before it erases them. It often takes so much effort to fix everything that it just isn’t worth using the voice dictation.
Something that might take the average person a couple of hours to type out can easily take me 6 times that long. Even things like doing research take me longer because I have to handle things in ways that allow me to work around the fact can’t execute certain keyboard commands.
Don’t even get me started about my challenges with PowerPoint and Excel. I have to use them, but it’s tough. The physical challenges make it mentally tiring.
I’d love to write a book, but the typing would stress me out so badly, I think I would be tough to live with, and my kids have enough aggravation!