“More important than the quest for certainty is the quest for clarity.” -Francois Gautier

Communication (noun): Intercourse by words, letters, or messages; interchange of thoughts or opinions, by conference or other means; conference; correspondence.

Communication. Such an amazingly simple concept, yet an amazingly difficult thing to achieve. We are a world surrounded by so many means of communicating…but is anything being heard?

I was recently reminded of how fragile communication can be. Communication fragility comes in many forms, such as when an e-mail is misinterpreted, leading to a hurtful misunderstanding between old friends; or when a text message is sent incompletely, leaving a confused recipient wondering what that was all about; or when there is no information at all shared, and communication is stopped, leaving a void to be filled with false assumptions, hurt, and resentment.

Sometimes, the misunderstanding can start from the perception of a simple phrase or word. Take the phrase “Good for you”, for example. To me, that phrase indicates support, well-wishing, and positivity. I recently ran across someone for whom that phrase meant insult, criticism, and implied a condescending intent. Whoa! How can two people see three little words so very differently? The answer, my dear: Personal perception…

Personally, communication is a big passion of mine – good, clear, open, honest communication. Unfortunately, sometimes my own MS cognitive impacts kick in, and communication can become quite an interesting endeavor! Words become difficult for me to find, and sometimes I substitute other words in my search – not always with the intended results! Luckily, when I am speaking to someone face-face, I can throw my hands around while I search for missing words, and the people who know me can fill in the gaps when I can’t find the word. I have learned that humour makes these cognitive lapses much easier to handle – for everyone! (Especially if I am in the middle of a situation where I really need all my faculties, including my ability to clearly communicate, such as on stage or in a board meeting!) Unfortunately, this does not translate as well in written forms of communication, such as e-mail. I have noticed that incomplete sentences and the wrong choice of words can lead to un-intended misunderstanding and confusion, rather than understanding and clarity. Oops. My bad!

“Be gentle first with yourself if you wish to be gentle with others.” -Lama Yeshe

When managing a chronic illness, such as MS & seizures or anything else…communication becomes critical, in that the medical team needs a full, clear picture of what’s happening in my life to be able to treat me in the best way possible. I personally have no problems being open and transparent in life, mainly because I grew up with so many hidden secrets in my family that I abhor any form of “skeletons in the closet” mentality. Not everyone is like that, I know. But I have found, especially with the medical teams over the years, that you have to be willing to mention the “unmentionable” sometimes, or they don’t have the big picture and cannot accurately treat you. For example – if you suffer from pain on a daily basis, but out of pride won’t admit to any pain or minimize how deeply the pain is affecting you, for fear of some kind of perceived judgement, your doctor cannot know how to accurately help you. Or if you suffer from depression, but neglect to mention to the psychologist that you are going through job-loss or marital break-up, well the doctor can’t make a correct assessment and advise you properly. Or, if you are experiencing sexual difficulties, but never bring it up – well, you can end up with more than just sexual difficulties! I still remember the first time I brought up sexual symptoms of MS to my neurologist, and was faced with a very uncomfortable doc and no clarification. Later however, an MS & Sexuality seminar was created by that doctor’s clinic! What does that mean? It means that enough people asked the tough questions so that the need for information was clearly communicated, and the need was filled by clearly communicating to patients via the seminar.

When it comes to sharing and communicating with family and friends, that is a critical part of managing any chronic illness – they are your primary support system. I am not talking about a daily whining session, complaining all the time about what’s not working. Nor am I talking about taking out frustrations by unproductive rumination over perceived losses. I am talking about sharing personal truth, in as positive a way as possible – openly, honestly, non-judgementally, including the good, the bad, and the ugly, in an effort to maintain clarity and authentic understanding. I am talking about clearly communicating any necessary information to enable them to help you, and vice versa.  I am talking about being vulnerable, and listening to not only your own words, but the words of those you love.

And when you do have instances when your communication skills were not as polished as you would normally like – that’s ok. You are only human, after all! Learn from the experience, remedy or change what you can when possible, and move on.

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others. ~ Tony Robbins”