Changing Of The Guard

This blog is about me starting out in an entirely new type of work – French-to-English translation – now that I’m disabled. I’m already in my mid-fifties, bit of an old crone, really, but a few years back I found out I’ve got an incurable disease affecting my central nervous system. Downer. It’s affected my memory, so I can’t work as a journalist any more. But I’m taking it as a prompt to reinvent my career. As much as I can, anyway. Since work as a journalist is now out, I want to become good enough in French to find translation work.

Working for free? No, thank you.

Let me be clear: I don’t want to have to build a new career at this point in life. I was quite happy with being a journalist. It’s what I’d dreamt of doing since I was a child and was my first job after leaving university. There were even times when I can remember thinking I’d have happily done the work for free, I enjoyed it so much.

This change in career has been forced on me. It’s happening after I discovered a few years back that I have Multiple Sclerosis. Before the official diagnosis, there was a lot of falling over, clumsiness and stumbling. I always struggled to follow the rest of the group in various yoga classes, and needed to sleep ten or twelve hours a night. Turns out all that was because of the disease.

I wasn’t just flaky or naturally bad at games, there was a reason why I always finished the egg-and-spoon race half an hour after everyone else. It was the illness gouging holes out of my brain, and not an indictment of my personality, after all. Although some may beg to differ…

Keep on asking

Even more horrifying than the diagnosis itself was realizing that I could no longer work as a journalist; the illness had damaged my short-term memory too much. Okay, you’re told in journalism training classes to keep asking the same question. Over and over. Until you get the answer you want. But you’re meant to change the wording so as to try and fool whoever you’re questioning into thinking you’ve never asked this before. Dumbly asking the same question over and over again because I can’t remember what I said a few seconds earlier… Not good.

It’s been gutting, discovering I can no longer do the work I used to love. But I can’t bear the idea of any repetition of one of my last press interviews when, unbeknownst to me, I was asking the same question over and over. No, this wasn’t a sophisticated form of questioning. And no, I most certainly wasn’t drunk. The illness had messed with my memory.

Starting again

Things are much better these days. I’ve recovered a lot of the function I was scared I’d lost for good. And I’ve discovered that the Scottish government will pay university fees for students who, like me, are disabled. So, I’m lucky enough to be starting a BA course in French at Stirling later this year. I can’t wait. This blog is my account of how I’m switching to a different kind of work now I’m disabled.

Mouldy old cheese

It’s all written down, so I’m hoping I’ll notice any unintended repetition. If I get muddled or confused, please just say. Like I said, (intentionally, I can remember this), my brain is getting to be like a mouldy old piece of cheese. It’s got rather a lot of holes in it.

Illustration: Hattie Fowler

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