A large group of colorful animated people are speaking to each other. There is one smaller person separate from the group in black and white, yelling to be heard.

MS and Speech: I Don't Need Anyone to Complete My Sentences

There are a lot of things I hate about multiple sclerosis (MS). Things that frustrate me, overwhelm me, and get on my nerves. But there is one thing that combines all of these feelings. I can’t stand it when someone interrupts me to try to finish my sentence for me. This causes my train of thought to completely derail, leaving me unsure of what I was even trying to say. You see, MS can cause the simple act of speaking to become unbelievably difficult. Surprisingly, it really doesn’t make anything any easier when someone is talking over me.

In the beginning, we all have to learn

One of the first things that many of us learn in life when we are just a child is how to speak. At first, we only know a handful of simple words. As we grow a little older, our vocabulary starts to expand, but we might still struggle to physically say certain words. For example, as I’m sure many kids do, I had a hard time saying “spaghetti” and instead referred to it as “pa-sgetti” when I was little. But eventually, we tend to get better at speaking and make a lot fewer mistakes like that.

I used to have no issues with public speaking

Practice makes perfect, right? Well, by the time I was 20 years old, I would say I had become pretty good at speaking. I had no trouble putting my thoughts into words and was quick with my replies. In fact, I used to love getting into debates with people, and I had no problem with public speaking. But then, multiple sclerosis (MS) happened.

Types of speech problems MS can cause

As I’m sure you know, MS can cause all sorts of different symptoms, which can all affect almost every part of the body. This includes everything involved in speaking. Physically, MS can make speaking difficult by preventing your tongue and lips from making many of the intricate movements needed to form words. At the same time, MS can affect the cognitive processes involved in speech.

Cognitive difficulties

People with MS may have difficulty organizing their thoughts into spoken words, remembering what a word means, finding the right word, or even remembering what they were trying to say! Some might say that the cognitive difficulties surrounding MS and speech are worse than the physical. Of course, that’s completely subjective since everyone is different.

The way MS affects my speech

I’ve had problems with all of the above at one point or another. Luckily, the more physical issues, like slurred speech, don’t seem to affect me as often. Instead, I almost always have cognitive difficulties when it comes to speaking my mind. Specifically, I usually have a hard time organizing my thoughts and forming a sentence from them. To make any sense, I have to meticulously plan out each sentence, sometimes one word at a time. This is where one of my biggest MS-related pet peeves comes in.

Being interrupted is the absolute worst

I’ve always hated being interrupted. I mean, who doesn’t hate it? I always thought it to be very rude, like, they don’t care enough about what I’m saying to let me finish. Thanks to MS, it’s even worse now! Because on top of feeling like someone won’t let me finish saying what I have to say, I have to deal with the frustration of not being able to express what I’m thinking. Sometimes, I feel like I’ve moved backward in my education of language and found myself back where I was as a child when I had very poor speaking skills.

Maybe I need to slow down a bit?

Once it was evident that this would be an ongoing issue for me, I decided I needed to try to do something about it. I started trying to slow my brain down to really think about what I wanted to say and find the right words to form a sentence. This has helped a bit but has resulted in an unintended consequence that takes being interrupted to the next level.

Please, just give me a second to think

The problem I have with trying to slow down, thinking about what I want to say, and taking my time saying it, is that people are impatient. I can attribute some of this to people not knowing that I have speech problems, but many repeat offenders know full well about my need to take my time. Regardless, what typically ends up happening is, halfway into my sentence, they will interrupt me and either try to finish my sentence or simply respond to what they think I’m trying to say.

Being interrupted by multiple wrong guesses

Of course, a lot of the time, they guess wrong. Being interrupted causes me to forget how I was trying to construct my sentences, and sometimes even the point I was trying to make. This means I have to circle back to the beginning to try again. But does their first failed attempt at guessing what I’m trying to say dissuade them from trying again? Of course not. So once more, halfway into my second attempt at expressing myself, I’m interrupted by another guess. This is when I start feeling a little flustered. Please, just give me a second to think about what I want to say!

Losing my train of thought

But a lot of the time, especially when I’m in a group conversation, this isn’t an opportunity I feel I’m given. Much like how trying to count backward from 100 while someone is shouting random numbers at you, it’s very frustrating. I just can’t maintain my train of thought! I would also compare it to watching ten different news stations on ten different TVs at the same time and trying to pick out a complete sentence from the chaos.

Shhh, let the grown-ups talk!

You know what all of this feels like to me? It feels like I’m 10 years old sitting at the grown-up’s table during a holiday meal. Everyone is engaged in deep conversation, but despite how hard I try to be in it, no one really gives me a chance to speak. And when they do? I can only manage to get a few words out before I’m interrupted. At the same time, I’m also losing patience with myself because of my apparent inability to coherently speak. If I could, maybe people would listen? Maybe people would let me finish a sentence without interrupting me?

Okay, I just need to get away

This is when I just give up on a conversation, whether it’s finished or not, because I’m totally burned out. Ironically, I end up feeling like the rude one for walking away from these kinds of conversations. But what am I supposed to do? When a conversation between me and someone else turns into a conversation between them and what they think I’m going to say? That’s not how conversations work. All I want to do is get away because I feel so overwhelmed. This is definitely one of the highest things on my list of MS-related pet peeves.

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