Trishna collaborates with various MS and disability related organisations to help raise awareness about and support people with multiple sclerosis, chronic illness and disabilities.
These organisations are based both in the UK and abroad and include the MS Society UK (Ambassador), Asian MS (Committee Member, Newsletter Editor), Sue Ryder (Ambassador), the Wheelchair Dance Sport Association (Patron), Huntingdon MS Therapy Centre (Patron), the European MS Platform, the MS Trust, MS UK, Shift.MS and Disability Horizons.
Tell us about your current job role.
I work full-time as a Spanish language translator for a business information services company called M-Brain. I now work from home because of my MS (I was diagnosed 8.5 years ago) but I’ve had various positions within the company, including junior management. Now I’m a pure analyst and translate Spanish business press from Spain from Spanish into English.
My spare time is mainly spent collaborating across various organisations to raise awareness about MS, disability and chronic illness. I have no typical day or typical week, which I really like because it means I’m always doing different things and it’s the complete opposite to my job where there is a clear routine.
From one week to another I might be writing blog posts or articles for magazines, reviewing the content of research proposals, speaking at events, being interviewed in the media, attending fundraising events, recording one of my vlogs or having meetings with representatives from the various organisations I work with. Meetings might be with fundraisers, Chief Execs, campaign officers, volunteer coordinators, pharmaceutical company staff, researchers or policy officers.
What were the key decision points that were important in deciding your path?
There were a few key events that happened which led me on the path that I’m on now. Firstly there was my diagnosis with MS in 2008. I’d always done some sort of voluntary work ever since I was at school, but my diagnosis gave me more of a focus on the types of organisations I wanted to collaborate with, and the types of projects I wanted to become involved in.
Following my diagnosis, I became increasingly aware that people in the Asian community didn’t know much about MS, in fact so many people had never even heard of it. I wanted to do something about this and it led to my involvement in Asian MS, a support group that works within MS Society UK.
Quite quickly I became a committee member and I also created their quarterly newsletter because there was a need to increase communication with and provide information to members. My work in the Asian community was key in me being awarded the MS Society Volunteer of the Year in 2013, which then opened up doors for me in terms of raising the profile of my work within the MS community. That meant I started to be asked to become involved in many more projects at both a local and national level.
The biggest decision I ever made and which has played a major part in where I am today, has been accepting the challenge to take part in The People’s Strictly for Comic Relief, which was broadcast on BBC1 in 2015. It taught me a huge amount about pushing my limits and opened my eyes up to a whole new world. It also gave me the opportunity to raise awareness about MS on the biggest platform we’ve probably ever had in this country on a prime time television show. It meant my story and, therefore, MS, was being talked about in households and by people who would never have had any other reason to find out anything about MS.
All throughout my life post-diagnosis I have always tried to see the positives, which I think has been key in what I’ve done since then. I’m not saying it’s been easy, it hasn’t and I’ve had to learn a lot about myself in the process, however, I do believe that it’s the challenges in life that we learn the most from and it’s definitely made me a much stronger and much more determined person.
I enjoy the fact that I have such a variety of different opportunities and projects to choose from. I only take on projects that I believe I can add value to but it means that I’m also constantly being challenged, constantly learning and always meeting new and inspiring people who I’m able to learn so much from. I feel that I’ve probably grown more as an individual in the past eight years since my diagnosis than I have at any other point in my life and much of that has come from the things that I’ve been doing.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work? What strategies have you developed for tackling that challenge?
I sometimes get told that I’m not “representative” of people with MS just because I’m not in a wheelchair or don’t have some sort of visible disability. This is one of the misconceptions I’m fighting so hard to change, but it can be even more difficult when those comments come from within the MS community itself.
The biggest challenge for raising awareness about MS is helping people to understand the uniqueness and disparity of the condition. Every single person’s symptoms are different, there is no model, there is no pattern. You can have identical twins both with MS who more than likely would not present the same disease course.
To tackle this, I always emphasise that the importance of raising awareness is to prompt discussion and get people asking questions. Yes, I’m able to represent my own MS and tell my own story, but I also explain that it’s my experience and my journey and that another person with MS will have experienced something different. I use it as a discussion point to demonstrate why it can be so difficult to be diagnosed with the condition and be able to gain understanding from people about your own personal support needs.
What has been the most defining moment for your work to date?
There have been two defining moments for me and one of realisation. The two defining moments were winning the MS Society Volunteer of the Year Award in 2013 and then being chosen to participate in the first ever People’s Strictly for Comic Relief on the BBC in 2015. Both opened up doors of opportunity for me to further the work I’m doing about MS, disability and chronic illness.
The moment of realisation was when I was speaking at a charity reception at 10 Downing Street. I was speaking in between Samantha Cameron and Michelle Mitchell OBE (Chief Executive of the MS Society) and while I was speaking, it suddenly dawned on me where I actually was and what I was doing. It was an amazing moment because I thought when my parents came to the UK in the 1950s/60s, never would they have thought that one day their daughter would be a guest speaker at the Prime Minister’s home and office! It was an extremely proud moment for me.
Best piece of advice you have received? And who was it from?
It was actually from Aljaz Skorjanec, who was my professional dance partner on Strictly. He taught me all about good posture, which was obviously for my dancing. However, I’ve come to realise that it’s had a huge effect on other parts of my life. When your posture is good, it lifts you up both mentally and physically. I feel much more confident when my shoulders are back and I’m walking tall. It’s also had a great effect on the way I speak at events or even when I do interviews. It can totally change your mood and demeanour without you realising it.
Away from this role what are your passions?
I love sports and being active, particularly hockey and zumba. I also love going to the theatre, particularly musicals and dance shows. I enjoy learning languages too and given that my full-time job is actually a translator it’s great when I get the chance to learn more!
What are the three (professional or personal) books/websites/ or resources that you would recommend to others?
I would also highly recommend the Bart’s MS blog (multiple-sclerosis–research.blogspot.com/) as a good way of learning more about what’s going on in MS research. It’s run by MS neurologists and researchers and it gives access to studies and research that would never make it into the mainstream news because they’re not ‘big’ enough. The people who run the blog then give a ‘layman’s’ synopsis and provide the opportunity to interact with them if you have any questions. It’s pioneering and a fantastic way of encouraging patient engagement in knowledge learning.
What do you know now, that you wish you had known as you started your work?
That paths aren’t set. Nor is there a predetermined route or timescale to get to where you want to be. It’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to be scared. And most importantly, it’s OK for things to go wrong in your life, because actually that’s when you often end up learning the most.
Do you have any advice for women considering doing a similar thing to you?
If you want to go into charity work, find a cause that you’re passionate about. If you’re passionate about something, it will come through in what you’re doing. It also means you won’t mind coming out of your comfort zone or doing things that might scare you. I’ve done so many things through my MS-related work that I’d have never imagined I’d have the courage to do.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you do instead?
I’d love to be a dancer! I came to dancing late in life but absolutely love it!
Trishna was joint winner of the Leadership Award at the PRECIOUS Awards 2016
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