When Change is not a Choice: Armen Berjikly at TEDxYerevan (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Experience Project founder, Armen Berjikly’s TEDx Talk: When Change is not a Choice at TEDxYerevan Conference.

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Armen Berjikly – Founder of Experience Project

Good morning. I want you to imagine for a minute someone else’s shoes. I want you to imagine that you went to bed feeling completely fine, health-wise, mentally, doesn’t matter, and you woke up the next day.

You woke up and one of your eyes, your left eye, let’s pick your left eye, isn’t working quite right. It’s blurry, its color is gone, pictures look a little bit like what’s behind me. And what you start to do, as most normal people do, is immediately panic, right? Something is wrong with you, you rub your eye, it doesn’t go away. You wash your face, it doesn’t go away. You talk to some friends and you say, “Have you ever woken up and your eye doesn’t work?” And they look at you like you are from Mars. And the go, “Ah, you should probably get checked out and keep distance from me.” That didn’t make you feel any better.

About 3 in the morning you end up on the web, you search on Google for “eye not working”, you end up on a website, probably like WebMD, or some other sort of heavy-handed resource. And that’s the worst idea, because no matter what symptom you have, any of those websites convince you that you’re going to die in 24 hours. Your leg hurts, you have gangrene, you have headache, you have a brain tumor. “Go see doctor now?” Right?

So, you ultimately do go see a doctor. This isn’t going away and you are a little concerned. And you go — and you go through a series of tests, and they’re somewhat embarrassing, or painful, or costly and usually a combination of all three.

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And then you wait, right? And that waiting is a terrible time. Because you don’t know, you know something is wrong, but we don’t know what it is. Eventually a call comes, maybe next week, and they say, “You need to come in”, and here your heart sinks. “Oh gosh, if it was nothing, they would’ve just said, ‘Take Tylenol, you’ll be fine’.”

You go in, cold room, by yourself. The doctor, notoriously not very friendly, sits down and says, “I really hate to break this to you, but there is no nice way to say this. You just had the first symptoms of multiple sclerosis. And this is a disease of your brain, and of your central nervous system and this is going to be with you forever. And it’s probably only going to get worse, you’ll probably be in a wheelchair, you’ll probably have trouble talking, we don’t know how bad it will get. Anywhere in your brain could get affected, and there is not really any medicines to treat it. Some, they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. They have side effects that are just as bad as the illness, and really in the end they don’t change anything. So, well, good luck and I’ll see you next year.”

And the idea might be that this is ridiculous, I kind of made this up or I exaggerated. But actually this happened to a very, very close friend of mine about a decade ago. And this was a change that was unwanted, right? Certainly not the kind of change you wanted to embrace. And it led to a series of other changes that have now helped tens of millions of people. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

So, multiple sclerosis or any illness, or any doctor visit, quite frankly, it’s not a choice, it’s not something you want, and you see, you get this feeling of incredible isolation. It’s not just the physical brick that falls on you, it is actually something that makes you feel incredibly alone. Put yourself in the chair of someone with that. And yet, you are not alone, right? There’s about 2.5 million people that have multiple sclerosis. And 200 more will get diagnosed just today, while we are talking here.

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So, the point I’d like to make though, it’s not just the multiple sclerosis. Every single person in this room here today, every person who will ever hear this talk, myself included, we’ve all had this moment, the “multiple sclerosis” moment, and by that, what I mean is, we’ve all been on the end of the call that we didn’t want to get, right? Somebody is hurt, somebody is moving away, a relationship isn’t working out. We’ve all felt this change that was not a choice, that was not desirable. And the fact that we as humans actually have this experience together, the fact that change is perpetual and is not always friendly, that’s a huge hint on how we can actually embrace this change in this situation.

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