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Monday, 18 September 2017

When did it hit you?

... and how did you deal with it?

I don't know how I missed it but I ended up becoming aware of a BBC programme, Without Limits: Vietnam, and I was watching it on iPlayer. I can't remember which of the people it was but one was saying that when they first became disabled, they were fine about it but then, later, it hit them and they got really down about it. I was talking to somebody at the weekend, who had a family member with a similar story. In fact, it's not the first time I have heard this... and my own experience echoes that of so many others.

I'm not even sure that it was just my disability that hit me and made me feel down. I think it was the whole package... losing mobility, leaving Finland, stopping teaching... all combined with the normal highs and lows of everyday life and work. It kind of left me wondering who I am and whether I have anything left to give. I have to confess, I was getting a bit worried about my mental health.

Not being one to just brush things under the carpet, I gave this some serious thought. After all, it's bad enough losing mobility. I can't afford to lose the plot as well! I came to the conclusion, after a fair while of thinking about it, that I'm not losing the plot and that anyone who has life-changing health issues is, at some point, going to need to stop and process it all. So I did just that... gave myself some space to process it all. And I came to a few helpful conclusions:

1. Control

I can cope with losing almost anything but not having any control over what happens is the hardest thing. Call me a control-freak but I need to remain at least partially in control of what is going on. That might be why I adjusted to the wheelchair better than how I adjusted to daily physio. The physio was thrust upon me, whereas using a wheelchair is my choice. It gives me control over my daily activities. A lot of things have happened that I have had little control over. That's fine but sometimes, I need to take control back. So when things are out of control, I need to find something that I can control, even if that is only my attitude and response to it.

2. Independence (or lack of it)

In general, people are very helpful. Don't get me wrong, we all know there are some horrible people out there, but the vast majority are nice and want to help others. That's great because we all need a little help from time to time. It's really difficult though when, suddenly, you need help with things that you have always been able to do... things that you would have helped others with. I'm quite independent and don't like people doing stuff for me that I can do for myself. So it's immensely difficult having to accept help with the simplest of tasks.

When people offer help, some people are doing just that - offering help. However, some people seem to need to help, as though it is their own need they are meeting, rather than the other person's. So if you politely turn down their offer of help, it's taken as a rejection of their entire being. Also, people assume that they know what help is needed, which is actually quite strange if they've never been in my position. How would they know? I think it's partly that they feel helpless. They can't make everything better so they try to compensate.

Conclusion: Sometimes, accepting help is not about my weakness but about helping someone else not to feel helpless. It's a balancing act.

3. Exercise and the great outdoors

I've never ever realised it before, but I need a lot of exercise and I need a lot of fresh air. If I stay indoors and do the couch potato thing, I quickly start to feel quite rubbish. Last winter, I got out a lot, went on lots of walks and it felt good. As soon as summer comes though, I don't like being out so much. I prefer to go out in the evening, when all the wasps have gone to bed but then it's dark and I don't like going out alone after dark either.

Recently, I have started working a compressed fortnight. That means I work 10 days worth of hours in 9 days and then get an extra day off, which for me is every other Friday. So I decided to make that my exercise/fresh air catch-up day. Last week, I went swimming. I drove miles to one of the big Olympic pools, with nice cold water and I swam for almost an hour. Then I went shopping, which means lots of wheeling myself around. Of course, I could do this on an evening or Saturday but doing it midweek means doing it on my own, which I think will also help me regain some sense of independence.

So, I'm hoping that by keeping these things in mind, I'll get through this phase of adjustment with my sanity intact.

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