Monday, 24 January 2022

An Impending Impediment To Independence

New Year, New Injury, New Questions

As we all enter a brand new year, my 17th on wheels, I wanted to pose a question to my fellow "person's of varying disabilities", something that's been on my mind more and more recently: 

How have you dealt, or how do you plan to deal, with an eventual loss of independence?

I ask this because a couple of months ago I woke up one morning and found myself unable to transfer out of bed and into my chair. Every time I went to push through my arms and lift, shooting pains went all down my left arm. I spent a good 20 minutes trying to push through the pain, do smaller lifts and shuffle my way into my chair, but the ability just wasn't there; my arm had completely gone. I'm generally a fairly rational person on the whole and someone who doesn't panic easily; however, in that moment, I will fully admit to feeling more than a little concerned.

I phoned my mum who lives nearby and asked her if she could come round and fetch my slide board from downstairs, a relic from my time in the James Cook Spinal Injuries Unit, stashed away in case of emergencies, and this certainly felt like one. As I waited for her, questions bounced around frantically in my head: 

"What the hell had happened?"

"What if this was permanent??"

"How many changes would need to be made to my life?!"

In hindsight, I can see that my initial fear and confusion had led to me playing out every worse case scenario in my head, but I think it also exposed a truth; that one of my biggest fears is losing the independence that I have. 

Good old banana board, practical AND stylish!

The Edge of Independence

Initially, after my injury, I really couldn't do much of anything for myself. My arms were incredibly weak, my fingers didn't work and I hadn't even begun to grasp how to adapt to my new circumstances. By the time I left hospital I could just about manage the basics of washing myself, feeding myself and dressing my top half; everything else was achieved entirely by, or at the very least with a large amount of assistance from, nurses, carers and parents. 

When I eventually got a fully accessible place of my own, it took me months of trial and error to work out methods of transferring, washing and dressing myself independently; and even longer when it came to the likes of bowels and baths. I moved from a flat to a house in 2017 and have since worked out a method of doing a floor to chair transfer that involves me lifting myself up a couple of stairs in the hallway and then across and back into my chair. Even 17 years after my injury, I'm still on the learning curve.

This fierce desire for independence, combined with a stubborn refusal to ask for help unless absolutely necessary, means that I'm able to live my life on my own terms for the most part and am not beholden to others. The increasing number of disability aids available also takes away much of the day to day stress and hassle of having to do things with limited arm and finger function. However, in terms of spinal injuries, mine is sat right on the cusp of independence and all it would take is one little negative shift for me to find myself on the opposite side of that line. 

So with mum having come to the rescue and me having edged my way across the slide board and into my chair, my next frantic phone call was to the spinal injuries liaison nurse who got me an outpatients appointment the very next day. I explained my symptoms to the consultant and was sent for a shoulder X-ray which came back clear. Next step was an ultrasound scan, but that wouldn't be until early in the new year, so I was told to go home, rest the shoulder and arm as much as possible (not the easiest thing to do as a wheelchair user!), and keep an eye on it. 

So "rest" and monitor it I did, and gradually over the next month the pain began to ease, so much so in fact that by the time the ultrasound appointment came about I wasn't sure they would even find anything. 

But they did.

Well That's Torn It!

It turns out I had torn one of the three tendons in my shoulder (the top one to be precise) and that my deltoid muscle was now compensating for it, which explained both the arrival of the extreme pain and the gradual dissipation of it. I was told to await a further appointment with the consultant, but that generally speaking they preferred not to operate on an injury like this, rather they would leave the tendon torn and allow the deltoid to continue compensating for it. When I asked if this was a common injury, the reply came, "not in someone so young". The long-term legacy of spinal injury strikes again!

What I'm assuming the inside of my shoulder looks like right now...

I have no real idea of what the positive or negative aspects of this stance are, and whether the underlying reasoning is medical or financial, but it has certainly left me with a whole new set of unanswered questions bouncing around my head:

"Are there any long-term implications of this?"

"If necessary, would it be possible to repair the tendon at a future date?"

"What if another tendon tears, does the deltoid just compensate further? This cannot be healthy for it surely?"

This all comes less than 7 years after a scan on a rotator cuff injury to the same shoulder found that I had worn away the entire protective layer (I think it was cartilage but don't quote me on that) around the joint. So whatever the answers to my questions may be, that won't change the fact that my shoulder, something I rely on in almost every aspect of life, is deteriorating far earlier than it should and that eventually it will likely get to the stage where I am no longer able to function independently with it. 

Fears Going Forward

I know this may all be coming across as a tad dramatic on my part; after all there are plenty of people with disabilities who already require assistance everyday, most able-bodied people will start to need a similar level of help once they reach a certain age, and I'm not currently at the stage where I definitively need help yet. I think that at my core, it boils down to the fact that, having fought so hard to regain my independence post-injury, losing it again would feel like a bitter regression and upheaval.

So there we have it, maybe not the most inspirational New Year New Me post to enter 2022 on, but something that's been playing on my mind a lot recently. If anybody has any thoughts or advice on this subject then by all means let me know either by commenting on the Active Hands post or by visiting my Blogspot page. Like I said, I know I'm not at this stage currently, but I think hearing other people's stories could help prepare me if/when the time comes. And if this results in a dozen comments telling me to "grow a pair" well, I guess I had that coming!

God help me if I ever regress back to whatever this stage was!


Friday, 2 July 2021

Active Hands and Therabands - How To Work Out With The Sun Out!

Sittin' On The Deck Of The Bay Windows

After what felt like the longest winter imaginable here in the UK, with my hoodie 'n' heating combo lasting until the end of May; this past month has finally seen the rain let up and temperatures break into the tumultuous teens! With so long spent indoors over the colder 6+ months, it feels genuinely rejuvenating to go outside, water the plants, feed the birds, and then just sit and feel the warmth of the sun on my face. So much so in fact, that I start to get antsy if I'm sat on the living room sofa and happen to look out of the French doors to see the garden lit up with sunbeams.

This being the case, I've started finding myself doing more and more "in-house" activities outdoors, specifically on the decking in my back garden. Nothing too extreme of course, I'm not heading out back every morning with a bar of soap and a bottle of Head & Shoulders to give myself a hosing down! More I'm going outside to REEDE: read, eat, email, drink, exercise. Yes, I just made that acronym up but let's pretend it's a thing!

Now I know what you're thinking, exercise is something that can be done equally if not moreso outdoors than in, and this is largely true (though I would argue not always for wheelchair users). However, the specific kind of exercises I'm referring to here involve an item that is almost always used in indoor settings: resistance bands aka therabands. 


What Are Therabands and Why Use Them?

Therabands are latex bands/tubes of varying resistance levels. They are commonly used by physiotherapists and athletes but are also great for everyday strength training exercises. Bought as either ready-made bands or rolls that can be cut to the desired length, these are some of the most versatile, inexpensive and convenient pieces of equipment you can get, opening up a huge number of stretches and exercises that can be carried out in virtually any surrounding, from the comfort of your own wheelchair. 

When compared to the likes of free weights, therabands actually offer you a greater range of motion and create resistance in all directions, allowing you to activate more muscle fibers and stabiliser muscles. The fact that you are creating resistance in all directions also helps cushion the joints as it means you are working to slowly release each rep. This is particularly important to wheelchair users, as joint issues, especially in the shoulders, can become very problematic, so it is imperative we do everything we can to protect and strengthen these areas. Nowadays I try to limit my use of free weights as much as possible for this very reason, as I find certain exercises to be quite jarring and usually result in me getting a dull pain in and around my rotator cuffs shortly after.

As I mentioned earlier, therabands are almost always used in an indoor setting. However there is absolutely nothing stopping you from taking them outdoors and into the sun; all you need is something to hook them round to provide resistance. I find myself far more invigorated when exercising in the sun with my headphones in and a breeze on my face than when doing the same in a stuffy room. With this in mind, I'm going to look at a few of the muscle and joint strengthening exercises you can do outside using therabands. Many of these exercises can be done without the need for grip; however, where a certain amount of grip is required, I use the Active Hands Hook Aids to achieve this.

Chest Pull

A very basic one to start with. Simply put your hands through the theraband so that it is resting against the back of them, hold them out around chest level, and then pull your hands away from each other before doing a controlled release. (All of these exercises require a controlled release after each rep, but to save things from becoming repetitive I'm only mentioning it in this first one.)

Internal Rotation

For this one you will need to hook one end of the theraband around either the handle/armrest of your wheelchair or a door handle (whichever you have available/feel most comfortable with). Then hook the other end around whichever hand is on the same side as the theraband and, whilst keeping your elbow bent at your side, pull the theraband across your body, towards your stomach.


External Rotation

Set up in exactly the same way as the internal rotation, this time hook the other end around the opposite hand and pull outwards, away from your stomach, whilst still keeping your elbow bent at your side.


One Arm Chest Press aka Forward Punch

For this exercise you need to hook one end of the theraband around a door handle before reversing your chair against the door so that the handle is on the side of the arm you wish to work-out. Then take the other end of the band in your hand and push your arm away from the door, punching forwards.


One Arm Row

With the theraband still hooked around the door handle, turn so that you are facing the door and, using the Hook Aid, hook the other end of the band. Then pull your arm back and away from the door, ideally until your elbow is behind you and your hand is in line with your chest. 


One Arm Push Down aka Downward Punch

This time sit side-on to the door and, with one end of the theraband around the door handle, take the other end in your nearest hand so that your elbow is in line with your shoulder, and push downwards in a punching motion. 


Sideways Pull Down

Again you want to be sat side-on to the door with the theraband around the handle; however, this time you want to be sat as far away from the door as possible whilst still being able to reach the band. Use the Hook Aid to latch onto the loose end of the band and then, with your arm outstretched and your palm facing down, pull your arm down to your side, keeping it as straight as possible throughout.


Sideways Pull Up

For this exercise you need to roll one of your casters over the theraband and pull it upwards so that you have it hooked to the bottom of your wheelchair. Then hook your nearest hand through the other end so that the material is resting against the back of it and, with your arm straightened, lift it up until it is around shoulder height.


Bicep curl

The old classic. With the theraband hooked to the bottom of your chair at one end and around your hand at the other, simply curl your forearm upwards.


Bent Arm Pull Up 

Keeping the theraband hooked around a caster, this time slip on a Hook Aid and hook onto the band. Then pull your arm upwards, bending at the elbow, as if you are trying to start an old fashioned lawn mower!


Diagonal Row

This final one can be done with the theraband still hooked around a caster, however I find it more comfortable to move it upwards slightly and hook it around one of my brakes. Then, with the Hook Aid on the opposite hand to the side of the theraband, hook onto the band and pull diagonally across your body, keeping your elbow bent.


A Summery Summary

So there you have it, a handy handful of simple exercises you can set up outdoors using your wheelchair, a door handle, your Active Hands Hook Aids and a pack of therabands. I tend to do 3 sets of 10 reps on each arm, changing up the theraband depending on the level of resistance required. I also don't profess to being an expert when it comes to the multitude of exercises you can do with therabands (as you can probably tell from the names I've given most of these)! There will be plenty more I haven't even thought of yet, so if you discover ones that work even better for you then fantastic! The main thing is that you're enjoying the exercise, feeling positive about yourself and making the most of the summer fresh air - after all, this is Britain, it could start pouring down again at any moment!

Monday, 30 November 2020

Crafting Christmas With Active Hands

The Nightmare Before Christmas

For most of us, referring to 2020 as "a challenging year" would be akin to referring to spinal cord injury as a "bit of back ache". What began as the start of a promising new decade quickly descended into a year to be largely written off. Yet, with us now entering the final straight and a vaccine tentatively hovering on the horizon, the hope of things returning to a semblance of normalcy at some point in 2021 seems to be a genuine possibility.  

Firstly however, there is one small matter left to attend to, one final hurdle in the 2020 marathon to overcome - Christmas!

The recent lockdowns and other strict laws we have seen implemented in the UK, have largely been in the hope that, come Christmas itself, people will be able to celebrate with their families: tucking into turkey, exchanging presents, and pulling crackers; as opposed to sending out a mass "Merry Xmas!" text and setting up a Zoom meeting so everyone can watch Strictly together! 

However, before the big day itself comes the build up, and the many, many joyous Christmas tasks that entails...

Ah the classic festive tradition of decorating the limbless, decapitated mannequin!

Home Alone

I must confess that I love pretty much everything about Christmas - the trees, the decorations, the food, the songs, the family aspect, the hustle and bustle of people trying to get in every little thing they need; there's something magical about the period. As I've become older, I've grown to enjoy the ramp up to the big day as much as if not more than the day itself. That doesn't mean it's not without its challenges mind you, and having a disability that affects my grip certainly plays into this. Staring helplessly at a stack of unwritten cards and a mountain of unwrapped presents would be enough to make me fall to my knees in submission were I actually able to get up again afterwards! 

In previous years, I'll rather sheepishly cop to having friends and family aid me in a large number of these types of tasks, and I'm sure I'm not the only one committing these acts of festive fraud...

This year however is different. With most of us being told to isolate as much as possible, this December many of us shall be doing the vast majority of our Christmas preparations *gulp* single handedly!

With this daunting prospect in mind, I'm going to take a look at some of the products I intend to use from the Active Hands store and how you too can use them to ensure Yule (sorry!) have a cracker of a Christmas! 

Small Item Gripping Aid

Easily one of the most versatile aids on offer, the Small Item Gripping Aid is my go to aid for all things pen related. Simply slot your writing implement in between the clamps, fix in place with the velcro straps and you're ready to dive into that stack of unwritten Christmas cards staring ominously at you from the kitchen counter! I'd previously had to rely on pinning the cards in place whilst using both hands to hold the pen and I swear, to this day half my family have no idea who the phantom scribbler is that sends them cards every Christmas!

What makes this aid so versatile is the fact that, not only can you attach each item at any angle you require, but, with some extra Palm Pads, you can attach multiple implements to them and keep them attached, allowing for quick and easy switching between items. I've used mine to hold everything from cooking utensils to an electric toothbrush, and I know many people use them to apply makeup as well (one likes to look their best for Santa after all)!

Nimble/Table Top Scissors

If there's one thing that could cause me to lose my festive cheer each year then it's the f$*&ing gift wrapping! No longer am I sprawled out by an open fire, gleefully gliding my scissors through paper as I watch a pair of inept burglars stumble through Macaulay Culkin's house of homemade horrors. Instead, it's devolved into a test of sheer will, of man versus paper, as I unroll the giant sheet onto the kitchen table then, using two hands, begin to carefully chop through it with the scissors, the cuts quickly becoming less careful and more erratic as the paper squirms and crinkles, leaving me with a rumpled mess that would've been neater if I'd taken a chainsaw to it! Thankfully I now have not one, but two options to relieve my wrapping woes and ease my stress levels!

The Nimble is a great, little device that you pop onto your finger and then, using the tiny blade on the end, slice through paper by simply running said finger over it. Ideal for cutting in straight or curved lines, this has brought a real ease back to gift wrapping and is equally great for opening mail or food packages.

The other option available are the Table Top Scissors. Place the scissors on a surface in front of your wrapping paper, push down on them and away you go! Operated with one hand, these are perfect for anyone with grip issues or limb difference, especially if a lack of fingers would mean the Nimble was unsuitable. I use both of these and find them never more useful than at Christmas. Trust me, your swear jar will thank you!

On a side note, I would also recommend getting yourself a sellotape dispenser to help with the wrapping, preferably a sturdy one that stays in place on the table, allowing for easy tape tearing. For me, it's a definite step up from having strips of tape dangling from the door handle!


Another highly versatile, multi-functional aid for the holiday season; the Reacher/Grabber is going to be almost single handedly responsible for my Christmas decorations getting put up this year! Simply slide your arm into the brackets and flex your wrist to get the pincer jaws to open and close, the perfect solution for anyone lacking the ability to grip and squeeze a handle.

This tool will come in ultra handy when putting up decorations in hard to reach spots or popping the angel atop the tree. On top of that, I seem to be about ten times clumsier over this period, so it's always kept in close proximity, ready to pluck the numerous gifts/cards/pens/decorations etc I manage to spill across the floor. And that garish Christmas jumper stashed out of sight and out of reach at the back of the wardrobe? The Reacher/Grabber can pluck that down for you as well you'll be relieved to hear!

I will say that, although at first glance this does seem like a pricey aid to have, I looked at it as more of an investment. This is a one time purchase that will last a lifetime whilst also saving you a lifetime of hassle, a Christmas miracle if you will! I was lucky enough to try one out a few years ago and I genuinely couldn't believe how well it worked and how precise it was; just see for yourself...

Kitchen Pack/Kitchen Pack Deluxe

Whether you're in charge of organising the family Christmas dinner or simply want to knock yourself up a little Christmas treat, the Kitchen Pack and Kitchen Pack Deluxe contain all the aids you need to cook up a storm with minimal risk of setting off the smoke alarms!

Inside the standard Kitchen Pack you will find:

  • All-purpose knife with right-angled grip, which I use in conjunction with my General Purpose Gripping Aid to cut through everything from raw meat to fruit and veg.
  • Palm peeler, which I slide onto my finger and use to quickly peel fruit and veg.
  • 5-in-1 opener multi-tool, which I use to open all sorts of bottles, jars and cans.
  • Anti-slip coaster, which I use to keep items such as pans, mixing bowls, jars etc steady and is particularly good at preventing slips and spillages.
  • Anti-slip strip, which I wrap around my various pan handles, enabling me to get a much better grip on them and ensuring I don't spill any hot food/sauces/liquids.
  • Nimble, which I use to slice open various food packages with and find much easier than using scissors or resorting to my teeth! 

Upgrade to the Kitchen Pack Deluxe however and you'll get all of the above, plus the following:

  • Bread knife with right angled grip, which I use to saw through tough baguettes and tiger bread, a tasty addition to any meal.
  • One touch can opener, which with the push of a button can automatically cut the top off a tin can, a life saver as I am no longer able to use a manual tin opener.
  • Jar opener, which I pop over the top of stubborn jar lids in order to twist them off.
  • Automatic bottle opener, which is pushed down over the mouth of a bottle in order to remove the metal cap, because why not reward yourself before/during/after cooking with a chilled beer...or two!* 

*Please drink copiously responsibly!

So whether you're a novice dabbler or a fully fledged kitchen wiz, the Kitchen Aid Packs are ideal for anybody with gripping issues. Personally speaking, whereas no one may be crazy enough to put me in charge of Christmas dinner, I will certainly be putting my bake-off skills to the test with a few festive curries and various cakes over the season, something I wouldn't have dared even contemplate before I had this arsenal to hand!

N.B. Each aid listed is also available to buy separately if you would rather create your own custom kitchen pack!

Food Preparation Board

A perfect accompaniment for the Kitchen Packs, the Food Preparation Board is a multi-functional chopping board complete with large chopping surface, spiked area, grater/slicer and collection bowl. This allows you to hold items in place as you chop or peel them (extra handy when using the right angled knives or palm peeler), and also grate or slice things such as fruit, veg and cheese, which are collected in the bowl underneath. This compact kit stores away very easily and is a must have for anyone who, like me, plans to get their hands dirty in the kitchen this Christmas.

Full disclosure: This is one item that I dont currently possess as it's only recently arrived in stock. However, around this time of year, I always like to treat myself to an item or two that I know will make my life that little bit easier, and after getting through 2020 with my insanity (arguably) intact, I think I deserve this!

Cutlery With Loops

This final one technically doesn't fit in with the whole 'Christmas preparations' vibe I've been going for, but what's the point in doing all this baking if you can't stuff your face with it afterwards?!

Anyone with limited grip knows all too well the 'joys' of using cutlery. How tucking into a simple roast dinner can quickly become an infuriating battle as you desperately attempt to saw through your turkey and trimmings without:

  1. Dropping your knife and fork
  2. Causing food to fly off your plate
  3. Skewering an entire turkey leg and gnawing on it like Fred Flintstone
  4. All of the above!

I remember countless times I've relied on a friend or family member to cut my food into manageable pieces for me as I slumped back in my chair, defeated by a Yorkshire pudding! 

Enter the Cutlery With Loops. Now all I need to do is slide my finger and thumb into the looped slots, tightening them if necessary, and the cutlery is instantly fixed to my hand(s) with zero worry of me losing grip on it. There are various pieces of cutlery available, from your standard knife, fork and spoon to steak knife and teaspoon. They are well worth the one off investment, especially if lockdown means that, similar to myself, you're spending a little more time making meals for one.


It's A Wonderful Life

So there we have it. The cards are written, the presents are wrapped, the tree is up, and the halls are well and truly decked. You've cooked and eaten enough food to feed a small army; now all that's left is to kick back with a cold bottle of beer, stick on some Christmas TV and fall asleep within 10 minutes!

Hopefully this entry has given you some handy hints and tips to make your Christmas that little bit merrier, but if you're still unconvinced and require more visual persuasion then I'll leave you with this compilation video showing how Rob is preparing for a family Christmas at ho-ho-home!



Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Co-Existing With Covid

The New Norm...?

In my previous blog entry from April, which feels like a solid decade ago at this point, I confidently mused that by the time I got round to writing my next entry, all this Coronavirus nonsense would be "firmly in the rearview mirror"...
...oh to be young and naive again! 
Yes, I now find myself firmly at the stage where, with no miracle breakthrough on the horizon, rather than considering when we'll get on top of this virus, I'm considering if we'll get on top of it. 
Life, although severely altered for the foreseeable future, must go on however, and last month saw the start of lockdown easing; as the likes of shops, hairdressers, gyms, bars and restaurants all began to reopen. This gradual re-opening also coincided with the end of the suggested 12 week shielding period that the most vulnerable had been placed under, a list that comprised of many people with disabilities, including yours truly.

And so I'm writing this blog entry from a post-shielding perspective, as one of the many who has recently emerged pale-faced and bleary-eyed from their shelter, gazed up at the sky, breathed in the fresh air, and cautiously begun to reintegrate into society. Okay so that may have been a tad dramatic, it wasn't exactly a stint in Guantanamo Bay, but you get the gist!
Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'...

Joking aside, I will admit that, similarly to those who are locked up, or from a personal perspective, similarly to when I was in hospital after my injury, lockdown has seen me become a little institutionalised. After my initial panic and dread at the thought of being trapped at home, I soon found myself adapting and settling into my new routine. Online deliveries became the norm, my mum popped round twice a week to provide me with some human interaction, I handbiked from my kitchen five days a week, did an alcohol fuelled Zoom quiz with friends on a Saturday night and continued to work from home for Active Hands. Plus, with enough video games and streaming services to fill up the evenings, it was surprisingly easy to forget about all the things I would have been doing otherwise. 

The Lockdown Lethargy Legacy

I am, and always have been, a creature of habit. I find the idea of change quite intimidating. As a child, even when I was getting bullied, I turned down the chance to move schools, as the idea of leaving the only educational environment I'd ever known and starting somewhere completely new proved too daunting a prospect. After my injury, it took me years to fully adapt to life on wheels as I felt nervous and self-conscious whenever I was outside. So when life as we all know it changes, and we are suddenly forced to do such things as queue and wait our turn to enter shops, follow a set route round and be constantly aware of staying clear of other people, one can't help but feel a tad frustrated and long for the good old days where you could nip to the supermaket for a couple of essentials and be done within five minutes, or enter hand to hand combat with another customer for the last Iron Man onesie in Primark!
To the victor go the...ahem..."spoils"!
Long a staple of many a Saturday night, I am stunned to admit that, since the pubs reopened, I haven't been once; instead choosing to have a few drinks at home whilst testing my quiz skills on Zoom. I'm not saying I don't miss the bustling social atmosphere of the pub, quite the opposite in fact; as it is largely the idea of appointmented hours, fixed seating and table service that is vastly lessening the appeal to me. For what is a pub without crowding round bars and seats, striking up conversations with strangers and having the freedom to congregate wherever you please?

In no way am I saying that all of the measures being taken aren't completely valid and necessary, they clearly are. I'm just saying that, once again, it's going to take some time for me to "fully adapt" and accept this as the new way of living. In a way, it feels like a mourning period for the loss of what had always been taken for granted, and I'm sure I can't be alone in having this melancholy sense...

Surprisingly, out of all the changes that have occurred, the one I've had the least problem adapting to is the one that seems to be causing the most uproar - namely wearing a mask. I certainly don't feel like this small piece of cloth is violating my civil liberties in any way; the only major downside being that, when worn in conjunction with glasses, the fog effect leaves me looking like a cross between Mr Magoo and legendary disabled highwayman Crip Turpin!

Anti-fog lenses - a mist opportunity!

I don't mean to paint a picture of doom and gloom here. I've not become a bitter house hermit, staring longingly out of the window whilst singing Barbara Streisand's The Way We Were, a single, solitary tear running down my cheek! There are plenty of activities I am looking forward to getting back into, a couple of scheduled trips planned and several ways I've already taken advantage of the lockdown easing.

Pensively Planning Out Productivity

On the social side of things, since lockdown began to be lifted, I've seen a couple of friends on their birthdays, been to a barbeque and gone for a wander along the coast with my mum and her dog, Bertie! In the coming weeks I'm looking forward to socialising with more friends, resuming my regular cinema trips and getting back to wheelchair rugby training. And with a couple of mini excursions to Scarborough and Buxton on the horizon, it'll be interesting to see how different areas are coping and to what extent this is affecting nightlife and tourist activities. 

A shameless flaunting of the two metre rule by Bertie!

In terms of the more mundane side of things, with opticians and barbers appointments both ticked off the list, the dentist is the next one to organise, although that definitely comes with the higher risk of the three as you literally have someone peering and prodding in your mouth. As will be the case for many people who have either been furloughed or worked from home during lockdown, my job at college will also resume next month and I'm genuinely looking forward to getting back into the building and working face-to-face so to speak. I quickly found out during the previous term that supporting students from home and getting so much as a peep out of them was something of a nightmare and in complete contrast to being in a classroom where you often couldn't get them to shut up!

Everyone is different though and I think the important thing is to only do what you feel comfortable doing, especially in terms of social and non-vital activities. Socially distanced outdoor activities such as drinks in the garden or walks in the park come with a much lower risk than indoor activities such as going to the gym or cinema (which circulate air all around them). Whereas hospital and dental appointments are often necessary and unavoidable, the likes of hair and beauty appointments are much less vital. There are ways of greatly lessening the risk involved, but no activity involving others is completely risk free in this post-corona world we now live in, so it's important to plan accordingly, think of others and take it slow.

An Existential Fork In The Road

From a personal perspective I would say that, although I am very much aware of the differing risk levels involved in the various things we are now allowed to do once again, I don't want my life to be dictated by fear. Yes, it will certainly be in the forefront of my mind the first few times I go back to the cinema, and yes, I am somewhat hesitant to return to the pub under the new guidelines; but I also know that I'll almost certainly embrace both once again in the coming weeks.

By far my biggest concerns are whether Covid-19 is even able to be eliminated at this point, the longterm effects it will have on our way of life, and whether things will ever be able to go back to how they were. For many of us with underlying health and mobility issues who already faced difficulties getting out and about, this virus has made each trip outside a potential life or death gamble; where fear of leaving the house can lead to anxiety, depression and an overwhelming sense of isolation.  
There are so many small freedoms you take for granted and don't fully appreciate until they're gone.
To do or not to do. To live or not to live. 
Not wanting to end on too bleak a note however, I will say that I would like to think most if not all of us will have had at least one positive experience come out of lockdown. Whether it's spending more time with your children/partner, learning a new skill, improving your baking, overhauling the garden, reading the entire 50 Shades saga, writing your memoirs, or just having a bit more time to relax - there will hopefully be at least one positive you can focus on.
My main positive is that my lockdown exercise routine has seen me reach a level of fitness not seen in years! This is something I am desperately keen on retaining in the longterm and hope to stick to my schedule of exercising at least five days a week. Unfortunately, my current level of boasted fitness is all stamina based, so whereas I may have the endurance of the Duracell Bunny, I have the strength of the Andrex Puppy, all the while continuing to look more like one of The Muppets!
I'm just saying, have you ever seen Animal & I in the same room together...?


Friday, 10 April 2020

Life In The Time Of Corona

Apocalypse Now

I'm not going to lie, a few months ago when we initially entered 2020, I didn't expect my first blog entry of the new decade to be dealing with the apocalypse, but here we are. In fact, it seems positively ironic that in my previous entry I'd spoken about how uncomfortable I felt accepting help off strangers, and now it's illegal to be within 2 metres of any of them...I guess the moral of the story is be careful what you wish for!

Only a few months since the first case was reported in Wuhan, China, Covid-19 aka Coronavirus has spread across the globe, forcing not only entire countries, but entire continents into lockdown as governments battle to stop the spread. All but the most essential of businesses are closed, and the vast majority of people are told to work from home if they are able to. 

Working from home - because that PC of yours isn't just for porn you know!

As the virus is a respiratory illness that affects the lungs and airways, anyone with a pre-existing medical condition relating to these areas is urged to remain at home as much as possible; with the most high-risk cases being told in no uncertain terms to stay indoors for at least 12 weeks. For many people like myself, with disabilities affecting the lungs, this can sound and feel an awful lot like a prison sentence, and it certainly affected me psychologically in a way I had not seen coming. But after the initial shock, quickly followed by the likes of denial, anger and depression, I seem to have reached some kind of tenuous acceptance of the situation.

That's not to say I'm okay with the position I find myself in; I've just made temporary adaptations in order to safely get on with my life. However, there will be many people out there who remain in a state of panic at what is going on, and I can't really blame them. This feels like the first act of a horror movie, with the zombie onslaught mere minutes away! So with all this in mind, I've decided to focus this blog entry on the survival aspect of things currently. That means looking at not only how best to stay safe and survive the virus itself, but how to deal with the self-isolation; along with the physical, emotional and psychological effects this can all have when you live with a disability.

1. Don't Be A Corona Loner

Self-isolation has the potential to be a mental health nightmare, and we have to work together in order to stop it.
It's safe to say that, never in my life have I regretted more, a) being single, and b) living alone. I've always been fine with my own company and in the past have enjoyed spending the odd lazy day by myself. But something about being told I have to spend weeks in almost complete isolation, with no sporting or social interactions, sent me into a bit of an emotional panic. Okay, it sent me into a lot of an emotional panic, and for the first few days I was equal parts upset and bitter, as I felt entirely alone for the first time maybe ever. 

What I can be found doing at some point most days!

What helped me get past this stage, was firstly realising that I wasn't alone in feeling alone. Spend 10 minutes on social media and you'll see that millions of people, both able and disabled, are going through the same thing currently; and even in your own social groups, it is highly unlikely that you are the only 'single person' out of all of them. But even if you are, take solace in the knowledge that most couples will be driving each other crazy by day 3 of lockdown! 

So, bearing in mind that most people you know are going to be in a similar boat to you right now, the logical next step is to make contact. We are unbelievably fortunate to be living in an age where we can keep in touch with virtually every member of our friends and family at the push of a button. Whether it's via text, voice or video chat, there has never been a more perfect time to resurrect friendships or call that family member you haven't spoken to since Christmas. Hearing a friendly voice, having a chat, making each other laugh or just ranting about how sh*t everything seems - it's all therapeutic and it all helps. On top of this, there are endless games you can play with friends online, from fast-paced PC and console games to simple mobile puzzles and quizzes - after all, it'd be a crying shame if you had to go months without reminding your friends and family just who is the king of Game of Thrones trivia!

2. Exercise Those Demons

It's easy to look at the current situation and think to yourself, "well that's it, everything's closed and I can't go outside for the next 3 months, commence Operation: Vegetate". But in reality, this couldn't be further from the truth. We're housebound, with a finite number of options to keep us entertained, there has never been a better time to get fit!

Armed with a few pieces of exercise equipment and the right set of exercise aids, anyone can turn their home into a home gym. From simple items like dumb-bells, resistance bands and pull-up bars to bulkier items like handbikes, rowers and cable machines; all are available to buy new or second hand online. Just committing to exercising a few times a week with one or two of these items can make a big difference both physcially and mentally. Sitting around doing nothing, on top of being extremely unhealthy for the body, can also be a major cause of depression, and exercise is proven to combat this. I bought an ex-gym handbike from eBay a few years ago and I've never used it so much - pop on some music, open the French doors for a bit of breeze and I'm away!

Image represents average man's hair length by the time barbers re-open!

For a more substantial list of exercises you can do from home, check out my article Exercising At Home - A Self-Isolation Guide on the Active Hands website. It really can help take your mind off things and make a difference. And how awesome would it be if, once all this is over, you come out of your house fitter and stronger than before you went in?! Take that Corona!


3. Get A Change of Scenery

Remember up top when I said this whole thing could end up feeling like a prison sentence? Well if anything is going to drive that feeling home then it's sitting and staring at the same walls day in day out. That's why it's so important right now to grasp any and every opportunity we get for a change of scenery, even if it's only a slight one! 

Obviously we're not able to pop down to the local beer garden for a pint in the sun, but if you've got a garden, a driveway, or hell, even a window you can open, then use it! Sit outside for a little bit every day, breathe in the fresh air, crack open a beer, look at the sky, the plants, the birds; unlike the walls inside, the outdoors is constantly changing and no two glimpses are ever the same. If there's one thing I'm grateful to this virus for, it's that it had the decency to wait until Spring before fully unleashing itself. Granted it's resulted in most summer events being cancelled, but at least if we sit outside now there's only a 50/50 chance of it raining on us!

I mean, there are definitely worse ways to spend an afternoon!

Most of us are also allowed to brave it in public and get our one walk/push in each day. If this is the case then find new routes or paths to explore. As long as we keep a safe distance from each other then the air itself isn't going to kill us, and it may even do us some good! I've even taken to driving 20 minutes to the coast once or twice a week so I can park up by the sea and read. However, although I stay in my car the entire time, I'm not sure how strictly 'legal' this is currently, so please don't quote me on this in court!

4. Explore Your Options & Set Some Goals

Ever fancied yourself as a tormented artist or green-fingered guru? Ever dreamed of expanding your baking abilities and creating a signature dish? Ever wanted to finally read that book series, binge that boxset or complete that video game that's been silently taunting you for months? Well guess what...

It's highly unlikely (fingers firmly crossed) that we'll ever find ourselves again in a position where we're being told that the most productive thing for us to do is nothing. Now that we've got so much time on our hands with nowhere to be, instead of falling into a routine of boredom, why not consider rekindling a passion you once had or trying your hand at something you've always fancied but never had the time for? Of course, your options are limited to things you can do from home, but that can encompass a fair number of possibilities if you sit and think about it. 

During the afternoons, I've taken to testing my cooking skills and experimenting with a few new recipes, and on an evening I'm currently working my way through a backlog of TV shows and video games. Sure, I could be learning a new language or clearing the clutter off my work surfaces, and if that's something you discover a passion for then fantastic! The point is that we can use this time to do something we want to do, not something we feel we have to do; and realistically, how many chances are we going to get after this? Plus, with all the kitchen aids, gardening aids and small item aids available; we're really running out of excuses not to!

Stir fry: not the most testing of meals to prepare, but a definite step up from toast!


5. Enjoy The Little Things

One of my all-time favourite films is the 2009 zomcom Zombieland. In it, the main character survives the undead uprising thanks to a set of rules he holds to, one of which is "enjoy the little things". There are plenty more rules I could have chosen, however I'm banking on this virus not going full zombie-mode, as I would hate to have to "double tap" my next door neighbours!

When I say enjoy the little things, I mean try not to focus on the negatives of the current situation we find ourselves in but instead seek out positives and give yourself things to look forward to. This could be anything from ordering a new book, movie or video game online to sitting out in the garden with a cold drink and taking in some sun. Like it or not, self-isolation is affording the vast majority of us a lot more free time right now, so treat yourself while you can. I'm not by any means saying this virus is a good thing, and I think I speak for us all when I say the sooner we create a vaccine the better, but in the meantime it's okay to be doing things that make you happy, this doesn't mean you're a bad person.

As I alluded to previously, now that my evenings are free from wheelchair rugby, table tennis and any social events usually involving the cinema or pub, I've had time to finally get back to playing Red Dead Redemption 2 (my last save was dated July 2019)! And if by some small miracle I finally complete the damn game, then do you know what I'll do? I'll treat myself to a new one!

Saturday night is now takeaway night in the Gimpy Kid house and is something I look forward to every week; perusing menus days beforehand to check out my options! Sure I guess I could get a takeaway every night if I really wanted to, but instead I'd prefer to give myself something to aim for each week, a treat to stop the days blurring into one. Plus, I'd rather maintain a somewhat healthy diet throughout all this (healthy diet = healthy immune system), not completely negate the hard work done in Section 2 of this entry and definitely not have to explain to wheelchair services why, after only 3 months of having this chair, I now need one four inches wider!

Chicken covered in cheese covered in steak - a local "delicacy"...

Survive, Thrive and Stay Alive

So there we have it - 5 basic hints and tips to get us through self-isolastion with only a minimal loss of sanity! Obviously there is plenty more that could be included to keep us safe and well prepared; things such as ordering prescriptions well in advance, ensuring any personal assistants take the necessary precautions before beginning work, ordering shopping online as much as possible etc. My list is more about maintaining positive mental health than anything.

With any luck, by the time I get round to writing the next entry, all this will be firmly in the rearview mirror and the main concern involving Corona will be whether it comes with a slice of lime or not! Random final thought though: I wonder if they'll end up changing the name to avoid the stigma now attached to the C-word? I mean if people are willing to believe that 5G causes Corona then they're willing to believe anything!

Coming to stores Summer 2020!

"We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again." - The Queen 

Stay safe everyone!