Sunday, March 10, 2019

Perspective from the Chair

It has been just over two weeks since injuring my knee. And, because I could not put weight on it, I have been using a wheelchair to get around.  I am grateful to be able to afford renting a wheelchair for a couple of weeks, and I am now able to bear weight on my knee and have been practicing walking. I am more determined than ever to strengthen my knee and again get mobile on my own two legs.

As a blogger, it occurred to me to document how I have felt over the last couple weeks.   

Depending on others for even the most basic tasks is foreign to me.  I believe that my doctor must have sensed this difficulty in our last appointment because he urged me not to be alone and to make arrangements for either someone to be with me or for me to stay with someone when hubby had to be away on business. He called me to ask if I had made arrangements a couple of days after the appointment.  At that moment I was cognizant of how important it was to my healing.  And I fully understood his apprehension, because at this point, he knew me well enough to know that I have a strong independent streak which might get me in trouble if I were to push my independence beyond my abilities and have an accident, and that of course would set me back even further.       

Honestly, this has been a very difficult period for me, even more difficult than not being able to drive because of my stroke. At the same time, this has been an interesting experience, which confirmed how bullheaded I could be.  If indeed there was ever a question about that!    

We take for granted so many things when they are operating properly.  Being forced to use a wheelchair has changed my perspective regarding those with mobility challenges. However, in my case this is temporary. That said, I have been routinely checking access in public places, like restaurants and stores.  Before I ventured out I would check if there are impediments for access at our destination. I was very mindful of asking for help and would only ask for help as a last resort. But at the same time, I resented being in a position to have to ask for help. Accepting a need to ask for help is difficult for me at the best of times – a trait that I share with hubby!

Apart from my reluctance to ask for help, the more difficult part was to overcome my fear of pain when I began to walk. Fear is an interesting emotion, because it prevents you from moving forward because you may encounter whatever your rationalized fear, when in fact moving forward will eventually diminish that fear.  Fear literally stopped me, even in spite of being fully aware that succumbing to my fear would create a host of other problems and perhaps jeopardize my healing.  fear at best is an irrational thought. I made a decision not to be practicing to walk without supervision. I had to be smart and incorporate balance, my need for independence and my need to be safe and to only do things that encouraged healing adhering to my doctor’s apprehension regarding my safety.        

Most of us take our legs for granted, like I did. Like anything we don't appreciate what it would be like if we lost the use of it, until it occurs. Normal everyday tasks become obstacles to be dealt with.   Even being able to reach for items in upper cupboards was a challenge. Being able to turn the knobs on the stove was also a challenge.  Even opening doors became a problem. Simply taking a cup of tea into another room to watch TV was problematic too. It is eye-opening to discover how many things I took for granted that required using both legs. And, doing little tasks in the kitchen became monumental. For example, when I wash dishes, my low position in the wheelchair causes water to drift down my arms and on to my shirt, and putting dishes away took more time to go around the island counter to the other side. (Fortunately, hubby doesn't complain about doing dishes.)

No one thinks about how they will cope if they couldn't use their leg, when they have very capable legs. And if they have, I assure you the reality is much different.  It will be both a physical and a mental adjustment, there is no avoiding that.   One time I slipped out of my wheelchair overreaching for an item that fell on the floor, but luckily Andrew was home at the time and he was able to come to my rescue.   I was able to lift myself up using my arms onto the chair again while he supported it. 

However, what I found really interesting is how people treated me. I don't mean in a negative way; people at their core are very compassionate.  However, they unconsciously begin to treat you as though you are a child. Calling me “dear”, or “sweetie”, although this could simply appear to be terms of endearment, but it felt as if I was being assumed to be not capable or fully adult. And, if you know anything about me, you will know that I can be stubborn, and very capable, making me perhaps overly sensitive.

In any case, I will do for myself before asking for help. During this period, I found myself missing my late brother Samuel. Because I know that if I had called him, he would have been here on the next plane, no questions asked. And he would have been happy to do it. However, the reality is even though I have a large family they all have their own lives and for me to ask for this type of help would have been a real inconvenience to them. I am fortunate to have people around, though, that are very helpful.

I am grateful that I was able to get through this on my own, with a bit of help from hubby, and my son, Andrew. At the end of the day, what I am most grateful for is that this is a temporary condition. This cannot be emphasised enough.  And, every day I am grateful to be in a relationship that is supportive. Hubby even organised his schedule to ensure he was home with me more often. I appreciate and am grateful to the clients who understood the difficulty we were having and accommodated his request.

The lessons that I have learned by this experience is to ask for help and the knowledge that friends who showed up to help really did so out of their kindness and compassion, like my good friend Khalid. I am so grateful for that.

Fortuitously we remodeled the bathroom last year, and it was immensely helpful in my daily routine because I knew I was absolutely safe in the shower, and that is the utmost awesome feeling, which is priceless. I am grateful for that.

My experience with the wheelchair has made me more compassionate towards people who depend on wheelchairs to get around permanently. And I am more keenly aware of obstacles for access in public places.  I have only used a wheelchair for two weeks, but it felt more like months.

I really didn't need this experience after dealing with the effects of having a stroke last year, but once again, the fact that I am a meditator has served me well in how I managed this latest bit of difficulty and it helped me maintained my humour and cheerfulness. At the end of the day, I am not a victim. I am resilient and resourceful.  My setback is minor compared to what many others have to deal with daily.  I am deeply grateful for the support I have at home.

When faced with an unexpected physical crisis what you need are:

1.     Love
2.     Support
3.     Laughter
4.     Netflix
5.     Friends who bring tea and conversation
6.     Music
7.     Podcasts
8.     Meditation

Postscript - Hubby’s perspective

Hi, Hubby here.  Reading this post makes me reflect on how this temporary struggle has affected me as a hubby and our relationship.  After 26 years of marriage you tend to have settles into routines and you tend to have agreed on a domestic division of labour that becomes more or less automatic. If your better half is independent, sweet, kind but at the same time stubborn, and you are a person who tends to be less forthcoming about your feelings, your conduct and expectations of each other adapt themselves to those traits.

When that independent, sweet, kind and stubborn person is confined to a wheelchair, strains develop.  She is confined to bed much of the time, and as she has written, even getting around the house presents challenges and frustrations.  My first reaction was to want to stay home and be as helpful as possible.  But I have a busy law practice to keep going that requires me to travel to client meetings.  I don’t much like cooking, but I had to be the cook.  Add to that that I am now the only driver in the family, and the little strains begin to mount.  As I mentioned, I am a person who bottles up my frustrations until they burst out all at once, usually at home, because I can’t express them with clients.  So that has been a bit of a problem.  Little frustrations can expand into bigger resentments.  With us these don’t last, however.  And that is a key to our success as a couple. 

Some aspects of the experience have not bothered me in the least.  Not only do I not mind pushing her wheelchair and helping her into the shower or the car, but I enjoy the simple feeling of being a help to her.  I have always lived with a sneaking suspicion that over the course of the last 26 years she has done more for me than I have for her, and this gives me a pleasant sensation of evening the ledger. 

One of the nice things has been that on the occasions that I couldn’t reschedule a business trip, better half has been able to come with me, and we have had some nice little spontaneous outings.  This is when her sweetness comes to the fore.  Little things like a dinner out or just a drive will break the monotony of a wheelchair bound life.  It gives us space to just be together with a bit of a change of scenery.

I agree with better half’s list of what is needed to survive a medical crisis.  For the other spouse, you will have to draw on your patience and your capacity to empathize with the other person.  It is a temporary test of your love, and I think on the whole we have managed it rather well.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Achieving Happiness Through Meditation 2019


 Someone recently asked me: what is your secret to being so positive? Simply put, it is one word. Meditation. Meditation has provided me with many benefits. If I ever have difficulty falling asleep, in my mind I do a body scan starting from the top of my head working my way down to my toes. I relax each muscle, and by the time I get to my toes I am in dreamland.   

Don't you agree that joy is a state of mind which is completely in our power to achieve? We all want that, don’t we? And it is entirely possible to attain. It costs nothing and the rewards are great.  I believe that. I also believe that happiness and contentment come from within us. And that it matters very little what our external circumstances are.

Most people view me as a positive person, a resilient person and, on the whole I am. Having said that, it is not always easy for me.  Regardless, I make a concerted effort to be positive and cheerful.     We frequently don't see the challenges that other people are dealing with. We only see things on the surface and we make judgments on what little we know. I prefer not to reveal my inner struggles because I really don't see them as overcoming anything big. I recognise that we all have struggles and some of us deal with them differently.  At the same time, I don't hide my true feelings. It is a balance of treading carefully between maintaining my privacy and revealing too much information.  The truth is that my fierce independence is what sometimes gets me into trouble at the end of the day. And it is also the very same trait that make me who I am.     

My intention is to inspire others, and if my story helps, I will reveal enough to help. I have read numerous stories of people's challenges that have inspired me lately. I am especially drawn to those people who defy odds by improving some challenge in their situation through innovation and experimentation -- people who see challenges as something to defy.  People relate to you more deeply when you are authentic. Indeed, I am a person that sees the glass half-full. I avoid complaining about anything I can't do anything about. My belief is that everything has a positive and negative and we choose how we see it. Although, I must admit it is easier when you have unconditional support of your hubby and son who have ensured I have had what I needed within reach.   I also acknowledge it can be frustrating for those who help because I keep doing things on my own which could result in a setback if I harmed myself. The balance I have to take is to be mindful of my strengths and weakness and to only do things for myself when it is safe.   

Still, l am sometimes reluctant to take advantage of their kindness and help.
Being raised in a large family with ten brothers taught me there are things that girls are not as good at as boys. That said I didn't let that belief limit me.   However, this does not mean that I don’t acknowledge there are things I am unable to do. But I still push myself to do the things that I fear. Fear has never held me back. Instead, it motivates me.

I recently had a physical setback, injuring my knee, and I have some fear still about weight bearing on my injured leg, which I am working on. But I am cognizant that in order for it to heal I must put weight on it, to build up the muscles, but only when it is safe.  I had no choice but to depend on others for help after my injury. However, asking for help is something that does not come naturally to me. It would have been ideal if I had family nearby, but I don't.   My injury left me housebound, during the coldest part of winter. Unable to drive, I had to stay put. Fortunately, for me I have books, and my meditation to keep me sane.  (Not to mention CNN and the endless saga of Trump world!)

Years ago, while at University I discovered meditation. After a few months, I realized the practice actually energized me.  But it also gave me something more valuable than that.  It gave me an understanding of myself. For the most part it had to do with conditioning. It is a balance between every action and reaction. I delved deeper into meditation theory. And by doing to discovered more of myself.

Once, when my heart was beating too fast the examining doctor said: “Do you know how to mediate?” “Yes, I do” I responded. I was surprised to be asked that question by an MD.  OK do it for 10 to 20 minutes.  I did and it slowed down my heart.  it was those very words that resonated with me, and I knew I was being treated by the right physician, one who aligned with my philosophy.  

I began to notice that regular meditation helped me to get control of my emotions years ago.    And I attained contentment and a level of happiness through meditation. I developed a morning ritual early on in my practice.  Today was no different.  When I wake I listen to something uplifting and innovative for inspiration.  Today’s subject was the brain, an area of very great interest to me in the past year. The podcast was an interview with neuroscientists Dr. James R. Doty MD. On his new book Into The Magic Shop, about his quest to uncover the mysteries of the brain and the secrets of the heart, the pathway he took is through meditation. His book takes the reader into the practical application of harnessing the heart through cultivating compassion and love through meditation.    

Today, I had a massage scheduled, so I did my meditation half an hour before my massage therapist arrived.  When she arrived, I was already in a completely relaxed state.  I got onto the massage table and positioned myself before she entered the room. I never know if I should completely disrobe, today I decided I would. I remembered my first massage at a sports club at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver. My masseur handed me a small towel and told me to completely disrobe, I said “completely?” He said, “yes of course, you came for massage, didn't you?” He explained that it is better that way.  If I kept my underclothes on, he said it would be awkward and the massage would not go smoothly, as he had to massage around my clothing.   It made sense to me. So, I took off everything, and it was the best deep sports massage I ever had. However, having a massage in privacy of my home, and in the intimacy of my bedroom is different than in the public place.   I am never certain of the etiquette or protocol. Lyne is a professional and easy-going, so I asked her at our first session what she preferred. She said, I should be comfortable, and relaxed, so it was up to me.  It is essential that both she and I be comfortable for the massage.

Today's massage was different than our previous sessions, because she had to be cautious around my injured knee. The music she picked was a slow methodical beat, and her hands kept to the slow rhythm. This suited me fine since I was still in the zone after my meditation and it kept me present.   

I was mindful of her touch, as her hands glided over my skin, slowly. I realized that she was being mindful as well to avoid my injury and the music helped her remain in the present.    When your mind is clear, and your body is relaxed, and you are mindful of the sensation you relax even deeper. 

I was like a wet noodle. Completely relaxed, as she repositioned my limbs, to access specific muscles, And I totally surrendered to her and allowed her to move them. There is a trust that is developed between the massage therapists and client.     
Having regular massages is a gift I give myself, not only because of the physical benefits but it also has emotional and psychological benefits.   

We should not shy away from gifting ourselves these indulgences if they make us happy. Achieving happiness and joy in your life requires dedication and ritual. There are tons of studies attesting to the benefits of meditation. If you don't have time for a complete massage, give your feet a relaxing soaking bath in lavender or herbs and rub oil on them, while doing some deep breathing exercises.  Pamper yourself.

Create your own happiness. Surround yourself with like-minded people, be positive, know that no matter how cloudy it is the sun is always shining above the clouds. And, know too that everything changes the bad will not last. People are at their core really goodhearted. I meditate because it helps me respond to my environment rather than react to it. I highly recommend Into the Magic Shop by Dr. James Doty. It is worth the read.  Meditation can help you change your story. 

Change your story, and you can change your life in a good way.    

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