Friday, June 12

down time

If your summer is going anything like mine, you are finding yourself more and more active. Coffee dates, horseback riding, teaching, fundraising--all very enjoyable, splendid things to do, but at the end of nearly every day I find myself sun-weary and muscle sore (including the brain muscle).


When I was a kid, I was terminally afraid I was missing out. If it was at all exciting, I wanted to be a part of it. This pervasive anxiety over not doing enough or not being enough or not being where I needed to do something continued into adulthood.

Then I got sick, so sick all I could do was lounge around my parents' house. I found myself in the middle of the very nightmare that stalked me. But I learned something critical during my convalescence: even when I was doing nothing, I was still doing something. I was still breathing. I was still seeing and feeling. I was resting. 

This shift in my thinking about the intentionality of rest was revolutionary. I learned to value the down time. I was no longer missing out or wasting hours of my life--I was existing at a slower pace.

Days like these, as I find myself busy (now practically a curse word in my vocabulary) again, I long for that blessed rest. So I'm trying to carve out oases of creative relaxation into my routine, to allow myself the freedom to just take the afternoon off, drive to the mountains and watch a hummingbird buzz back and forth from perch to perch.

I can't think of a better use of my time.

OneArmGirl

Thursday, April 16

the bike incident

Not long ago a good friend sent me a video of a double arm amputee successfully changing a flat tire on his bicycle. This week I tried to put a tire just filled with air back on my bicycle and failed. Thankfully no one was taping it, so you won't see it on YouTube anytime soon.

Granted bicycle maintenance is not something I've put a lot of time into, but with my dog looking forlornly up at me after several days of pathetic walks, I trotted down to the basement with great expectation.

I trudged back up with my unwieldy and uni-tired bike. Already exhausted, I assessed the situation before me. Thankfully, I had saved the hardware I'd removed with the second tire, careful to remember the order in which it needed to go back on. This only proved so helpful, however, as I attempted reassembly. I soon discovered that even if I could get the tire nearly into position, it was still impossible to open the breaks wide enough to fit around the tire.

After tinkering with oily parts to no avail, I pondered my predicament for several moments and made a command decision. I would take the bike, tire, and other necessary pieces back to the bike shop where I'd had my tire pumped up and ask them to put the tire on.

So I carried the bike, which seemed to have grown heavier somehow, down the alley to my car parked on the street. But the real challenge turned out to be getting the bike into the backseat of my sedan. Just when I thought I had it most of the way in, the front end would swivel and catch on the door frame. I cursed the handlebars. The break lever hit me on the jaw. I went to the other side of the car and attempted to pull it through. Then back over, nudging and pleading, seriously questioning life decisions that had led to this moment, not having a boyfriend being one of them.

Finally, the bike settled in just far enough for the door to close. Too exhausted and sweaty to drive anywhere by this time, I walked grumpily back to the apartment, seriously considering the possibility that bicycles are secretly trying to ruin our lives. 

That's when I saw my neighbor Dave's wife walk out of the house next door and remembered that Dave is a sometimes serious mountain biker and probably not only could put my tire back on, but probably could have filled it with air in the first place.

I wisely decided to eat lunch and walk the dog before taking the bike back out of the car. 

Yesterday, Dave stopped over and put the tire back on my bike in about two minutes. He also encouraged me to come to him in future before I decide to lose my marbles trucking it to the closest repair shop (well, he might have left out the part about my marbles).

OK, man who changes his tires without arms, you got me. I'm just glad I know how to ask for help.

OneArmGirl

Tuesday, March 17

rehab

I wasn't given any physical therapy after I got my cast off in January, so I've instituted my own rehab routine, mostly consisting of aerial dance and horseback riding. 

In five weeks of wearing the cast, my range of motion decreased significantly and my grip was pathetic. I tried to lift myself up onto the lira (hoop), something I'd done easily in November, but was unable to stand the weight of my whole body. My finger felt like it might snap. So, I slowed down a bit.


I've been doing finger stretches, squeezing exercise balls, and completely letting go of spooked horses that take off suddenly across the arena.

I don't think rehab is something anyone enjoys much. A friend who took a nasty fall of her bicycle resulting in a broken femur last year is still waiting for her normal energy level to return; an aerial dance friend just told me she's been grounded for a month because of bruised ribs.

While I was still in the cast, I went to see the movie Unbroken, which tells the survival story of US Olympian and WWII bombardier Louis Zamparini, whose plane was shot down in the ocean, followed by his imprisonment in Japanese prisoner of war camps. 

The movie was good, but at the end I was surprised to learn that it is based on a best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand. Many may not know that Hillenbrand, who also wrote Seabiscuit, suffers from debilitating chronic fatigue and dizziness, and rarely leaves her home. As an athletic college student, she became ill very suddenly, dropped out and became dependent on care from her boyfriend. She wrote Seabiscuit and Unbroken--both tales of astounding physical achievement against the odds--after she got sick.

I remember reading what is, to my knowledge, the only article she's written about her illness. She became so dizzy while writing Seabiscuit, she would sometimes hold her head up with one hand so that she could continue typing with the other.

All of this came back to me as the movie credits rolled. I can't even manage to post to my blog regularly, I lamented. And this woman writes best-sellers from her bed. Have you ever wished you were housebound so that you might accomplish more? 

I had to ask: Would Hillenbrand have ever written a word if she had never gotten sick to the point of not being able to do much else?

The value of life is often equated with productivity, but certainly not being bed-ridden. It's easy to feel like rehab is working to get back to a place where you once were. But what if it it more like re-shaping into something completely new?

OneArmGirl      

Friday, February 20

a limping angel

I went to see Cirque du Soleil recently for the first time. I was enchanted by the aerialists to which I aspire, but was most intrigued by one dancer who danced on crutches the entire show.

I found myself wondering if he actually had a physical impairment that required the crutches or if it was just part of the show. His moves were so smooth, his transitions so seamless, he seemed to almost fly around the stage.

But a hunch sent me to Google the next day. His name is Dergin Tokmak. From Germany, Tokmak contracted polio when he was a baby, but dreamed of becoming a dancer--influenced most heavily by breakdancing.

When he learned Cirque du Soleil was actually looking for a dancer on crutches for the 'limping angel' in Varekai, he decided to audition. Now he's touring the world.

I guess it's tempting to be impressed by how much someone with a physical disability has accomplished in the dance world, but I wonder how many show-goers don't even know Tokmak is handicapped.

Rather than dancing in spite of his handicap, his dance seems inspired by it. His uniquely strategic, flowing movement is made possible by the crutches which, like wings, carry him just above the stage. 

The angel's limp has become a dance.

OneArmGirl

Friday, February 6

free at last

I'm free! As of Monday this week, the cast is off.

You may have noticed I've been a bit absent the last five weeks. Perhaps it was because my one and only hand was in a cast, or maybe I just took the opportunity to sit on my butt all day, catching up on the latest season of Maron. And you'll never know.

Forced vacation
I missed my hand while I was in the cast. I certainly missed not being able to type or bathe myself, but mostly I missed my palm. Yes, I missed my palm. Or more accurately, I missed feeling things with my palm. I missed running my hand down my dog's back and pulling my friends into a hug. Without my palm, I felt cut off from a world of sensations. I was isolated, all because of one pinky finger fracture. 

I was not in the cast long enough to learn how to do everything with my feet, but I certainly developed the dexterity of the three fingers available. I spent a lot of time thinking about people without arms and how much I rely on mine. And I had plenty of time to think while waiting on the toilet for someone to come wipe my butt.

While the permanent loss of another appendage would certainly send me into a spiral of depression, I was vaguely aware that, eventually, I evolve. I would become the no arm girl, I would own it. What other choice would I have? It's a sobering thought, yet amazing to realize the human body's capacity for adaptation. And even more amazing, the adaptation of the mind, always the slower, harder member.

But instead, I'm enjoying my freedom. I love washing my own face--I have never felt so happy to bathe myself. I'm walking my dog again. And driving is the greatest gift I've ever been given. I am master of my domain once again.

Still, if you ever have the opportunity to break something, or get sick, or somehow end up temporarily laid up, I highly recommend it. You will find yourself astonishingly grateful for your health.

OneArmGirl

Saturday, January 3

short-handed

I suppose it was bound to happen. I was tempting fate. Living on borrowed time...


At the beginning of this week, I fractured the bone and dislocated the knuckle of my right hand pinky finger. Doesn't sound major but when your right and only hand gets put into a cast, you've got a bit of a dilemma.

I was out at the barn working with one of our new horses, when he spooked and ripped a lead line through my fingers, leaving my littlest fifth finger pointing at an angle that it was not meant to do naturally.

The doctor at urgent care realigned, to put it nicely, my finger and braced it. On Wednesday the orthopedist fixed it up with a beautiful purple cast and sent me home with some wishful thinking instructions like don't use your hand. He had no idea what he was asking.

And so I find myself sitting on my best friends couch, unable to accomplish even the most menial task like drinking my morning coffee without assistance. I've never broken anything before much less the one and only good hand I have. No offense to poor Finneas who is now pulling more than his share of weight.

We are making history here at OneArmGirl.

But sometimes your life takes a drastic turn and you must seize the opportunity to learn to do as much as you can with your feet. That must be a famous quote somewhere.

The thoughtful reader may ask how it is that I am even writing this post right now when typing is clearly out of the question, aside from hunting and pecking with one of the two fingers that are still usable.

Voice-activated dictation is a beautiful thing.

So I continue to write and e-mail, though driving and bathing myself are out of the question. Any horse activities and aeriel shenanigans are also on hold.

On the bright side, I now have plenty of time to binge watch Scandal on NetfliX and catch up on serious news stories like "The Top 10 People Who Didn't Make a Difference in 2014" from The Onion.

My New Year's resolution is to increase my rate of bone growth.

OneArmGirl

Thursday, December 4

no hands

My last week in Israel, I was privileged to take a riding lesson from Uri Peleg, a nationally renowned horseman and promoter of natural horsemanship techniques. It changed my life.

But first, we have to go back a few years...ok, more than a few...


I took my first riding lesson when I was about nine. If you are not familiar with English style horsemanship, imagine black velvet helmets, tall black boots, and plenty of snobbery to go around (my apologies to the English, I'm sure their intentions were pure). Unfortunately, I showed up wearing western boots. I should have read the signs.

I sincerely appreciate my training in English riding for the attention to detail and meticulous care for equipment and horse, but managing my reins would prove to be a lifelong frustration.

Lacking in the area of upper extremities, keeping my reins at the correct length to accurately communicate with my horse was nearly impossible. If it was exhausting for me, I can only imagine the irritation of my ride. But knowing only to work harder to achieve what I wanted in life, I persevered...until I quit several years later, believing I wasn't good enough.

So, when friend and fellow riding instructor, Nomi showed me a video of her friend Uri riding and working cattle without any reigns at all, I was mesmerized. The rusty gears started to turn.


--------------------

Sitting astride an appaloosa called Winter at Uri's Ramot Ranch, nothing was working. Winter was not responding in the way I wished to anything I'd been taught to do on a horse. It was like finding yourself behind the steering wheel of a car, but having lost everything you knew about driving.

Thankfully Uri didn't laugh, but started to teach me a new riding language. This new language uses various gentle but specific leg cues to move forward, back, and turn to the left or the right--reins used as a last resort. It is astonishingly simple, and logical in that you ask the horse to move as guided by your legs and body position. The difficulty was getting off the worn path in my brain of using rein language. I literally had to hold onto the saddle horn to keep my hand from moving.

But as I started down the rocky new path of communicating in the natural horse tongue, I felt a slow but steady wave of liberation. Every time Winter responded immediately and exactly as I'd requested, weights of old frustration fell away.

We stopped at the top of a green plateau and looked down over the entire Sea of Galilee. If you've ever felt your life changing in the very moment it does, you know the excitement.

On the way down, I held my grateful hand up over my head, palm waving.

Look, no hands! I smiled to Uri. He smiled back.

I should have fisted it in victory.

OneArmGirl