Friday, December 28, 2018

Ending 2018

This past year has flown, but so have many years before it. And because it has flown in so many ways, this blog has not been as active as I would like. This blog is meant to tell my journey as I navigate disability, change, and faith.  Several times I would start to write something and those writings are sitting as drafts because for me, they didn't go anywhere and I found them boring.  But here we are at the end of 2018 and even if boring, I can attempt to summarize the year.  Quite a few people have said I should write a book, and I have thought that if I knew how to download the contents of this blog all at once, that would be a start to a book - about my life, and mostly the life-changing things that have happened to me in the past almost 8 years...  8 years that I never saw coming, but I did cling to hope, and these last 8 years have been about answers to that hope.

This fall I had more breakthroughs, which is intriguing because I really thought that the fall of 2017 was my breakthrough time that couldn't be matched, and then it was, this fall of 2018. Things that change for the better in my life may or may not be able to be seen by others.  People who haven't seen me in a while usually react to seeing me by noticing how straight I can stand. Standing that straight feels natural now.  It didn't used to feel natural - it started to feel natural this fall.

The big thing, and maybe the hardest thing I have done in my life, happened this fall.  I bought walking sticks and have been learning to walk with them. One Friday, I just decided I needed something different, and on Saturday morning I started calling places to see if they had walking sticks.  I have tried versions of crutches in the past.  Actually crutches that work for me are the ones that you stick under your arms.  For a long time I tried using them but would always hang onto something in addition to walking with them, until one day my daughter decided I was going to cross a small distance on the floor that didn't have anything on which I could hang.  I remember the 6 steps that I took.  Imagine when you learn to swim and the swimming teacher makes you cross a distance of water without clinging to her.  It's like that. After the first step, I panicked and exclaimed, "I can't do this!" And my daughter declared "yes Mom, you can, it's just a few steps, you are fine." "No, I'm not (panic in voice), I'm going to fall." "No, Mom, I'm right here, you are not going to fall."  And then I made it!  And without this happening, there would be no walking sticks months down the road.

So, back to the walking sticks... a guy who worked at a store that sells outdoor stuff convinced me that their walking sticks might work for me. I went into the store and discovered a whole section of walking sticks! Never mind that they are for hikers. The very, very nice guy who had talked to me on the phone asked if I needed help. He knew all about walking sticks and I had no idea there are so many kinds! Even the part where I grip can be made of various different materials. I chose my walking sticks, bought them, and proudly left the store.  I came home and showed them to my husband and daughter, who both seemed happy that I had done this. I practiced with them around the house that day.

The next day I decided to take them to church.  Why not?! Church is generally a safe place for me where I try various things and people probably do not realize I am trying things. Learning to use walking sticks is the hardest thing I remember doing.  That day at church, it took all of my concentration to walk with sticks instead of my walker. Walking sticks require more balance than my walker.  Strangely, it is not about legs at all. It is all about core muscles. With walking sticks I can't bend over as much when I walk and I can't sway back and forth.  There is also a sense of rhythm - when I first start I am not as steady, but then I find a rhythm and can go.  

I reach a point where I have gone a distance and my core muscles (stomach, back) have had enough. After I used the sticks at church. I took them other places.  I take them to work, walk in with both my walker and sticks, and do several walks each day with the sticks. I have taken them out on the bike path. One day I went a bit too far on the bike path.  I decided to do an out an back and I made it out fine, but coming back was questionable, and there were no stopping points and nothing to grab. It felt like being dropped in the middle of a body of water with limited swimming abilities and no one near, and having to figure out how to make it to land.  Step by step I gradually made it, but I reached a point when I was at the end of the path and had to get to my car, across a parking lot that was a bit uneven, and my core muscles were done. I made it about halfway and found a curb with a fence right behind it and I sat and rested.  Whew!  The gift of a curb! In days where I couldn't do as much, this curb wouldn't have helped, because I couldn't have got up from it. But these days I can get up so after resting, I got up and made it the rest of the way to my car, deciding that the next time I decide to do that walk, I'll take a friend.

One last thing about walking sticks... they are not ski poles and I am not using them to train for this year's ski season.  It is kind of funny how many people comment on my "ski" poles and wonder if I am using them to train for skiing. I try not to roll my eyes when someone says something about my "ski" poles since it did used to think that was funny.

Walking sticks are only one part of 2018, but they are the most difficult part.  I am getting better with them, but I have a long way to go to feel really comfortable with them.  Because I use them, my skiing is actually better, so it's a side effect, not a reason.  This year in December I skied once. I ski standing using something that looks something like a walker and is called "ski legs." Last year I leaned on the ski legs with my arms holding my body. This December, I tried not to put weight on my arms and instead use my legs more. It has worked!  By the end of the day I could feel my hamstrings working. The next day my hamstrings were sore which was very exciting because my legs have not had that post-workout soreness for at least 20 years. That feeling of soreness means they were really working - who knew it is so exciting to have pain? (recognizing it is a certain type of pain that also goes away)

Then there is the track.  I do keep getting faster although I know I am very close to a speed limit unless I can figure out how to walk without locking my knees with each step. In late November I broke 8 minutes going once around the track - that's a 400 that in high school I did in under 65 seconds so I sent an email to my high school coach to tell him I only had a few minutes to go to get back to my high school time.  On the treadmill I am now walking 3.2mph for 16 minutes - the treadmill supports 25% of my body weight so I can walk faster than over ground. Again I am very close to a barrier of speed that I can't break unless I figure out how to walk without locking my knees.  But you never know.  At physical therapy we joke that one day I will break out like Forest Gump did and someone will yell "Run Beth, run!" as the Bioness devices I wear on my legs pop off and I begin to run.

Bioness!  New this year - there are no longer heel sensors or remote controls because they have a new model where a signal is sent to my lower legs when I lift my leg (instead of when I land on my heel). This is very exciting.  Also, there is an app for Bioness that counts the steps I take. Unfortunately I used this a bit too much and got too excited, so my shoulders (that I use when walking) got injured and I had to take about a month off and still am being careful.  Part of this is that I am not 25 anymore. Because the app then started not working due to an iPhone upgrade, I realized I don't need my Bioness leg devices everywhere I go. I need them to walk long distances and I also need them if I want to make sure my right leg isn't swinging out and around, because the Bioness helps my legs to go straight.

There is a summary of 2018, but it is a pretty limited summary.  It has been a fun year. A lot happened.  I have come much further that I expected.  I have much further to go.  I hope to write more in this blog in 2019, and I hope what I write means that I am continuing to improve. Hope can disappoint, but hope can also bring things like what has been happening to me.  I feel lucky.  

And I have to figure out how to download the contents of this whole blog.

And always along the way, through the good times and the bad, God is there, surrounding us as we hope and as things happen in our lives.


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