A Mile In Other People’s Shoes

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I am definitely walking a mile in other peoples’ shoes. Yes, I realize this is a temporary condition for me. But it has opened my eyes to a new reality. And has made me appreciate what I have just expected and lived with all these years.

I now understand the Basics of life without use of one arm and hand. So many things were difficult if not barely possible for me. To name just a few of my discoveries, I asked other people, ex., waitstaff in restaurants, to cut my food (meat, pasta) for me, my hair didn’t see an elastic in Weeks, showering took some serious thought and prep, and getting dressed was an adventure dependent on gravity and quick, on-the-fly tosses and grabs. Lifting “light” things, unscrewing jar lids or lightbulbs, wringing out a towel or my hair, and tying shoes or a bandana were all hard or impossible.

I’ll go back to life as usual in a few weeks. First I have to get my body back to “normal”. This is sure to be a slow process. I am sure my wrist and its muscles have forgotten a few things. They will have to be (painfully) reminded.  Therapy awaits. I hope I get to use my new friend, ice, during this.

As I said, in a few weeks, I go back to a ‘normal’ life. Through this process, I am realizing that other people can’t. It is a humbling wake-up call about all the things I have taken for granted being able to do without difficulty, or pain. I will try to keep these in mind as I go about living from now on.

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I wondered and I discovered

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I was balancing things on my cast instead of lifting them with my fingers.

I was told not to lift Anything with my fingers.

I learned new uses for gravity and centrifugal force for my hair, carrying things, dressing, etc.

Regarding exercise: were bicep curls OK?

What if any muscle tone would I have when the cast came off?

Using right-handed scissors etc. with one’s left hand equals Oh Boy!

I discovered new uses for newspaper bags, mostly for protecting my cast from getting wet.

I was happy to have help and promised myself to return favors offered or pay it forward.

Self-Care, Eating, Writing etc. left-handed

Advantages & Disadvantages

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Here are some Positives and Negatives of having a cast, a.k.a. the use of only one arm
(+ = positive, – = negative):
– A cast in 90* weather ain’t fun because you can’t scratch inside [and no, I didn’t resort to knitting needles].

–> + People help you when they see a cast.

– Your fingers, etc. get swollen if/when they are not elevated.

–> + You acquire a new appreciation for ice.

– Opening things is a serious challenge.

–> + You start thinking of new inventions.

– Typing is hard and takes a long time.

–> + Thank goodness for speech recognition software.

– Lifting things using your fingers is a no-no.

–> + With a cast, there is a broader surface to balance things on next to your body.

– There are a lot of things you now can’t do which gives you

–> + an appreciation for all the things you are usually able to do and used to take for granted.

Training New Brain Cells

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Was I disabled? No, not really. It was just harder to do everyday, usual things.

Lifting and carrying took more thought. I had to consider how to balance things, etc. I couldn’t use my casted fingers for Anything. Nothing could be two-handed.

Getting dressed was a challenge, ex., judging sleeve size to fit my cast. Thank God for short sleeve/T-shirt weather. Sandals were fine if they were velcro’ed. Slip-on shoes! Elastic waistbands were how I rolled.

Taking showers was an adventure. I employed a newspaper bag and a rubber band to shield my cast from the wetness. Washing and drying my hair was difficult. Hotel-sized shampoo containers were best. I almost mastered the one-handed towel turban. Brushing my hair left-handed was new. Training new brain cells I guess.

Makeup, well I was perfecting the art of applying mascara in a new way. As long as I didn’t poke my eyes out…

Eating involved remedial use of a fork (or spoon). Cutting anything was out of the question, temporarily. Pouring things took practice and patience. Cooking was not  attempted. Making coffee was a success! Opening and closing containers was difficult. I was confounded by potato chip bags and cracker packets and anything sealed tightly.

Sleeping with my arm elevated, or at least vertical, was something I got used to, mostly. Weird, but necessary. Propped pillows was an art form.

This was my new life, and though temporary, I gained insight into a small piece of how it is to live this way. It was a very small but useful sliver of experience.

One-Handed Wonder?

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How does one tie anything with one hand? Using teeth was a no-no from dentists. Oh well. And forget about hair elastics as they were impossible. I started wearing rolled bandanas as headbands. Tying shoes proved to be very hard. Thank God for elastic laces, and that I didn’t have to worry about neckties. Just had to get me some “e-laces”. The search was on.

I was still blessed with one good, -non-dominant-, hand, and trying to keep it that way. I was extra vigilant while walking. And I made sure my floor was clear of “hazards”. No more accidents, please. Again, it was amazing what is taken for granted.

I couldn’t lift, in any way, with the hand or fingers. This made for inventive new ways of doing things. I started balancing things on my cast. I carried little items in the sling. I clipped my keys to loops and rings on my purse, etc. My purse was now a cross-body bag so it wouldn’t fall off a shoulder. I carried some things between my arm and body when there was no other choice. And people do ‘magically’ offer to help sometimes when they see the sling/cast.

I was living a one-handed life, albeit temporary, and appreciating the two-handed life more every day.

Left-Handed Living for a Right Handed Person

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I fell and broke my right arm two months ago. I hit my head and bruised my left eye area too. My right knee got involved as well. I have never broken anything in my life – can’t say that anymore. I went to the E.R. in an ambulance-another first.

I have not had a job since. I had to go on “voluntary resignation” because the job involved transporting clients. I hope to find something better suited for me when this is all done.

I loved the purple cast I got. I had thought I would get a multi-colored one (who knew there were so many choices). I had to ice my arm regularly and keep it elevated as much and as often as possible.

I saw blessings times 100. The way I fell, my sunglasses got all scratched up on one side so I could have severely injured, or lost, an eye. And that’s just one of the blessings.

I had to figure out new ways to do Everything! What follows is a recap of the blessings and the lessons. Stay tuned!

Mental Health Journey, Pt. 2

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Life for a mental health patient is a journey, made somewhat better by medicines and treatments. Sometimes the “better” is marginal, sometimes it’s manageable, sometimes there’s a glimpse of a near-miracle. Medications are little slices of wonderful, if and when they work. There’s the issue for many. The ever-present IF.

With psychiatric medications, what works for one person may not, and does not, always work for another person. This is because individual brain chemistry is as unique as a fingerprint. Patients are often faced with having to try different medications to find one that works. After that comes finding the proper effective dosage that works for them. And with psychiatric meds, if A doesn’t work for you, you can’t just take one, stop and then immediately start taking B like you can a pain reliever or some other type of drug. There is a sort of “half-life” with brain chemicals when they are affected by psychiatric meds.

Because psychiatric medications have to build up in the brain tissue in order to be effective, if a drug does not work, you have to wean yourself off it before starting a new one. This can take time and is frustrating and, unfortunately, depressing for the patient. It often feels like you “roll the dice” when you try another drug because you truly do not know if it will work. In addition, you wonder how effective it will be or for how long.

And don’t get me started on the Side Effects! (too late)… With side effects of psychiatric meds, it can sometimes feel like you are experiencing the saying, “The cure is worse than the disease”. There is weight gain, or there could be weight loss. You have insomnia or you might sleep too much. You feel ravenous or have no appetite at all. There is constipation or diarrhea. Not to mention impaired coordination or memory, dizziness, nausea, blurred vision, fatigue, and of course, sexual difficulties. You are dealing with many of these while you are trying your hardest to JUST FEEL BETTER!

The Mental Health Journey, Pt. 1

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Is it crazy if you see a therapist or counselor? Why that word, why “crazy”? Sometimes I think all those who do not think they need counseling in this life are the “crazy” ones. If you think you can make it through this life alone, without some sort of help, YOU are crazy.

Life is not easy, for anyone, and there are those who need a little extra outside help to get through it. And one should not be looked down upon or think less of oneself if one chooses to get such help. Those who think they do not need even a little help are not always helpful or understanding to those of us who do.

We’re often told, “It’s all in your head.”, or “You’re just lazy.”, “I have felt sad too.” or “Snap out of it!” As you may have guessed, none of these phrases are supportive or helpful. Think of some of the other words that are used to describe someone who is a little “off” and imagine what it would be like to be labelled as such.

For the millions among us who are living with a mental illness, we are thought to be crazy. I choose not to say, “suffering from” mental illness because I do not want to put more of a negative spin on it than already exists. This is due to the already unfortunate prevalent stigma, the stigma that says we’re crazy, among other things.

The rest of the world thinks we’re crazy, or dangerous, or lazy, or insert (mostly negative) adjective of your choice. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are often among the most thought-ful ones. There is a lot going on between our ears. Our thoughts are just not always the most positive or uplifting or constructive, for us personally.

Our attitudes are usually reserved for ourselves alone. Our judgments are most often inwardly focused. And we are our own harshest critics. We share this with others around us, also harsh self-critics. Unlike those around us, we often can’t easily escape the possible downward spiral such negative self-criticism causes. Therefore, we need to “get out of our own heads” which doesn’t always seem easy or even possible.

You’re Not Crazy, You’re Just Depressed, Pt. 2

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I’m sure there are people who think if someone is depressed, or claims to have a mental illness, they can just snap out of it or it will pass or they’re faking it. While sometimes this might be the case, most of the time nothing could be farther from the truth. Those who are dealing with any type of mental illness desperately wish they could just snap out of it.

Sometimes mental illness is situational. Sometimes it seems temporary but all too often it’s a lifelong condition. Sometimes there’s a biological or genetic component. However it arises, it can take a lot of effort & support to survive.

I’m not a psychiatrist nor am I a trained psychologist. I am simply someone who is in the trenches of depression. I’ve heard, “Snap out of it!”, “It’s not that bad.”, & many other responses when people find out I have depression. Like I said, you can’t judge a book by its cover. You can’t tell by looking who is or who isn’t depressed or otherwise mentally ill. I look “normal”, whatever that means.

Most of the time w/ medication & talk therapy, I & others like me do pretty well. Some days are better than others, just like they are for anyone. Like other humans, appreciate & enjoy understanding & support. We find it in groups, w/ friends, & through help from those in the medical profession.

You can’t tell by looking if someone is depressed or experiencing a mental illness. You don’t know their journey just as they don’t know yours. As I said before, not everyone who living w/ mental illness is psychotic or dangerous to others. For the most part, they’re just trying to get through, & get along, in their lives w/ some enjoyment & hard-won positivity. And w/ mutual acceptance, support & understanding from those around them, this is & will be possible.