I Keep Falling

I keep falling. In the past week, I’ve had three rather major falls of increasing severity. In the worst, I fell all the way down a flight of stairs, save for the very top step. I simply stepped down onto the first step and before I knew it, I was thumping down the entire flight on my back and landed with a big thud at the base of the stairs on the hard floor. My tailbone and sacrum have not yet forgotten nor forgiven the incident. In fact, I had to spend over two hours in urgent care yesterday, after deciding that instead of slowly resolving, the pain seems to be steadily progressing to intolerable levels.

I’ve mentioned before that SPD causes issues with balance, proprioception, body control and kinesthetic awareness, and overall stability. Therefore, I’m predisposed to falls and accidents and my physical history confirms this correlation. I’m guessing that the inattentiveness, impatience, and hastiness inherently symptomatic of my ADHD also contribute to the unintentional recklessness that characterizes my movements. I’m like a spastic marionette, blindly operated by forces outside of my conscious control or ability and with seemingly bizarre, jerky, rapid, and unexpected actions.

My movements epitomize clumsiness and klutziness; they are erratic, disorganized, hasty at times, and sporadically and unpredictably controlled and executed. The only time I step into a veil of grace and agility is when I run, although, I’d be remiss in failing to mention several catastrophic trips and tumbles; I tend to have to steer clear of trails and uneven surfaces, despite their health benefits and forgiveness of the demands on the anatomical structures. I’m so accident-prone that if there is any potential risk of injury or malfunction with some sort of task that demands movement—particularly those requiring any degree of coordination—even if exceedingly unlikely, I’m one of those unlucky few that will experience it. I’m probably why warning labels have to exist on certain products or on informed consent forms for certain activities. When “normal” people read such information prior to engaging in the said activity, they probably wonder, how could that possibly happen? The answer: if you’re Amber. Those who know and love me dearly even joke after I do incur such injuries, “that would only happen to you!”

I don’t wear this as a badge of honor. I certainly wish I could trade this “luck” for highly unlikely positive outcomes like winning the lottery or at least the gold coins at Big Y supermarket! At the same time, I don’t want to cede responsibility or my self-efficacy in improving my balance and coordination and decreasing the incidence of undesired or hazardous movements and the resultant injury risk.

I consciously try to slow my body movements so that I only travel (or flail) at moderate velocities, so that any impact is somewhat attenuated (remembering the concept of momentum from physics class equaling mass multiplied by velocity; reducing velocity with decrease my momentum, impulse, and impact force). Instead of bombinating around like a wild ricocheting bullet, I attempt to pull back on the reins and let up on the throttle. This doesn’t directly improve my coordination, but it can augment the allotted reaction time before an impending crash or fall and dampen impact forces. I also practice balancing and stabilizing my body and limbs during my OT appointments and on my own at home. Admittedly, it’s frustrating work because I have yet to notice an appreciable improvement during dedicated practice (like single-leg stance time) or in “real life” applications (hence, the three bad falls this week). I’m not going to give up though. I harken back to a quote I had on my wall growing up from Jacob Riis:

When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.

Maybe all of the work and practice is quietly mounting beneath the surface in an undetectable manner, but suddenly, one day, I’ll notice that I am moving more fluidly, controlled, gracefully, and safely.

(For now, I’ve got ice on my back to ease its throbbing. I must not have hit that 101st blow yet…)

Mental Health Awareness Month

April was Autism Awareness Month and May, among other things, is Celiac Disease and Mental Health Awareness Month: two other causes near and dear to my heart. There’s been a boom of awareness around celiac disease, though partly convoluted by the gluten-free fad, yet I don’t feel I need to devote much attention to it at this point.

Mental health awareness, on the other hand, is more important to discuss, primarily because mental illness still seems to carry a stigma that it’s a weakness and should be hidden, something disgraceful that should be covered up—a coveted secret not to be confessed. Even when I was in graduate school last year, I remember telling a classmate that I wanted to adjust the arranged meeting time for a group project because of therapy and he replied, “oh, what injury do you have?” assuming that it was physical therapy to address a running injury (an innocent, and reasonable mistake). I said, “no, psychological talk therapy for depression and anxiety.” “Uh woah, yikes, weird. Uh yeah, let’s just pretend it’s physical therapy.” He, by no means, said this with any ill-intent; on the contrary, he was trying to protect my ego and present the “safer” or more respectable alternative to the group to spare me the assumed embarrassment.

I’m so accustomed to mental health treatment and therapy at this point that I’m not afraid to admit that I need it, use it, and find it helpful. Of course, I prefer not to broadcast it and it certainly would never have a place on a brag reel, but mental health services are simply another legitimate, and necessary facet of healthcare. Like physical illness, which can range from acute viruses or injuries to chronic illnesses like multiple sclerosis, and range in severity from mild infections requiring a short course of antibiotics to intensive or emergency care situations or terminal cancers, mental health illnesses run the gamut. Some conditions are acute and short-lived, while others are chronic; some are more of a mild nuisance while some are debilitating. Even depression can be experienced in an acute bout in response to a difficult situation and some anxieties or phobias only crop up when encountering a specific stimulus. Other people, myself included, have chronic depression and generalized anxiety (and PTSD) that are regularly present. Beyond anxiety and depression, there are probably hundreds of other recognized psychological conditions with just as many varied presentations as people afflicted with them. Also like some physical illnesses, a variety of mental health conditions go undetected or untreated. This can happen in cases where the umbrella of symptoms is hard to identify or they exist at a low enough level or persist for so long they become the individual’s “normal,” or because of lack of awareness that there is help, or one’s pride or lack of insurance/resources preventing one to seek help.

Mental health awareness, or increasing the frequency with which these conditions are discussed is therefore important for two key reasons: to increase the general public’s understanding of symptoms and available resources (to aid diagnosis and treatment so that individuals don’t suffer in silence or from an uniformed place) and to show the variety of shades and types of psychological illnesses and their common prevalence (to help reduce the stigma of it being “weird” or “shameful”). Anyone can experience mental health problems, although some people are more susceptible to certain illness than other people. Receiving a diagnosis and participating in treatment is a critical step in managing or mitigating symptoms and reducing risks associated with symptoms or behaviors of such diseases. I can speak to the fact that left unaddressed and unchecked, mental health problems can escalate to severe issues or dire situations. Like physical problems, the earlier a mental illness is addressed, the better. It would be dangerous to allow bacterial pneumonia to fester for weeks, lest it turn into a more critical condition; it is equally risky to sit with depression for weeks on end, allowing it to spiral into a more critical condition. Then, instead of responding with more conservative treatment or improving more quickly, it can stick around longer and necessitate more comprehensive measures, not to mention the unnecessary suffering.

I hope that people will continue to speak up about their battles with mental illnesses. Discussions and admissions are some of the best ways to increase awareness, educate others, reduce the stigma, and potentially help or save someone else’s life. I vow to do my part and try my best to be brave, honest, and open and engage in conversations, even if personal or uncomfortable. I’d rather be slightly embarrassed (though my whole point is that I shouldn’t be, it’s natural to be in our society’s current attitude towards such issues) and divulge certain parts of my life that are nowhere near pretty or perfect, and potentially help someone else who is suffering alone, confused or worried, or too shy to take the next step.

Here is a resource that may be helpful

:

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may

 

A Visit

My oldest sister came over today. Even though I’ve moved closer to home, I don’t see her often: she’s busy, I’m anti-social. In fact, when she got here, she commented that she couldn’t remember the last time we hung out alone. I was hoping that my nervousness was not as palpable as it felt. I guess that’s one of the weird things about me—perhaps it’s an autism thing—nervousness to see my own sister. She’s known me my whole life, yet my own social anxiety is so crippling that I fear seeing her. It’s also likely a product of times in my life I have been judged or teased, even bullied, and certainly made to feel even more different than I am by other people. Even though she’s family and I’m confident she wouldn’t treat me that way, I have trouble separating fears induced by past experiences in disastrous social situations over likely safe, and even pleasant new ones. This is another instance where I often let self-limiting anxieties hinder my happiness. Not only do I end up missing out on a source of love and joy, but it’s also unfair to wrongfully project the behavior of behavior of a handful of spiteful people onto my notions of everyone.

I think one of the special qualities about family members or true friends that you don’t have to “do” anything when you spend time with one another. Because I am basically immobile with my fracture and carry all sorts of limitations normally, ranging from severe food allergies to sensory challenges, there isn’t much I can do right now anyway. Ashleigh didn’t care. She didn’t pressure me to go out, provide any sort of entertainment, or make me feel like I was boring her to death. She just sat and talked with me, asked how she could help, tidied up my messes and mishaps, made me laugh, and distracted me from the loneliness and pains I’m going through. She regaled me with humorous bits from our favorite shows and talked to me like an equal, not a little sister.

Ashleigh has her own challenges and doesn’t claim to know how to help me with mine, but we seem to have a tacit understanding that we’ve got each other’s backs and admire the courage and strength that we both engage against the struggles we face, including the necessarily hard work of self-improvement and self-understanding. I look at her and see someone who is quite different than me, but also someone who, just like when I was young, I aspire to be more alike. Especially over the past couple of years, she embodies such grace, such resilience, and such clemency.

Even though she didn’t stay long, it was a bright spot in my day and a welcome break from work and even from my usual routine that I so tightly cling to. When I was talking with my husband after she left, he asked how the visit went. I caught myself saying, “surprisingly well.” Again, reminding me that I had the preconceived notion or fear that it likely wouldn’t. He asked me why I thought it went well or what I liked about it. All I replied was: I felt like I had a real friend.

The Mighty

Exiting news! My first blog post—the one that bravely kicked off this blog (if I may step out of my normally modest shoes for a second and toot my own horn!)—was featured by The Mighty and is available on their website. The Mighty is a big, supportive online community for those with or affected by any variety of disease or disability. The community offers not only perspectives of afflicted individuals, but also their parents, siblings, friends, etc. One thing I really admire about The Mighty is that it not only provides great resources for those with or affected by a given condition, but it gives those same individuals a platform from which to share their experiences, triumphs, and concerns, which I think is powerfully influential in altering our stereotypes and rattling our contemptuousness. The Mighty gives voices to people who may not otherwise be heard and through such sharing, shortens the distance between things that seem blatantly different. Honestly, even before I had my autism and sensory processing diagnoses, I followed The Mighty and subscribed to their weekly digests of stories and articles because I marveled at the bravery of the storytellers and found that weekly messages of some people’s hidden or invisible struggles was a good reminder of the strength of humanity and the importance of constantly exercising compassion, even through my own hurt and battles. Some stories, even if about a disease I had never heard of and certainly didn’t face, made me feel understood, simply because many of the same challenges are faced by all of us, even if they come with different names or wear different costumes.

This now reads like an advertising spot for The Mighty, which certainly wasn’t at all my intention. I guess it’s just my honest one-minute appreciation speech for my new inclusion into the community as a contributing writer. In fact, they have asked me to add new content and posts overtime, so I’m really appreciative of the opportunity to share my perspective to hopefully help some readers understand and help others feel understood.

(it’s actually the featured story on the main page this morning!)