The voice in the night…

It’s dark and I’m awake; I have to empty my bladder. With huge effort, I sit on the side of my bed. I will use the bed-rail beside me, and the grab-bar opposite me on the wall, to bring myself up to a standing position. I prepare my mind; moving my body consumes all kinds of energy: physical, mental and emotional.

Physically, I will engage my thigh muscles and my abdominal muscles, as I use my hands and arms push me up… however, I know that I will go nowhere, if I am not mentally engaged and emotionally confident. There is no room for dizziness or self-doubt.

I am in mid-movement. I’m halfway there, when a voice calls out to me “Use your glutes…” I know this voice. I heard it a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away.. “Use your glutes, Luke! Use the glutes.” Yes, did I mention that humour helps enormously?

 

 

Which way to go?

I am at the doctor’s office using the handicap accessible washroom. I’m seated on the toilet with my right hand holding the grab bar and I’m stuck. I have no idea how I’m going to get up. I consider calling out for help and wonder if people in the waiting room will be able to hear me. This has happened before; I regularly get stuck in accessible washrooms.

There is a knock at the door. A voice asks, “Rita, how are you doing in there?”  “I’m stuck,” I reply. The voice responds,”Let me know if you need any help.”  I say nothing; I’m used to doing things by myself. I’m too tired to ask for the help that I need and too tired to explain what I need.  So I set my resolve to try again. I manage to lift myself up, but my feet can’t bear my weight and I drop back down. Alone and facing my wheelchair, I want to cry.

A voice whispers, ‘you can’t choose your problems,  you can only choose the solution.‘ Surprised by the clarity of the voice in my head, I repeat it with confidence. I remind myself that I’m at the doctor’s office and it’s time to get up. I resolve to use what I learned at physiotherapy. I know which muscles to engage and how to concentrate and breathe into  movement. I raise myself off the seat. First try, I get a little bit higher. Second try, I feel steadier. On the third try, I’m on my feet. I swivel the feet slowly and carefully. I switch hand positions, from grab bar to wheelchair and dump myself down. Finally, I’m sitting on my wheelchair. I resolve to do my exercises regularly; if only to get myself off my derrière with ease. Next time…

The image above is one of my most favourite paintings, “A Peaceful Waterfall” by Toronto artist Joanna Strong. See more of her work at http://joannastrong.com/

And everything changed…

actually, that’s not true; moving around continues to be just as difficult. However, I am in a better frame of mind; it just switched. Like the time I dreamt of apple blossoms, when I was in my early 20s and feeling really down. The world was a dark place and everything I did was wrong. Then one night while I slept, I dreamt of apple blossoms. I watched as they unfurled their pink blossoms. Petal by petal opened, as the sun warmed my cheekbones and I smiled, lifting my face to the sun. I awoke refreshed.

In March, I thought I was dealing with yet another bladder infection. I was feeling down and went to the doctor to leave a urine sample and get another prescription for antibiotics. I was sad. Again? I can’t keep doing this! I will become immune to antibiotics. Three days later, I phoned the doctor’s office and was told the blood work came back clear. I did not have an infection. I ripped up that prescription and felt lighter. Whatever I was doing to keep the infections at bay was working. A few days later I woke up, looked out my bedroom window and smiled at the blue sky. It just switched; the day was going to be a good one. Then a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time dropped by for a visit. I got a lovely card in the mail, two in fact. If I was already feeling good, the feeling had solidified.

 

Too Tired

I have been too tired to write.

There have been bladder infections and antibiotics

that made me too tired to write.

Lots of water, cranberry juice and I stopped drinking coffee.

I have been too tired to write…

Too many trips to the bathroom

made me too tired to write.

How to explain…

when getting up in the morning is opening your eyes to realize

that getting out of bed is more like a grand haul.

So, I have been too tired to write.

A trip to the bathroom is more like an expedition

and the shower? Having a shower…

becomes the event of the day.

I have been too tired to write.

Now, let me admit

that I have been too distracted to write.

When simple tasks become arduous, sitting in my wheelchair and catching an episode of my favourite show is fun I deserve.

Have you caught podcasts? There are so many out there. They are much fun to listen to and I can play them all the time. Having other people’s words fill my head distracts me from the arduous peculiarities of life.

And, when I have energy for something, I choose to work on the podcast that I like to call ‘a little spiritual hour’ on the Internet. From The Healing and Cancer Foundation take a look at one of our podcasts.

I have been too distracted to write. Here’s another one of my distractions.

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Allow me to introduce you to my grandmother.

I think of her often these days. I recently saw a picture of myself that immediately brought her to mind. I am sitting in a wheelchair with my knees resting against each other. I am smiling and enjoying the company around me on a very social evening. What made me think of my grandmother? Even when she was in her 90s and used a wheelchair to get around, she was always ready to enjoy herself. With her pretty, high cheekbones and mischievous eyes, she was patient and clever. She taught me a lot. How to cook a good spaghetti sauce. How to be grateful for the small things in life. How to appreciate poetry.

I knew her for a long time, from the time I was born until she passed away when I was in my 30s. At different stages in my life, I got to know different sides of her. A charming, mischievous and open-minded artist, she worked very hard. She was unassuming, but expected nothing less than excellence. She loved and forgave. As I watched her age and grow more frail, while I grew stronger, I learned that the physical reality of her presence did not reflect the essence of who she was.

I remember when we were living in Ontario in the 1970s, she and my grandfather were taking English as a second language classes. She showed me an essay she had written for the class. She explained she had to choose a topic from a few the teacher had given. She chose to answer the following: “Is it better to have loved and lost, than never have loved at all?” I was young and remember reading the paragraph, but not quite understanding it. She explained to me that it was better to have loved and lost. I remember looking at her wide-eyed, thinking to myself: “Si Nonna, if you write it, then it must be true.” I think back now of all the stories she told me and realize I had absorbed this: there will be pain, frustration and discomfort in life; joy is mine to find.

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Learning to stand

I visit the physiotherapist once a month. She tugs and manipulates my feet and legs to get my body to do the things it can’t do on its own. I learn to pay attention to different muscles and their abilities to help me do simple things, like stand. I had no idea how many muscles are involved in standing or in balancing on 2 feet.

These are the steps I take to go from sitting to standing. Perched on the edge of a chair, my knees  forward, placed further out than my toes. I aim my nose over my knees, straighten my back and propel myself forward and up. I am doing the mid-air stretch. I flatten my back and push myself to standing. My torso is out and up. I engage my abdominal muscles. Who knew they were so strong?  Those abdominals! A little closer to standing, at this point I engage the gluteus. A big muscle group, squeezing those cheeks together allows me to stand a little taller. Later, while doing physiotherapy exercises, I discover muscles in the small of my back. Guess what!? There are muscles in my back, that can also be employed in helping me stand, sit up straight and simply enjoy the wonder of my own body.

Next, comes the brain. It’s a lot to take in. There are many commands to send forth to various limbs. This can be tiring for my MS body. My brain has to believe that it can. I have to be okay with it being different and difficult. But that doesn’t mean I can’t, it just means I have to learn how to do it differently. And I’m learning how to do things differently again and again and again.

Imagination Is Power

Things are not as they appear. I am not sitting on a wheelchair, but a throne. The dining-room table is a gathering place and that futon couch, when open is a big flat yoga mat. And so, I park my Power Chair by that flat futon and grab my walker. I pull myself up and do some standing exercises. Seated on the edge of the futon, I’m ready to go down and the music starts. Grabbing my left leg, I roll backwards as if going on a dive with an oxygen tank on my back. I am diving off the side of a boat, while The Clash Rocks the Casbah. Music is a part of my yoga routine and I play it loud. On my back and knees up, the flat of my feet pressing down on the futon. Waves of Hey Rosetta splash over me. Swinging knees to the left, I loosen my lower spine. Swing knees to the right and breathe in deep with Jenn Grant.  Pull one knee into my chest and extend the other. Switch to The Weakerthans. When Billy Bragg calls, I’ll stretch my arms long over my head and stretch my toes in the opposite direction.  And wish I had a river to skate away on as I turn onto my stomach and stretch again. Rest my head on my hands, I breathe in and exhale. I smile with pleasure, because movement mixed with music is like swimming.  Position myself in a cobra, while ‘The Decemberists sing to make me better. Lie flat and breathe deeply, as if floating downstream, because Tomorrow Never Knows.

Photo credit: A detail of a cathedral, Il Duomo in Milan, Italy, taken by Rita Kindl Myers (1993).