Work smarter

12 Aug

When you are disabled, minor obstacles start looking more like Mount Everest than a minor mole hill.  It’s all bigger and more dramatic.  It’s also more likely to provoke a total melt down as frustrations and aggravations drive you to your breaking point.

So how to overcome the Himalayas when even going shopping is a challenge?

By working smarter.

Face it, for most of us, disability does not equate an accompanying mental disability.  We are fully aware of our limitations.  We know when we are having an emotional melt down that may be a bit of overreaction to the most recent event but is the inevitable result of recent events that have now been provided with either a trigger or what most of us would call the last straw.

By using our heads when our bodies aren’t dependable, we can enjoy many activities that normally would be out-of-reach.  Ones that we’re technically not supposed to be able to do due to our own personal limits, whether it’s strength, endurance, dexterity, agility, or whatever.  The question is often then going to be how, and it means how can thinking mean that we can do the un-do-able?

By taking a bigger, more dramatic view of the un-do-able, maybe we can get an idea.  Sure, it sounds totally crazy to compare a desired activity for a disabled person to climbing Mount Everest, but it’s not unreasonable.

A climber is facing obstacles that should make the climb to the summit impossible.  Breathing the thin air alone, without the cold, wind, avalanches, falls, distance and all of the other obstacles s/he must face to get there.  Sure, a lot of people fail in their attempts, and some even die trying.  So what makes it a successful attempt?

  • Research—knowing what obstacles must be overcome and what tools are available to overcome them
  • Planning—having the necessary gear, support, tools, supplies, and transportation to get to the Himalayas and make that attempt, as well as the attempt itself
  • Preparation—assembling the necessary items and gaining the necessary skills to be successful
  • Assessment—knowing what your own limits and abilities are, and when to call it quits
  • Assistance—having a support team to help fill in the deficit areas of your physical abilities as well as skill levels

This is where our brains come into effect.  We have to figure out what it is we want to do, then find a way to do it, no matter what it is.  Granted, few disabled people are going to take up mountain climbing, even at a much lower summit height than Mount Everest, but the concept is the same no matter what the activity actually is.

Let’s take some practical examples.

Cooking is a hobby I have enjoyed since I was young.  I really love doing it, and it is always a challenge that I’m thrilled to try.  The objective is to make the recipes, serve them all at their optimum temperature, without any errors.  I actually liked playing “guest chef” and cooking for others.  Holiday meals were something that were fun to prepare because of their complexity, volume, etc.

Obviously, post-disability, it wasn’t as much fun.  Some things were nearly impossible and even simple tasks had turned into my own versions of Mount Everest.  I wanted to make pizza crust, from scratch.  Before, that was a no-brainer.  Now, it was impossible, or so it seemed.

The mixing and kneading were impossible, but solved easier.  I owned a big Kitchen-Aid mixer that really hadn’t seen much use.  Now, I learned to use it for mixing pizza dough.  Rolling and stretching the dough was then the new mountain.  I was not getting that done with one functional arm.

I tried a French rolling pin, I tried the kind with ball bearings.  It didn’t work.  Clean up was a misery.  Sure, I could just wimp out and ask Greg to do it—he’s not inept or unwilling.  That wasn’t the point.  I wanted to do it myself, like I was a toddler helping my mother cook.

In the past, I had had a nylon cylinder rolling pin that I had used.  That’s what I wanted to try, but I couldn’t find one for sale.  Greg solved that for me.  He bought a fat dowel, the biggest he could find, and cut it for me.  There were two—one for the narrow side of a half sheet baking pan, and one for the wide side.  Two problems solved—clean up and rolling, all with one solution.  The dough couldn’t get away from me inside the lipped pan, I had a one handed rolling pin, and I had something I could theoretically clean myself.  It also works great for cookie or biscuit dough.  I haven’t tried it with pie crust though, as the size makes a round disk of sufficient size impossible.

We thought ourselves into a solution for a problem by drawing on past experience (cylinder rolling pin) to find a new solution (dowel rolling pins) and improved it by using the half sheet pans to further solve the problem.

We use the same process for camping solutions.  I love camping, and I’ll be the first one to admit, I could not go camping in a tent by myself.  I’d never enjoy it and I would also probably never get the tent up, even if I was using an instant tent (they are great, by the way!).  But, with help for carrying and the major tasks like setting up the tent, I can enjoy camping still.  Sure, I’m not going on hikes or chopping up firewood anymore, but I’m there.

I did try to solve the backpacking problem.  Due to reduced endurance and other health problems, I have reluctantly admitted that backpacking is out of my reach at this time.  Maybe I will find something that lets me take short, easy trips in the future, but this year, it was a bust again.  Instead, I’m doing it vicariously by creating recipes for DIY meals, sharing knowledge, and evaluating gear in a much closer space.

Then there was sewing.  I was afraid to try it for a very long time, longer than I’m even willing to admit.  That delay was based solely on fear.  I was terrified that it was going to be one more can’t in a world filled with too many can’ts for my taste.  Finally, I got things together, plugged in the machine, and tried it.

Here is where working smarter became really important.  I have a very limited amount of time to actually work on anything before problems are going to appear, all carried along by the all-too-familiar Pain Train.  (I find that assigning silly names to stressors, they become less threatening.  Try it sometime!)  Most of the time, it’s about five minutes.  Sewing isn’t something that is done fast, so this short period of time to do anything physical with it means that I have to make that time really count.  It’s like sewing with a toddler underfoot, in a way.  Continual interruptions and distractions.

I’m also not talking strictly about sewing machine time.  It’s any physical task—laying out patterns, cutting, pinning, whatever. This short time span for actually doing anything means that we’re going to take the tactics of the armchair quarterback.  We’re going to think about it and plan a whole lot in comparison to actually doing anything.  Then, we’re going to look at what we are doing, think about it again, long before we start doing it.

That’s not a bad thing.  You soon learn that ripping things out is heartbreaking.  Not only have you invested one or more work periods into making the mistake, you’ve now got to invest more work periods into removing that effort, all before repeating the investment.  It’s like buying a house with no bathroom, giving it away, and buying another one because the first one didn’t have a bathroom.  It’s a major investment, not merely a bit of time, when you are physically challenged.

Disabilities can change your perspectives on a lot of things, as well as cause a major shift in priorities.  You soon learn that some things are not important and don’t really matter.

  • Makeup. I don’t wear it anymore.  It wasn’t worth the investment of time, energy, and pain to get it onto my face.  I don’t care what the rest of the world thinks.  I’m not going to conform to their perceptions or make that investment of myself to conforming.  I’m just not willing to risk sticking a mascara applicator into my eye to be “beautiful” in someone else’s eyes.
  • Hairdos. I’m not going to bother.  I have long hair and I wear it tied up, usually in a doubled over pony tail.  It’s often lopsided too.  I thought about cutting off my hair, but then I’d have to do something with it.  Like comb it more often.  As it is, it gets brushed when I’m leaving the house or someone is coming over—it’s neatly confined so it doesn’t get messy.  No French braids, no fancy do’s, unless my daughter is around and feels inclined to do it for me.  Greg is pretty hopeless at this task, despite his best efforts.
  • Fashion. My idea of fashion is that it is comfortable and I can get it on and off with minimal help.  I don’t care how it ranks in terms of fashion.  Sure, I like pretty stuff, but my idea of pretty and the world’s idea of pretty might be entirely different.  I’m really fixated on the tactile experience of clothing—I like things that feel good to me.  I like cheery stuff, but rather subdued colors.  In summer, I like cool fabrics too.  Winter, like everyone else, I like warm fuzzy ones that are snuggly.  I avoid ruffles and lace like it’s going to give me the plague.  I don’t like buttons and zippers—they are hard to manage.

Decide what matters to you, and don’t invest your efforts into things that don’t matter to you.  That’s the first step to working smarter.

  1. Look at the obstacles that you face when you are attempting a desired activity. What do you need? Is it skills or help or tools?  Do you need something that is specialized or not commercially available? How do you get this new tool or device?
  2. Work out the obstacles one at a time. Facing a hundred can’ts is a world of difference from facing one of them at a time.  A hundred is impossible, but one isn’t, and that’s a simple fact.
  3. Be realistic without accepting defeat. That’s a tough balance, but it’s one that we have to strive for.  I’ve accepted defeat for the backpacking thing…for now.  I may find a solution, but it won’t devastate me if I don’t, as I have accepted that the abridged version is better than none at all.  I have to accept that some things are going to remain forever out of reach now, some of which I never intended to do to begin with, like skydiving, mountain climbing, snow skiing, and bull riding.
  4. Believe in yourself. You are not defined by what you can’t do or can do.  We are all more than that.
  5. You can contribute to the world at large. You have knowledge and skills, even if you aren’t capable of physically using them anymore.  Share them, and see your passion for past activities come to life again.  Just because you can’t do them does not mean that your knowledge can’t live on by sharing it and teaching others.

Working smarter doesn’t mean you have to be disabled somehow to use it.  Anyone can use the same principles to reduce their life clutter and achieve greater things.  It’s just about establishing priorities, coming up with a plan, assembling the tools, and then moving forward towards your goals.  It is not rocket science or quantum physics!  You can do it.

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