A reset? The NaNo Dilemma, a podcast/YouTube interview, and some disability philosophy

I signed up for NaNoWriMo 2022, in part because deadlines and challenges and what feels impossible sometimes motivates me. But between foster cats with diarrhea, work shift changes, health issues and mood in general, I’m losing my focus and drive. I need a reset and an evaluation of my goals more than I need a push.

I have learned in the last five years or so as I’ve “come out” of the disability “closet,” is that when you have a disability or a chronic condition you have a choice: you either withdraw from life or you become tenacious and stubborn and adaptive. I think the majority of those of us with congenital issues, especially when our parents didn’t make our physical difference the center of our existence, tend to be the latter to the point of ridiculousness. We want to do things, whatever they are, and we don’t want our bodies to hinder us.

I think people who came to body differences later in life might be more prone to accept “well I just won’t do that anymore” while younger people with catastrophic injuries have the will to keep on going, and those with issues since birth learn that if they want to experience certain things they have to work harder but in reality we need to work creatively. So the 20-year-old proclaimed paralyzed as the result of a sporting accident will be more motivated to walk again than the 60-year-old who had a car accident.

But these are really complex topics to ponder and very personalized to the emotional and financial resources a person has to support them.

If you read my personal blog, you know I have diplegic spastic cerebral palsy. If you get tired of hearing me day that, I don’t care. I’m 47-years-old and like many Generation Xers out there I’m wondering how the hell that has happened so quickly. But more importantly, and I write this without judgment, I had no real medical treatment between the ages of five and twenty.

I realized– because of my job working in the warehouse at Stitch Fix of all places– that not only do I know nothing about cerebral palsy, but my medical team might not know much either. So no wonder I have a lot of unanswered questions. This week I celebrate my two year anniversary with Stitch Fix and my journey to understand my own body will be forever tied with my warehouse job with them.

Up until December 2021, I had never seen a neurologist. Until that late December visit with a neurologist, I never even had a diagnosis on my file.

And to think, now I have TWO neurologists. I guess I just want to remind everyone, and this is why writing a cerebral palsy memoir will be one of my next projects, that we tend to view our doctors as people in a hierarchy above us and we approach them for answers and with hope of relief. Instead, we need to approach them as peers with education and insight and it’s our responsibility as patients to ferry information between them and do what we can for ourselves.

I had a fall Friday night, after a week long battle with nerve pain in my foot and leg. I agreed to cortisone shots in my foot to see if that would curb the pain in my foot (and it did) but the resulting change in sensation and muscle responsiveness has made this leg (which happens to be my good one) less reliable. Throw in lack of sleep, not enough food and a cocktail and down I went. As someone with cerebral palsy, I need to remember that normal side effects for people who have proper muscle control may manifest differently in me.

So, Saturday morning, I nestled under my new Dad blanket (if you need to hear more detail on any of this about Friday click here) and planned to work on my NaNoWriMo project. Even though I had the time, and the healthy start needed to get a flow going on the project, I didn’t write a word. And I’m wondering if, already having one novel underway and past deadline, if starting another is merely destroying any chance of focus I have.

I have 4,000 words on the NaNo project, which if you don’t know is National Novel Writing Month, and I should be at 12,000 words by now. I had hoped the new project, a new idea which is nothing like anything I’ve ever written, would shake off the bad habits of an editor/publisher debating every word and allow me to write freely. That impetus would revive my ability to write quickly and without overthinking.

And strengthen writing habits.

The jury is out.

I may abandon official NaNo in favor of sticking with a strict writing schedule of rising at 4 a.m. daily before my warehouse shift and writing from 4:15 to 5:15 a.m.

The Teenager has had two overnight clients and I think at last count it had been 16 days since she slept in her own bed. When she arrived home yesterday morning, she looked at me on the couch and her dog lazily dozing and decided we both needed fresh air. So she mentioned key words: “walk,” “ride” and “window.” The dog lost her mind.

The Teenager knows how to bribe both of us.

She recently bought a new harness and long line for the dog. So we went to a small park to try it out. The park outlaws tobacco, alcohol, fireworks, drugs and golf. But dogs are okay.

There’s a cute video on YouTube of F. Bean Barker enjoying the outdoors.

And then we went to “the Window.” Which in this case meant Dunkin as it was still early and we sampled their new Cookie Butter offerings, the cold brew and the doughnut. Both were dangerously decadent. The doughnut is 370 calories so I’m hoping it sells out to the extent where I can’t get my hands on it.

I went to the park and the window in my pajamas, because it was a gloomy Saturday and I didn’t see the point of fancying myself just to hang out with the dog.

I spent a good portion of the day doing dishes and laundry and watching “Wheeler Dealer Dream Car” on Motor Trend’s streaming channel. I subscribed to Motor Trend last month so I could binge watch the Dax Shepard redo of “Top Gear America” and I may hang on to the subscription as I enjoy the content. The Teenager finds this perplexing as she knows I have no mechanical aptitude.

She classifies my car knowledge as “it looks pretty” and “it goes fast,” but I suppose my interest is similar to my fascination with haute couture sewing. I have read my haute couture sewing guide cover to cover (and yes there is such a thing) and I can’t sew to save my life.

I suppose I am a true academic. Reading and obsessing over knowledge of things I will never have the skill to do.

Then, the Teenager found “her box” on the doorstep, her third fix from Stitch Fix!!!! So we opened that bad boy.

I think The Teenager is disappointed that her box doesn’t have more flare, but the staples she receives is really improving her day to day look. As a dog walker, I am now seeing her in these Stitch Fix selections as a way that she can maintain comfort and still look put together.

If you watch the YouTube review, you’ll see more of The Teenager in what she calls her new “math teacher sweater.” It’s a keeper. It’s about 16 hours after she received it and she’s still wearing it. Stay tuned to see if I steal her shoes and keep them.

Later in the day, I had an interview with David Figueroa of David’s Cerebral Palsy and Fitness Channel. I have explored his YouTube content and I listen to his podcast. I am working hard to take charge of my aging process and I hope my message of the importance of strength training and my approach to medical advocacy resonate with people.

We talked for an hour and a half. I’ve included a link to his YouTube channel below. Let’s hope the chaos of my house wasn’t too distracting! But one disruption I welcomed was the motorcycle that passed by while I was talking about my father.

I ended up sleeping more than nine hours last night, and woke up this morning covered in cats. I hope your time-change-hour served you as well as mine did. Here’s a photo of me with the fosters, and it’s blurry because I took it without my glasses.

3/4 of the year: The August medical update and ‘the feels’

Yesterday Nancy (my blind friend, poetry editor and my sassy mentor/ partner in crime) and I were in her bank. The other local branch of this big name bank had had some sort of building emergency. That office was temporarily closed, so the customers were lining up with us. The bank was understaffed (the man in charge had a lovely amiable personality and told us all if we wanted a job he needed two tellers immediately. I turned to Nan and asked if she wanted to apply. She laughed).

We were fourth in line, with a small brown man with an accent in front of us. He overheard me tell Nan something indirectly about my weight (the fact that I had worn jewelry made me jingle and I had on heels so I was unusually tall). And I said something about finally having the mindset to make an effort even if I hadn’t lost any of my stress-induced pandemic weight.

The man in front of us softly said, “you look great” (and when we left I got cat-called so it had to be true, I suppose). A few minutes later the man mentioned that seeing Nancy reminded him of the story of Jesus healing the blind man.

Now, before I continue this story, picture us in the chaos of an old-fashioned bank building, the arched ceilings and the old mega vault. Picture the long line, socially-distanced. Picture awkwardly-gaited me and the little old lady with the white cane on my arm.

I have heard the stories of disabled people dealing with religious folks who want to pray for them or with them. And this man muttered something about blindness being a blessing. And Nan mentioned something about disability teaching lessons to those around us and reminding us to have patience.

“It’s a blessing,” the man said.

Easy for him to say. It reminded me of something I heard on a podcast interview with a martial artist who has cerebral palsy. “I can do anything anyone else can do,” he said.

I mean, it’s the crap we always hear. And we can do anything anyone else can. But we also can’t. There’a footnote to that statement no one ever told me: you can’t expect to do it the same way they do it. You won’t look like them or necessarily achieve the same things in the same order. The able-bodied will never understand how different simple tasks that come easily for others can feel impossible to us. I spent my whole life trying to do what everyone else did, they way I saw them do it. But I didn’t understand that the physics of my body is very different from anyone else’s.

My legs and arms are often covered with brushes and scratches from bumping into things. I stumble and fall. But, I haven’t had a serious fall since August 3. That’s exciting. My average since the mallet finger has been every two weeks. I’ve now made it almost three. Today, I have my follow-up with my doctor, and I had called his office when I started the application process for a mobility dog through Susquehanna Service Dogs.

I’ve blogged about this most recently here. I connected some of my earlier posts about the process and decision here.

I asked his staff if he could fill out the medical form, because if he didn’t think he was the right person I could call my neurology physiatrist. She was/is amazing but I only met her once, two months ago. I have been with my primary care physician for 14 years.

His staff checked with him and they assured me that he not only fill out the form but that he would do it at my already scheduled appointment today. I normally see my doctor twice a year, in winter for my physical and in summer to review bloodwork and health issues that may pop up during the year.

When I ruptured my tendon in April, I visited him because my entire system was thrown off balance with the injury and although the specialist had allowed me to return to work (rightfully so), my hip was in pain and I was falling all the time. He signed me out of work for a short recovery leave of about three weeks, so I could work with Andrew, my strength and fitness coach at Apex Training, my occupational therapists at The Institute for Hand and Upper Extremity Rehab, and my talented chiropractor and physical therapy guru Nicole Jensen of Back in Line Chiropractic and Wellness Center.

I have documented this journey and have started writing my cerebral palsy memoir, Gravity is a Harsh Mistress with clever title by my estranged but still strange husband. Blog posts with connections to cerebral palsy are listed here.

My primary care doctor followed up with me after my specialist visit and allowed me to return to work at the end of May, even though my finger was still in a cast. We made this decision because the effort I gave Andrew had paid off and my hip was no longer bothering me. In addition, I had my first meeting with my physiatrist a few days later and I wanted to see how I felt after a week back-to-work to relay that information to her.

Anyway, point is, I haven’t seen my primary care doctor since May. He hasn’t seen my healed finger. He hasn’t heard about some of my rather dramatically majestic recent falls.

My weight today was 155, which is more than five pounds less than what it was at the gynecologist’s office last week.

I arrived early. I was in my exam room before my appointment time. My friend Gayle was bringing me her laptop so I could work on the cat book edits. I told her to put it in my car as I didn’t have time to run to her house and didn’t know how long my appointment would be. She ended up at the wrong medical practice. There are two similar St. Luke’s affiliated family practices in neighboring buildings.

I was texting her and making notes waiting for the doctor. I noticed my phone buzz again. My mom had sent a photo via text. That’s odd, I thought to myself. Mom hasn’t said much to me since the Teenager and I surprised her companion on Father’s Day. She didn’t even text me when she went to Florida to visit family. So, what was this?

I opened it.

I shouldn’t have. It was my father’s tombstone. My mother, despite having divorced more than 30 years ago, visits my father’s grave regularly. She’s grieving him, as many people are, and she is also grieving two of her brothers who died in the weeks before my father.

I couldn’t hold back tears. I have not visited my father’s grave since the funeral, and even then I did not get out of the car. I don’t see the point. The funeral had alienated me, and I didn’t feel like I “belonged,” and that’s not due to my family. But my father wasn’t there anymore. It was a corpse. And I had no need to see it formally placed in dirt. He was gone. And no ceremony will change that. Even now, I’m crying again.

Several times I regain my composure and several times I lose it, until eventually the doctor knocks on the door. So, I had to explain.

I mean, I suppose I didn’t have to, but it seemed only fair.

That meant we spent the first ten minutes of my appointment talking about boundaries, grief, and therapy. I’ve been with my psychologist even longer than I’ve been a patient of my doctor and the two of them know each other and speak so sweetly and kindly about each other.

We moved on then I think first to my recovered mallet finger. We reviewed my bloodwork. I told him I had to go get more iron, as my previous bottle had run out and I was using a different iron that didn’t seem to be working as I told Nan yesterday that I “almost bought a pair of potato chips.” Now, when you’ve had a history of iron issues and anemia, word confusion is a symptom. And I have been using wrong words in speech for at least a week. So either the iron is dipping or I should be screened for early onset dementia.

I almost bought a pair of potato chips.

I used this opportunities to ask if there were any other adjustments he wanted to make to my vitamin regimen. He suggested sticking with the 2000 ius of Vitamin D3 (which I take with calcium).

Next, we tackled the form for the service dog. Much to my relief, he thought the dog would be extremely helpful for me. And he also commended me for the work I do to take care of myself. In the evaluation for the service dog process, I was telling stories from the gym and mentioned how my ankle finally popped for my chiropractor Wednesday night, and how after my last fall I asked the Teenager to evaluate my walk, then she told Andrew this info at the gym, and he monitored my movement, until the next day I went to the chiropractor and she had to maneuver my hip back where it belonged.

She said I needed to do more single leg muscle stability work, which I then told Andrew, and I relayed to the doctor the horrible exercises Andrew made me do. And my doctor chuckled.

He once told me that he doesn’t worry about me because he knows if he tells me to do something I will do it. And I think Andrew and Chiropractor Nicole see the same commitment in me. My doctor today said this is why I am in better shape than many of his patients, despite my issues.

He handed me the completed form, which is the type of thing the office signs decry “requires 7-10 days” and payment of form fees. I am so grateful for my team, their respect and their guidance.

Meanwhile, while I am setting up my annual physical for February 2023, I see a text from Gayle. Remember Gayle? Apparently, she forgot my current car was a Volkswagen and was wandering in the parking lot looking for a silver Nissan. (My last car was a red Altima.) I didn’t have my Stitch Fix parking permit on my mirror. The car was clean because The Teenager has her own vehicle now. And there were four silver cars– none of the Nissans– in the parking lot.

She meandered around so long that a staff member came out and asked if she was sick or needed help. When I left the building, Gayle was next to my car. I had been with the doctor for an hour.

“You’re still here?” I said.

“I’ve been out here 45 minutes,” she said. “So when you replied to my text I figured I might as well stay and say ‘hi.’ What’s five more?”

Only you, Gayle. Only you.

Body Privilege

Last week, I wrote my piece “A Somber Thought” randomly as a reflection.

Last night, I reworked it and submitted it to The Mighty.com, a social media site for people with disabilities and their caregivers.

They published it instantly, despite having accepted an earlier piece that may have “died on the vine.” The earlier piece was on what to expect at your next doctor’s visit during Covid.

The current piece on the Mighty has been shared to Yahoo News and Zenith News.

Body reliability is a type of privilege. One you don’t appreciate unless you have yours taken aware or you never had it.

The original post on my blog is here: Disability and Reliability.

The Mighty post is here: Let’s talk about body privilege .

Ask the Yahoo post is here: Yahoo: Let’s Talk about Body Privilege