Review – Isaac Asimov

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Review of Blinded by the Light by Joe Kipling

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Allotments and Chronic Pain

It’s coming up to a year since we took on an allotment. Back then, we thought my pain would be gone by the Spring. That didn’t happen, but I have still found the allotment to be something I can do and enjoy as long as I am careful. Here is some general tips on keeping and enjoying an allotment when you are suffering with pain.

1. Cover as much as possible in your allotment. We found the best thing to use is old cardboard covered with thick polythene and weighed down with pallets and stones. I’m told in less windy places weed suppressant fabric can work, but ours just tore at the pegs and ripped itself to shreds. Covering your allotment seems wrong; after all you want to GROW stuff on it. But covering keeps everything stable so that you don’t turn up to the allotment when summer suddenly arrives as we did to find it covered with waist high grass as if overnight.

2. Build paths early. Paths count as covering your allotment and are a good idea for the same reason – when you only have limited capacity for digging and weeding, it makes sense to keep that task down as much as possible. We used cardboard covered with weed suppressant and then woodchip to hold it down. I wish we had done it earlier. It was a tremendous morale boost to see the allotment looking tidier and it was a whole extra section that didn’t have grass on it.

3. Pace yourself. If you’ve done a pain management course this will be something you are familiar with. It’s no good working until you are in major pain then not being able to go for 2 weeks, when the alternative is to do a tiny amount every day. Take really, really regular breaks and don’t feel guilty about it. I never go more than 20 minutes without a sit down and some tea. I take a thermos with me and when the tea’s gone, it’s time to go and I’ve done what I should, even if it seems like I just sat down almost all the time and drank tea, this will generally mean I managed 1-2 hours of allotment, got out of the house and at least had the short walk there and back. Which brings me to –

4. Get an allotment nearby. If you feel like it’s not far away and you can just go for a look, it will be a lot easier. However, don’t be ashamed to go by car if you have access to one and it’s the only way you’re going to get there.

5. Get help. Lots of people want to help you with the allotment. Most will offer and never actually come, but at least some will. Don’t be embarrassed to ask everyone for help – plenty of people enjoy it just as much as you do and like the idea o a few hours digging without the commitment of a tenancy.

6. Adapt the work to your needs. It hurts me to bend, so I avoid it as much as possible. I can dig about five spadefuls before I need to rest at most. But I can sit down with a trowel and dig through soil for absolutely ages before it hurts. A lot of tasks can be adapted to sitting or even lying down. I did raking today, seated. Get those tiny little tools and sit yourself down and just gently plod away at it. Sure, it seems slower, but digging a few spadefuls then giving up is a lot less useful and you’ll get there in the end. If you covered your allotment, it will wait for you.

7.Power tools! These are brilliant ways of reducing your labour and totally worth  it. Make sure the one you get won’t be too heavy to lift, though. We have a battery strimmer. The battery may only last 20-30 minutes and it’s not as effective as a petrol strimmer, but I can lift it and about 20-30 minutes is my maximum time before needing a break anyway.

8. Let the committee know you have pain troubles. If you’re struggling, they’ll understand and not expect you to plant everything all at once.

9. Be aware there is actually a big social side to allotments. I pictured it as quiet and isolated work, and sometimes it is but people all talk to each other. If you find socialising tires you out then it’s worth finding out when people are usually working on their allotments (many people go at particular times and days), then you can avoid them. On the other hand if socialising cheers you up, then do the opposite!

10. Working parties. Most allotments need community maintenance and it is extra work, but even if you can only do half an hour or so to help, you will feel better for having contributed and it can be a really boost to self-esteem and feelings of capacity, which is pretty important when you have chronic pain as it’s easy to feel “useless”. Working on my allotment has taken away that “useless” feeling for me and given me a sense of power in planning and working on it.

My allotment

Today I got as far as planting out a row, but then had to stop before I could cover it. So I went home, because that’s pacing myself.

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Flame wars

I don’t hear about ‘flaming’ much at the moment, it’s all ‘trolling’. But fiery needless abuse from random Internet users is flaming as far as I’m concerned.

I am lucky. I don’t get much abuse or harassment in real life, only the kind that every woman experiences. I look gender conforming most of the time, I’m white, educated, and have enough money to give me options about where to live and how to travel. Although I’m bisexual, I have a husband, so I’m not obvious to people in the street.

I had a run in with some nasty people online today who were encouraging each other to mock me (“Look at her bio – she’s a fat cunt”). Why?

Because I dared to point out that gender and sexual organs don’t always match up the way they believed, that women exist who have penises.

What they said hurt. That is the point of flaming. But I was lucky enough to be able to block the perpetrators and move on with my day. I didn’t have to face people like this in the street, in my life, in my bed, at work.

My biggest privilege is I can choose whether or not to stand up for others. Which seems to me makes it something I should do, as often as I can handle.

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Accepting Pain

My journey with chronic pain continues and I’ve learnt a lot along the way. Chronic pain doesn’t have a physical cause as such although it may begin that way. This video explains a bit about why.

Like most patients with chronic pain I saw my GP a lot, who tried out lots of different painkillers with varying side effects and who tried her best to refer me to back specialists and physiotherapists. The referral process to consultants takes a long time and in my case after waiting three months the hospital decided to triage me back to physiotherapy which I’d already had. My GP wasn’t allowed to override their decision so instead I was sent to Spinefit. This is a new service which brings together lots of experts in treating back pain so that they can target help to the individual.

The presentation of the workbook I got leaves a lot to be desired but I have learned a lot from it regardless. The medical practitioner I see at Spinefit has been extremely empathic and honest with me when I asked her to explain again how this could happen to me, what was wrong with  me, and if I would ever get better.

What I have learned:

  • It’s time for me to accept that I will be in some form of pain for the rest of my life and acknowledge that I need to make adjustments and accommodations so that I can still live the full and joyful life that I plan to.
  • Pacing myself – goal setting and very gradually increasing what I do. This is hard to learn because I am someone who pushes herself to the limit in many areas. What I have learned is to realise when I need to limit my activities. Before this, I would work at the allotment for an hour and then not be able to do anything the next day. Now I keep my work at the allotment to half an hour and stop before it becomes too much, but I can go two days in a row. Hopefully over time I’ll be able to teach my body to handle more than that. I hate missing out on anything so this one is going to be a big challenge.
  • For me, anxiety and stress is directly linked to pain. Using the pain management program has made me notice this. An argument or tense situation leads to an instant flare-up of agony. For me, it’s not as simple as choosing to calm down but I’m doing what I can by following relaxation programmes. It does also reassure me to know in a given situation that I’m not a horribly broken victim, just having a stressful moment that will pass.
  • Having fun is a major painkiller. I knew this in theory and have experienced it lots of times, but it’s always worth remembering that good stuff like endorphins block pain. I am forced to prescribe myself fun.
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I am not a broken cleaning robot

That’s the words of my fine husband, up there.

The husbands in my pain management book are a bit different. The wives don’t look much like me either. They are living in a very sexist world.

There are several characters, but let’s start with the dark story of Elle and Steve. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but yes, all the couples in this book are opposite sex.

Elle is in a terrible situation, because no-one else in her family can do housework or help with her ill mother! This is because the rest of her family are all male.

The house was a mess.
Then her mother was taken ill! There was no-one else to help her.

I think the stories in the book may be real people. It doesn’t make it any less depressing.

Steve was hopeless at the shopping, coming back with anything that took his fancy.

Poor Steve, as a man he can’t do the shopping either! And apparently I’m doing shopping wrong too as I usually try to buy things I’d enjoy eating.

Female cleaning robots being out of action can lead to some very dark things. Men having to  ‘help’ with the housework!

'Comic' picture of a man cooking with a feather duster.

“Feeling useless, loss of role”
How emasculating for Steve! And how embarrassing for him to find that you can’t stir stew with a feather duster!

Don’t worry! Elle has set herself a goal of very gradually doing the housework! Dust 1 room each day, Hoover for 3 minutes, iron for 5 minutes. Obviously, this can only lead to Steve shouting at her. Wait, what?

Steve was furious!

I didn’t even spot this one, but Dave was horrified that the handbook was making it seem acceptable that Elle should be shouted at after doing housework all day. It did make me worry rather about Elle and Steve’s relationship.

Elle hasn’t had any fun since she was a teenager. Her entire life revolves around housework and caring for her family.

What did I use to enjoy? The picture that came into her head was dancing as a teenager.

What will become of Elle and Steve? With the wife out of action, surely the entire family is doomed to living in a messy house and eating only what Steve fancies from the supermarket. Don’t worry folks. She gets strong enough to do the housework again, which means Steve doesn’t shout at her as much!

Her house was back to its former glory. She felt useful again.
Steve still did things like the upper windows and any heavy stuff. But he and the boys were more relaxed.

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School of Pain

I find mine hard, and can’t restrain
My tears while studying thus with Pain.
Susan Coolidge (What Katy Did)

I’m at the stage with my back when it’s all about the pain management. When you get to this point they aren’t offering you physical solutions that makes sense like surgery, because they don’t have any.

Pain management theory is interesting but also depressing.

The Pain Management Plan given to me at the clinic

Pain signals are created in the brain, which listens to: messages from the nerves, the meaning of the message and emotions. You can distract the brain as well. This means you can have pain even without physical injury and in most cases of chronic pain (over 6 months) it’s believed that the body would have healed from any physical causes and all we have left is the brain, my old nemesis.

One of my favourite authors is Sylvia Engdahl. I don’t agree with everything she says and there’s a lot of over-simplification in the books, but I love that they present the possibility of humans using their minds to overcome pain.

Essentially the pain management plan I have been given is about hacking my brain’s response to pain while strengthening my physical body through exercise. I’ve had a read through it and it’s cognitive behavioural therapy for pain with some pieces of useful advice. And a lot of sexism, which I’ll get to in the next post.

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