Thursday, 29 June 2017

Discovering the OneLeg stool

While representing the Hypermobility Syndromes Association at the Foothealth conference 2017, I was intrigued to discover the Oneleg stool.
It looks a bit like a mushroom, is designed to let you move easily when sat low down, and logic says it can't be very comfortable. However, as someone who does a lot better if I fidget when sat down I thought I'd give it a try.

Amazingly, this seat built to wobble feels really quite stable. It tilts - but in a controlled way. It's kinda hard to describe. It is much more comfortable to sit on than my wobble cushion - and gives a great core workout. It's also fine to sit still on. But instinct says "Fidget!! It's funner!" (it wasn't only me thinking this - the professionals who tried it seemed equally impressed. And equally keen to make the most of its capacity for movement while sitting still.). The one thing I couldn't do was slouch. I tried various slouches and every time I tried, my muscles kicked in and turned the slouch into a controlled movement - so it's a great deterrent against unwittingly flopping to end of range while sitting working (which is important for us who are hypermobile).

Seeing as the HMSA stand was next door to the OneLeg, I borrowed one and spent most of the morning sat on it. And when I did my lecture in the afternoon I sat on one instead of sitting in my wheelchair. It really helped with POTS management too - as I could keep my lower body moving enough to help improve circulation, without having to stand (which takes too much energy to be able to talk at the same time).

However, it should be noted that if you wiggle lots, then you really work your core muscles - and my hips and ankles too! So I'd strongly recommend building up how long you permit yourself to sit on it. It turned out that 4 hours on day one was a bit much - but I reckon if I bought one I would soon build my tolerance (and strength!).

My preferred height was the 48 inch. I'm quite long legged. I'd recommend trying various heights before buying if possible.

I now have this firmly at the top of my 'things to get' list - it will make a great office chair, and a way to strengthen my core. And when I have one, I'll be bringing it to events whenever I can - because being able to exercise while sitting really does help with managing my hypermobility syndrome and POTS.

(And no, I haven't been paid to write this. I just thought some of my readers might find it useful. I suspect it would also help with conditions like ADHD ;) )

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Communicating positively about hidden disabilities?!?

I often hear how important it is to be positive.

The thing is, that there are times we need the people we're with to be aware of symptoms - like fatigue, pain, dizziness, brain fog or any of the other multitude of things that can affect us in various ways from day to day.

It's not like we can start saying "Oh hurrah, I can't do that because my brain has turned to mush".

And yet....

I've seen peoples eyes glaze over when I talk about my current symptoms. I have even found myself unconsciously switching off when people have given me too much negative information. Which, given that I know what living with these symptoms...well, it was a bit unexpected!

It's as if the human brain has an automatic 'off switch' when too much stuff perceived as "negative" info is given resulting in none of then information I tried to share actually being taken on board - and a LOT of attempts to 'jolly me along'. "You can do this" "You need to be more positive" and the like. Which, of course, don't help - because they haven't actually taken into account the symptoms or limitations I've tried to tell them about!

So it looks like a 'catch 22'. Communicating about the symptoms is 'negative' and doesn't help. Not communicating about the symptoms means people get frustrated, have unrealistic expectations and can't understand why I can't do things.

Over time I've found a few ways to communicate in a more positive way - while still being very grounded and real.

For example:
"I am really fatigued. Struggling to concentrate. And I really can't sit still for long because of pain."
This is true. But it is all 'negative' information, and will probably fail in terms of creating understanding about my reality. I can't tell you the psychology of why, it's just something I've observed many, many times.

Here are some alternatives I've developed over time:

Option 1: Acknowledge the cause (it helps people build up an understanding of cause and effect - so over time they realise that busy today = symptomatic and quiet tomorrow, and puts the symptom into a wider context of 'doing' something - which also helps reduce the 'jollying you along' reaction.)
"I had a lovely day yesterday - got to hang out with some of my nieces in the morning. Now the fatigue and pain have hit, and I really can't concentrate for long. But it was worth it."

Option 2: Include coping strategies (it helps stop people panicking that you are just sitting there worrying about pain/symptoms all your life)
"I am really fatigued. Struggling to concentrate. And I really can't sit still for long because of pain - so I'm doing little tasks only, and lots of stretches, and using my heat pack - which helps."

Option 3: Recognise achievements based on what was challenging for you. (again, this helps people start to understand your normal.)
"I'm horribly fatigued and can't concentrate for long today, but I've managed to have a shower - so I'm really pleased about that."

Option 4: Include a 'can' alongside a 'can't'. (this helps avoid the 'encouraging' attempts that try and insist we do something we know we can't - or can't without unacceptable consequences - and has the added bonus that it's good practice for finding solutions and things we can do.)
"I can't sit for long - I'm in too much pain. But I can manage 5 minutes at a time, so I've been doing short tasks - and then changing position - I've achieved far more than I thought I would!" (I still can't believe how effective this position changing and regular moving has been for my pelvis/lower back pain).

And try to finish the update on a positive - which I've just realised I did in all these examples!

These don't create telepathy, or resolve every situation, but they have helped me become better understood by the people around me.

I hope that they can help you too.