Waxing physically and philosically...

After literally years of deliberation, and as a result of some delicate and some less delicate prodding, this blog is my effort to organize - to bring together - my thoughts about my work as a conductor and as a personal trainer, to rant and rave as necessary, to celebrate the little things and the larger moments of brilliance, and to share some conductive magic and life lessons gained through 'waxing physically and philosophically'.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Little Hope Goes a Long Way

"For the first time in years I have hope" MR said this morning, after gliding beautifully up and down her hallway several times , swinging her arms and counting 1-2 as she stepped, stopping, correcting herself and starting again with control when she lost balance or stumbled. "I feel like I don't just have to cope with it by myself in my head, that there is something that I can do for myself and that I know what I can do instead of wondering if I can do this or should do that".  MR is a single mom with multiple sclerosis (MS) whom I have been working with intensively with over the past several weeks through Phase 2 of the Enable Me Project. When I met her she was beside herself with depression and fear about her worsening walking and balance and not psychologically ready to look at a walking aid.  She was completely isolated, only leaving the house to get her son to school and do the groceries because it was easier not to go anywhere than to risk falling.

Enable Me Phase 2 is a shorter initiative that was tacked on to the end of the Enable Me Project -- again investigating the same pro-active intervention opportunities but this time for a very different population. Where in Phase 1 the participants were elderly people living independently in the community, the participants in Phase 2 are already 'in the system'.  They are people with disabilities that are already clients of Community Care Northern Beaches (the organization running the research project) either through Community Care's community living program or through their 'older parent carer' program.  At first the case managers were not sure whether it would be appropriate to have a personal trainer involved with this population group, but the case manager that I worked under in Phase 1 argued my case, told them that I was 'specialized' and had experience in disability and told them what she could about Conductive Education.  It helped that of all the clients in Phase 1, the ones who had the most success with 'personal training' were surprisingly the 'frailest' and most 'challenging' (translation - the people with chronic conditions such as stroke and back problems or early stage Parkinson's, or otherwise in the 'too hard' or 'nothing can be done' basket - exactly my cup of tea).

In Phase 2 of Enable Me -- so far -- I have been working with adults with MS, cerebral palsy, stroke, acquired brain injury, intellectual disability, autism, and pervasive anxiety disorder on a range of goals as varied as the individuals and conditions setting them. I am spending much more time as a conductor and continuing to test the boundaries of CE as an approach to working with people with and without motor disorders.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm glad for the tools of my personal training trade; MH has an acquired brain injury but her main goals are around fitness and weight loss; a few minutes of yoga are the difference between LE losing it completely or being able to recover and make it through the session after a massive panic attack; JW certainly has cerebral palsy but wants the strength to swim a lap of an olympic pool.

More importantly, I'm glad for the philosophical tools of my conductor trade from which I approach people.  I'm glad that I can see the person and not just the problem; that I seek the why that underpins the what of their goals and that I value it; that I have the patience to wait for sometimes minute results and that I never get tired of wildly celebrating achievements large and small; that I appreciate the effort and determination it takes to stand up and try again and know to reward effort that when there are not positive results; that I know I need to equip people with flexible and dynamic tools which they can use and modify as and when needed instead of with a list of meaningless exercises to do every morning.

MR really did walk beautifully this morning; it was the best I have seen her walk in the 7 weeks we have been working together. She seemed to glide down her hallway, swinging her arms, stepping evenly while counting 1-2-1-2, stopping to make necessary corrections without me having to say anything. When I told her so she beamed with pride -- which certainly suits her better than the despair she wore when I first met her -- and told me that her daughter and her friend had both said her walking was looking better, and that she had been out to meet her girlfriend for lunch for the first time in months.

I'm glad that I could teach MR some core strengthening exercises that she could practice on the swiss ball.  I'm really glad that because of Conductive Education I knew enough about MS and ataxia to be able to help MR with her walking and could help her make sense of her ataxia.  I'm most glad that because of the way that CE has taught me to approach people I knew that the pride and sense of achievement I saw on MR's face was more important than the fluency of her walking, and that the real achievement was not that she walked well enough that her friend noticed but that she had the confidence to go out and to meet her friend.  And I'm over the moon ecstatic that for the first time in years she has hope because my years in Conductive Education have taught me that hope is transformational; it influences potential and outcome long after a person stops 'doing CE' because that person believes in possibility and in herself again.

MR will be discharged from Enable Me next week. I would worry, but I know that she leaves with a pocketful of tricks and techniques, and enough hope to know that it is worth using them.

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” 
― Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan

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