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'.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What's going on?

A few days ago I announced on facebook that I am excited about my new affiliation as the Sydney arm for Future Footprints Conductive Education, and that I look forward to working with Eszter Agocs and Future Footprints to provide viable options and alternative opportunities for individuals and families seeking CE in the greater Sydney area.  And as per my plan, this announcement attracted a fair bit of cyber attention (a plethora of likes and comments, some emails, and even some text messages), most congratulatory, but several expressing worry about their current service.  I would like to take this opportunity to explain more about what I am working on with Future Footprints and where I see things going in the future.

First and foremost -- it is business as usual for my current clients (so no, you aren't getting out of your 5:45am training DF, and yes FG and MD, I'll still be working with you oldies but goodies and CE for adults will always be the focus of my conductive education practice).

At present Conductive Education is offered as a specialty under my personal training business -- Transformations: Personal Training for Every Body.  It is one of the many services I offer, along side of the usual personal training offerings such as fitness, body re-shaping, weight loss nutrition, rehabilitation, and training for women during pregnancy as well as post-natally.  I also offer personal training to people with disabilities as a specialty within my personal training business.  And, to be honest, I blend CE into everything I offer -- for those of you who have spent time with CE, you know it is a lifestyle and a way of thinking, being, and doing -- so I can't really turn it off and don't really try to because I feel that the CE approach allows me to be a better personal trainer.

Mainstream personal training is and will continue to be an important part of Transformations; I love the diversity of my present business and am keen to maintain this.  There are certainly a lot of exciting things happening in disability and CE in Australia at the moment but please let me assure you that I have not lost focus on other aspects of the health and fitness industry.  I have just completed an awesome course in nutrition and nutrition coaching from Precision Nutrition and will be certifying as a 'Heart Moves' trainer (with the Australian Heart Foundation) to improve the quality and specificity of the services I am offering through Transformations, and am training under an extremely educated and experienced trainer so that I can continue to grow professionally (and fit into a wedding dress in a few month -- details!).

Over the past few years Transformations has been literally blessed with opportunities to offer CE and specialized personal training to people with disabilities through 'third party funding arrangements' -- Fighting Chance Australia funded CE for nearly two years and recently I have had a subcontractor agreement with Community Care Northern Beaches to provide personal training for their clients.  I am so grateful for these opportunities and have made efforts to give back continuously via pro bono work and above and beyond expected service -- this is made possible by these contracts keeping business going well.  Transformations will continue to seek creative and ethical ways to provide services to people who need them and to find ways to give back to the community twofold.

My subcontractor agreement with Future Footprints is another such opportunity -- it is not a merge with Future Footprints, and Transformations will continue to exist as its own separate entity.  Eszter is a passionate and forward thinking conductor.  She has been courageous in ways that I have not been and has succeeded in opening up her own CE centre -- the first private CE centre in Australia and dare I say one of the most thriving private CE centres in the world.  I have lots to learn from her in addition to a skill set that compliments what her business already offers.  There is a government funding opportunity that is available for children under the age of 7 with disabilities here in Australia called Better Start -- and somehow Conductive Education has been included as a service that families can use this funding for.  Eszter has figured how to work the system and her business is listed as a service provider for Better Start -- brilliant, especially for children living in Adelaide who are able to access her centre.  My subcontractor agreement with Eszter will allow me to offer CE funded by Better Start through Future Footprints Conductive Education here in Sydney.  Another conductor, Gabi Monus, will be doing the same in Canberra.  Good for families looking for CE, good for CE, good for Transformations.

And yes, the demand may well be bigger than what I can currently meet -- even better -- I'll gladly hire another conductor.  There were months when the Enable Me program was bigger than I could handle on my own and I gladly subcontracted another trainer to help me.  When one is excited and passionate about what they are doing there are ways to find extra hours in the day and make things happen.  We -- Eszter and I -- are of course growing our businesses -- but we are also working on what we see as the bigger picture.  We are working for Conductive Education and for the adults and children who want to access it.  And yes, of course if Better Start funding is good for business, it will make it easier for me to get adult CE groups running again.

And while we are on the topic of adult CE, yes -- Better Start is only for children under the age of 7.  But those of us following changes to disability services in Australia and getting excited about the pending NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) see Better Start as indicative to how the NDIS might run -- and more importantly, indicative as to what services might be funded.  Wouldn't it be amazing it Conductive Education was one of those services?  Showing demand for CE, having various CE programs and styles of service provision in the private and the non-profit sector happening around the country, and demonstrating that families choose to spend their precious funding on CE as funded through Better Start is an important political move with NDIS around the corner for everybody with an interest in CE, not just for children under 7.

Please keep your questions and comments coming -- and thank you for your support and excitement as Transformations takes on this new challenge.  I have big plans for Transformations, and it is exciting times for Conductive Education -- watch this space!


Monday, February 27, 2012

Is it CE? YOU tell ME! The long awaited sequel - part 2

This posting is a continuation from my last blog entry.  Now where did I leave off ... insights gained, and lessons learned and reinforced from working conductively with SJ, a woman aged 63 with severe depression and a pervasive personality disorder presenting as extreme de-personalization.  I will set the scene by saying that in minute but significant ways I have had at least comparative success working with SJ - on days when nothing works, I have to remind myself about things like even if I couldn't get her into the shower today, the showers she has most days that I am there are the only showers that she has been able to have in months; that sitting on a chair beside the dishwasher loading dishes that I rinse and hand to her one by one might be the only way that she participates in normal daily life that week; and that the handful of times I have been able to help her feel safe enough to risk going outside of her house are the only outings she has had in months.  I'm not claiming that I have solved this -- not in any way.  I want to articulate how coming in conductively has been helpful when working with SJ and to write about other things relative to the practice of CE that working with SJ makes me think about.  So -- in no particular order other than as they appear in my jumbled notes here are some points to ponder.

I miss having a team of conductors, or a team full stop, around me to problem solve with and to debrief with.  I've been working on my own for a long time but I have been lucky in my years to have worked with some amazing conductors in amazing teams.  We often talk about the group as essential to CE -- it is not just the group of people participating that is important, but the group of conductors, with their different strengths and personalities and ideas.  People other than my fiance AR to share my moments of brilliance, my tiny successes, my catastrophic failures; people with like-minded approaches to talk it out with, so I don't take it home with me; people other than me to wind me up and give me the strength to go in there for one more round.  I am so grateful for my network of conductor colleagues all over the world -- your cyber support, ideas, and emails sometimes literally keep me afloat

It is such a basic thing -- we find a way for our clients to do for themselves instead of be done to.  There are carers who come in and help SJ out with shopping and cleaning and fetching her medications from the pharmacy but when I am there she participates; she does; she is active not passive.  Yes I help her, but only when she can participate, and if she is not able to participate I leave.  The motivating factor might in this instance be that she doesn't want to be alone, but she participates in some way every time I am there.  When she says it doesn't seem real, I reassure her that it is real and that it needs to be done.  The carers tidy around her and she hardly notices -- it further de-personalizes her to be cared for.  When she is involved and active in her own care she becomes more engaged
    I give her choices.  I always phone when I'm on the way to make sure she is expecting me and wanting me to come -- a note in her diary is as good as a wink to a blind man.  She chooses to let me in (or not to), she chooses to continue having me come, and she has a contract with me that says that if she chooses to have me there she is choosing to participate.  She understands that I only expect her to be the best that she can be in a particular minute (ie orthofunctional) and she trusts that I will adapt the task to suit her particular minute and thus enable her participation and engagement.  I remember in first year university we had a lecturer (Jayne Titchener) who explained the difference between forward chaining (starting a task from the beginning and learning each bit until you get to the end which might mean never seeing the end or having the success) and backward chaining (learning the last bit first to give the experience of success and completion of the task).  She gave the example of a child with minimal motor control learning to do laundry -- having to sort the clothes by colour and by fabric, then getting the clothes and the powder into the machine -- tasks some of the children we were learning about would not ever be able to do -- vs starting the teaching process by getting the child to push the button so that the machine starts.  I think about this when working with SJ -- what bits of whatever we are doing will she be able to do today, that will give her a sense of participation and achievement?  

    I know to start with what she can do and build from there instead of focussing on what she can't do; I know to play to her strengths.  I also know to have back up plans for my back up plans and to be able to adapt to her mood and moment.
      We work with the whole person -- when I first started I had case managers saying that I wasn't to engage in conversations about how SJ was feeling or about her depression -- I was just to go in there and promote exercise and activity.  Which really didn't work -- she already has this surreal feeling of disconnect and non-existence.  Imagine me going in there and saying never mind how you feel, today we are going to do 5 sun salutes.  Imagine me going in there and not ever finding out that the only thing that keeps her going is the hope that one day she will be well enough to be a good grandmother to the grandchildren she isn't well enough to see.  We know that you can't separate a person's physical self from their emotional self from their psychological self -- we approach people holistically - which should be wholistically.  We understand that the what of a goal is not motivating without the why of a goal and that good conduction relies on connecting to the why.

        I have earned SJ's trust.  This is invaluable.  I think back to those moments when a child takes their first unaided steps with you in the classroom, or when that adult agrees to get down on to the floor for the first time so that you can teach them how to get up, or when that person with MS stays back to tell you what they are most afraid of -- those moments when you realize that the person you are working with you trusts you and you feel the weight of that responsibility as well as the gift of that responsibility.  And you invest further in that teacher-student relationship because they have given you this trust and it enables you to give more when you are working with them -- to push them that bit further; you are in it with them for the long haul, you are no longer just someone that they pass on their journey.  It is terrifying; it is humbling; it makes me work harder and helps me get in there and try again

        I cannot imagine what it would feel like to feel disconnected and de-personalized all of the time.  SJ says she looks at things and they don't look real, they seem flat, she feels nothing for them.  I look for proof that she is real, that I am real, that things around her are real so that I can present them in a multi-sensory way.  I plan activities that have sound and taste and smell and touch.  Things don't look real but if we get outside to her garden and she feels the soil or the overgrown grass and weeds the tactile stimulation sometimes grounds her
          I know to reward effort not just the end result.  I know to notice and celebrate tiny successes and achievements.  Over and over again my mainstream personal training clients ask me if I always get so excited about tiny things -- and I think about some of the people I have worked with over the years for whom the tiniest achievement was actually monumental and how glad I am that I was taught by other conductors how to notice and celebrate these things.  It is something special that we as conductors do; it helps our participants see value in their efforts and personal achievements large and small, and a day full of celebrating every tiny achievement certainly makes my days a lot more exciting and wonderful

          I choose not to give up on people, and even when I'm disappointed in the session or in myself, I try not to be disappointed in them.  With SJ sometimes we need to acknowledge how things went in a previous session so that we can move on, but she knows that each session we have a choice; we either build on the success we had in the last session or we wipe the slate clean and move on.  There is no judgement -- the expectation is that she is the best that she can be in that moment and some moments are bloody awful for her.  We wipe the slate clean and move on.  I can think of children that screamed the roof off of buildings for the first week of CE intensive camps that ended up being the kid who made the most progress by the end of the program.  We don't stop working with somebody because they are difficult, or because they fail, because we know that all it takes is the right thing said or taught int he right way at the right moment that can turn things around for that person

          Be prepared to be a learner, not just a teacher -- the teacher and the taught together create the teaching -- I admit I'm not an expert in depression and depersonalization; I challenge her to teach me about it and to share her experiences so that I can learn to conduct her better.  Condutor SM encouraged me to get involved with a craft project that SJ had mentioned -- I was worried that I couldn't lead it if I couldn't do it and SM told me to let SJ lead, to give her something concrete that she could teach me as part of her session and watch her thrive.  We learn to listen to our clients, to let them lead the way.  It always made me crazy to work with strict data collection tools that rated the success of CE based on whether a participant worked towards their goal as you predicted they would -- because we know that learning can take any number of paths, and that when somebody learns something the potential for what they can learn next expands exponentially.  With SJ I don't have a specific goal or agenda other than active participation and engagement -- and I let her lead the way and travel with her, and we both learn along the way.

          I am hopeful that things can get better for SJ -- she despairs that there is nothing can be done.  This is the message she has been given from the medical establishment who have tried to do things that haven't worked and have told her that they have nothing left to try.  I am hopeful because I believe that there are things that perhaps can change within SJ, tricks she can learn to manage her disability, skills or strategies or ways that she can personally and actively be involved in fighting this disease versus letting it completely envelop her, problems to be solved versus coped with, something that she can personally do to make things better for herself versus lying in bed waiting for a magic pill to be prescribed.  I am hopeful because I have seen these transformations happen with other people I have conducted -- it isn't about the diagnosis, it is about the transformation of that person from one who is done to to one who does.  SJ despairs that there is nothing that can be done.  I am hopeful that things can get better, and that my hopefulness is just contagious enough that she gets a bit hopeful too -- because then I'll really be able to work with her

          Thursday, February 16, 2012

          Is it CE? YOU tell ME! - the long awaited sequel part 1

          In my last posting I wrote about working conductively with LE, an adult with autism. In this post I want to share some thoughts and experiences about working with SJ, a 63 year old woman with severe depression and a pervasive personality disorder presenting as complete disconnect from everyone and everything.

          I have been trying to write this posting for a long time -- I actually have several months worth of jumbled thoughts and notes that I have been keeping for when I was ready to write this, and in fact thinking about writing this has made it impossible for me to write anything else.  In a nutshell that is what it is like to work with SJ -- she is an energy vampire who on a bad day sucks me dry rendering me emotionally spent and making it hard for me to do anything else, and even days that are good by her standards are still very draining.  Working with SJ makes me doubt myself and what I have to offer personally and professionally.  Many of my sessions with her are complete disasters with no discernable positive outcome or flicker of success.  Even on our better days I have this overwhelming feeling of losing the war despite winning a battle, a feeling I have not had professionally since working with a close family friend with ALS in her miserable last stages of rapid deterioration.

          SJ started working with me several months ago through the Enable Me program and has since chosen to work with me privately, twice weekly -- this is an important detail as it is a very full on and intensive way to work with somebody.  She demands a lot of my mental and emotional energy.  I'm sure she will tell you it is no picnic having me turn up at her door twice weekly with my high expectations, positive determinism, hope, and cheer in the face of this terrible illness that has made the thought of getting out of bed let alone participate in normal activities of daily life seem impossible for SJ.  She might not have a physical or neurological disability but she is one of the most impaired people I have ever worked with - and that again is a big statement coming from me.

          I should add that I like SJ -- I like her a lot.  In the moments when the real SJ claws past the depression and de-personalization she is intelligent, witty, engaging, has a sense of humour, takes an interest in me and my other clients and my life, shows me photos and tells me about her life before this.  My main purpose most sessions is to help create enough of a gap in or a distraction from the black cloud so that the real SJ can claw her way out, even if it is only for that hour or a small part of it.  There are often days, and recently weeks where I have only seen the depressed and depersonalized SJ.

          I don't know if SJ believes I can help her, but she would rather have me there than to get through her week on her own.  She has tried everything else -- every medication, several hospitalizations, several rounds of shock therapy -- and I guess my cheer and bossy insistance that she participate in life seems the lessor of such evils.  I don't know if I believe that I can help her.  I believe that supporting her physical health can only help her mental and emotional health, and we try to do this through basic activities like getting out of bed and moving, participating in anything regardless of how minute her participation is, having a shower and taking care of basic hygiene,  taking part in simple healthy cooking and eating something nutritious, and getting outside even for a few minutes.  SJ feels that she cannot do any of these things on her own, and there are many days even with me there that they remain impossible for her.

          I don't know if I believe that I can help her, but I know that I believe it is worth trying.  Her case manager believes that she will not get better and that I should brace for the worst -- he told me that there was nothing that could be done and that I could at best hope to make a moment better.  The mental health team feels that she is not responding to their intervention and the other day they said that they were supporting my work with her because it was the first time in a long time she had been willing to engage with someone even though they thought nothing would come out of it because nothing could be done.  My blood boils when I talk to these people -- how dare they write off a person, SJ, my client?  How dare they tell me that there is nothing that can be done just because they have run out of ideas? How dare they judge her potential based on their failure? How dare they pat me on the head when I'm excited about a tiny step forward or try to placate me by reminding me that this is how it is for SJ when I'm worried about a step in the wrong direction?  If they think I'm that silly and naive why the hell would the chuck me in on my own to work with her?  They have no hope for this woman, they do not believe that she can be helped or that it is worth trying, they 'gave her to me' as a way of clearing out their 'too-hard basket', and have stopped trying because she has not yet responded to their best shots.

          I believe that 'they' are wrong.  There -- I said it out loud.  Yes I'm 'just a conductor / personal trainer and they are 'the mental health team', and what do I know, but I believe that they are wrong.  I believe that they are blaming her for their failure and lack of solution options.  Even after awful sessions on very bad days for SJ I believe it is worth trying; and on days when I've failed to make a dent in her black cloud I leave wondering what else I could have done or said.  I certainly question what I have to offer her, and I'm not sure that I believe that I can help her, but that is not the same as not believing that she is help-able.  And I hear my mentor AB's voice in my head - 'if something doesn't work we find something else to try or another way to try the same thing - this is what conductors do'.

          If the student fails to learn, the tendency, says Feuerstein, is to blame the child: 
          'We have a stiff finger that goes only in one direction...  One of the great problems is to make this stiff finger more flexible so that it turns towards oneself, toward the teacher'.  
          The teacher has to ask himself, 'have I done all I needed in order to change this child?
          --Florence Minnis in The Transformers: The Art of Inspired Teaching (1990)

          I needed to get that out of my head so that I can write about the actual insights I've gained and lessons learned and reinforced from working conductively with SJ.  To be continued...