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New Years Resolution Motivation From A Quadriplegic: Get Off Your Butt And Get Healthy

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Pretty much every year since I was a teenager, my New Years resolution has been to hit the gym and get into shape.  Unfortunately the determination and drive would only last for a few months and I wish so badly that I could go back and tell my old self to suck it up and just do it. Looking back it was easy.

I could go grocery shopping at anytime, cook anything I wanted, drive to the gym and workout on any piece of equipment. Three years after a serious accident, my resolution remains the same, but much more difficult. I used to have this resolution because I wanted to look fit. Now I’m working out in hopes of regaining my independence.

Virtually every aspect of getting healthy is somewhat of a struggle. At my level of injury, I can’t just get a membership to any gym I want. Those $20 monthly fees look great but I need a specialized gym and working with a trainer can cost upwards of $100 an hour.

Special equipment for the home is outrageously expensive. The FES (functional electrical stimulation) bike is at the top of the wish list for many with a spinal cord injury and costs about $17,000. So while you can go on a walk, do squats and many other leg workouts, this bike is the only way we can preserve our leg muscles

Lack of transportation and finances, pain and many other factors can make working out very difficult for someone with my injury level. But many people with SCI do it. They fundraise and save money for special equipment, travel to participate in adapted sports, push their chairs around the neighborhood and do their research on how to adapt various exercises at home. They don’t do it just to look better. Many people with spinal cord injuries do it because they are preserving their lives. Arm strength is important for pushing the chair and transferring place to place, while endurance is important for long distances and a healthy heart.

Everyone’s diet and mobility affects their life expectancy, but for us, it can be a very real, in your face issue. Without a healthy lifestyle a heap of medical problems can plague us that can be potentially life threatening. Many people with spinal cord injuries work out because  we need to do it despite the difficulties.

Related: 8 Of The Worst New Year’s Resolutions For Wheelchair-Users

I’m a little envious of people who can just hop up and go to any gym they want but I also love seeing people use their bodies; taking advantage of the mobility I so desperately wish I had. I miss the days when it was easy. I miss jumping, running, squatting, crunching, pulling, pushing, kicking and dancing. I can’t believe I complained. And I hate that I didn’t use my abilities to the fullest.

I really don’t mean for this to be a guilt trip, but more of a swift kick in the rear to get you moving! I learned a very hard lesson at a young age and hindsight truly is 20/20.

We all need to get healthy; able bodied individuals and the differently-abled. The problem is that people make their goals too all encompassing. It’s best to make smaller obtainable goals on your way to your ultimate desired outcome.  Don’t only think about what you want, but also lay out a realistic plan to meet that goal. Don’t start tomorrow. Start today. I know all too well that tomorrow isn’t always predictable. You are in control of this moment right now so take advantage of it.

As for my resolution?  The ultimate goal is to get independent and have a family. This might take longer than a year, but I’ll continue to set smaller obtainable goals along the way; like mile markers on a rocky road that still leaves me feeling a little unsteady at times.  But I must have hope that I’ll regain my footing someday.

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8 Of The Worst New Year’s Resolutions For Wheelchair-Users

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Love them or hate them, it’s that time of year again to ponder the idea of creating a New Year’s resolution. Be careful what kind of resolution you put forth for yourself in the next 12 months though, especially if you have a disability. We have a tendency to fall prey to some silly ideas, often times stemming from a lack of self-confidence.

And we also need to be extra vigilant about our health. Incorporating that into our resolution, or the resolutions we should steer clear from rather, is key. If you use a wheelchair and are contemplating a resolution for the New Year, read on for the resolutions you should never consider.

Push your wheelchair more.

A wheelchair is a great means of transportation and we all have our favorite kinds when it comes to manual verse powerchairs, but the last thing you want to do more of in the new year is push your manual wheelchair more. While this is an admirable goal, it’s not the most ideal way to get stronger or burn more calories. Your shoulders age faster than you think as a wheelchair-user, and once they’re gone they’re gone.

If you want to build up your stamina, instead, purchase a stationary arm bike or free weights to get the exercise you’re looking for. It might not be as scenic, but your shoulders will thank you.

Fall in love.

A sad but true fact for a lot of people with disabilities is that we’re perpetually single. It’s a statistic many of us don’t like talking about, but there’s no getting around this one lightly – it stinks. While it’s quite alright to make a New Year’s resolution to try online dating or maybe go one more dates (or even a date), making a resolution to explicitly fall in love, even if you’re long due for a great romance, is a horrible idea.

If fact, making this your resolution may even work against you, and instead bring in the wrong kind of people into your life. Remember, when it comes to falling in love, you can’t force it. Just be yourself and go out into the world as much as you can.

Try to fit in with the crowd.

Many of us know a thing or two about being alone when it comes to friends as well. So many jerks out there just don’t give us a chance, with many of us left with diminished friend numbers.  Don’t let this “number” sway you into selling yourself out just to be part of the crowd. Fitting in is so overrated.

It may get lonely at times, but nothing is worth changing who you are to be more accepted. Your “normal” is just as good as theirs. If your loneliness is too much to bear, try making friends with those who have disabilities too. People who can first-hand relate to you can make the best of friends.

Travel to Egypt.

Deemed the one most dangerous places for Americans to travel to in 2013 due to its unstable political atmosphere, going to Egypt as someone who’s both American and physically vulnerable (I hate this word too, but it’s the truth) is really a bad idea currently. Kidnappings and terrorist attacks are the daily norm lately for tourists in this country. Your best bet would be to put off that pyramid tour for at least a year or two to since how things play out.

Eat more seafood.

I love seafood more than the next girl and it’s a great lean protein source for wheelers, but the sorry state of most seafood these days that’s coming out of the seas is depressing. Dangerous amounts of lead is being found in fish, shellfish and everything else alive in the ocean, with most experts saying not to eat seafood more than three times a week.

The best thing to do – very raely seafood. If you’re looking for a regular lean resource of protein, reach instead for free-range organic chicken, turkey or tofu.

Get a new vehicle without shopping around.

So many wheelers strongly covet a new van – a ramp, the automatic tie-downs; it’s a dream for many. Buying new in the car world however, especially adapted vans, is tough. The $40,000 price tag can scare many. Make sure you shop wisely, even consider a van that is lightly used. You will shave at least $10,000 off the price minimum and get a van that will run just as good.

Get a new wheelchair, but forget custom seating.

Many wheelers put down getting a new wheelchair as one of their ultimate goals of an upcoming year. Many insurance companies/plans allow a new wheelchair every 5 or so years. If you plan on getting a new wheelchair in the next year that’s great, but please get customized seating if possible.

They’ll measure you and create a seat and backrest that will fit you perfectly and it will prevent any future skin issues from popping up, which can easily happen in a new-chair situation.

Try to be more like you were before.

If your disability is acquired, chances are you think often or pine after your pre-injury days wishing things were “still the same.” While this is human nature and we’re all guilty of this, this can be one of the most destructive lines of thought. Going back in time, or even trying to make things “seem” like they once were is impossible. Things will never be the same, and this is what you need to accept and focus on instead.

Don’t think all New Year’s resolutions are bad. As a wheeler, many are still worth your time. If you’re overweight, this one remains one of the best “classic” resolutions. Shedding those extra pounds is one of the best things you can do. The same does for being more social or following through on exercising more. Whatever you choose, just make sure it’s practical and attainable.

Do you have any resolutions for 2014 inspired by your disability?

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Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

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An Attitude Of Gratitude: It OK To Accept Help

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Having a physical disability often makes me stand out in a crowd. People notice when my foot goes up to pay for a purchase or when I am struggling to carry something and naturally people want to help.  But I love being able to do many things on my own because it makes me feel like a regular person. Like the first time I drove by myself or the day I moved out on my own. When I really want to get something done I will find a way, but having a disability often requires extra time and creative thinking. While in elementary, I would spend the entire recess figuring out how I would scale a stair-less platform just to go down the playground’s slide once. When I became a mother, I had to figure out how to hold, burp and carry my baby.

As creative as I am, there are some things I can’t do or are much slower at and thankfully there are people willing to lend a helping hand. I am grateful for the offers of help, which I may or may not accept, but when offering help or being helped it is important to remember the following:

Don’t insist on helping

In junior high a substitute teacher once insisted on opening some food containers for me. I said I didn’t need help but she ignored me, which left me feeling embarrassed. The offer was kind, but if someone with a disability declines help, don’t get offended or insist on helping anyway. Although it appears like help is needed, someone may just have a different way of doing things. Sometimes when I put my purse on the ground to grab a credit card, others try to put my purse on the counter. But picking my purse up is the opposite of help – I need it on the ground. Please do offer help because sometimes it is needed, but first wait for a response before doing anything.

Don’t cry wolf

If you can do something on your own and you ask for help or accept it, this could just be laziness. I am completely guilty of this. We all know help can accomplish things faster, but the last thing I want to do is take advantage of others, especially those I love the most. Although my family doesn’t mind helping, I personally have to be careful not to ask for things I could easily do myself.

That is not to say I haven’t been tempted to “cry wolf” when my abilities are continually underestimated. I wonder, for example, when I use my credit card and the cashier nervously asks if I can sign my name, what she would do if I said “no.”  The cashier always looks relieved when I consent, but I can’t help but wonder what I could get away with.

That said sometimes it is easy to use my disability as an excuse. During junior high, my class had to pick up garbage around the school and a substitute teacher kindly excused me. I could have gotten out of the work, but insisted I could help. But out of convenience, I sometimes accept these kinds of offers. When I picked up a parcel recently, I was excused from showing ID because the clerk knew me. In reality she was saving me the hassle of getting out my ID. A gesture I actually appreciated and have asked for when entering big box stores like Costco. Could I show my ID or membership? Sure, but for me it is more inconvenient than for an able-bodied person. On the most part I try not to use my disability as an excuse as I don’t want people thinking I am less capable than I am. Being honest about my abilities is empowering and it helps others see disability in a better light.

It is okay to decline help?

It is always okay to decline help.  When I was learning to nurse my son, my mom and mother-in-law took turns helping my son latch on. The arrangement didn’t last long as I soon became determined to find a way to do it on my own. I refused my mother-in-law’s help while she watched Tarek scream his head off as I tried to get him to latch on by himself. I know that was hard for her to see us struggle, but I am glad she respected my wishes. We were successful and I nursed him almost a year.  Disabled or not, struggling at something builds character and helps each of us accomplish things we didn’t think were possible.

Decline graciously

Sometimes what looks hard to others is easy for me and I try not to get offended when someone offers help. I have met other people with disabilities that are extremely rude and have responded coldly when help has been offered. As much as I want to do some things on my own, I try to remember the spirit in which help is being offered. No one is thinking, “I am going to help this person so she feels more disabled or because she can’t do it on her own.” People just want to help and make things easier for you. This is a beautiful part of human nature and our world needs more of it whether the recipient is disabled or not. Sometimes I find myself apologizing for declining help too abruptly. The last thing I want to do is discourage someone from being charitable. If you really want to do something on your own, then just politely say so.

Should you accept help even when it is not needed?

The truth is I sometimes accept other’s help, not because I need it, but because someone else needs to give it. Doing so does not diminish my abilities, but helps others be more compassionate and appreciative. Recently someone saw me pushing my cart through the snow to unload bags into my van. She stopped and finished the job for me. Yes, I could have done it myself, but I was appreciative she did it.

I have met some amazing people because I have allowed them the opportunity to serve. These experiences have made me realize I am not alone in this world. Accepting help doesn’t make me feel less able, but rather leaves me with a great sense of gratitude.  Instead of trying to do it all on your own, let people in and show an attitude of gratitude.

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Accessible Housing: A Social Problem On The Rise

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Accessible housing is becoming a larger issue with each passing year. As larger demographics of people in North America continue to age, their mobility needs also change. This is making it more important for public and private buildings everywhere to be fully accessible so that people can fully participate at home at work and at play. The United States has the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to help set a standard and to try and effectively enforce it for the benefit of all people with disabilities.

Unfortunately, in Canada where I live, no piece of legislation like the ADA currently exists and in the city of Calgary where I live only 3 percent of all affordable housing is also wheelchair accessible. This presents a pretty serious problem in Calgary because more than a million people live here and 1 in every 10 of them self-identifies as an individual with limited mobility. To make matters worse, among the homeless, who are the most vulnerable it has been found that one in every four of these people also has some kind of mobility limitation.

The problem isn’t going away either. Calgary currently is experiencing one of the highest population growth spurts of any city in North America. That has resulted in just a 1 percent vacancy rate in rental accommodations where the average monthly rent has also risen by 7percent in the last year. All of this amounts to an extreme scarcity in the number of accessible homes available for people with disabilities to rent or own and I’m sure my city isn’t the only one facing these sorts of problems.

Finding an accessible place to live and work is only part of the problem. If only three percent of all homes are wheelchair accessible, how do you socialize with anyone? What do you do when you want to apply for a job with a company you’re really excited about only to find that the home or the office building isn’t built to accommodate wheelchairs? Unfortunately, for a lot of people in Canada it simply means you can’t visit certain people or work in certain businesses. It’s a form of segregation and it’s still alive and well today.

For many people it comes down to economics. Especially when it comes to making their own homes more accessible. Even though, there are some government grant programs available to improve accessibility it’s still quite a bit more expensive to renovate an existing home. Most contractors estimate that it costs close to 20 percent of a home’s value just to renovate it properly for full wheelchair accessibility.

The key is to build accessible homes and workplaces right in the construction phase before the selling of spaces even begins. Studies have shown that when this work is done beforehand, the overall value of the home from the start can show a value increase of 1 to 3 percent. Doing the job right in the beginning clearly is a benefit that pays off for everyone in the long haul. After all, anyone can live, work or play in a fully accessible space. It just takes a society willing to consider everyone who has disabilities and those who may someday acquire them before they begin construction.

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Photo Credit: (From the Accessible Housing Society website www.ahscalgary.ca)

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I Feel Pretty (Or Not): 5 Ways My Disability Clashes With My Femininity

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I’m a girl.  And like a lot of girls in their 20s, I like to feel pretty.  You wouldn’t really know it by looking at me, though – my standard uniform is a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, maybe a pullover or zip up sweatshirt in the winter.  In the summer, you can always find a pair of Crocs on my feet; in the winter, a pair of UGG or EMU boots.

The ways I outwardly display my femininity are directly impacted by my physical disability.  And sometimes, wanting to be more traditionally feminine clashes with what I can physically do.  Here are five ways that my disability clashes with my femininity:

1) Shoes.

Shoes.  The bane of every girl’s existence.  The fact that I can’t tie my own laces alone throws a monkey wrench into the shoe situation.  Therefore, my shoe options are limited to velcro and slip-ons.  But wait!  What if I wanted to throw on some heels to elongate my petite, five foot frame?  Sorry, no can do.  I topple over when I’m not wearing any shoes at all, heels would be a nightmare.  With practice and sheer willpower, I’ve learned to be able to manage in small wedge heels, but I hardly ever wear them – I’d rather be able to stay on my feet than look nice.

2) Dresses and skirts.

Because I have high muscle tone in my legs, I have trouble sitting properly.  When I’m wearing a dress or skirt, this problem becomes readily apparent, as unsuspecting people might get a free showing of my undergarments.  I circumvent this problem by wearing leggings under a skirt or dress but even that doesn’t happen very often, as putting on clothes is energy-consuming in the first place without complicating the matter.

3)  Makeup.

I’m always a little in awe of girls who spend hours in front of their mirror, plucking and poking and shading, getting their makeup just right.  Most makeup, frankly, scares me.  With my poor fine motor skills, I’d just as likely accidentally poke my eye out as achieve the perfect “smokey eye” look.  The most I’ll ever wear is a little bit of lip gloss, easily put on and just as easily taken off.  I don’t mind too much, though – it makes compliments sweeter when you know that people appreciate your natural beauty.

Related: Making Makeup Accessible

4) Nail polish.

Admittedly, I love a good manicure and pedicure.  Just not done by myself.  If a nail polish bottle exploded on my hands, that’s what my home manicure would look like.  I have managed to accomplish it once or twice, but it takes a lot of time and a lot of energy.  Instead, I splurge every once in awhile on a professional mani/pedi.  Some places will even throw in a free shoulder massage, which feels heavenly to my spastic muscles.

5) Hair.  Just.  Hair.

People keep nagging at me to grow my hair out.  My answer is always no.  Why?  Because it’s too hard to take care of with my impaired coordination.  I wasn’t able to wash my own hair until I was well into my teen years.  It’s a piece of independence that was hard-won and that I’d like to keep.  Shorter hair means less to wash and less hair to look greasy on the days when I have more trouble with the shampoo and conditioner than others.   Similarly, shorter hair is easier to style.  There’s less hair to knot up and get messy, and less hair to yank through with a brush.  I don’t have to worry about twirling my hair into an acceptable style – I just brush it and go.  Sometimes I’ll pull it back in a ponytail or put on a headband.  In fact, I may have invented a new hairstyle – the palsy style.

So I can’t often express my femininity in traditional ways, but that’s okay.  I’ve found ways of expressing myself and my personality that don’t rely on my clothes or my nails or my hair.  This mainly consists of brightly colored mobility aids and chic 3E Love sweatshirts.  It’s my own personal fashion sense and I like it.

What are some ways you express your style when you have a disability?

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 Photo credit: Flickr user Kaleidoscope View Photography

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