Learning to love physio

I’m not going to lie, learning to love physio was hard. I don’t mean trying to do the Sudoku puzzle in the morning paper hard, I mean trying to give up the food you love the most hard.

Over the years I’ve had loads of physiotherapists and I have liked them all. I just didn’t find the therapy itself particularly enjoyable from the age of around six or seven until I was became old enough to understand and appreciate the benefits . The reasons that I didn’t like it were, admittedly, my own fault, no one else’s.

I was stubborn and pretty much all my friends were able-bodied when I was growing up and, as far as I knew, none of them had to have physio. But I did. It made me feel different and I hated feeling that way. I’d dodge doing my exercises as much as possible and would row with my parents about it all the time. I’d shout, scream and cry about it but they’d still make me keep doing the stretches that I needed them to help with, but I’d always try and avoid doing the ones that were my own responsibility. Sometimes, I’d go weeks without doing any and other times I’d do a set every couple of days. In reality I knew that I should be doing them morning and night at least but that never really happened.

I used to dread the appointments with my therapists because I knew that I wasn’t doing as well as I should or could be. They never actually told me off or shouted at me for it, but deep down I always felt like I was letting them down. Really I suppose the irony is was that the whole time the person I failed and disappointed the most was myself.

Then at sixteen I had a complete attitude change. I had some surgery (much more on that later) which meant that I wasn’t allowed to stand for six weeks, after which there’d be another operation. If I didn’t buckle down and get on with it I knew that I wouldn’t get the most out of the opportunity that I was given and I didn’t want to waste it.

Mum, Dad and I embarked on a regime that seemed to feel like I was doing exercises every 30 minutes. It was probably more like every 90 looking back on it. At the time it hurt more and left me more tired than any I’ve ever had to do in my life. I used to mock complain about the amount I had to do, but secretly I found that I actually looked forward to it!

I found my inner competitive streak around that time, even if it was only with myself. I would try and do one more of each activity every time and when I could see the results it made me so proud that I didn’t want to stop. I knew that I was being proactive in helping myself and that made me feel good and is probably what got me through that rehab period, along with the love and support of those around me, of course.

After that I figured that I worked so hard there was no point in giving it all up now. While I admit that I probably didn’t do as much of it as recommended while I was studying, I’ve really tried to get into a habit now that I’m back home again. Yes, there are times when I slip, days I forget and some days that I make the choice to have a day off. Now though, I don’t dread the appointments, I look forward to them and the sense of achievement that they bring.

Why I prefer reading to sports

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I prefer reading to sports. I don’t know the offside rule, have no idea what the difference is between Rugby League and Rugby Union, and, even though my dad likes watching Wimbledon every year, I don’t know the first thing about tennis. This isn’t because I couldn’t play sport because of my Cerebral Palsy, it’s because I’ve yet to find something I enjoy so much that I’d choose doing that over spending my Sunday afternoons curled up with a Val McDermid novel and a cup of tea.

My parents always made sure that I knew the world of sport was open to me if I wanted it to be. My dad even sat me down and made me watch the athletics at the 1996 Paralympics on the TV when I was just five years old to show me what I could achieve if I wanted. “I’m not saying you have to do it” he said “I just want you to know that you could”.

Over the years I have tried to get on with many sports, and well, it just hasn’t happened. I decided that I hated football on the day I tried to join in with my friends and ended up tripping over the ball and falling flat on my face. Then, there was the time I tried to serve a ball in a game of tennis and fell over with the effort, and, as I’ve said before I can’t run.

Despite that, I do quite enjoy the odd game of cricket that my family used to play on holiday. I just sit in my wheelchair (it’s safer that way, trust me) and whack the ball as hard as I can to score as many runs as possible without moving until someone catches me out. It’s not the conventional way of playing but it’s my way nonetheless and I quite like that.

People often ask me if I’ve ever taken part in wheelchair basketball and the answer is no, I haven’t. The idea just doesn’t interest me (and I’m terrified of being hit in the face with the ball, truth be told) but I’d happily try any sport that caught my eye at least once. The hard part isn’t me trying something out, it’s selling the idea to me in a way that gets my attention in the first place that’s possibly the most difficult bit.

I do enjoy exercise; I just prefer the things that you don’t do in a team, so the only person I have to push and compete with is myself. I loved using the gym in high school and at university, I love going out for walks with Martha, and I can always be found on the dance floor at parties in my walking frame or wheelchair moving along to the music in any way I can. I even quite enjoy swimming even though I’m not very good. That, and I like being able to jump around in the water in a way that I can’t on land.

In the end though, I much prefer to leap into the world of a good book. I love being nosey at the other world’s that writers have created in their own head, I enjoy reading stories that I can relate to, be they fiction or none fiction, and I truly admire the way that a writer can make you feel so much emotion without ever having met you. For me, it’s hard for me to imagine loving any sport over the magic of a book, Cerebral Palsy or no Cerebral Palsy.

Physiotherapy through my ages

Given that my Cerebral Palsy makes my muscles tighter than they should be I’m supposed to do a fair amount of physiotherapy to keep the stiffness at bay as much as possible.

It’s more than fair to say that my exercise regime and I have had an ever-changing relationship throughout my life. We’ve gone from loving each other to being arch enemies and back again more times than I would like to count. When I was a kid, it was the best thing ever. Most of what I needed to do could be done through playing. My appointments at the hospital felt to me like they consisted of climbing around on a big squishy play area, making things out of play-dough and the odd bit of stretching, but the pineapple juice and biscuits I got at the end more than made up for the last part.

Then, I started Primary School and realised that because I was in a mainstream school that none of my friends had to the boring stretch-y stuff, they only had to do all the playing parts so I refused to do them unless my parents made them more fun.

My mum spent hours making obstacle courses for me to run with a slide and a pot of bubbles at the end, and my dad would run them with me. I’d always win though because he was too big for the slide, but we’d share the bubbles anyway.

Being a 90s-kid I collected beanie babies and my very first one, a white and brown dog called Dippy, would be in charge of counting how many of the dull exercises I did each time by sitting in Mum’s hand. Dad and I did jigsaw puzzles and played hours of Polly Pocket to improve my fine-motor skills and give my left hand some you-will-do-what-I-tell-you training.

By the time I hit my teenage years this kind of magic wore off and I just plain refused to do any. This is something that I still regret to this day because I can’t help but think of how I could be even better than I am now if I’d put all the effort I put in these days while I was still growing.

When I was a kid I had a physio come out to see me once a week but now that I’m grown up and boring I only see someone  whenever I get enough pain to feel like I need it. I look forward to these times of year even if there is usually a fair bit of discomfort that comes with it. Now that I’m old enough to know how lucky I am to still get access to this service I try to grab the chance with both hands, even if the grip with my left one is a bit suck-y. I’m at this stage again (the culprit this time is my left knee). I now have a new list of things to do I don’t mind it because at least I know that I’m still trying to help myself keep walking for that bit longer every time I do. The tasks may not be as fun anymore, but, as far as I’m concerned, you’re never too old for juice and biscuits after all your hard work.