The weekend before last, on Saturday night, I went out…. *gasp*,… on my own…. *woah*,… and I spent the evening with Tai Chi-ers and kickboxers whilst sitting in…. a wine bar *ohmygoodnesswhatevernext?* and….(wait for iiiiit….)… I drank two small pots of tea…!
Dang, I sure know how to party!
I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to meet people who take my disability in their stride. It’s not something that instantly makes sense as my disability is not apparent to the casual observer, but I’ve found that my teacher and classmates now spot when something’s not right. They clock my slackened facial muscles and my lack of twinkle in my eyes on a bad day. They don’t need the visual cues of me wielding my walking stick or going to sit on the floor to drink fluids to stop me from passing out. They spot it earlier than that these days. Tai Chi students in the West often begin learning it for health reasons, and as a result I have a teacher who’s used to working around health issues, and classmates with insight and understanding from their own experiences. I am not my disability, I am me, but my disability is something I have to constantly work around, so having people around who don’t bat an eyelid at continuing a conversation from floor level is pretty darn refreshing!
I practice Tai Chi during my physio time when I can. Physio time also includes getting washed, dressed, fed, etc, so on bad days Tai Chi is a no-go. But with Magic Dude to make me dinner on days where I had to give up getting-food-time to be able go to a Tai Chi class for physio instead.. it’s viable. I have to make it viable because it’s crucial to my health.
I began learning it when I could no longer do my physio exercises at the gym (owing to good ole Dysautonomia tending me towards the whole throwing-up and passing-out thing!). It became my new form of physio. Instead of going to the gym twice a week to do physio exercises, I have instead been going to Tai Chi twice a week. It felt like a step down because I can no longer do any form of even sitting-down-cardio’, and that still bothers me healthwise, but if someone came along and magicked me healthy tomorrow I’d still continue with Tai Chi.
I entered the local interclub tournament last October. I’ve never been competitive with others. I always felt bad about winning anything because I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by accidentally doing better than them! I was nervous. By nature I seem to have always been apologetic, and competitions don’t come naturally to me! Living with a disability changed that somewhat, and maybe getting a bit older and a bit wiser too. I have a disability which affects every single aspect of my life, but I am still me, and when I compete it is in defiance of my condition. My motivation is not drawn from a basic competitive nature, or a wish to be the best, it is drawn from battling the CRPS. I agreed to enter a couple of tournaments because, well, why not? It turns out I’m not half bad, and every success is an in-your-face to my health! If I have a care assistant to drive me and look after me before and after (i.e. Magic Dude on his days off), then spending 4 minutes of physio time doing some Tai Chi in shiny pyjamas is actually viable!
I approach the Tai Chi the same way that I approached the studying… yes, I am disabled, I am limited and restricted, but I’m not going to let that stop me from seeing how far I can get. I have to approach things differently than I would if I was healthy. I can’t be active for long, and then I have to rest for hours to bring the pain and other symptoms back down again. Everything I do has to be flexibly based. The physio is crucial to my pain management however, so why not spend some physio time seeing what I can achieve? I have to live on the sofa with a blanket and a hot water bottle the majority of the time, but why should that stop me? When I can physio it’s good to do something useful but, if I can occasionally get to do something I actually enjoy then whooop!
To try to get me to realise that I’m not half bad at Tai Chi, my teacher had me enter a National tournament. It was two weekends ago. Magic Dude drove us all to the venue, and got me hot water bottles and drinks from the canteen there to keep me going. I was in the ladies beginners class. As far as I’m aware my competitors were able-bodied.
Ohmygosh, I won!
My teacher’s response was kinda along the ‘I told you so’ line! Awww
The dysautonomia kicked in just before I had to perform. The 5-6 minutes I was prepared for turned out to be a mere 4 minutes on the day, which meant having to speed things up and hit the right time marker without any practice. Eek! Fight or flight decided it was time to increase the heart rate, which (in me) results in light-headedness, dumbass brain, and all my limbs get shaky. I find that performance nerves are minimal owing to my need to focus on my condition, but the fight or flight response more than makes up for that! I went wrong and had to blag it into the correct move. I wobbled on one leg so I made sure I took my time so that I didn’t wobble on the other leg. I was way worse than I usually am in class. But I won! *glee* Take that CRPS and Dysautonomia… mwoohaaahaaahaaa!
That went on a note and into my jar of joy!
I juuuust about got myself mostly functioning by a week later to be able to join my Tai Chi teacher, the kickboxing teacher, and students of both disciplines in the nice-cup-of-tea (wine) bar. And though I couldn’t quite accept the “And here she is.. our Tai Chi champion” (every time they said “champion” I interjected “beginner” and then got told off for doing so! Self-deprecation is something I’m really good at!) I am actually really proud of myself. For going out on a limb and giving it a whirl. For doing it despite my health. In fact for doing it because of my health (both to help it and to stick my fingers up at my conditions)!
When I started writing this it was two days since the tea (wine) bar gathering. My pain levels were not as bad as I would have expected, even more surprising as I was on a really unhelpful chair regarding legs pain. I think that the happy dopamine effect of being out with real-live-3D people was doing wonders at combating the usually inevitable pain levels! But two days later and I was sat here with my breakfast and in my head was just one event from that evening. That of a kickboxer turning to their teacher and saying “Oh, are there Tai Chi-ers here as well as kickboxers, then?”. Which is a perfectly acceptable question. The problem was that in my obviously sober state I registered the tone of voice (kinda ‘ewwww’) and the facial expression to match.
I’ve worked so so hard to just get through each day with my health the way it is. I’ve had to downgrade my physio activity owing to health deterioration. I was fortunate to find a physio alternative which I love, which I’m not half bad at, and which is now setting me on a path of physio in-your-face-CRPS. I’m totally stoked. I don’t cap my potential. It’s called potential for a reason – it is unknown. So I aim high and see what happens. I’m used to being dismissed by some of the kickboxers, they often have no interest in Tai Chi and that’s fair enough. But the ‘ewwww’ face and tone of voice as the eyes flicked over to the two Tai Chi students really struck a chord. I did not let it bug me at the time. So why did it bug me two days later?
At the time I was high on dopamine and enjoying conversations with actual real in-the-flesh people who, as it turned out, I have a lot in common with regarding our values and approach to life, (not to mention meeting a fellow Chai tea drinker).
(Hehe, I’ve just got to pause and realise what I just said… about students of Tai Chi drinking Chai Tea! *ka-snort* I’m so easily amused)!
But for some reason the disdain stuck in my memory and it didn’t feel nice at all. It’s not youth (a far younger kickboxer there was not only very respectful about Tai Chi but had declared earlier that he thinks Tai Chi is really hard), it is more about a lack of understanding and of basic respect. I’ve met experienced kickboxers who have no interest in Tai Chi whatsoever but they nonetheless have a great respect for it, which is really helpful to me for feeling that I still have some sort of value in what I do. Perhaps the ‘ewwww’ person will learn to be respectful, or maybe they won’t. It shouldn’t bother me either way. But it does. And when I cut to the meat of it… it bothers me because I have achieved so much for someone so ill, that I rarely get to go out and see people, that I never thought I’d ever win anything let alone in a sport, that I am aiming for the stars knowing full well that they’re too far away and I don’t have a spacesuit or a long enough ladder. It bothers me because for the first time in many years of ill health I feel like I’m someone in my own right even to some able-bodied people. How daft is that? I’m used to meeting wonderful people who also have conditions they’re dealing with, but I’m not used to healthy people getting close or caring. My Local Friend, who met me since I became disabled but still became my friend anyway, is an exception to what I was beginning to think was a pretty strong ‘rule’ of disabled life. (Big shout out also to all my friends who knew me before I was disabled and yet have weathered the changes and are still my wonderful, beautiful friends now, love you so much, xxx).
Who cares what other people think? Right? We should be the best we can and be proud of everything we achieve. The reason that I am bothered by their attitude is because it taps into my own fears. I am afraid of losing what I have found. Of being dismissed and sidelined again. Of rediscovering that magical form of invisibility that disability can endow.
The answer, of course, is to keep focused on what I love doing. I won’t lose Tai Chi. I might lose the ability to compete in tournaments. I might find that when pitted against more experienced competitors that my natural ability just doesn’t cut it any more against their physical health and training. But I didn’t start learning Tai Chi to do tournaments. I started it to help keep my body from losing function, what I’ve got out of it is so much more. More from the perspective of my health, and more from the perspective of my heart. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still aiming for the stars, and if someone’s got a ladder to lend me and if a spacesuit shows up on Ebay with biddings starting at 99p I’ll be there! I’ve just had a wobble. We all do. But if we hang onto that core of who we are and what we love then who knows where it will take us?
And no matter what happens, I will know that I did what I wanted to do, I followed my dreams as far as I could. Who’d have thought that a chronically ill girl like me with multiple conditions and full-body intractable pain could be someone in sport? It turns out that even when managing endless symptoms throughout each day, once in a while I can manage it well enough to spend 4 or 5 minutes with the able-bodied Tai Chi-ers. That’s surely something to be proud of, no matter what other people think. I wonder if I can be someone at a higher level than beginners? Whatever happens I’m not giving up, and I’ll always have fond memories and tangible reminders…