Wednesday, 13 September 2017

What comes to mind when I say I'm a one-armed swimmer?

It is no secret that swimming is a big part of me. It not only was a good therapy to get me moving again after my legs were taken by CRPS, but it also made me realise how much I could accomplish if I put my mind to it. If I could teach myself to swim well enough over longer distances, using one arm and minimal leg movement, there was no limit to my abilities if I was willing to put in the work.  

I've proven my own strength to myself over the years, but putting myself to the test, pushing myself beyond my limits was the only way I could truly find out what was possible. Dancing did it, backpacking certainly did, swimming even more. I realised that even while becoming more disabled, I was still finding my own superpowers! I couldn't swim when I first got back into the pool 4-5 years ago. I had to figure out how to propel myself with one arm through the water. I watched paralympic swimmers, breaking down their strokes and tried to figure out the best one for me. To narrow down the most efficient stroke for my body, what works for one will not work for another: people with disabilities are even more varied than people without. One CRPS presentation will always be different from another, even if the same regions are affected and similar progression. 

 This is a few videos of me swimming, one from recently - this summer. The other is from a year and a half ago, while I was in the pulmonary rehabilitation hospital, where my stroke was rougher, and they weren't as encouraging of my high intensity efforts! When I tell people I go swimming, I don't think this is what they pictured after seeing how I get around on dry land! That is my rollator there at the end, my wheeled legs to navigate the world on dry land. 

The second and older one was when my stroke was considerably less refined. I was also being told to slow down, take it easy and paying more attention to my breathing. Naturally. They wanted me to do more breaststroke; which I avoid because hurts my legs a lot more than a standard kick, but I did what I was told. For my efforts, they said that because I can kick in the water while swimming, the CRPS must all be in my head. Not in the correct neuroscientific manner, but the colloquial usage. Thankfully, I realised how wrong they were in their assumptions due to lack of education. They may be good for pulmonary conditions, but they were woefully ill-equipped for anyone who didn't fit in the 'normal' box. Of course I kick well in the water - I have been working on it for years! I set out to do all I could to minimise my disability in those early stages of the spread. I knew that keeping my legs mobile was the best, the only way I could hope to avoid the rapid progression that happens with immobility. It is also a warm and weightless environment, which means I didn't have pesky gravity to contend with. Swimming or just exercising in a heated pool (or bath, if you have one!) is one of the best things you can do for CRPS. And my recovery post-neurostim-ops was likely faster (though still took 6 months) because I spent so much time in the water. 

Also, the second video was taken not long after a course of high dose prednisone, so I still had a bit of the 'roid blubber! It happens! 

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