Various Updates

I realised that there have been a few ongoing plotlines chez Litlove that I haven’t updated lately. For instance, my painful arm and shoulder which I thought for a long time was due to a trapped nerve. You may recall (though I forgive you if you don’t, it’s been a while) that I had had both osteopathy and phyiotherapy with no particular result. My arm seemed to be settling into its compromised movement and nothing made an impact on it. So I decided to try the Alexander Technique.

Well, never has there been a better example of brain triumphing over brawn. The Alexander Technique is extremely gentle, a lot of patting and smoothing by my practitioner who has gradually been easing the knots out of my nerves and muscles. I’ve had about five or six sessions and almost unbelievably, the situation is improving. I can move my arm far more freely than I could before, and with only the odd twinge here and there. After seven months of zero progress and being cracked and twisted and pummelled in often painful ways, this feels nothing short of miraculous. My only problem is I’m too scared of tempting fate to triumphantly announce my cure. So we won’t go there. But my goodness, has she made an improvement! People, if you have muscular-skeletal issues, find yourself an Alexander Technique practitioner. It’s not just effective, it’s actively pleasant. My practitioner is not a great talker, though she likes a laugh, and my memory of our sessions will be of her uncluttered room with sunlight streaming in and the extreme peacefulness of her gentle attention. And of course the tap-dancing skeleton, who has also become a serene witness, his skull a little on one side in quizzical observation.

The problem has been caused not so much by repetitive strain as repetitive bad posture. My left hand is the one I hold books in, and my practice has been to tuck my elbow into my side while I read and bend my head down towards the page. Over the winter months, when I get chilly from sitting still, I tend to carry around my microwaveable wheat baggie, which I also stick under my left arm – it’s got a book at the end of it and is clamped to my side anyway, hence the arrangement. And my left side is the one I go to sleep on, often with that arm wedged underneath me. So twenty-four-seven that arm has been held at an awkward angle without my noticing what I was doing. The muscles at the back of my neck and down into my shoulder have probably scrunched up into a big clump that was putting pressure on the bone, and muscles have a long and persistent memory. It will take a while to remind them that they do not have to exist in their old, embattled position. I need to make long-term adjustments to my practices – books propped on cushions on my lap or in book stands on a table, a writing slope for taking notes and much reduced use of my laptop.

I’m still considering taking up pilates in the summer, but I’ll definitely be sticking with tai chi. I started in the beginners’ class back at the end of January and have recently moved up to what they call ‘continuing’ classes. This was a shock to the system. I’d grown to love my beginners’ class and our tight little group of four initiates and four experts. We spent our weeks slowly learning a whole ‘set’ of tai chi which has over a hundred moves in it. I can do it, so long as I’ve got people around me I can follow – as our instructor said, the one thing tai chi really improves is your peripheral vision – and I think it’s beautiful. The movements are slow and graceful and often satisfying in a profound way I don’t have words to describe. This alone is probably very good for me – the fact it’s a couple of non-verbal hours in my life. Oddly enough I’ve turned out to be good at it, which is surprising after all those years of being a sports dunce and the last person picked for any team. And of course I don’t feel particularly good at it; it just feels sort of straightforward to do. Doubtless years of ballet as a child helped. Being twenty years younger than the others is my secret weapon.

So, anyway, I’ve moved up to the next class which is packed. There must be thirty or so people who turn up for it, and after the expansiveness of being eight in a large hall, we’re now all crammed in sardine-like which has proved hot the past few weeks. We begin by going twice through the full set, which feels like it might last forever (in reality it lasts about 40 minutes). And then we do a bunch of foundation exercises, which we do for another long, long time. After that comes a 25 minute break and then a final half hour working on a small part of the form. I’m gradually meeting a few people as they are all very friendly. Two sisters introduced themselves to me, one of whom, poor woman, is currently fighting two types of cancer which is more courage than I can imagine having. She was cheerier than me, too, which was rather humbling. ‘Did you tell her about your bad arm?’ Mr Litlove asked me when I recounted this. ‘And your sore gum?’ Husbands, dontcha love ‘em? I actually told her sister that I’d had 13 years of chronic fatigue and felt let off lightly by comparison. Lots of people in the class have health reasons for being there, as it’s supposed to be a very gentle but effective exercise. Gentle and effective is certainly what’s working for me right now.

And then my son is still not exactly what you’d call happy, but he has recently signed onto a temp agency that supplies waiters and bar staff to social functions. He’s done this mostly under his own steam, and is hopeful that it will earn him a bit of cash and give him useful skills and experience. In about ten days time he is going on holiday to Spain with ten of his friends, which is the good news. The bad news is that his ex-girlfriend is one of them and they began organising the trip before they split. Goodness only knows what will come of this trip; it could be anything from some necessary closure to emotional chaos. But my son has evidently thought it all through and decided he wants to go nevertheless. Even though he knows it’s not likely, I expect there’s a part of him that hopes they might get back together, which Mr Litlove fears but I doubt. ‘Though if we do get back together, I won’t tell you and Dad,’ he said, to which threat I couldn’t help but smile and say that the list of things I didn’t need to be told was surprisingly long and included dangerous expeditions, late night emo showdowns and trips to the ER. My neighbour was telling me her theory the other day that we have been too nice to our kids while they were growing up and so are involved in their adolescent shenanigans when their normal response ought to be to keep them well out of our sight. I like that theory; I may just run with it.

 

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33 thoughts on “Various Updates

  1. Fascinating post and many congratulations on huge progress. May I ask if you know why you had chronic fatigue? And how you improved from that?
    But well done with tai chi and Alexander technique . I’m in awe.

    • You are so kind, thank you, and you put your finger on the million dollar question! The answer is a solid 15 years in doctors, therapists and alternative medicine offices and the fervent analysis on my part that accompanied it… I’m intending to hook out all my chronic fatigue posts from this blog (there’ve been quite a few over the years) and put them together in a special drop down menu. I’ve been meaning to do it all year and not got there yet, but your comment encourages me to get on with it!

  2. So pleased that AT is helping! Your reference to the ‘tap-dancing skeleton’ made me smile. My teacher’s is so venerable that bits are dropping off it. Hope all goes well for you son in Spain. Who knows – perhaps he will find a new love on holiday.

    • Susan, I cannot thank you enough for putting me onto this – it has made a world of difference, and it’s giving me strategies to use for the rest of my life. I think the skeleton that I know should drop a note to the skeleton that you know – they could be pen pals! As for Spain oh that would be splendid – if only! :)

  3. I’m really glad all seems to be moving forward at the moment, even if it does seem to you like slow progress. Any progress is better than none. I’m very interested in the AT therapy but finding anyone locally is proving a problem so I’ll have to stick with the osteopath for the moment.

    • I guess Cambridge has a lot of alternative practitioners of all types. I remember Dark Puss saying it took him a while to track down someone who could help. But I seem to recall you saying that you thought your osteopath was helping, so that’s cool. Mine didn’t do a jot of good, so something else became very necessary!

  4. Lovely to hear that things are moving on a litte. I think the fact your son is starting to take action on his own is a positive one. i think your neighbour is right – and it’s a tribute to your closeness as a family that you can be so involved in your grown up son’s life!

    • I do love your comments – you have been so very reassuring throughout this bad patch! I think if my son got a new girlfriend or a new set of friends, I would be dropped like a ton of bricks, but I would also be fine with that! :)

  5. So glad to hear that you’re doing better, even if you are having to make adjustments to your reading habits. And I will keep a good thought for your son. It sounds like it could be quite a lovely trip, or quite a trying one, or both.

    • You’re so right! My sort of best scenario is ‘both’. In a weird way I think that might satisfy him as somehow more authentic. And thank you, it’s a relief to have a more flexible arm again – thank goodness reading hasn’t been banned. What would I do???

  6. So glad your shoulder is on the mend! And I have been wondering about tai chi. Every time you mention it you make me want to run out and find a class to join. I hope your son has a nice holiday and returns with some sort of closure whatever that might look like.

    • I do love my tai chi, and if you felt you could persuade Bookman to go with you, it might be very helpful for him, too. My friend with MS was telling me the other day how upset she was that no one had ever encouraged her to go to physiotherapy or any sort of gentle movement therapy as she feels sure it would have kept her mobile longer. Well, as I know with all exercise regimes, you have to enjoy them to some extent to keep going with them, but I definitely think it’s worth a try. As for my son, thank you so much for your lovely wishes, and gosh I do hope so too.

  7. It seems ironic that reading is itself one cause of your muscular problems, (I am trying to vary my reading/sitting/lap-topping positions more to avoid similar onset these days too though!) I’m so glad that AT and Tai Chi are helping. I’d love to learn Tai Chi, but all the classes round my way are day-time.

    • Isn’t that typical? For years I tried to find a tai chi class and they were all in the evening, when it was far too late for my chronic fatigued self to get there. It is indeed ironic that reading turns out to be my extreme sport – though it IS the only thing in my life that could ever be at risk of causing me RSI type injuries! :)

  8. Alexander Technique is great. It has a lot to do with raising awareness and much less with trying desperately to change posture. You have to be a bit careful with Pilates. I’m not prone to bakc ache but I’ve had a couple of really horrible neck pains due to Pilates. It can be somewhat straining. Min you, I love it and do the 100 almost daily, still.
    Not sure your son’s holiday idea is such a good one. :(

    • That’s interesting to know about Pilates. I’m definitely going to have to look into it more before I commit to it. I’m always surprised what huge variations there are between practitioners of any of these forms of exercise. So I think it’s worth checking out potential classes carefully!

  9. Great that things are getting better. I think adolescence is the time when you find out that life is more of an awkward, difficult and downright infuriating thing than you probably ever imagined and that you will just have to take that into account. Pity there’s no Alexander technique for it but if you find one I’m sure you’ll be on the next billionaires listing!

    • Heh, your comment did make me laugh! Though actually I love the way you put it about adolescence – that is very true, I think. If I ever come up with a cure for life, I do promise that I will blog about it. ;)

  10. My sister’s ex-husband is a Feldenkrais instructor, which is very similar, I think to the Alexander Technique, and is the first place I’d start for any sort of chronic pain. Meanwhile, I will watch how I position myself when I read and sleep fro now on. Tai chi has always sounded interesting to me, so I’m glad to hear it’s been working for you. I like your friend’s quote about parenting. I don’t have kids, of course, but I do find it interesting that kids these days share so much with their parents. My siblings and I were always doing things (jumping off roofs, riding our bikes down steep cliffs, when we were younger; swimming at beaches where sharks had been spotted, hitchhiking with strangers when we were older) and then horrifying my parents later by telling them how we had done them and survived. Now, I think, kids would be texting their parents while engaged in such activities.

    • Yes, they would! It is so much better to hear these stories once they have a happy ending. I can’t think where I read it, but I came across a sentence in a novel yesterday about the ‘sense of emergency we live in’ and I thought that was true, too. Gone is the belief in our own likely survival; it’s threats all the way lately, it seems. I did once read up on Feldenkrais as his theories seemed rather splendid to me, though I never took a class. I had a friend who was deeply into him – I should ask her more. Tai chi is lovely, though, and really very easy to do. Well, if I can do it, then really anyone can!

  11. I’ve temporarily stopped my beloved yoga practice to take a short pilates class, purely to shake up my posture as I’ve been struggling with shoulder / neck tension and it’s definitely working. Thankfully my teacher is all about Pilates with a twist, so none of the dreaded 100s (I loathe 100s) and (touch wood) the tension is reducing. Years ago I did AT and loved it, right up until my teacher said she thought she could straighten out my lower lumbar scoliosis! Whilst AT is great for learning to manage conditions, it’s not surgery and this comment made me really mad. Besides who says I want it straightened out – it gets me out of lifting / carrying heavy stuff ;-).

    • See your comment also makes me think that there are big variations in the way Pilates is taught, and that I need more information before I commit to any class. I don’t even know what a 100 is (beyond a decimal number). I’m glad you enjoyed AT too, even if it did go beyond a point you were comfortable with it. I’ve never tried yoga, being long and thin and not terribly bendy. I think I’ll look like a praying mantis! :)

  12. If my (very positive) experience of AT to attempt to reduce unwanted tension which is (still grrrr) spoiling my flute playing is anything to go by you will be in for a long haul. Learned “bad habits” take an amazingly long time to undo. I’m on my third year with my teacher. I am very glad to hear that you are starting to feel some positive effects.

    • I’m sure the really ingrained habits do take a while to lose. So far, for me, it’s been a case of putting a book on a cushion or a stand rather than holding it in my hand – stuff anyone can do and make a difference! I’ve been warned it will take a while for all my ligaments to unknot, but any progress is enough to keep me feeling more positive, after months of no progress at all. :)

  13. I also agree with your neighbor–I was thinking that I know way more about my kids’ moment-to-moment activities than my parents ever did two years ago when my daughter was texting me about stuff I couldn’t help her with long-distance (she eventually pulled herself out of it, as I had at her age). Your son sounds like he communicates with you well. My son, at just-18, has gotten a bit less communicative with me, although he continues to communicate well with his father.
    Good for the slow and gentle physical stuff!

    • It’s interesting the father-son thing, isn’t it? My son and husband get on now much better than they ever did (there were years when I couldn’t send them into town together – one or other would come home crying), and he hangs out with him more contentedly than with me. But when bad stuff happens, I’m the one he comes to. It’s an interesting dynamic. I am very encouraged to hear that your daughter found her own resources (and that you did, too). I find that sort of thing very encouraging to hear at the moment, so thank you!

  14. I think being bar staff is *very* useful experience for life – all that hectic action going on around you, and having to be polite to people all the while.

    Great news with the Alexander Technique (visibly sitting up straighter as I type this now). I’m soooo pleased for you.

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