The other weekend I met someone who told me about her trip to Sri Lanka, to volunteer at a turtle sanctuary. She spoke of how she had to step out of her comfort zone in order to make the trip. She’d never done the travelling bit, rarely flown and certainly never been as far from home before. There was the physical necessity of dealing with the heat and humidity, but generally speaking the barriers to overcome were psychological. I’m pleased to say she had a great holiday.
Many disabled people struggle to expand the boundaries of their psychological comfort zone. They stay at home too much and become inward looking rather than outgoing and social. They resign themselves, often through the lack of proper therapeutic support, to a life of immobile wheelchair use rather than challenging and invigorating their bodies. I have never struggled in this regard, but my outgoing active lifestyle can often lead me to pay attention to my physical comfort zone. This has nothing to do with psychological barriers, but rather the restraints placed upon you due to the nature of your physical ability.
One of the arts of being disabled is learning to live within your physical comfort zone. It’s an art that I like to think I pull off well, but occasionally I step out of that comfort zone, particularly on a weekend away, and then have to devote extra time to looking after myself to return to the comfort zone. I said that many disabled people spend too much time at home and this is true, but the counter side to this is that a home base is more important than ever once you find yourself disabled. My home is the only place where I can truly relax. It is a space that is specifically designed so that I can get out of my wheelchair, move around freely and easily and relax in just the right arrangement of cushions, and of course conduct ABR Therapy. The needs of most able bodied people are shared with the vast majority of others and those physical needs tend to be easily met round a friends house, in the pub or even camping, but when you find yourself severely disabled, your needs are much more specific and are harder to be truly met anywhere other than your own home.
A trip to Rudgwick Steam Rally took me a little out of my comfort zone. A couple of friends of mine run an autojumble stall there and so I went to hang out with them for a day and a night. I travelled lightly with just enough to survive, but even if I took more with me I couldn’t really cater for my specific physical needs, so I resign myself to having to work hard physically to keep it all together. I’m either sitting in a wheelchair, a camping chair or on the floor and all require attention to posture. A camping chair you can slump into, but that will strain my back so I’d rather make the effort to sit cross legged on the floor, a position that’s demanding and can only be kept for so long. To a certain degree everyone is roughing it for the weekend, but when you can’t stand up and stroll around for relief it takes a little more to be comfortable and so I work a little harder and go home with a little more need to look after myself and when you laugh as much as we did that weekend it makes it all worth it.
People say that laughter is the best medicine, but why? Again we have the physical and psychological components. Psychologically, laughter is about switching off, leaving the worries behind and being care free. The clue to the physical component is in the fact that laughter can hurt. When someone is injured, with cracked ribs for example, you have to be careful not to make them laugh and too much laughter can make even a healthy person hurt. This is because laughter works into the deepest level of the body. It effectively works, or exercises, the very core of our bodies; our intrinsic capacity. Laughter is not something we consciously control in the way that we use our skeletal muscles. We can make ourselves laugh, but that is essentially faking laughter. True laughter is uncontrollable. Even if it is hurting us it can be very difficult to stop laughing.
Since we have brought my spine back to life, and it once again plays a functional role in the body as a structural element, I have been able to feel the damage to my vertebrae. For many years my spine floated around inside my body playing no functional role and I had no awareness of the damage to it and never suffered from back pain. Once brought to life, I had to be very careful for a while how I used my body. The spine had returned to being a structural component, but was very weak. Since then we have strengthened it enormously, but we have a long way to go before it is truly strong. When I laughed at Rudgwick, that weekend, I was acutely aware of the damage to my spine. If we laughed any harder it would have been too much, but as it was my spine received a good intensive workout.
A workout in the gym will build up muscular strength and if you’re in reasonably good shape to begin with it will work into the deep intrinsic levels, but if you’re out of shape in the first place, it will be a very inefficient way of getting fit, if not damaging. Laughter on the other hand will give us all a good workout.