Mel on the ground in a gym doing a pushup.

Reaching high through the pandemic and health issues

These last six months have been challenging for me, which it has for most people in some way or another. The fear and anxiety that has come with the pandemic and the fact that our usual human interaction with people has changed has been hard. I am a very face to face and social person, both in my personal life, but also in my professional life.

 I have always believed the best way to change peoples perceptions about disability is for it to be placed right in front of them. For the past 6 months I have worked from home which is a very different life from constantly being on the road travelling. The longest i have been home without a travel trip for work in the past 10 years is 10 weeks, so it really has been a change. This pandemic has caused a lot of people with disability to further withdraw; particularly if they receive constant personal care, as there has been a level of fear of catching the virus. And for some people with disability the virus can be deadly.

My fear and anxiety has not been around me catching the virus myself, but more the impacts of not being able to socialise or to feel safe when being around people. I have also hated that i haven’t been able to hug people like my parents for fear if i do have the virus, i may spread it and the impacts that could have.

When the pandemic started, not long after the gyms closed in NSW. Now for people who know me, know that exercise is my go to for both physical and mental health. Since started to consistently exercise 6.5 years ago, I have not experienced back pain in the same way. I also have a lot of trauma that I have experienced over the years and exercise and training really helps keep me to stay focused and quite frankly sane.

I am very fortunate that i have an amazing trainer who i could still see 3 times a week at the beach/park where i could do a walk and some weight training. Even in the cold or the rain i still would go train as i knew movement would be good for me. It really helped having someone encourage me to train as well.

Not long after isolation happened I started having some significant health issues that lasted for 3 months with pain, discomfort and the constant need for antibiotics. This lead to a massive downward spiral in my mental health as I suddenly felt even more isolated and not feeling like I could cope with my body. The new health issues meant that I had to really limit my training, I was unable to do weights etc, but I continued to go for walks even if it meant not pushing up steep hills which I normally liked to do. Having a trainer encourage me to use the ability I did have and not to focus on what I couldn’t do really helped, especially when I found out I needed to have major surgery. In my six week recovery period he still came to my place and we went for walks with me three times a week just so I got out and I had some movement which for recovery your body needs you to keep moving, for the blood flow and circulation to happen.

These hard times really made me reflect on how much i took for granted of what i could do. Even though almost 25 years ago i ended up in a wheelchair and lost some independence, i have clearly grown to adapt to that new normal, and us as humans often struggle to adapt when adversity hits us without any warning.

So even though this pandemic and my health issues have been hard it has helped me remember that adversity does often strike without warning and sometimes we need to have tools in our belt ready to utilise when in need. Some things I have done is download Headspace and Insight timer and I utilise meditations on these applications (this is free), accessed support from a psychologists – I think sometimes stigma is still there about doing this, but I find it very useful having an outside perspective. I have a strong network of friends and people in my life and I know the purpose of these people. I have practiced self care, and been okay when I feel myself spiralling and I haven’t been hard on myself and accepted that it is okay and I will get through it when i can. I also know in myself that I am best when I feel I am helping others and that there life is somewhat easier. I guess that is why I have always been in the community sector for work. I think having a life where I have been different and haven’t fit into what is considered to be the normal world, I do not want others to struggle in the same way. Being adaptive to adverse situations is okay and means it can fluctuate with whatever is happening at the present time. What is adaptive for me may be different to another person.

I think when times are tough we all need to be adaptive and reach into our inner selves and make small steps to reach higher. We all need to be kind to ourselves. It is absolutely okay to get support and to say that you are not okay. There are many avenues to access for support.