Current news: I have an MRI scan for my left shoulder on 22nd January 2016. Hopefully the odd crunching and lack of flexibility I have had in the shoulder for years is revealed. Maybe the underlying damage was the reason the shoulder injury got so bad so quickly, and has not gone away.
In 2015 I was fortunate enough to see two of my favourite bands, Walk off the Earth, and then a few weeks later Anathema. Both gigs were amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but due to my RSI I am not able to enjoy concerts like I used to. It is frustrating having to avoid clapping, as even clapping for a few seconds can set the pain signals to high alert, never mind clapping near constantly over several hours. However, there is the additional issue of the social situation, as clapping at gigs is the norm, and not clapping stands out.
Many years ago I went to see W.A.S.P. in concert, along with a friend I went to the front, directly in front of Blackie Lawless. It was at the Manchester Academy, small stage, so I was within arms reach of the man! Blackie was great, but after he seemingly made eye contact with me several times I started to become self-conscious. Not because singers looking at someone is unusual, but I realised I probably looked strange due to keeping my arms hugged across my chest to keep them safe.
Over the next two songs my embarrassment grew as Blackie made eye contact several more times, I felt like he was not only singing to the crowd, but that he was challenging me to join in. Eventually I gave in to the pressure, I unfolded my arms and joined in the arm waving and clapping. Blackie seemed to smile, maybe because he had conquered me, or maybe it was just coincidence. I decided I would worry about the pain later, and since I always had some level of discomfort to outright pain it may as well be on my terms.
Logically to anyone looking at me I would stand out in a crowd, after all I look healthy/normal, but also like somebody who was obviously not enjoying themselves; I generally strive to consider other peoples’ perception. As I realised how odd I likely looked, and also how awkward I felt, I waited till Blackie’s eyes were elsewhere then I withdrew from the front.
Even though I stood at the back for the rest of the concert I still had a good time. However, I still felt like my sensible precaution to avoid a severe RSI pain attack had reduced my potential enjoyment. During the drive home I pondered whether I was being overly sensitive in considering whether members of the band really were taking notice of me, or that I would ruin their experience of the gig. I suppose over time I could be perceived as a being miserable idiot, because of the comparison to everyone else around me, who were clearly having a ton of fun clapping and singing. Maybe it is like the big concert scene in the movie Queen of the Damned, when Lestat is on stage and you can tell who the vampires are due to them standing perfectly still.
The trouble is I’m not a vampire, despite my nickname, I cannot regenerate the damage to my arms and now left shoulder. Besides with so many different versions of vampires, I don’t fancy the identity crisis that I’d gain.
My conclusion at the W.A.S.P. gig was twofold:
Going to the front of a gig risks being banged about, and sadly I need to accept that it is a factor for me.
That if I am going to place myself in front of somebody then I do need to consider my affect upon them. Not in the sense of a rule that their feelings totally override my own, but in the more mature sense of considering that their feelings matter, and I don’t want to feel like I am causing others issues. If I place myself in a social situation, but then I deviate from the norm, then I am breaking a social contract.
A massive ramification of having an invisible disability is other people. Their perception affects me if only because of their questions, and sometimes disbelieving attitudes or outright dismissive opinions. So even if I wanted to pretend that peoples’ opinions don’t matter, they do, since they directly affect me. Thankfully I have a great bunch of friends, and even support at work has been great.
Thankfully at both Anathema and Walk off the Earth I was able to have a good time, to not feel awkward, to not put myself in the position of breaking a social contract.
For those wanting to read more about invisible disabilities:
My medical situation in November deteriorated quite rapidly and I ended up pretty much bedridden for six weeks; despite my wish to return training as explained in Martial Arts and Disability: my situation. The RSI affecting my left arm had mostly subsided, however due to trying to use my left arm to compensate for the RSI in my right arm I developed RSI in my left shoulder. Due to the damage to my left hip, and the fact I have to sleep face down pinning it into place, this meant that I was also further antagonising my left shoulder. Taking a lot of pain medication did enable me to get sleep, however, as it was masking the problem I would usually wake up after only a few hours in a lot of pain and be unable to get back to sleep for a while. After a short while my neck had an intense pull on the left side, which then escalated as I had to adjust my sleep to my lower back being pulled out of alignment as my left shoulder and hip caused massive sleeping problems.
The pain I experienced over the last two months has been the worst in my life. I have had broken bones, the pain was extremely intense for a short duration, but thankfully improved over time. The pain from the RSI in both my arms could be somewhat tolerated by hugging myself, which changed the pressure in the arms. Obviously pain is a very subjective thing; different injuries have different effects, never mind the differences between people. For example the intense burning pain I had in my left arm from elbow damage, followed by a chemical reaction from Witch Hazel that I believe had seeped through a bit of tissue damage via my eczema, but was nothing in comparison to my left shoulder.
Over the last few weeks I have radically altered my sleeping setup and managed to find new sleeping positions. The pain has reduced from agonising to the halfway level of ‘bloody annoying’. With the somewhat improved sleep and reduced pain my thinking has cleared up somewhat, and I feel like I can at least attempt things again. I walked a short distance into town tonight, had a meal out at a buffet and then walked home, this pathetic amount of exercise proved to be a bit of a challenge and my left shoulder and lower back particularly hurts at the moment, which is worrying since I returned to work in the morning!
The following pictures show an experiment I tried using a massage table as a bed to help keep my left hip pinned. The idea was that I could help limit spine rotation by lying face down, plus pad the shoulder area. However, they are not comfortable things to lay on for extended periods.
Exercise is going to be a tremendous challenge for the next few months. I have to fight the urge to do anything other than the few very basic physio exercises I have been instructed to do, because I am not even healed at the moment, but I do need to do something to help with the healing. The weight that I lost in 2014 and up until June of 2015 has since been put back on, so I also feel bloated, sluggish and my trousers don’t fit. So it looks like another month of no martial arts, although by the end of the month I should be able to do some sport specific exercises, and hope to do some very light Brazilian jujitsu training in February.
At least with my mind clearing my caged frustration can be channelled towards productive things. I will return to BJJ, but as long as I am sensible I can hopefully not have to immediately take another injury break!
I have written another NoobGrind article, this one is about Way of the Exploding Fist 2. Please check out the previous blog post from October for part 1. I hope the surprise twist for the 3rd article works, I worry it may not be as cool when written out as when I first thought about it …
Currently I have a lot of pain in my neck, shoulders and arms, even sitting up can escalate it. I have been given some stronger painkillers and told to rest up more, so hopefully that will help. Maybe my negative spin on my writing is more to do with a lack of sleep and constant pain, but then writing can always be improved 😉
I am currently experimenting with a new setup. I am using Dragon NaturallySpeaking whilst lying in bed and looking at a monitor that is high up, and has been angled to make it easy to view whilst lying down.
Despite barely doing anything physical today I am in a lot of pain and that’s even after taking my painkillers. So I decided to load up the Dragon speech recognition software and finally write an article about martial arts and disability, something I’ve been avoiding writing for a long time.
Firstly writing the following post proved quite difficult because I am apprehensive about referring to myself as disabled; I have repetitive strain injury in both arms, which I have had at a severe level since 1999. Although there are occasions when my wrists swell up so badly that other people notice, RSI is mostly a nonvisual disability. Therefore I appreciate why most people are normally confused when my medical situation becomes something I need to explain.
Secondly I consider the word disabled to be a very powerful and important one. I think it is fair to summarise that the average person considers a disability to be something massive and obvious, for example someone that has lost a limb. Without a medical breakthrough re-growing a limb is not going to happen, it is not a case of thinking positive or eating better. As with most things in life, the concept of disability includes a wide range of things from the obvious to see to nonvisual, but also the severity of conditions can vary greatly from minor to extreme. However, I have been told by doctors and physiotherapists that I have a condition that may never heal and that affects my day-to-day life, and since on really bad days I struggle to perform basic tasks whilst also being in constant pain it is a disability.
A summary of my background is that I started using computers extensively when I was six in 1982, and besides a lot of gaming I have also dabbled in programming. I started working in a call centre in 1996 doing a lot of data input. By 1998 I had started developing regular wrist pain, I was advised that it would go away, which it did, but it kept coming back. By the summer of 1999 I was signed off due to my wrist pain becoming so chronic. At the time I was a brown belt in Japanese Jujitsu, as well as practising other martial arts like Wado Ryu Karate and Nippon Kempo, so I had to stop training to allow myself time to heal. The trouble is I never really healed, instead the pain eventually diminished to a background level, but would spike up occasionally to a more severe level.
After a year’s break I was told to get back on with my life, so I returned to martial arts training but now I had to be careful. I had a whole list of worries about returning to training: I was still in pain, my skills had deteriorated, I was physically unfit and had gained weight, I had worries about my injuries getting worse. A major issue was the worry of embarrassment for me and my training partners in an awkward situation because with certain things I would need special considerations: no wrist locks, ever! Crucially my fear was proven true as I met people who thought I was pretending to have a disability to avoid committing to hard work.
Considering I had trained for years and put a lot of effort in, including even full contact fighting in armour, the idea that I was avoiding hard work was extremely disrespectful, never mind any suggestion that I was hiding behind a fake disability. I had learned to accept the fact that I was never going to be an exceptional martial artist, but I could still do things, and the whole point is you don’t give up.
Eventually I got my black belt in Japanese Jujitsu (JJ), but it doesn’t mean you are an expert just that you’ve learnt some things. I started assisting with teaching, and then running my own classes, it was often fun and I found I could learn by teaching. I returned to Karate, and also started training kung fu. The whole time I would have wrist problems, sometimes quite badly, but again I did my best to manage things and keep going. A few years later I got my 2nd dan in JJ.
Unfortunately whilst training in Kung Fu I got an injury with my left hip that has never gone away. Despite a lot of physio and seeing specialists, the psoas minor muscle won’t heal properly and it has left the area weak. When I relax it wants to move out of alignment and is painful, I have to sleep in a certain position to avoid this problem; my RSI already often affects my sleep.
For years I wanted to train Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), so despite the same apprehensions mentioned above, about having to explain my situation to a whole new bunch of people, I started training in these styles. After training in Judo for a short while I also started BJJ. My first lesson of BJJ was great, and although I was familiar with many of the basic concepts of ground fighting I had not done that much practice of it; knowing about a thing does not make you good at it. I was really impressed with the teaching of someone who was to become an important part of my life, Mr Gary Savage of Sukata MMA.
Unfortunately I had to take a break from Judo and BJJ due to how bad my hip became, as well as my wrists, but after two years of physio and my wrists getting a lot better I was able to return to training. I was welcomed back by Gary, being back training again was awesome, even though I could barely do a single push-up or sit up, and despite the small amount of knowledge in my head my body just didn’t react well to get even what I did know to work. Within a few weeks I was training more than one session a week, and by then I could do nearly 10 push-ups without my wrists complaining.
By 2014 I am training 8 to 9 hours a week. I am a 4 tag blue belt, doing some assistant teaching and even running my own little throwing session. My fitness was starting to approach what it had been before developing my major injuries. Then at the end of November 2014 something tore in my right bicep whilst lifting some boxes, this led to a few months of recovery. In the mean-time I had started developing a problem with my right elbow, which the doctor said was ‘tennis elbow’, I was given some exercises to help, it took a long-time to heal, but was still extremely weak.
In February 2015 I was able to go back training, and I had even lost weight due to changing my eating regime, so I actually felt good when returning to training. A few weeks later I badly banged my left elbow at home on a door frame (!*&!), and after applying some witch hazel it swelled up quite badly! Throughout the first half of 2015 I have only done a bit of light training, and very little BJJ rolling, but I have assisted with teaching beginners because it is better to turn up and do something, than nothing.
Amazingly Mario ‘Sukata’ Neto moved to Blackpool and is the head coach of our club, which is now called ITC. His teaching and technical knowledge is amazing, but I have barely been able to train under him. Since he doesn’t know me, and hasn’t seen me train properly I worried about having to explain my situation to Mario. My paranoid inner monologue returned to yet again given me many reasons to quit, suggesting that by discussing things.
Thoughts that I would appear weak, cowardly, pathetic and called out as a liar, that if I trained I would get really bad injured, that I would piss off my training partners for not being a poor training partner. Also that training under someone of Mario’s ability would be a disservice to him because he should be teaching people who want to be champions. Years early I’d had the same paranoid thoughts when I first went to Gary, and had to fight those demons then, I could do so again. Like Gary, of course Mario understands hard work and what it means to have bad injuries, so unsurprisingly in reality he was understanding and helpful. With my injuries slowly getting better I was starting to get optimistic, that soon I could fight my way back to the previous October’s level of fitness and health.
Then in July my RSI escalated from minor to severe level, my doctor said it was likely so bad due to the injuries with my arms. Additionally my shoulders have also become really painful, but we think we have figured out how to fix this, I’ll explain that in another post.
So it’s now November and overall things are a tiny bit better. Following on from a previous post I made about long-term injuries, or disability, eventually you have to get back on with your life as best as you can. I kept Gary up to date, and then I went to the gym to chat in person. Gary suggested I again assist with beginners, to turn up and do what I can, that as normal I would have support. Although I am once again unable to do more than a press-up due to muscle weakness and pain, and again I have put weight on, plus there are new people at the club and thus likely a whole bunch of awkwardness, but it’s about not giving up. Like so many others I have found BJJ is overall full of welcoming practitioners, that I have my long-time great instructor Gary, and another great instructor in Mario that I’d like to get to know more. I have gotten back on the mats so many times after small and big problems, I can do so again.
Life is for living, as best as you can. You don’t tap out to life, because if you do, you are dead!
Before I write about the Heart of Thorns I think it is important to clarify for those that are unfamiliar with chronic long-term problems the mixed opinions of seemingly the majority of people. With short-term injuries/illness it is normal to put most things on hold, since time to rest and heal is required. However, with long-term issues the idea of keeping your life on hold becomes frustrating and possibly infuriating, with often no idea how long things will take to improve, or in some cases knowing that things will never improve.
So deciding when hobbies can be continued is an important part of the decision-making for some semblance of peace of mind. It should be easy for most people to understand that having a hobby taken away from you would be extremely upsetting/annoying, therefore it should not be a big leap of logic to appreciate why people who are not able-bodied, in the average sense, would still try to find a way to carry on with their hobbies.
Nearly two weeks ago the Guild Wars 2 (GW2) expansion Heart of Thorns came out, which I had pre-ordered when my wrists had not been so bad. So I was faced with a dilemma, whether to try and play the game despite my current RSI wrist problems, or leave it for a few months, or even indefinitely. Fortunately I carried out an experiment using my speech recognition software, Dragon NaturallySpeaking, and this proved to me that it is possible to control my character, but predictably with nowhere near the same efficiency level.
I was really looking forward to playing the Revenant, however due to the nature of using speech recognition to control the character I determined that I wouldn’t be able to do a good job of controlling a profession I did not know. Since GW2 came out my main character has been a Ranger, and fortunately this meant that my best geared character, as well as the profession I am most knowledgeable about also has a better chance of standing at range using the pet to tank. This means my character is rarely close to an enemy, thus in less danger, and therefore better suiting a casual playing style. With the option to give the pet taunt (new to GW2) via its F2 power, this provides an extra margin of control in the fight that I found reduced my need to carry out fewer reactions.
Part of why I enjoy Guild wars 2 is because I love the emphasis on movement, and in particular their dodge system. However, when it comes to minimising keypresses GW2 is not ideal in many of its fights, particularly boss fights. I found that saying “press control V” generally was fast enough for my character to dodge out of the way of danger, and using the various attacks was simple enough, for example “press 1”. With auto run having a key bind, and the fact the character will keep attacking without having to constantly say “press 1”, this is why I consider it playable enough.
Occasionally there is an extra pause whilst the software determines what is being said, and this has led to me learning to be quick with my verbal reactions, which was initially difficult due to it being a different way of playing.
This also meant changing gear away from full Berserker set, to something more survivable. I almost never die in combat, and am very rarely even downed, which I rate as good game play, especially considering how brutal some fights are in Heart of Thorns. Granted I am being a bit more cautious than normal, more attentive, but as with all game play, the player’s decision making and assessment of what they can achieve is a core part of skill. So, maybe oddly to some, I actually enjoyed my time playing, although in part because I have had a break from gaming.
I wrote a review for Noobgrind about a summary of my opinions of Heart of Thorns. The length of the article quickly became an obvious enemy, there is just so much to write about, but since the article was starting to approach two thousand words I decided to keep it brief, and look for bits to cut out. I decided that similar things I want to write about could be in another article.
Unfortunately due to my current pain level with arms, and recently shoulder pain, I won’t be able to play the expansion. Maybe not for quite some time. However GW2 is a game I can normally play a bit, at a casual level without flaring up RSI.
The article is around 2000 words, but considering the good and bad things I could rant about, it is quite short 😉 So much more I would have liked to mention, never mind speculate about, so saving that stuff for a later article.
So, I am finally working on my first blog post and I immediately hit what I imagine to be the common issue: where to start? Because I have RSI I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking, although it is an amazing speech recognition program it has yet to gain the function to answer me. So I messaged a friend and in the process of waffling about the fact I wasn’t sure whether to put the idea of blogging back on indefinite hold, or trying to fit as much information as possible into the very first blog post! I received some great replies like “The blank page is not your enemy.” & “Do you need to reread The Art of War?” It struck me that whilst the idea of writing a ‘why I post’ overview is cliché, there is a reason why that type of post is so common.
I have chosen to write (speak) a blog since I’ve spent the last year being very busy trying to turn one of my many ideas into something more useful. This year finishing a project is not my enemy, letting go of something isn’t my enemy. I understand that peer pressure can greatly motivate us, but I have intentionally avoided discussing ideas or thoughts in any kind of public way since leaving my job as a game designer and role-playing games master. I have gotten in to a habit of writing/designing things to a level that I am happy with, but then I get distracted by another idea; I hadn’t felt the need to finish anything professionally, since I have not been a professional for years, and thus I have no deadline. Whilst at University I had to finish things, so I got the urge to complete something out of my system, to a degree (pun intended). Earlier this year I discussed my plans with friends and family to focus on finishing a big project, so posting about this on the Internet is the next big step. More importantly than peer pressure, thankfully I want to finish the things I am working on, and I have not gotten bored.