Loving the ‘dead leg’ again

I was recently listening to a woman’s hour podcast, in which the photographer and author Laura Dodsworth was being interviewed along with some of the models from her most recent book. Manhood the bare reality.  The book focused on one to one interviews with men and how they felt about their body along side a photo of their penis.  This is the second book in the series, in 2015 Laura published Bare Reality 100 woman — their breast theirs stories.

When I got home I ordered both books, as I flicked though them both (I have to confess I have not read them cover to cover.) There was plenty of interviews from cancer survivors or how changing the function like having a child and needing to breast feed changed the persons view of their bodies.  I came across one interview with a man who as spina bifida, he stated his impairment disables him when he interacts with society and states sexuality is more complex when you are disabled.  I began to reflect on how I feel about my ‘disabled’ body and in particular that leg, the right one the one that causes me all that pain.

Over the years I have explored how I feel about my leg, within poetry and a few years ago for an art exhibition at work.  I took a series of photos of my feet in various situations to reflect how different they looked and how I managed different occupations.  For this blog I have decided to revisit this idea.  As a child I used to refer to it as the ‘dead leg,’  but do I need to readdress my relationship with my leg and embrace it?

Its swollen, bruised, scarred, I don’t have an ankle,  it looks and feels odd,  its on my mind all the time as every movement I make is a painful reminder its still there.

Some days it tells be to stay in bed, other days I ignore it and carry on regardless,  but every now and again it catches me out,  with a good pain free day or a day of tears and feeling sorry for myself.

  • I hate that in makes me wear flat sensible shoes that don’t go with the outfits I would like to wear,
  • I hate that it sometimes stops me from doing the things I want to, need to or that I am required to do.
  • I hate that I have to rely on others, during this time.
  • I hate having to justify myself to health professionals as I go to yet another appointment that does not solved my problem.
  • I hate that people give me advise all the time as if you have not researched it and tried everything yourself.
  • Most of all I hate how it dominates my thoughts I feel the need to talk about it all the time —  it must be so boring for others.

But these are bad days and there not everyday.

  • I love planning out my day in detail to minimise the amount of walking,
  • I love a duvet day,
  • I love the unique insight into the world it gives me in particular how I look at each new environment, to work out how can I do this.
  • I love the comforting conversations its allowed me to have with others,
  • I love how it has brought me closer to friends and family,
  • I love how it forces me to think differently, and creatively,
  • And I confess I love the opportunities it gives me to talk about myself.

I’m not ashamed of my body the leg or any part,  it is what it is.  These series of photographs help me love the leg again.

 

My take on the Royal College of Occupational Therapists conference June 19th -20th 2017

IMG_6854What a fun, productive, motivating, challenging and tiring two days that was.

I try to draw out the positives in everything but today’s blog will start with a few negative points.

This was the first year, the now “Royal” college of occupational therapists held its conference in the IIC in Birmingham,  the venue is bright and modern, however the layout is confusing,  all areas are accessible but often using a lift rather than the stairs meant a longer walk,  which made getting to workshops within a timely manner difficult.  There was no pre booking for sessions before conference.  Many people were turned away, and often because of the distances and layout of the building,  you did not have time to get to another session. – My feed back to RCOT will highlight these two issues heavily.

This years conference sponsors also brought some controversy.  Capita, a company which carries out Personal Independence Payments assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.  Capita recently placed an advert in OT news which has upset some occupational therapists as it has used the tag line ‘This is what you trained for’.  Before and during the conference occupational therapists and those who have had experiences of PIP assessments have been using twitter and the hash tag #NotWhatITrainedFor, to express their disappointment with Capita’s association with the royal college.

Personally this relationship sits uncomfortably with me,  As a person with a disability still in receipt of DLA awaiting my letter for a PIP assessment,  but also as a occupational therapist who has worked with many people that have had poor experiences of the PIP assessment, which has caused unnecessary stress, and feelings of low self worth.  As Occupational Therapists we are best placed to assess how a persons disability/ mental health problem or learning disability impacts on the persons ability to function, and what level of support is required to live a life that is meaningful to that individual, but I don’t believe the PIP assessment system, uses evidence based occupation focused assessments to determined its out comes.  As Occupational Therapists we must advocate for those we work with,  in my experiences working with those with mental health problems this assessment has only added stress and worry and in some cases severe mental distress leading to a relapse and readmission to hospital rather them giving support.

I feel strongly as a profession and professional body we should be advocating for those we work with to ensure fairness. A slight word of warning tho,  I am concerned that some of what I have seen on social media condemning this relationship has become personal, towards those Occupational therapists that are employed by Capita.  Let’s learn from the recent general election campaigns,  and take a leaf out of Jeremy Corbyn’s book.  I encourage a constructive an open dialogue with the Royal College of occupational therapists about this issue.  But please I ask let’s not run a negative campaign that focuses on personal attacks.  This just distracts from the issue.

This year I funded myself which gave me the freedom to attend sessions and workshops that interested me and were not just purely work related.

The opening plenary – The first Keynote speaker was Paul McGee I’m guessing a professional motivational speaker, he is also known as the SUMO Guy. ‘Shut up and move on’ he told some funny stories and encouraged us to look for open doors, but in my opinion did not bring anything to the conference.   The second Plenary Speaker was Dr Winnie Dunn from the University of Kansas, she is  internationally known as an expert in the field of sensory processing in everyday life.  As a novice in sensory processing – this gave me a foundation in this theory.  She  emphasised not using sensory assessments to label clients based on their scores, and explained that every one has a sensory profile.  –  this is an area I know I need to learn more about.  – perhaps a challenge for this year.

Session 3 Education – Teresa Rushton from Coventry University – Understanding the experiences of occupational therapy students with additional support requirements, whilst studying BSc (Hons) in occupational therapy,  this was a small study with Occupational therapy students and their experiences whilst on placement.   Although its important to research and understand the experiences of students in this manner I found myself feeling disappointed that it focused on the negative experiences. It saddens me that 11 years on from qualifying, students and educators are still finding making reasonable adjustments for someone who needs it a challenge.  When will the profession recognised that those with disabilities have so much to offer?

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Session 24 – Introducing RCOT’s new career development Framework:  – this framework has nine levels of skills covering clinical, educational, research, or managerial roles.   The aim is to cover all possible kinds of careers in occupational therapy. This is a great resource one I need to spend some time mapping myself against. If your using this tool please let RCOT know what you think on twitter using the hashtag #RCOTCareerFramework.

Professor Diane Cox gave the Casson memorial lecture this year ‘Life as an occupational being’. She gave an overview of occupational therapy its origins and meaning, reminding us of the importance of occupation  “Occupation is as old as humanity” (Reed et al, 2012) and from Brock (1934): “Occupation is not a secondary matter. It is a primary need of an individual’s life”.  So we must keep occupation central in our practice and research. I was struck with a quote she shared from Elisabeth Casson in 1941- ‘rehabilitation needs serious attention at present’, does this quote still stand today?   Diane went on to explain although occupational therapy has been voted as the least likely job to be taken over by Robot’s, on the surface it can be seen as simple, she urged us to combat this common misconception by getting work and research then  Published Published Published!! If you would like to read more about this lecture please see the Otalk blog here.

IMG_6796One of the sessions I was most looking forward to attending was session 63 – Occupational Therapy – a feminist profession? – Heather Davidson from the University of Salford, explained there is very little written on this subject.  We explored the links between occupational therapy and feminism, that it was a movement started by women, to empower people.  However is it still seen as a white middle class profession for young ladies?  Some of the debate and conversation within the workshop turn to men in the profession and how they might feel in the minority –  which as a feminist I found frustrating.

 

Something else new this year and that I was looking forward to, was the occupation stations – these were hands on workshops exploring occupations like bird watching, crochet, bead making and origami. These were very popular sessions and unfortunately I could not get in to one,  however from twitter and chatting with those that did attend, they were excellent sessions – lets not forget our roots of doing things with people.

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Dr Jennifer Creek gave the closing plenary the empire strikes back ; learning from the practise of Occupational Therapists working in the margins, she as always was thought provoking  and challenged us to think about our practise – has it became static and have we lost our focus on occupation. Jennifer took us on a journey from the origins of our profession and the rise in women’s movement from the late 19th century, to what it is in present day,  she ask us to pay more attention to practice that is happening on the margins if we want to seek answers to some of the major challenges we face currently, and want to discover places where creativity happens.

We were then treated to a hilarious presentation given by Tina Coldham a mental health campaigner – last night an OT saved my life,  reminding us that talking with and discovering what is important to the person you are working with can really make that difference.

Julia Scott chief executive of the Royal college of occupational therapists them gave her usual take home message,  this year she urged us not to abbreviate our profession to its initials, She believes by using our full title this will reduce the confusion between occupational therapy and occupational therapist and also give us more standing within the medical community –  Julia I will endeavour to do this and have try to throughout this blog (however to save characters on twitter I will at times still use OT)

I get so much from going to conference and understand it is a privilege to be able to attend, however I would urge those that were not able to go to do two things,  check out the #COT2017 on twitter for all the goings on and to read blogs that were written live at the event – all available on the Otalk blog here.   For me as an OT geek its an opportunity to learn, be challenged but also to network and socialise with those friends I have made over the years,  and a time when some of us from the Otalk team get to see each other in person.

Although I learnt lots, my favourite was spending time with friends.  You know you have had a good night out when you wake up the next morning with a green balloon attached to your walking stick.