I live in a little old square cottage. I reserve the front door for able bodied visitors and enter myself through the back door which goes into a porch between the kitchen and bathroom extension. The kitchen, bathroom, back yard and garden beyond is the first kingdom; the ‘Kingdom of Occupational Therapy’. Here I practise everything I learnt from that first accident that injured my legs; how to live well with a damaged body. Luckily the layout of the bathroom was perfectly suited to my wheelchair use, but the kitchen I have designed to best suit my needs. The garden I created, appropriately, from a wilderness and the field beyond I fenced in a way that enables me to manage it with sheep.
It is so important that all of us (regardless of physical condition) organize our lives to ensure that our occupation is therapeutic. Far too many people live lives that slowly grind them down. However, if you wish to heal a body that is as severely damaged as mine, then it is absolutely vital that your occupation is therapeutic. Every activity of daily living must encourage physical and mental well being. Much of this is a matter of simple alterations from the norm, lowering worktops in the kitchen and making sure there is space underneath to accommodate your knees, but without such alterations coping would be difficult and life would become too demanding upon physical reserves. The other side is about engineering life, be it work or hobbies, to provide for your spiritual well being. With me this is about land and animals; dogs, sheep and geese.
The kitchen is as far as I go in a wheelchair. Across the doorway is a bench which I clamber onto to enter into the front room. This is my therapy room and ‘Leonid’s Kingdom’. Leonid Blyum is my consultant and teacher of the therapy that is healing my body and here I follow, strictly, his exercise regime. Most of this involves five, three hour long, sessions a week in which my therapists, whom Leonid has taught, work upon my body. There are also active exercises that I do myself, but whether I am worked upon or active myself, I do as I am told in this kingdom.
From my therapy room I climb off the end of the bench into my living room in the other front corner of the cottage. This is my television room and I live on the floor in this room, with plenty of good cushions! For years, Leonid’s influence dominated in this room also, but I am pleased to say that I have finally conquered this quadrant and made it ‘My Own Kingdom’. It is, however, very much still a therapy room where I conduct exercises most evenings in front of the television, but they are exercises that are now driven by my own techniques. These are, of course, based upon ABR principals and all that I have learnt from ten years of Leonid’s tutorship.
Recently we have brought my pelvis back to life and created connection between the elements of the trunk, from the top of the head to pelvic floor. The connection is still very weak and there is much more work to do before this can translate into productive use of the legs, but it has created far greater stability to the trunk which enables me to use it in ways that can generate a mechanical input into the system. Without going into too much technical detail it involves the creation of quasi static movement by working against the air in soft therapy balls, oscillating between action and reaction to impart rhythmical stresses within the structural framework of the body and so working that structure to improve its strength and quality. To start with all ABR exercises were passive, being mostly delivered by a helper, and even those I could conduct upon myself were a case of using conscious effort at the hand to deliver an input into a passive part of the body. The active exercises that Leonid then introduced are far more physical (generally working in kneeling and creating a kind of bouncing motion upon an air cushion to deliver an input into the knees and up higher into the system) and impart a greater feeling for the way in which the input works into the body, but there is still that distinction between creation and absorption of input. The self exercises that I am now working at are almost as though the creation of the movement is the input. It is about connecting the body to the element of air so that the oscillating movements created by working against the air in the therapy balls are almost devoid of muscular action. I find these exercises have a meditative element to them and help in creating a higher conscious awareness of the structure of the body. They also help me wind down at the end of the day and prepare myself for sleep, but please be clear that we are essentially dealing with a mechanical input into the body.
From my television room I crawl into my bedroom at the back of the cottage and climb into bed. There is a saying that goes, ‘my body is a temple’, and it tends to be very misunderstood. People seem to think that it is about what you put into your body; treating it to only the purest of foods and avoiding any stimulants, but it actually has nothing to do with how you look after your body. When we sleep we leave our physical bodies and then return again to them upon waking to find them still living. Whatever you think of this statement, this is the origin of the saying. Our bodies are a temple because they belong to the Gods. The Gods look after them while we are asleep. For this reason I consider my bedroom to be ‘Gods’ Kingdom’. Don’t think, though, that the therapeutic nature of this kingdom is purely about sleep. Leonid invented a machine to deliver ABR therapy which can be used at night. I sometimes wish he had never invented it but since he has I feel that I would be cheating myself if I did not make use of it. Through the inflation and deflation of air bladders, strapped to the body in conjunction with foam air cushions, it delivers a mechanical input in much the same way as we do by hand. I use it on my knees and ankles to slowly improve their quality. I’m sure the Gods won’t mind me delivering therapy to my body while I’m elsewhere in sleep.