Taking Time to Take Time

There’s a lot to be said for the satisfaction of a job well done.

Plan – Execute – Complete: It’s kind of become my mantra in the last couple of years.

After taking nearly a year off work, I made a return to the Mechanic’s Workshop in Sheffield but not on the same amount of hours as before.

One of the many things that I gained in my time away was a new perspective on my work/life balance and how I wanted it to be in the future. You see, although I might have lost a leg in the accident, I could have lost a lot more.

In the midst of my recovery, one of the recurring thoughts that spurred me on was that if I’d been driving just a few miles per hour faster, or if I’d been hit from a slightly different angle, I might not be here at all to write this blog.

Although I’ve always enjoyed working in the garage, I realised that spending 40-50 hours a week there wasn’t how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. Working on cars, bringing them back to life, and straightening out their kinks has always been a passion of mine; but I’ve come to realise that it can’t be the only thing that I do with my life.

Up until the accident my wife worked part-time.

Whilst I took some time off to get my head straight and do my physical therapy she moved over to full time, something she thought she’d never enjoy doing. But, much to her surprise, she picked up my slack and found that she loved being busier.

With our lifestyle essentially switched around I’ve now got an extra 20 hours at home during the week to do all of the little jobs and tasks that have been nagging me at the back of my head for the last year or so.

You might think that I’d got something done whilst I’d spent half a year on my arse – but in truth, I was spending most of the time vacantly staring out the window – time well spent

Now I’ve got the time (and the motivation!) to achieve the goals that I set out, I’ve started to make some changes around the house and get a little hands-on with some modifications that needed to be made.

Since my return to mental well being after cooking for my wife, I’ve taken a much greater interest in improving my culinary skills (much to her alarm…) but the kitchen proved to be rather difficult to navigate with only one leg.

Whilst we’ve got a man in making the necessary changes, we’re also getting the oven seen to. I may or may not have caused a slight fire in there during the first few weeks of my new cooking phase – either way a few  lamona oven repairs are definitely required.

Along with fixing up the Capri and spending a few hours with the basketball team, I’ve kind of got my hands full now and I couldn’t be happier.

Let’s just hope that the new kitchen survives my new interest in it!

Improving My Mood

It’s been nearly two years since I lost my right leg and I’d be lying if I said that my mood wasn’t still affected by it.

Although I wouldn’t go as far as to call it ‘depression’, I can definitely recall a time when I was exhibiting all the signs of that particular condition.

Mental Health might be something that has worked it’s way into the public consciousness in recent years, but there are still large swathes of people who are suffering from some form of mental illness and do not feel like that they can tell anyone else about it.

I know that when I was feeling at my lowest, it didn’t once cross my mind to tell anyone else about it. I felt that no good would come of it. Me telling my wife or my colleagues about how I was feeling wouldn’t help me in any way, all I would achieve would be to bring others down with me.

Today, I’m less and less affected by it, but if it wasn’t for the help of my family and friends, I might have never got out of that hole. I’ve collected a few of the things that helped me the most, everyone will react to depression in different ways. If you think that you or a friend might be suffering from some form of depression it’s always best to talk to a professional:

Change your lifestyle

I’ve spoken before about the benefits of changing your lifestyle. Simple, small changes can often make the world of difference. Things like reducing the amount of alcohol that you consumer per week, cutting out smoking and eating healthy can often be the most challenging when you’re struggling with your mood.

Often these are the things that provide a small glimmer of light in an otherwise dark day – however, they can be replaced with other things. Exercising regularly and getting a good amount of sleep on a daily basis can often do wonders.

Photodynamic therapy

It might sound silly but a little bit of light can go a long way to improve your mood. During the first winter months without my leg, I found it difficult to bring myself out of the house. The idea of leaving the house on crutches or, even worse, in the wheelchair was too much for me. The longer that I stayed in the house, the more morose I became.

Without my daily dose of Vitamin D, my body was not producing any serotonin which lead to my condition worsening. Luckily, my wife suggested that I get some PDT at just the right moment – after 2 weeks worth of sessions, I finally felt like leaving the house by myself.

Plan – Execute – Complete

Making plans for the future with people who are depressed, or might be considering ending their lives, is a way of taking their mind off their problems and delaying their final decision. What’s even better than this is finding a way for them to make plans for themselves.

The moment that I knew I was over the hill was when I decided to cook dinner for my wife. I’d sat in a virtually catatonic state for weeks, only leaving my chair to get some food. When the food ran out, I knew that my wife was testing me. Getting up, planning a meal, buying the ingredients and cooking a meal for her did more for me than any kind of medication ever could.

At the end of the day, talking about how you’re feeling will always help. Make sure that your voice is heard and don’t suffer in silence.

Sunday Walks, Capris and Broken Things

After making a raft of lifestyle changes back in October, I was given the all clear to return back to work.

Mechanics have a bad reputation in this country.

The stereotype of a sexist, overweight man in greasy overalls and a leering face is one that has existed for decades.

There might well be grounds for this in some parts of the country, but for my part I’ve never known one of them. The mechanics that I’ve met, from within my own working life and through my Father and Grandfather’s businesses, have always been good men – methodical, patient and generous.

Before the accident, I’d spent nearly 10 years working at the same Mechanics in Sheffield. I’ve always loved engines and have spent the majority of my life taking them apart and putting them back together again. The Automobile trade has been in our family for decades. My Grandfather was a used car salesman in the 60s, a profession that earned him a lot of money and naturally led him into an expensive habit for collecting rusted buckets and classic barn finds. I spent my childhood with him and my Father, in his grimy garage, fussing over greasy motors and hunting through scrap heaps for that one special part.

Probably our greatest achievement as a team was bringing an old Ford Capri back to life.

I still remember the day that we found her.

Most families take their Sunday walks through parks, forests or beaches – my family loved scrap yards. We’d wander through these strange wastelands of forgotten things, chatting amiably whilst casting a scrutinous eye over the mountains of long rusted Beetles, Fiestas, Transits and Kias. Parts and pieces littered the ground around these huge stacks, one would occasionally grab my Grandfather’s attention and he would spend the rest of the walk turning it over in his big hands, trying to understand where it had started it’s life.

We were taking a leisurely stroll through a local yard, the dog bouncing ahead of us, sniffing piles of trash and thinking better of inspecting them any further, when my Father’s eagle eyes spotted a distinctive ducktail spoiler poking out of a particularly large stack of vans. He stopped in his tracks and stared. This meant one of two things, he’d forgotten to lock up the garage back home or he’d just spotted something else. Before he could say anything, my Grandfather saw it. “Go get the man, Matthew, I’m buying that Capri.”

It took us nearly 2 years to get that beauty moving. There were nearly 2 million of these vehicles sold between 1968 and 1986, but finding the right parts for our model was a challenge, especially without the use of the internet. Nothing could compare to the first time that engine turned over though. The sputter, the cough and then a glorious roar. That sound cemented my future as a mechanic, but it also instilled me with the same care and love for broken things that I’d witnessed in them men of my family, as well as my colleagues at work.

Their obsession for taking a broken thing and returning it to the working world is something that I admired more than anything – it meant that I was never worried about returning to work.

How I Reclaimed My Happiness

The loss of a limb causes a psychological toll on the amputee, something that is often overlooked by those on the outside.

The experience is something so uniquely powerful that it can completely consume one’s mind.

The best way to describe it is as an overwhelming mixture of regret, despair and despondency.

You might be wondering how one could regret losing a limb – put simply, you end up sitting for days on end thinking about all the things that you didn’t do whilst you were able-bodied. The despair comes when you realise that there is no way you can return to the way that you once were and the despondency sets in when you understand that there’s nothing that you can do about it.

The only way that I could move forward was by forging on with my own life. Here are some of the things that you can try doing if you’ve found yourself in a similar mental situation:

Seeking out new experiences

There’s nothing quite like a new experience to widen your horizons and improve your self-esteem.

I’ve met so many people who have seen their amputation as the end of their personal development. They feel like they’ll be forever limited as to what they can do. To a certain extent they’re right, but in today’s day and age there are a million other things that you could learn, read, play, watch and do.

Wheel-chair basketball turned out to be a great way for me to meet other people in a similar situation, making me feel less alone with my condition.

Staying mindful

It can be too easy to slip into a bad mood. Sometimes there’s simply no avoiding it. Perhaps you’ve stubbed your toe, or maybe you’ve just completely failed at something that you could have easily done before your own accident or condition had developed.

Life is full of ups and downs, regardless of your condition. Everyone has good days and bad days – the trick is to be aware of when you’re slipping into a dark mood.

Recognise that the thoughts you are having are negative and that repeating them will only worsen your state of mind.

Socialising and going out

Going out was not on the agenda for me for the first three months of my life as a disabled person. I felt like I stuck out, like I was drawing attention simply by existing and, worst of all, I was pitied by every single person that I met.

People’s apologetic looks and sympathetic gazes were perhaps harder to deal with than simply being ignored. Put simply, I had to come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t change the way people thought about me – in that respect, nothing had changed.

Forcing myself out repeatedly was the only way I could come to terms with this.

Planning for the future

I found it all too easy to slip into a state of despondency after my accident. I saw no reason to plan for the years ahead, even looking ahead by a week seemed futile. However, after bringing myself out of my reverie by making my wife dinner of all things, I understood the power and confidence that can be gained by making a plan, executing it and completing it.

The key to my return to sound mental well being was repeating this system, so that I was constantly in one of these stages with short, mid and long-term goals.

As with all my recommendations, these are simply the tools that helped me to regain my confidence – I hope that they can help you to do the same.

Building Healthy Habits

It can be all too easy to just give up after a life-changing accident.

The loss of a limb is a heavy loss, hindering you from doing many daily activities that you would have taken for granted.

Simple tasks such a tidying the house, washing the dishes or vacuuming, suddenly become logistical nightmares with the real risk of injuring yourself, if you’re not careful.

In my adjustment period, before I rejoined the working force, the doctors told me to go home and get accustomed to my home. I was impatient to go back to my old life, but was shocked to discover that the simplest acts of just climbing the stairs or dressing myself had become serious challenges that suddenly needed addressing.

Not only did I have to adjust physically to surroundings that had once felt so familiar, but I also had to change my behaviour in terms of lifestyle choices. With half a leg missing, my body was less capable of performing the feats of transportation that had seemed so simple before. As a result, I had to make serious lifestyle changes in order achieve and sustain a healthy life.

 

Diet

dietComfort eating is not an endemic symptom of limb loss. Millions of people, whether consciously or subconsciously, indulge in food to sate their emotional shortcomings every day. Whether it’s due to a feeling of loss or self-pity – food has an instantly intoxicating effect on the body, bombarding our brains with endorphins that make us feel better.

There’s nothing wrong with indulging sporadically but, just like with drugs, regular lapses in judgement can cause you to rely on these binges in order to feel ‘normal’.

At home for the first 4 weeks, I put on a stone in weight. Without any daily activity and eating more as a result of being so down, I gained so quickly that my wife barely noticed the change. When she did, I was in for it though. There’s only so much self-loathing she’ll stand for, soon the junk food was thrown out and the super food was in. Low-carbs, low-sugars and high proteins with vitamin supplements. Of course, this wasn’t enough in itself to help my recovery.

Exercise

exerciseHaving gained control over my diet, I now needed to get back into engaging in more physical activity. With my wife prodding me in the back every step of the way, I joined the gym – found a local running club – and tried by best to vacuum the house.

With me on my arse for the best part of a month, the house has started to fall into decrepitude somewhat. I usually shared the cleaning chores with my wife, finding the act of relearning all these tasks too frustrating, they’d been left by the wayside somewhat – and we’d somehow fallen back into living in squalor, as if we were back in our student days.

Vacuuming was a challenge, mopping the floor was even harder and I nearly lost my other leg attempting to mow the lawn. Still, the next challenge was something that I had needed to do for a long time.

Smoking

vapingI know this was one lifestyle change that my wife had been waiting for me to make for a long time. Losing my leg in such a violent fashion had forced me to accept my life on new terms. If the accident had gone any differently, I could very easily have been dead.

Although I now had to learn how to approach life in a completely new way, I also had the opportunity to make some positive changes for the future, namely: Quitting Smoking.

My wife and I had been smokers throughout University. Frantically finishing essays with hours spare, we’d spend half the nights puffing away and it was a habit that only I had continued. After researching it online, I found that nicotine withdrawal symptoms had a surprising amount of correlations with losing a limb. Wasting no time, I had a look online and took a look into the burgeoning culture of ‘vaping’. XO Vape E-Cig Batteries and Mods seemed to be the best choice on the market.

With a weekly exercise and diet plan in place, my life had become healthier and I could finally breathe that little bit easier.

Self-Realisation & Amputation

Something that a great deal of amputees will be able to relate to is the notion of wanting to go back to sleep, to just make everything all better again.

Waking up, still bleary from the anaesthetic, with an empty, numb sensation floating where your limb should be is a nightmare that every amputee wishes they could wake up from.

waking-up-artFor some, the amputation may be a preordained ordeal (135 amputations are made a week due to diabetes alone) but for others, such as myself, the fist incision may well be made by extraneous unforeseen circumstances.

The flash of a speeding car, the glance of a passing motorbike – two small, seemingly unrelated events leading to what could essentially be an irrevocable change in someone’s life. With self-realisation in my tool kit, I was able to picture a happier, satisfied version of myself – set within the new reality of my disability.

The first step was accepting the loss of my leg. I had prided myself on being an independent individual, headstrong and assertive person. When my leg was taken from me in a violent collision with another car, the physical impact was so strong that I felt that I was almost a different person.

One of the most common mental issues that people struggling with new disabilities (of any kind) suffer from is the fear they are inconveniencing their loved ones in some way. That their predicament has led those who they hold closest to see them as different, as less than they were before. There is no way that you can control other people’s reactions to your new found status.

I remember, in the first few days that I was allowed home from the hospital, I would obsess with this notion. The idea that my wife was now lumped with a husband who relied on her, not just for love and support, but for mobility of the most meagre kind, left me sleepless at night.

She didn’t let me mope for long.

nightmareJust a week after I’d returned home, she started prodding and probing me for reactions. ‘How do you feel?’ ‘Are you going to leave the house today?’ ‘How about helping me with the washing up?’ She’d taken it upon herself to bring me out of my self-contained stupor and shake me into activity once more. That’s all it took.

I met young men in hospital, who’d attempted suicide through drinking, drugs – you name it. These guys were never older than 26 or so, still kids really. They’d felt that their lives had lost all meaning and the only answer was to fall into oblivion. Sometimes, I think the doctors were using me as a way of guilt-tripping these dourful lads into appreciating the quality of their own lives. But, it’s all relative really.

The only advice I would give to them now, if I could, would be to stay active. Get up, make a plan and execute it. The simple act of achieving goals, no matter how small, gives our brains a rush of endorphins that snowball into happiness.

If you’re wondering, yes. Yes, I did get off my arse and help her with the washing up – and I’d never felt better about doing it.

washing-up