Despair, and Determination

Backstory: In 2010 I had a pretty bad stroke, and I probably should have  died, but thanks to a series of remarkably lucky events I stayed alive. I learned to breathe and swallow, eventually moving from my bed to a wheelchair and then to a brace and cane. I got the use of some fingers back and can pinch a circular needle now. In short, I have spent the last seven years recovering from my stroke, and I still have a lot of improvement to go, but I am working on it.

My stroke paralyzed my right side, and I was right-handed, which meant that besides all the stuff that I needed to learn how to do all over again like breathing and swallowing, there was the added trauma of learning to do everything in life not only one-handed, but left-handed as well. Sometimes life just sucks so much. But, I'm still alive. Gotta love it.

Thanks to the fact that it was 2010, technology made it possible that I didn't have to learn to write. My occupational therapist let me focus on my knitting, and it was a good thing that she did. With the exception of the very rare occasions that I have had to legibly sign my name on paper (I can count on one hand how many times it was) I have never had to write anything by hand at all. Handwriting schmandwriting, we can all just keyboard. Keyboarding is faster and easier and more legible than handwriting anyway! Yay!

But in the back of my mind, a frown was growing. A feeling that I was not doing something important to learn for my mind and my well-being. I spent a lot of time ignoring it, and spent the time walking and improving my knitting. My knitting now is exactly as it was before my stroke. I am pleased with that.

But the frown in my mind had not abated, it had grown and time had not made it go away. The dark, seamy side of What Can't I Do suddenly took on a name: I couldn't handwrite. Everything else in life, I had made progress on, significant progress. But I couldn't handwrite a story neatly and legibly. For someone who had taught penmanship to junior high students (at least a little bit), that really grated on my nerves.

I was always the woman in love with journals and pencils and pens. I loved to write, I spent many happy hours writing my journal and my stories. I loved the feel of the pencil or the pen as it moved across the paper. As I hand-wrote, I could think about what it was that I wanted to say. You could say that my mind poured out through my pen onto my paper.

I had set up a thing with my sister who had been a primary school teacher, and I would write her a letter every week, and it seemed to help ... but then she died and I quit writing again. By this point it was 2015, five years after my stroke. I searched the internet for anything about learning to write and was met with thousands of second grade level happy little worksheets. I did some of them, but you know. I was 55 years old.  I determined to get a notebook and write every day.  Sadly, no one ever needed to have anything handwritten anymore. I despaired and flirted with depression.

IMG_0371

That is what I wrote on January 6, 2015. It is appallingly bad, especially when you realize I wrote it agonizingly slowly. I was writing at my best. 

I wrote like that for a few months and quit. 

IMG_0372

That is from December 14 of the same year. My handwriting was even worse.  So then I really quit. Quit quitter quit quit quit. There was still keyboarding, thank God.

I got into coloring books, thinking that that would help train my fingers to hold a pencil, and to my surprise I could color without making a mess of things:

IMG_0377

But, it was so slow that it wasn't any fun anymore. I started a couple more pictures and I quit. Again.

IMG_0379   IMG_0379

Time passed, two years went by, but the little frowny face in my mind was still there and fuming. It just rankled me that there was something that I couldn't do, something that I couldn't work on to make better. So back to  the internet I went. 

And holy pencils Batman! There it was!! 

IMG_0370

Handwriting for Heroes: Learn to Write with Your Non-dominant Hand in Six Weeks, by Kathleen E. Yancosek, Kristin Gulick, & Amanda Sammons. All the alphabet letters after their names mean that the authors are totally qualified in occupational therapy. These authors are gods. The bibliography in the book alone is impressive.

Handwriting for Heroes was originally written for people in the military who had lost the use of their hand which had been used for handwriting. It has grown to be used by stroke victims and many others: people who due to surgery or a short-term illness to their dominant hand have to write for their jobs, even people who just want to be able to write legibly with their non-dominant hand for the fun of it. I like it because finally I found something that made me handwrite, but without the hassle of going back to primary school.

For the past six weeks I have followed the course set out in the book. It is more like a workbook. There are various exercises in the pages to make me write every day, for about an hour. Yes, at first I had to take lots of breaks, and my writing really sucked. Right at the beginning of the book, at the top of the introduction, the authors say in big letters that you can't miss, in slightly more pleasant words, that your writing is gonna really suck out loud, that my hand will feel weird as hell holding the pencil, and this is gonna take a lot of time. 

My writing really sucked at the beginning when I set down my goals for the week:

FullSizeRender (73)

But bit by bit my writing grew to resemble normalcy:

IMG_0374

I can write again. My handwriting is still not perfect, not as pretty as it used to be, and it is not as fast as it used to be, but now I can work on it. Handwriting for Heroes helped me jumpstart my writing, and now I can work to make it easier and better and maybe, just maybe, I'll get back to the kind of writing I used to enjoy.

IMG_0359


Wet and Crazy!

I decided after much dithering to wet block the pieces of Sylvi. My sister used to dither about lots of things, especially things she was afraid of doing. After a week of not sewing the pieces of Sylvi together, I realized that I, too, was doing what I used to give Rachel hell for doing. "Just do it already! What are you so afraid of? What is the worst that could happen?" I would tell her. So, I took my own advice and wet blocked the pieces. I had thought long and hard about blocking the coat all sewn together, and what a nightmare it would be. Blocking the pieces proved to be much easier and, in fact, enjoyable. 

FullSizeRender (45)

It is amazing how much wool changes when it is wet. These pieces were placed in the washing machine, which was then filled with water, set a while, and then spun dry. Easy peasy. When I started to pin them to the blocking board (really a slab of blue insulaton board, don't tell), it was magical how they were so easy to pull into shape! The en-even edges became even, the cable down the back that dipped down making a U-shape was easy to straighten out. I loved it! So that's where Sylvi is now: drying. It will be easy to sew together now, I can easily imagine it. The hood will be fun to knit (actually knitting this coat was pretty enjoyable), and the petals will be no problem to knit either, now that the fabric seems so flexible and pleasant to work with. The only thing that I am not sure of is sewing the petals down, but I feel that that is because I haven't done something like that since my stroke, but now I really feel like I can do it. 

My right hand (the paralyzed one) is waking up and getting more useful. I can actually hold a big tapestry needle with it, and kitchener the toes of my socks together using my right hand now! That is a big improvement. My fingers all open and close at my command -- slowly sometimes, but I will take it. I'm working on strengthening the muscles in my forearm to make it easier to lift my right arm, too. And I walk around the house quite a bit now without my cane. I walk like Frankenstein, but without my cane. I still have to wear the damn brace though. 

And now for the crazy part of my blog post!

Some readers may remember when Wendy Gaal had her first Mystery Sock Knit-along way back in 2009. I participated in it, making these beaded socks:

Mysterysock1

Well, now she is up to Mystery Sock #9: Crazy Quilt Sock Knit-along! It started on Friday, January 27, but it is not to late to participate. You don't need to buy yarn or the pattern for the knit-along; the pattern is free, but only people who use Wendy's yarn will be eligible to win prizes in the end. The last clue will be posted March 10, and the winners will be among those who have knit one sock in one of Wendy's Knitter's Brewing Company Sock yarns

Wendy always challenges knitters with these Mystery Sock Knit-alongs. She also makes tutorials and videos that are really well done to help you learn the techniques involved, and there are tons of people to help out if you have any problems at all. Several people who have never knit a sock before at all are successfully knitting this. Wendy gives you a bit at a time and spoon-feeds you the very detailed directions with lots of hand holding if you need it, and she is the most patient person with these Mystery Sock KALS that I have seen.

I got the kit with Old No. 8 sock yarn in color BAC OTL from Wendy at Knitter's Brewing Company, and wound it up:

It came with a pretty little commemorative stitch marker:

FullSizeRender (46)

I don't use the stitch markers that come with the sock yarn in these kits because I am using double pointed needles, but I love them and use them in other things!

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I have done the first Clue, and let me tell you, it is really crazy!! It is a toe up sock, knit up at an angle, with a pretty cool little texture going on! 

I love it! I can't wait to see what the next Clue will be!

 Here is a picture of an ancient Egyptian picture of a cat herding geese, since Pogo wasn't in a posing mood:

Figure-2.27ostracon-cat-herding-geese-cairoegyptianmuseum1150BCDeirelMedina


Sylvi Update

It's been a week and I really haven't worked as much on Sylvi as I thought I would have. I have worked on some other, more pressing things, but always Sylvi was waiting patiently for me to come back to her! I am now up to the underarm on the back. The rest should go pretty quickly now that I can focus on Sylvi and only Sylvi!

FullSizeRender (34)

The little green and orange markers around the bobbles are marking the stitches where I will pick up stitches and knit the flower petals.

FullSizeRender (35) 

I haven't done three dimensional knitting like this before (or if I have, it was so long before my stroke that I have forgotten it entirely), so I am a bit nervous about doing it. I will try my hardest, and then I will either do it, or not. If I can do it, yay! If I can't do it, I will cry bitterly for a while and then meekly ask for some help. I really don't want to do that though, and I will try everything that I can think of to figure out a way to do it. The problem will be not with the knitting -- the petals are pretty easy to knit -- it will be holding the back steady with one hand (it is a large piece of knitting!) as I try to knit them with the same hand. Easy for most people, hard for me. I love a challenge! Stay tuned! 


Finally!

Abstract Cowl

Day before yesterday I sat down to try again to knit with circular needles. I've done this off and on for four years, since I had my stroke, and finally, finally, my thumb and forefinger have gained enough strength to secure a circular needle firmly enough to work with, and I can ungrip them relatively easily to move the work along when needed. It's just one stupid thumb and a finger, but getting them to grip anything has been the bane of my existance. Now I can do it, and I cannot tell you how happy I am to add another thing that I used to be able to do without thinking to my daily life again! I can also carry small things in my hand too, like my cell phone, a light-weight bag, anything that can grip between my thumb and finger. 

You might think that I have slowed down a lot from the picture above. Really, I have had two whole days, surely I should be able to knit 125 stitches for more than three rows in three days, especially considering how excited I was to use my hand again! Actually, I had a needle malfunction. Apparently the size 4 needle I was using has a little divot between the cable and the needle, so my stitches catch aggravatingly. So, I'm waiting to get my needles.

Divot

Such a little thing; such a big problem. Sorta like having a thumb and forefinger able to pinch together on demand. It's a little thing, but it makes a world of difference in my knitting!


SuperBetter

Day before yesterday I was looking for inspiration, and found this TED talk by Jane McGonigal entitled "The Game that Can Give You 10 Extra Years of Life", which caught my attention, so I listened. She was a game designer, who had a concussion, and while recuperating she was very depressed and she thought, this is like a game; so, she designed one.

She calls it SuperBetter. It sounded  very cool, kinda different, and another way to do therapy, and it was online, so I signed up yesterday. 

A lot of the game experience is incorporated into it, it's like a personal-Facebook meets Plants VS. Zombies, and it makes you feel better just playing it. It certainly isn't hard, even I could do the first few steps without stressing out, and there's a lot of ways you can design your own levels if you want to, or have them handed to you if you want that too, and you can switch back and forth if that's what you want as well.

All of the Quests, Allies, Power Ups, Bad Guys, and Future Boosts are easily doable at first, and I'm sure they get harder as you go, but they are never too hard. My first ally (you have to get friends and family to help you if possible) was Lynne -- that was kinda hard for me, it was a challenge because I don't like to ask for help, but there could be martinis, so I just went ahead and did it. You just have to work at the things that seem hard.

Your achievements and your ultimate Epic Win are your goals. You get to choose when the game stops. It's fun, it's a game after all, and I really needed this, because I was very close to throwing in the towel and giving up. You can only go on for a while before you start feeling like it's never ever ever getting any better, you're not making any progress. It would be so easy just to give up.

I had a stoke, and working at recovery is a daily thing for me. Daily. As in, every single day. I never take a day off. This game helps with that, makes it easier to stay in the game, as it were. But, it also helps people with depression, injuries, illnesses, or health goals (such as losing weight or quitting smoking), any number of things that can use a little boost which this game provides. It's a feel-good game, but it's also about self-responsibility and goal-setting. There is a lot of science built into it,  which you can read any time along the way. Best of all, it's free and there do not appear to be any ads.

Who knows, I may feel super better after a few weeks with this, and I may not, but it can't hurt me to try it!

Superbetter


Why I Write

‎"Write with your eyes like painters, your ears like musicians, your feet like dancers. You are the truthsayer with quill and torch. Write with your tongues of fire. Don’t let the pen banish you from yourself. Don’t let the ink coagulate in your pens. Don’t let the censor snuff out the spark, or their gags muffle your voice. Put your shit on the paper.” - Gloria Anzaldúa

 

I ran across this quote awhile ago, thought it was neat, so I saved it. Some days this is the writer I want to be, some days it isn't. But, this is the writer-hero that I like to feel is there somewhere. Even on the days when I stare blankly at the screen, wondering What To Write, I like to feel like the hero's in there, cheering me on. 

Sure, I just write a knitting blog ... and knitting ain't rocket science. Still, it's writing, it's steady, day after day writing (Wellllll Wordless Wednesdays is a bit of a gaff, I should really write something from now on, we'll see) and I can pat myself on the back for not having missed a day. Who knows where it will end? My first real job after the stroke? When I start having manuscripts accepted, if I write any? Heck, when I start writing for publication? I don't know. I'm going to keep on writing, in any case, even if nobody reads it (and I know some of you do, thank you!). It's just nice to know I have a knitting hero inside me when I need it.

Gloria Anzaldúa was an inspirational womn, a little bit wacky, and deeply spiritual. Here is one more quote from her, which sums up why I write, since my stroke:

"Why am I compelled to write?... Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it. I write because life does not appease my appetites and anger... To become more intimate with myself and you. To discover myself, to preserve myself, to make myself, to achieve self-autonomy. To dispell the myths that I am a mad prophet or a poor suffering soul. To convince myself that I am worthy and that what I have to say is not a pile of shit... Finally I write because I'm scared of writing, but I'm more scared of not writing.” 

 


Gadgets

Just thought I should show you a picture of my knitting rig:

Sock2

One end slides under my leg, to hold it. The mechanism basically just holds the needles, as you can see in this picture. The white conical shaped piece is the collet that holds the needle in place. There is a different sized collet for each size needle; I have a collet for sizes 0, 1, 2, 3 , 4, 5, and 6. I'd like to get more collets for sizes 7, 8, 9, 10, and 10 1/2, but I can't really afford them right now. It is highly adjustable, too: you can raise and lower it, and adjust the exact position of the arm and the angle of the collet. The device is entirely hand made by my occupational therapist's husband. I think it's a pretty clever way to knit with four needles!


Progress in Knitterland

This is the wee mouse that scampered off my needles last weekend:

Mouse

This is the front of my sweater as I s-l-o-w-l-y work up the neck:

SweaterFront

Here is the man socks, also dancing slowly:

Socks

I think I'm going to run out of yarn on the socks, and that makes me knit slower, because I don't want to find out. Since I knit them from the toe up, I can just finish when I run out of yarn by using some from the finished sock, and then finish that sock again, but just thinking about it makes my head hurt. One way or another, they'll be finished soon. Then on to other projects! There is something, a sock knit-along, that I'd like to start next week, so we will see. :)

My sweater takes a long time to get anywhere, but it's good to know that I'm doing a whole sweater. It's coming out just as I envisioned it, and that's a big plus, especially since I'm making it up as I go along, hehe. The ol' brain isn't entirely dead.

My hand isn't wiggling as much today as it was, but it IS wiggling. That's another plus! I think my thumb is connected to it ... I don't see it, but I feel it. It's hard to describe. I will work at what I can do. It's a fun toy to play with, anyway.