Saturday, September 10, 2011

Lessons from an injured artist.

Hello, and welcome to another post at Saturday Sequins. I hope you all had a fun and relaxing Labor Day weekend!

For me, last weekend was full of travel, travel and more travel. By plane, by car, by bus. There was one bright (and glittery) spot, though, and that was my visit to the Museum of Fine Art in Boston! Mr. Sequin and I went to see the jewelry exhibit, and it was so much fun, we had to look at everything again. We also saw some jewelry in other locations throughout the museum, including the work of the original wire master Alexander Calder and one of my new favorite jewelry artists, Sam Kramer.

After all that travel, I confess I'm exhausted. Emotionally and physically. This might be the perfect time to discuss something I've been putting off for weeks now -- taking care of our bodies so we can keep creating beautiful things.

This is one of those subjects I never really thought was important when I was younger. I would always skip over posts just like this one, thinking they didn't apply to me. I continued to treat my body as if it were invincible, invulnerable. That is, until... I got eyestrain two years ago. And then my carpel tunnel flared up. And then I suffered from a terrible, horrible shoulder injury made worse by well-meaning but overzealous medical professionals. I couldn't dress myself or cook for awhile. You can imagine how much art I made. That was April of 2010, and I'm still recovering.

(Note that as of early 2011, I found a team of really supportive, knowledgeable, and caring people to help me get better. I could never have gotten to the level I'm at now without Brenda, Raimy, Jessica, Emily, Paige, Laura, David, and Scott, who is the best doctor ever! Or without Kate, who referred me to Brenda in the first place.)

It's been a tough time, but I've learned so much and become a stronger person in the process -- and I don't just mean my shoulders. I now have the opportunity to share what I've learned, and I'm hoping it'll help all of you, whether you're in perfect health and want to stay that way, have a problem area, or are suffering from a serious injury. So, in no particular order, here are the things I've learned:

1.) Value your body and the work you do! The fact that you do creative work makes you an amazing, extraordinary person. The fact that you do it in comfort is a tremendous gift, and one you should never overlook. So if you're filled with self-doubt, not sure if you're good enough or talented enough, wondering if you will become rich and famous, take those thoughts, crumble them up and toss them in the circular file! Look at yourself and your work through fresh eyes, because believe me, when you can't do the things you love, you come to realize how special they are, and how silly you were. And how much it means just to do them, money or not.

2.) Rest! In this world, we are taught to go, go, go. Work more hours, take on more activities, get fewer hours of sleep. Well, I urge you not to get caught up in that. It's good to work hard and have meaningful things in your life -- to have an abundance of meaning! But your body will thank you if you get an extra hour of sleep here and there, or take fifteen minutes to rest your eyes, or take half an hour to sit and do nothing. Even the smallest things will add up.

3.) Warm up! When you're 15, you don't have to worry so much about whether your muscles are ready to go. When you're 28? 29? 30? And beyond? It's time to think about getting your muscles in a state where they can do what you need, and where you won't feel as stiff and ouchy afterward. Soak your hands in warm water before you do chainmaille. Put a heat pack or warm washcloth on your shoulders if you're going to be hammering a lot or working with clay. This is especially nice on a cold day!

4.) Stretch! Stretch your hands -- consult a doctor or physical therapist for some safe stretches. Do eye yoga. Do some nice, gentle shoulder stretches. To make the most of your stretching, make sure you do it to the point of slight stretch, with no pain. Pain is bad! Increase your intensity in small increments, and make sure to exhale as you do -- it'll keep you relaxed. Finally, stretch after you've warmed up. Not before.

5.) Breathe! Not just when you stretch, but all the time. It helps with anxiety and keeps your muscles more relaxed. Also, it's just a good thing to do. ;)

6.) Strengthen! Strong muscles don't get injured as easily. Also, strengthening exercises are something a physical therapist will prescribe without fail. My advice is to start slow, with a low number of sets, repetitions, and resistance, and increase all of these gradually. Consult a doctor, physical therapist or personal trainer for the best exercises for your needs and your body. And be aware of how you feel when you exercise! There is good pain and bad pain. If something hurts and makes you feel worse, don't do it!

7.) Ice! Here's my routine for my shoulders. I heat, warm up with gentle movement, stretch, do my strengthening exercises, and then take out my bag of frozen peas and ice for 20 minutes, no more than that. I make sure there is a layer of fabric, either a shirt or towel, between the ice and my skin, because too much cold can cause blood to rush to an area, which creates irritation. I honestly prefer peas to regular ice packs, but here's some advice. Put the bag of peas in another, thicker bag! The more you use your peas, the more they'll stink, and the more they'll leak all over you. And I probably don't have to mention this, but don't eat them. ;)

8.) Consult a doctor! Seriously! If something hurts for more than three weeks, it's a chronic condition. Don't wait any longer than that -- see someone who can give you advice. If you're going to start a new exercise program, mention this to your doctor. Some moves may not be good for your level of strength and flexibility, or even the way your bones are put together! Make sure you see someone who takes your concerns seriously and does not write you off. If the first doctor is no good, don't panic. Move right on to the next -- doctor shopping is how I found the man I now recommend to all my local friends.

9.) Get massages. They're good for relaxing, but also for getting rid of pain! My recovery has been made up of both physical therapy exercises and massage, and I can't even say which has been more valuable to me. I know a number of people who have felt better, even after serious and longstanding injuries, after seeing an experienced, qualified and competent massage therapist. I suggest asking around -- especially medical professionals, but also people who've had chronic pain. Just make sure to drink a lot of water when you're done with the appointment. You'll feel a lot less tender the next day.

10.) Pay attention to your diet! This doesn't mean only eating marshmallows for a month or cutting out carbohydrates. A diet is just the way you eat, period. In fact, I advise against all fad diets, including Atkins, because it's not healthy to cut out entire groups of food like that. Eat a variety of whole grains, fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds. And legumes! Unless you're a vegetarian or vegan, eat low fat dairy and fish like salmon and tuna. Embrace healthy fats like avocado and olive oil. Eat your leafy greens! If the thought makes you wrinkle your nose, try spinach smoothies. I was so very skeptical when I heard about them, but now I, a picky eater, am hooked!

Doing these things improves your health and your mood. It helps your body repair itself. The point isn't to eat super healthy (unless you want to) and never have sugar or fast food or soda again. The point is to eat better. Little changes add up, feel good, and motivate you to try bigger ones. You can still have the things you love, including pasta! I just pile veggies onto mine. Do what you're comfortable with, take your time, and pay attention to your own preferences and dietary restrictions. Don't eat things that gross you out just because they're healthy, because food is about nutrition, but also how it makes you feel. You can experiment, of course, but there are some things that shouldn't be forced.

11.) Move more! This will keep your muscles in better condition, keep you mobile, and just make you feel better. You don't have to hop on a treadmill at the gym or go running for hours if that doesn't appeal to you. In fact, starting small is a good idea. When I was getting back into exercising, I paced around the house. I keep doing it because it de-stresses me and actually helps me think better!

If you'd like a really fun way to exercise, try hula hooping, otherwise known as hooping or hoop dance. You can purchase or make your own grownup hoop decorated in gorgeous sparkly tape. If we know each other in the real world, come see me about your own hoop and a free lesson!

So that's my advice to you. Before I wrap things up, I'll say two things. First, I'm not a doctor, nutritionist, physical therapist, or personal trainer. Just someone who's talked to a lot of them and learned on her own. So make sure you consult professionals! They may have more, or different, thoughts. The second is, don't feel guilty about any of this. It may be accepted to work yourself to death and ignore your body and its needs, but that doesn't make it smart. Society may label people who exercise and eat well as freaks and fanatics, but I've come to realize they're mostly quite practical people and very happy with their lives.

Whew! Thanks for reading this long post. If you have anything to add, or if you'd like my recipes for vegetarian black bean soup, chickpea curry soup, or spinach smoothies, or to hear about how I wash the floors without using my shoulders, comment here!

Thanks, and have a sequintastic day!


  1. Those are all excellent tips. I too am finding at I don't bounce back as quickly as I did when I was 30. I tease my younger friends that their 20's is their last maintenance-free decade! LOL!

  2. Thanks!

    When I was in my twenties, I thought I'd be maintenance-free until my forties or fifties! I wish someone had told me differently!

    One cool thing I heard from a physical therapist, though, is that we can still enjoy the same activities we did in our youth -- just as long as we're smart about it. I'm sure that doesn't apply to, say, ice hockey, but definitely to artsy things.

  3. This is sooooo great. I've posted it on my Facebook page.

  4. Thank you so much! I'd really like to reach/help as many people as I can, and I appreciate the help. You're awesome. :)

  5. Hi -- I'm here via Vanessa and just wanted to thank you for this post. I really struggle with taking the time for self-care and needed the reminder of how important it is!

  6. You're very welcome! I'm glad I could help. :)

  7. I love this post too! So glad we could connect around health issues. I have to say, I only had about 19 years of maintenance-free in my whole life, and you know I still miss it! But a friend of mine once said: it's hard to be me, but it's worth it. And boy is that ever true. I love my creaky old complicated body. :)

  8. I miss being maintenance-free, too. But there's nothing like chronic health issues to make you appreciate the things your body can do and to cherish the times when it feels just fine, is there?


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