As we move finally into 2021, we all have memories of hardships and difficult experiences from 2020. Many of us faced unimaginable heartache, and others endured new hardships of insecurities in our most basic needs. Many of us still had our material possessions, but lacked human contact and connection. The big takeaway for me in 2020, was how important people and family are, and to be so grateful for all I do have.
2021 for me is about attitude and gratitude.
As an Occupational Therapist, I spent many years at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, working with people who were recovering from spinal cord injuries. Many patients had severe paralysis in their hands and legs, and I witnessed with amazement how they maintained positive attitudes despite such physical, life-altering limitations. They were excited to regain small abilities, and grateful for the things they could do.
We used to say, “Don’t Quit. Adapt!"
I love being an an OT and finding adaptations for doing activities in different ways, within each patient's physical abilities. Think: levers.. rubber bands for assisted motion.. built up big handles on tools.. jar openers, button hooks, rocker knives, etc. North Coast Medical has hundreds of products for all kinds of needs, or even Amazon.
For example, since I now have CMC joint arthritis (which is arthritis at the base of my thumb) I use this TheraBand material to open most things around my house! It's actually exercise band, but it's thin and grippy. I cut off smaller pieces and leave them around my house so its always handy to give me a better grip on things, like opening jars.
In addition to adaptive tools that can help, sometimes a new mindset is needed. Because of my arthritis, I can't play tennis anymore, which I loved. But I can play ping pong! Or pickleball. Pickleball is really fun!!
And sometimes you can get creative. When I couldn’t unbuckle my grandkids from their car seats, I invented UnbuckleMe. That limitation wasn't acceptable for me, so I thought of a creative way to solve the problem. We've heard from customers who previously used spoons, sticks, even an old Lincoln Log to accomplish the same! People are creative!
So, whatever you're struggling with as we lean into this new year... whether its physical, emotional or mental pain, try to make space for the positive. Look for unexpected gifts that have landed in your life.
Just like we said in the clinic, think about ABILITY, not DISABILITY. For 2021, let's give energy to what we have and what we CAN do. It's more fulfilling and constructive than dwelling on what we cannot.
Happy New Year.
Barbara Heilman is the Co-Founder of UnbuckleMe. She is also a licensed Occupational Therapist and, since 2015, a grandma with CMC joint arthritis.