Gadgets: HandSteady mug

Problem

I sometimes have wobbly hands. They’re especially bad when I’m tired or stressed. When tired or stressed, tea usually helps. But with wobbly hands, it tends to go everywhere. Also, lifting heavy things, like mugs of tea, wear my hands out so they shake more. When it all gets too much, on rest days I find drinking hot things while lying in bed is unstable, because I’m drowsy and uncoordinated, and because straws from hot mugs of tea are a messy siphoning accident waiting to happen.

More specifically, I had an important meeting, where I felt sufficiently stressed for my body to start playing up. I had a dry throat, and couldn’t drink at all without serious hand tremors,

Solution

The only thing on the market is the HandSteady mug. You can read all about it and see pictures on their website, www.handsteady.com.

What it’s like to use

At a desk or in a meeting: It’s easy to use, but takes a few times to get used to. It’s very adaptable, so whatever part of my hands isn’t working today, there’s some way I can lift the cup easily. My favourite is flipping the handle upside down and lifting from the top, which means I can keep my grip very level and reduce the strain on my wrist. It’s very lightweight compared to a solid china mug, so noticeably it doesn’t tire my arms out as much.

In terms of the tremors, the mug does still wobble a bit when my hand shakes – you have to get the axis of rotation lined up with the hand spasms or it doesn’t help at all – but given that my hands shake more when they’re tired/under a lot of pressure, and it reduces the stress, pain and weight my hands have to take, my hands shake less overall, I think.

When I’m in bed: it’s easily to drink from, because you can hold the handle steady while rotating the mug only, so it’s easier to do at an angle when your arms are a bit off. It’s wide enough that it doesn’t fall over – with the lightweight plastic material, the relative weight of the liquid is greater, so it doesn’t topple so easily as a denser material. You can balance it on a mattress which you’re lying on. Still, for cold drinks, a sports-style water bottle is easier.

Reactions

Everyone thinks it’s really cool, some even saying they should get themselves one of them. Despite not realising what it’s for at first, all my colleagues like it, and (importantly) are very happy making me tea in it. However, when they do pick it up full rather than empty, they all react to it, saying it’s really weird! Because people like the mug, then they tell people about it, then in passing mention that I have wobbly hands – it’s a good conversation starter.

I’ve never found the action unexpected, but then I have got a degree in mechanical engineering and fluid dynamics, so I guess I should have a good instinct for these things.

It’d be good to make more people aware of its existence – a hospital nurse made me a cup of tea this week, said it was cool, but didn’t realise it could help his patients because he hadn’t twigged what it was for.

It is very refreshing to have a product which looks good – style is never usually a key feature of products made for the mobility-impaired, but it really matters that the design looks good as the confidence boost of not spilling things could be taken away by the embarrassment of something which screamed ‘Pity me, I’m disabled’. At 26, I’d rather fall from gorgeous heels than walk stably in beige velcro old lady shoes.

Thoughts

I emailed the inventor to thank him, he was super-friendly and as nice as he comes over in the website videos. The mug may seem quite expensive at £39, but then so are replacement coffees and dry cleaning bills, or career mistakes like shaking tea everywhere like a weirdo when trying to get your point across. For something I now take everywhere with me, it’s a small price to pay for the added confidence and dignity.

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Mother-to-be?

Olivia is the one-year-old granddaughter of the couple I live with. She’s been visiting recently, with her parents, for her birthday, and it’s been a nice change to our routine, having a baby in the house.

Something I’ve got thinking about, because at 26, and I’d hope to be having children at some point in the next decade (please stop freaking out, I’m not pregnant, not unless you see an angel pop into the kitchen), is whether I’d be able to bring up children. It’s one of those physically demanding things that you either commit to, or don’t. With my disability, it’s something we’ve been discussing when thinking about the future.

Why I think I’d struggle with being a mum

  • There are no off-days, you have to be on form every day to have at least a bare minimum of emotional engagement with your kids, even if physically you aren’t doing everything yourself. Some days it’s just fog between my ears.
  • There’s no getting around some of the physical tasks of parenting – if I were to look after my own children, on my own, I’d need to be able to lift them, change them, have the balance to prepare their food, and that’s before getting anything else done in the day.
  • Being pregnant could be difficult, there’s no way of knowing how it’d affect me. Monthly hormone changes seem to adversely affect my symptoms anyway, and received wisdom is that either pregnancy becomes super-easy due to a wave of happy hormones and maternal glow, or it’s hellish. I can see myself getting exhausted even quicker – bumps are heavy, and so are children!

Why CFS would mean I’d be a great mum

  • I’m learning to be very self-disciplined, and to prioritise ruthlessly. Some things are just not that important, others can be spread across the week, with a bit of forethought. PPPPPP, as the army would say.
  • I have to be still a lot, so I get good at noticing the little non-verbal cues. I’m good at knowing what’s wrong with the cat, and picked up on what the baby was trying to ask for as quickly as her own parents, and far quicker than other adults rushing around. I put the baby to bed on my own one night, and it was tiring but I managed it. That gave me loads of confidence that the individual elements of parenting would be ok, it’s just the stamina that I lack.
  • I have no trouble asking for help when I need it. I’m not that fussed about independence, but totally into interdependence. If I have to ask a colleague to help me stand up, or use public transport, or open my lunchbox, as I have this week, I don’t find it embarrassing. However, I know from talking to friends with disabilities and children, that sustained practical help is difficult to come by – churches love a crisis, but the monotony of helping out week by week doesn’t look as glamourous.

What I’d enjoy more if I had better health

  • Playing. I can only manage it for so long. It was sad to hold Olivia and see her responding to the world, but lack the energy to stimulate her hungry mind. Instinctively, when she’s bouncing around, I’d want to echo her enthusiasm, but found it just wasn’t sustainable. When she got squirmy, my arms were just not strong enough to keep hold of her, and she’s a very light baby, as they go.
  • Going on outings; walking is tough some days, certainly for any great distance; I can’t drive, but feel I’d not have the reaction times for it anyway; and anything by public transport needs ruthless planning. New places are tiring to navigate, and there are always unexpected obstacles.
  • Meeting people socially. Anything non-inclusive means my ability to take part is quite limited. Standing having a drink socially, waiting in queues for anything, or going for a walk in the park is a major undertaking. The actual meeting and chatting bit is fine, it’s just the mechanics of doing it.

Conclusion: perhaps.

Having successfully put her to bed, fed her dinner, prepared her bottle, and so on, it’s not as tricky as I’d feared, but equally, I’d need a lot of support. I can do all the constituent tasks right once, but the stamina to do them every time is a concern. The more I repeat activities, the more efficient I can make them, so I’d get used to it. But in terms of playing, going out, and making friends, it would take a village to raise my child.

The best thing I can do is learn to delegate things graciously now – I’ve always had work projects that are ‘my baby’, and struggled to hand them over to others. The last big event, I got through with painkillers and adrenalin, which works for a day, but not a childhood. I have to build up trust that mot people have good instincts and can sort things out without them having to  be done my way. Get good at giving essential/non-essential instructions and letting things go. Build up support networks that work.