Nushio wrote up the RSI session that Sebastian and I did at FUDCon - a belated thank-you to Nushio for this! (Speaking of FUDCon, my lighting talk on croissants also got turned into an article that's sparked some interesting discussion.) Sacha asked what tools I'd recommend for RSI self-are, so here's my list in no particular order. I have no financial stake in any of these products, I just use 'em and enjoy 'em, often on the road. For me, it's important that a tool be portable, versatile, inexpensive, and effective - so here's my list. Hopefully it will help someone.

Stuff I take with me on the road

Ben's Block is a wooden triangular prism that works on the area on the back of your neck just at the base of your skull, between your ears. This is the most site-specific tool I have, and it's expensive for what it is. However, it's worth it to me; I carry tremendous neck and shoulder tension, and that space below my skull is what will radiate RSI pain out to everything else if left unchecked. I haven't found a better way to get that deep tension out in all the tiny little muscles at the base of your head, so I keep this in my luggage when I'm traveling. Warning: if your neck is tight, this will hurt. Use the bluntest side the first time you try it. Actually, use the bluntest side and put a towel over it the first time. You might even have to double up the towel. This thing is pretty intense.

A firm solid rubber ball, about the size of a racquetball. I've heard tennis balls work as well. This is the most versatile thing in my arsenal and if I only had room for one item in my luggage this would be it. Use it to work fascia and trigger points - I'll often use it on the soles of my feet by standing up and stepping on the ball as I roll it around, and also frequently deploy it on my back by leaning against the wall and trapping it between my shoulder blades. Also potentially intense depending on how tight you are. (Hey, you want to feel better, right?)

The Accu-Massage is a portable shoulder/neck rub that quickly comes apart into three nunchuck-sized sections. I could also just ask strangers if I can trade shoulder rubs with them, but sometimes this is slightly less awkward. (However, I will trade shoulder rubs with folks at conferences and such; just ask me. I've been told I'm pretty good at shoulder rubs.)

Stuff I keep by my bed at home

Too big or not vital enough to take on the road, but good enough to keep around the house.

Da Vinci Tool - Really, really good for getting underneath the shoulderblades, but when I'm traveling the rubber ball works reasonably well enough to make me not want to take up the extra luggage space. Actually, my Da Vinci Tool is somewhere on Nagle's desk at Sprout. I should get it back sometime.

My Body Back Buddy is the tool I have and use the least, mostly because I haven't explored too much of its capabilities yet. It's too big to travel with, and if I had to ditch one tool, this would be it.

My Armaid is insanely expensive - even more so than the Ben's Block - and highly specialized, but it does what it does amazingly well, which is release the muscle fibers on my forearm that have gotten stuck together from long hours on the keyboard and frequently cause me localized RSI pain there. The Ben's Block treats the tension's starting point, and the Armaid treats the place where the pain first shows up, so I like using them together. It's also huge and hard to pack, but I have taken it on longer trips in the past and if I could take it everywhere, I would.

Stuff I'm thinking about getting

I'm considering the purchase of a sacro-wedgy (which I realize has the worst product name ever) and/or a spineworx because they work specifically on parts I know I'm consistently getting out of alignment in, and seem like they'll work according to the various things I've learned about bodywork and self-care and what my muscles and bones need. They are still are way cheaper than a good massage session.

Good books

C'mon, my first impulse with any problem is to read about it. What did you expect?

I'd recommend It's Not Carpel Tunnel Syndrome! to anyone who's interested in the myriad of perspectives that RSI has gathered - there are many causes and many treatment methodologies, and since everyone's body and life and motion patterns and therefore RSI is different, the important thing is to find something that works well for you.

I'm a huge believer in self-care and movement education; after your therapist loosens up an area or a muscle, you'd better learn how to keep that muscle loose unless you want to go to therapy sessions forever! The stretches in Sharon Butler's book have been illuminating for me, as well as Esther Gokhale's posture method.

My blind spots

I haven't quite gotten all the pieces that I want or need for my own RSI self-management. My biggest stumbling block right now is finding a way to build up strength - yes, I know I could lift weights, but I need something I'll actually keep up with. This means I need something mindful and geared towards an overly intellectual, kinesthetically novicelike geek. This is important, because my muscle tone is poor and so I keep collapsing back into bad postures which cause me to get more knots and lapse back towards RSI. I've started trying out yoga in the hopes that it might help, and like it so far, but am very open to more suggestions - any thoughts? Exercise is definitely one of my weak points.

Being deaf is holding a hidden,
uncollapsed wave function on your side of a conversation at all times.

Think of predictive texting: if I type “Good” into my phone, it offers potential spelling corrections (“Did you mean ‘God’ or ‘Goods’ instead?”). After I finish typing the word and reassure it that no,
I meant “good,” it offers statistically likely follow-up words: “morning,” “luck,” and “night,” because I’m more likely to say “Good luck” than “Good cucumber.” My phone is running through a word tree, constantly updating: In case she typed that wrong, what else could she have said? Based on what she’s said before, what might she say next?

My brain does the same thing, constantly, in the background. I hear fuzzy blobs of intonation, accented by body language; I turn it into English somewhere in my mind, ”constantly translating every line of language into itself,” as Josh Swiller says in Andrew Solomon’s book Far From The Tree. When I hear a word-like sound, multiple options for “what word couldthat be?” spring into my mind with equal probability. As fuzzy-wordlike-sound probability trees pile up, sentence-like shapes begin to form and snap into clarity in bits and pieces. That cognitive effort happens for every sentence of every conversation that shapes my job, my studies, my relationships, my ability to order pizza, stay informed of gate changes for my flight, or leave a building in emergencies.

I used to pride myself on being a risk-taker, good at uncertainty. In actuality, I am terrible at uncertainty. What I am good at is turning uncertainty into certainty — bounding and quantifying fuzziness, slapping error bars on everything. The moment something crosses my Line of Maximum Uncertainty — the point at which I can no longer bound that uncertainty into certainty — I snap into a grumpy monster who resolves things into black-and-white too soon, because holding uncertainty is hard, and I am very, very tired.

I’ve worked on deliberately expanding my capacity to hold uncertainty, thanks to painfully patient practice with circles of older, wiser women. They tell me when my wave function is wobbling prematurely, and they are strong enough to hold the tensions of our conversation against my stumbling and occasional fighting-back. I’m learning. It’s fascinating how my impatience in the face of something unresolved melts away in a good listening environment where people speak clearly and with intention. (And when my hearing aids are on.) I thought this impatience was part of me, but now I see how my growing-up-this-way could partially be a knot, a burl, formed in response to this fungus of silence constantly gnawing away at my younger sapling-self.

I burn through all my uncertainty-holding capacity trying to understand simple sentences in my native language. I’d rather use that capacity to hold the uncertainty of ideas themselves — tensions and paradoxes, multiple viewpoints, wonderful subtle complex things. I want to turn my (massive! but overused!) uncertainty-holding capacity towards hospitality, which is the holding of uncertainty within you — welcoming the Other into your midst while letting them remain Other, surrounding them with safety without bludgeoning them into a convenient box where they can be labelled and controlled. If I do the never-ending housekeeping of clearing out the uncollapsed waveforms that come from struggling through silence, I am left with a large space that I can gift to others who need help holding a transformation open until it’s ready to be born. That’s work I want to do.

So when you see me snapping into black and white and grumpy, now you know why. Please remind me and help me get the space I need to breathe. And when I ask for subtitles, or less background noise, or talking sticks — when I insist on captions or interpreters, or things that seem to “stifle” the conversation — know that I’m trying to wrest energy free from the parsing-of-words and direct it towards the holding-open of our mutual thoughts. Know that I’m doing this because I’m trying to stay inside this place of uncertainty with you.

Please help me stay.