Let’s Do the Twist? Let’s Not!

It sounds repetitive to say that the past week has been rough, and yet that would be a truthful statement. The previous week was rough due to an increase in nerve pain following the second round of neural therapy. That wasn’t the result I was expecting or hoping for, so I was disappointed, dismayed, frustrated, and hurting. While I didn’t know why the legs and feet hurt more after the neural, I didn’t think too much about it. The neural didn’t seem to be working; I wouldn’t pursue further treatment. Keep on living with the pain and refocus.

I had an appointment at the pain clinic last week, which was also somewhat frustrating in that the well of options is running dry and I am not keen on drugging myself again. Besides the push for more medication, I was told to exercise my glutes more and find some stretches for the piriformis, even though I already do both of those things. My chiropractor recommended a stretch for me, and I incorporated it into my daily routine. That was a Wednesday.

Last Saturday I woke up with a mildly achy back, but I didn’t think about it too much, because this has been my life for the past nineteen months. I went to the gym that morning and the discomfort in the back increased slightly before I even did anything that might aggravate it. I finished my workout and went on with my day, and the back pain gradually increased beyond my post-injury version of normal. Sunday was absolutely brutal. Any movement was painful and awkward. My back could barely bend, and the nerve pains in my legs and feet were the worst they’ve been in a long time. Even though I don’t sit often or for very long, any sitting was incredibly painful. To be completely honest, I was a little scared. Some of what I was feeling in my body was reminiscent of the early days post-injury, although maybe not quite. Unless you’ve experienced a herniated disc, I doubt that you can ever truly understand. While I knew that what I was feeling on Sunday was not the same as when the injury was brand new, there were enough similarities to frighten me, especially since I didn’t know why I was suddenly in so much pain again.

And really, that’s the kicker! I did not know why. My Saturday workout wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, and my back had begun bothering me from the time I got out of bed that morning. I was reasonably confident that my training wasn’t the issue. But if not the training, then what? My life is fairly routine, and there hadn’t been any changes to it recently. What if I couldn’t compete in July? What if the pain kept getting worse? Completely out of character for me, I tried to find someone to cover my shift at work Sunday night. That coverage never materialized, but the fact that I even asked is an indicator of just how bad the pain was. I wasn’t myself at work that night, but I’m thankful to have supportive co-workers who made the effort to make my workload easier.

After work, as I lay in bed awake because of the pain, I couldn’t help but continue to wonder why. Like a light bulb turning on, it hit me. The only thing different was the addition of that stretch my chiropractor recommended for my piriformis! While the stretch did hit the piriformis, it also required a significant twist of the lower back, and that twisting is what I believe caused my back to rebel. I stopped doing the stretch, and every day since then has been slightly better. Of course, my chiropractor agreed with my decision to not do that stretch anymore. He apologized and commented on the fact that he tends to treat me like someone without a disc injury, and I think I like that. (Obviously he is well aware of my injury and ongoing nerve pain issues, so it isn’t like he actually ignores my history when he treats me, but I like the way his statement implies that he doesn’t see me as permanently injured and unable to do regular things.)

Once I realized that the twisting caused the increase in back pain, I began to connect some more dots. I had a similar increase in back pain following an earlier pain clinic appointment where the doctor had twisted and pulled on my back. Twisting doesn’t seem to be my friend. (Oh dear….guess that means I won’t be joining my husband on the golf course anytime soon!) This was a moment of clarity for me. For the past year or so, once the worst of the injury had improved, my symptoms have remained mostly the same with only little variations up or down, with no obvious cause for either response. Sure, the back sometimes gets more achy after a long day at work with lots of bending, and the nerve pains and tingling get a little worse when I lie down at the end of the day or when I’ve had to sit too much, but there hasn’t been a lot of if I do ____, then I feel ____. Not for good. Not for bad. But here is something that I can now say is not good for me to do.


Bench Press Musings

If you were to closely examine my powerlifting belt or shoes, you would notice tiny initials written in black Sharpie. You might not know what the two letters meant or stood for, but I do. I notice the markings every time I put on my belt or lace up my shoes at the gym, and my mind flits back to the moment of their creation.

It was August 19, 2016 in Kamloops for the Western Canadian powerlifting championships, and I stood before an official seated at a table covered with the contents of my gym bag. Everything I needed to wear in the competition had to be assessed and recorded: my underwear, my t-shirt, my singlet, socks, knee sleeves, belt and shoes. This wasn’t a new experience, as I had gone through this process before each of my six previous competitions, but this was the first time the official had ever marked my equipment. I suppose it was simply a means of proving that the equipment I wore on the platform was the same equipment that I had presented to them.

It wasn’t a big deal back then…just part of the process of competing as a powerlifter on a bigger stage than I had ever stepped on before. And yet, I think I did feel a bit of awe and wonder at it all. I had big goals back then, and I was checking things off the list of steps to “get there”. Westerns was the biggest competition I had ever been a part of, and it helped set me up on the path to Nationals. I broke my own Provincial records and set a few personal bests.

A lot has happened between then and now. Nearly six months after Westerns, I started having issues with my SI joints that lingered for months and affected my next competition the following June. There was a coaching change. A change in my training environment and routines. I thought those were rough patches, but climbed to the top of the mountain at my last competition. I broke all my goals and herniated a disc. The first half of 2017 might have been rough, but it had nothing on the past 19 months. That trip to Nationals I had worked for evaporated into thin air. I was off work for 7 months, and I am in constant pain and discomfort.

Despite all the things that haven’t been right for a long time, I am less than six weeks away from stepping onto the platform again. It isn’t at Nationals. It’s not even at Westerns or Provincials. All those “big” ones are stuck somewhere in the future or maybe just as dreams. Still, this little competition is a big one for me. The last week or two have been higher on the bad scale than I’ve experienced for a while. I can tolerate a lot, so when I say it is bad, it is bad. And when the pain gets bad, my emotions run amok. Upside down. Inside out. Dark. Moody. If I could have called in sick for work yesterday, I would have (one of the downsides of being a key-holder).

Today was slightly better but not much really. I had planned on going to the gym after work, and my schedule for the week doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room to change things up this time; however, I waffled back and forth. Up until the last minute, I wasn’t certain I would or should train today, but I did. I hurt. I couldn’t wear my belt. I couldn’t bench with my feet on the floor. I chose not to do three accessory exercises, but I got the main work done. Between the third and fourth bench sets, as I sat on the edge of the bench trying not to whimper, my gaze settled on my shoes and my thoughts strayed back to Westerns and the initials written on them. There was no substance or shape to those thoughts, only that I stood on a big stage and lifted heavy things. I had been there and done that. I hoped I could do it again. Days like today make me question the likelihood of that happening, but even if the answer is ultimately no, nothing can change the fact that I was there.

A Rough Week

The past week has been tough.

Last Thursday, I went for neural therapy round 2, and, while I wasn’t exactly looking forward to another thirty to forty injections, I did feel optimistic and hopeful. I had been told that neural therapy was not a one and done kind of treatment but that if there was some improvement after one round, then further treatment would be beneficial. As I had been told, round one didn’t cure me, but there was improvement in the tingling in my feet, which made me think that maybe I could get more positive changes from continued treatment.

The injections of round one weren’t entirely pleasant, but the second round was even more uncomfortable. Thankfully, since there hadn’t been any change in the foot numbness, I didn’t have to repeat the injections in the foot. Unfortunately, I also didn’t get a repeat of positive change. In fact, the nerve pain symptoms have actually been worse since that second round. Worse than before round one even.

Yesterday was a follow up appointment at the pain clinic. Based on my previous appointments and general experiences with the medical system, I went into this appointment expecting it to be a waste of time. I expected that more medication would be pushed my way, and I was not wrong. The prescription given to me was supposedly a first-line nerve pain drug but is primarily an anti-depressant. Now I don’t have an issue with taking anti-depressants when necessary; however, I’ve been on at least a couple for the off label purpose of helping with nerve pain, and the side effects have been absolutely horrible while the benefits were minimal. There is a reason why I stopped taking those medications, and I am not so keen on jumping back into that cesspool.

The rest of the appointment was a series of questioning about my experiences with previous medications (again) and treatments, ultrasounds of my butt cheeks (I have no dignity left), and continued flip-flopping by the doctor as to what might be the source of my pain. I feel like I could email in my statement and get the same benefit without needing to take the afternoon off work, pay for parking, and waste an hour of my time, although it would be difficult to undergo an impromptu ultrasound! But I am thankful that the doctor didn’t yank and twist my back like she did at the last appointment.

Like I said, I’ve had a tough week. I’ve been grumpy, moody, and struggling with low mood. I strive to be positive and upbeat about a lot of things in life, but that doesn’t meant I don’t have ebbs and flows of emotions. I’ve been dealing with the nerve pains long enough now to recognize the pattern: acceptance of where I’m at, hopes raised by new treatment or small progress, and then watching those hopes crash into the rocks. And if there is no new treatment to raise my hopes, then my mood plummets whenever the symptoms get worse. So in essence, this week was a double whammy. Failed hope and worse pain. But yesterday’s appointment didn’t upset me nearly as much as I might have expected. Sure, it’s disappointing, but I’m also kind of used to it. The harder struggle has been the increase in pain and symptoms. It puts me in a funk, but I also know I will get through it.

Day of Despair

Some days are harder than others.

Some days the smiles are rare and seldom genuine.

Those are the days where one is best left alone, preferably in a dark cave with a cozy blanket and maybe a glass of Pinot Gris and a bit of dark chocolate.

Unfortunately for me (and everyone else), I seldom have the luxury of playing the hermit on such days as today, when I am moody and grumpy and an hair’s breadth away from an emotional meltdown.

The reasons for the attitude are many. It’s not like there is just one thing bothering me beyond all reason. But the weightiest of all are frustration, hopelessness and despair. When the nerve pain is the worst it has been in a few weeks and this after the second round of neural therapy, it is difficult not to feel stuck. The first round of neural therapy held some promise, a lessening in the tingling in the feet, which raised hopes that the second round would at least continue the positive trend. But no.

That disappointment clasped hands with my feelings about an upcoming follow-up appointment at the pain clinic this week, and the two chose to travel down a dark path of despair. What will this appointment even accomplish? What options are available to me that I haven’t already tried? I fear that there are none. This appointment will be a waste of time, and my carefully constructed walls are crumbling.

I am so very tired of tingling, burning feet and legs and the constant stream of burning running down my buttocks to my toes. It would be a novelty to stand or walk without the permanent area of numbness in my left foot and left calf. And yet nothing helps.

Are You a Leader?

Trust is built in drops and lost in buckets.

Kevin Plank

If you aren’t leading by example, then why are you leading at all?

Tim Henriques

I have two questions for you:

  1. Who are the leaders in your life?
  2. What thoughts come to mind when you think about those leaders?

A leader is defined as somone who leads or commands a group, organization, or country; however, I think the definition can be widened a bit to include anyone we perceive has some authority or superiority over us. This could be a politician, an employer or manager, a coach, a doctor or medical professional, a dedicated community volunteer, a sports/music/film hero, or really just about anyone in whom we place our trust and admiration. There are many reasons why we might consider such people leaders. We might do so out of respect for their profession or authority, or we might recognize quality traits woven into their DNA.

While I definitely have people I consider as leaders in my life, I am typically slow to place someone on that list. Like the first quote posted above, my trust is built by drops and lost in buckets. My trust in most medical professionals is very low, because experience has taught me that the profession (or at least some within it) doesn’t always care about the patients. My early experiences with chiropractors were all about extreme promises and big bucks. In various workplaces I have witnessed leaders not leading. Through many years of sports involvement, I have seen good coaches and those with their own agenda. As much as I see the good in people, I can also be skeptical, a realist, because I’ve seen so many things that upset the basket of trust.

But there are good people out there! Good leaders worth trusting. And this is where the second quote comes into play, because good leaders lead by example. Their profession doesn’t matter. They do their job well, because it is the right way to do it. They manage the people under their leadership fairly and rightly, the same way they would treat a peer. This doesn’t make them perfect, and they are usually not afraid to own their faults and flaws. They will even work to address their short-comings. Leaders should encourage, inspire, and challenge us to be better, whether it is by helping us regain health, improve our athletic or work place skills, or simply encourage us to be involved in our community. The best way for leaders to achieve those kinds of results is by being an example worth following.

If I see a “leader” misusing or abusing his/her power, my trust in that person is gone. If I see a “leader” playing the “do as I say, not as I do” game, all trust is gone. The leaders in my life have earned my respect, because they lead by example. They may be a hundred times smarter than me, but I am treated with respect and like an equal. My concerns are heard and acknowledged. I see these people living out their faith, their passions, and the words that they preach to me. I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of seeing people in positions of leadership who really couldn’t seem to care less about what they are doing or who they influencing. Don’t be like those people. Be someone who is authentic. Be someone who leads by example, even if you do not consider yourself a leader! The world needs people like you.

A Little Spark

As I was working my way through sets of squats yesterday morning, I was struck by a little factoid that I hadn’t realized until that moment. I already knew that this July’s powerlifting competition will be my tenth time stepping onto the platform, but what I didn’t realize was that this upcoming competition is only a day off of the anniversary of my very first competition five years ago! How cool is that?! So, maybe I am the only one who finds that cool and that’s okay. That little tidbit of trivia also energizes and excites me; it makes me all the more eager to get back to doing this thing that I enjoy.

There is hard work to be done between now and July 27. That is simply the life of a powerlifter, or any athlete. Of course, my lengthy hiatus due to injury means that the hard work now looks different than it did before the injury, but the hard work now is still different than it was a few months or a year ago. This week’s training has seen an increase in the number of working sets, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the brain likes to mess around with my confidence and then I get annoyed because the stuff I’m doing now is less than what I used to do. It’s a vicious cycle sometimes, but I know that little things can disrupt the cycle and help me shift my attitude down a more productive path, at least for a time. Knowing that I will be competing virtually five years to the day from my first meet is one of those little things.

Even before I realized the date significance, I had been thinking back to that first competition. By the time I step on the platform this summer, it will have been nearly 21 months since herniating a disc during competition. That will be the longest gap between competitions in my five years long career. My last competition was perfect and everything I wanted it to be, except for the injury. I went into that meet with specific goals and numbers in mind. This time around is completely different. We don’t know what numbers I might be able to reach, and I haven’t given much thought to my own personal goals.

I always, always want to be better than I was, and injury doesn’t really diminish the aspect of my nature. But in my situation, reality trumps nature. As much as I want to beat my previous bests, I know that will not happen this time. After nine competitions and working to gradually increase my numbers, I have to acknowledge that this time could nearly see me back to the very beginning. I say nearly because I can’t imagine not beating rookie me by at least a little bit.

My best ever squat was 253.5 pounds. My best bench press was 137.8 pounds. My best ever deadlift was 308.65 pounds.

At my first competition, my best squat was 187.3 pounds. My best bench was 93.6 pounds, and my best deadlift was 248 pounds.

If I had to pin down some goals for the upcoming meet, I would say that I want to do better than I did five years ago. Is that realistic? Maybe, but I don’t know. I don’t think it should matter too much to me anyway, which means, of course, that it totally does! About the only thing that I can say with certainty is that I will bench more than I did five years ago, although my bench is too unpredictable to guarantee an all-time personal best. Bench is a funny beast for me. It took me two years to break through a bench plateau to get 137.8 in competition. Squats and deadlift were simply not on the table for the first many months post-injury, but I have done a lot of benching as I have recovered and still don’t feel confident about setting a new personal record. But I do know that I can easily bench more than a 100 pounds, so if nothing else I will beat rookie me’s bench.

Anti-fragile Peonies & Me

There is a life lesson to be found in the blooming of a flower in my yard. For the record, both my front and back yards are a mess. My lawn is more weeds than grass, and the same is true of my flower beds. I freely admit that I do not have green thumbs. They are not even the faintest shade of green. Not a tinge of colour at all. My thumbs are the darkest shade of black possible. Even house plants quickly become victims to the black plague carried in my hands. I love the idea of plants and growing, living things, but my reality is watching those growing things shrivel up and die.

Many years ago, someone gave me a box full of cuttings from her own garden, perennials which would (or should) continue to grow year after year. I was still full of dreams of beautiful flower beds then, so I planted those cuttings and hoped for the best. The first few years were great, but the past few years have produced fewer growth and flowers. I’m not surprised. Last year was a write-off for me in terms of doing much of anything in the yard; however, even when I was pain-free before the injury, my gardening skills were limited to some weeding and pruning. It has still been disappointing to see green pop up out of the earth that fails to reach its full potential.

But all is not lost!

Out of that box of cuttings, there were two peony…bulbs? roots? whatever you call them? I planted them, and they come back every spring to provide a few days of glorious beauty. Despite all of the hardships I inflict upon them, they thrive. Or at least survive. They do not get fertilized. Their main water supply is rain, which is often in short supply around here. Weeding is not a regular occurrence either. In the winter, they get buried beneath mounds of snow shoveled off the driveway. Yet somehow they grow.

This morning, as I am thinking about the peonies ready to bloom in my yard, I am once again amazed at their resilience in the face of adversity. Plants and trees are amazing! (At least most of them, because there are some that are truly finicky.) I think the same thoughts when we drive through the mountains, and I see a tree growing in the most absurd and precarious places. People can be like my peonies or those pine trees on the side of a cliff, although there are also people who will struggle to thrive like those finicky plants. This train of thought also takes me back to the topic of being anti-fragile written about by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Both trains of thought can dive into the deep end rather quickly, and my deep thoughts never seem to come out on the surface the way that I think they will. But think on these things, if you will.

What kind of person are you? Are you easily crushed beneath the weight of hardship and struggle, or do you gather up your broken pieces to reassemble them into someone stronger, smarter, better? Do you run away from struggles, afraid of being destroyed by the storm, or do you embrace the struggles as an opportunity to grow? Do you find a way to survive and thrive, regardless of the conditions you have been placed in? I hope you do.