In Full Bloom

“Why should I be unhappy? Every parcel of my being is in full bloom.” ~Rumi

More than once over the course of the past two weeks I have had someone express sympathy for me and my herniated disc. I appreciate the care and concern for my well-being, but I don’t know what to say when someone tells me that they are sorry for what I’m going through. Why should someone feel sorry for me having herniated a disc? It’s not like it is anyone’s fault and certainly not the fault of the one saying sorry. Yes, it sucks that I herniated a disc. It sucks that I am in pain, that I am limping because I’m experiencing numbness and weakness in my leg. It sucks that my ability to perform ordinary activities has been hampered. This sucks in all of these ways and more. This is true; however, I really do not feel sorry for myself, so why should anyone else.

I know I am a far cry from a world class athlete, but humour me here for a moment. How many world class (Olympic, NHL, NFL, etc) athletes experience an injury at some point in their quest to be one of the best? When they experience an injury, I wonder how they feel about it. Do they feel sorry for themselves? Or do they accept it as part of the journey, another hurdle to jump in the pursuit of their goals? I don’t have the answer to those questions, but I wonder. Of course, some injuries are career-finishing for an athlete; however, most serious athletes experience injuries with some regularity over the course of their athletic career.

While there may be moments, like excruciating pain in the middle of the night moments where I sort of feel sorry for myself, quite honestly, I just don’t. How can I? Why should I? As the quote above says, every parcel of my being is in full bloom! In my short powerlifting life, I have had many positive experiences and a few not so positive ones. Actually, I’d say the positive experiences have heavily outweighed the negative. Ironically enough, my “worst” experience was earlier this year at Provincials, and that only makes this most recent competition all the better in my eyes.

This last competition was one of my best. Actually, I think I can say that it was my best competition, even though I didn’t set new personal bests in every lift. I had so many goals going into this competition, big ones and small ones. There were goals that I was vocal about and those that I kept close to my chest, and I achieved them all. I wanted those records (and I got them), but those were just gravy. I’ve had a tough year plagued with injuries, so being able to put together a perfect performance to reach all of my goals was simply amazing. I am proud of what I accomplished. Not only did I have to come back from the previous injuries, but I also had to push through my own mental blocks. I worked hard these past few months and it showed on the platform. I am proud of myself, and there is no room for regret or self-pity.

So don’t feel sorry for me! There is no need to apologize for something you didn’t cause and cannot alter. This wasn’t part of my plan or something I expected or wanted to happen, but it did and I can’t change that now. And yet, the fact that I did herniate my disc cannot change the fact that I broke a World record or that I had such an awesome competition. Feeling sorry for myself won’t get me anywhere, so I choose to remain proud of my accomplishments. As for the herniation…well, I am just going to attack that challenge like every other challenge, one day at a time and with as much grace and strength of character as I can muster.

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Silver Linings Playbook

I like to think that I am an optimistic realist. If you place a half-full glass in front of me and ask what I see, I will tell you that the glass is both half-full and half-empty. I can imagine all of the bad, negative, and evil things that could possibly happen in any given scenario, but I can also imagine all of the good, positive, and amazing things that could happen in the same situation.

So I herniated a disc! My mind can run like mad down the trail of negative thoughts. The kind that say I’ll never get to lift heavy things again or that I won’t be able to compete at Nationals or that I will have this pain and numbness forever. But then, in the blink of an eye, I feel confident that I will overcome this adversity, that I will go on to lift heavier things, to compete again.

Getting bogged down in the negative is actually quite easy, and it can happen so quickly that you are covered in muck before you have a chance to protect yourself. The deeper the muck the harder it is to stay positive and get yourself out of it. Oh yes, I can imagine all sorts of negatives, but I would much rather look for the positives, the silver linings, the blessings in disguise. This is why I try to post a list of happy things every day on my Facebook page. This is why I have a notebook of things for which I am thankful. It isn’t always easy to find things to be glad about or thankful for in a day. Some days are just crappy. Everyone you bump into is grumpy or rude. You didn’t get your morning cup of coffee. The cat left a hairball on your favourite shoes. Traffic congestion drives you crazy. You stubbed your toe. Life happens and sometimes it sucks. I know. But I also know the power of choosing gratitude and searching for the joy despite the negatives. Darkness is scary and enveloping, but the tiniest of lights pierces the darkness and creates warmth and illumination where none was before.

One of my most favourite hymns is It Is Well With My Soul.

“When peace like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.”

And another much loved song by one of my favourite artists, Margaret Becker…Blessing in Disguise:

In the deep of the dark, you fell in as the heart
Of your world went down in flames
To a cauldron of pain, seeing no way out

And as you walked through the fire
Losing even desire it was like a dying swan
To look at you then but look at you now

You have found a new lease on life
A stronger step and a curious calm on your face
That you wear as if to say

You can rise from the ashes again
You can rise to the morning that breaks in your eyes
For what looked like your heart’s demise
Has turned out to be a blessing in disguise

It has worked for the good, like you heard that it could
But it was hard, so hard to believe
Standing among the ruins of a dream

But from here looking back, you can see clearly that
You can gain from things that you lose
And learn many ways by many means

You have been an inspiration to me
And all the volumes of hope your revival can speak
Will always say to me

You can rise from the ashes again
You can rise to the morning that breaks in your eyes
For what looked like your heart’s demise
Has turned out to be a blessing in disguise

Choose joy!

Stages of Injury Grief

After yesterday morning’s physio appointment, I noticed that my pain level had dropped a fair bit for most of the day. Good news! However, the pain came roaring back around 1:00 this morning and roused me from my comfortable bed to the living room floor. I did manage to sleep somewhat decently on the floor, although I did need to change my position a few times in an effort to keep the pain low enough to allow for slumber. Just like yesterday morning, the pain was fierce this morning once I woke up for good. The short drive to the gym was pure torture, but I made it.

My gym has two floors of weights and machines. I am used to mostly sticking to the main floor where the squat racks, benches, and deadlift platforms are located, but I won’t be using those things for a while. So, as I hobbled up the stairs to find a piece of floor to do my rehab exercises, I bumped into a regular customer from work.

Customer: How was your competition?

Me: Oh, it was really good! Four Provincial records, 3 National records, 1 World Record, and I herniated a disc.

Customer: Really?!

Me: Yeah! I did very well.

There was a bit more to the conversation, but I find myself amused by this segment of the conversation even now a couple of hours later. Speaking to someone who is familiar yet essentially a stranger (even though I know his name, his wife’s name, and what they both drink at Starbucks), I could lump a herniated disc in with my accomplishments without batting an eyelash. It was just so matter-of-fact. So casual.

And yet yesterday during my physio appointment, I was almost blindsided by tears when I discovered that my left leg doesn’t have enough strength to raise my heel up off the floor. This revelation took me by surprise. How could this be?! Well, it is because I herniated a disc. Yet, it freaks me out, because I am not used to there being a disconnect between my brain and a body part. When I tell my brain that I need to get from point A to point B, my legs walk me to where I need to go. Likewise my arms can move, my hands can type or pick up an object. But when I stand on just my left foot and tell my brain to do a calf raise…there is no response but the smell of smoke from my brain working super hard to send the signal. My left leg betrays me, and that freaks me out.

I am sure that a google search could probably show me a list of the stages of dealing with an injury, but I am not inclined to do such a search at this time. Oh, who am I kidding!

I looked and easily found a list of 5 stages of injury grief!

  1. denial
  2. anger
  3. bargaining
  4. depression
  5. acceptance

Obviously the best stage to be in is the fifth stage of acceptance. Accepting the injury means less stress and physical tension that can delay healing. I think acceptance will result in more progress, and I believe that reaching the acceptance stage will come easier and more quickly should another injury occur.

So where am I on this list of stages? Good question, Angela, but do you have an answer.

Denial? I don’t think I was ever truly in this stage but rather skipped it completely. From the moment I let go of the barbell on my final deadlift, I knew that something was wrong in my body. I felt the pain as I walked off the platform. While I didn’t know what the problem was, I did know that there was an injury of some sort. I hoped it was something simple and minor, but I never doubted the truth once I did get a proper diagnosis.

Anger? Again, I don’t think I lingered in this stage at all. I am not angry that this happened, even though I wish it had never happened. I can feel that way, right? Although this injury seems to have occurred during that final deadlift, the truth is that the competition isn’t to blame. It’s not like I did something wrong and the injury was the result of my error or sloppiness. It just happened. It could have happened the next day while I was getting out of bed or a month from now while lifting a box at work. How can I be angry about a silently ticking time bomb? I had an amazing competition, and I am so proud of myself that I just don’t have room to let anger in. Well, I might feel anger towards my family doctor for being such a jerk.

Bargaining? If ever there was a stage that I’d get stuck in this would likely be it. Back in the days when I still considered myself a runner, I tried bargaining when pain and injury threatened my ability to run. Eventually I had to stop running, but I still tried to bargain my way back to it. I failed in my attempts, and running is no longer a part of my life. I have also tried to bargain my way through other minor injuries with mixed results. I’d like to say that I’ve learned my lesson and will never resort to bargaining again. But I do want to compete at Nationals in February, and this disc herniation could mess that goal up really quickly. I can’t guarantee that I won’t cave in to the desire to bargain down the road, but for now I think I have managed to avoid this stage. I respect the professionals in my corner who want to see me get better, and I am willing to do what it takes to get there.

Depression. This stage is familiar to me, and I know how easily I can slip into its darkness. Pain that doesn’t go away chews away at your peace and happiness until all that is left is more pain but the kind that lurks within. The lack of sleep that often comes from endless physical pain will suck the life right out of you until you are nothing more than a hollow shell. I know this, and I think that I can safely navigate my way through the maze of depression. My sleep has definitely been impacted, and I do have unending pain. When the physiotherapist asked me to describe the pain, I said it was like touching a live wire. I have never touched a live wire, but I’m pretty sure it is an accurate description for what I feel in my butt. Am I in the depression stage? I cannot entirely say no or yes. Maybe? Partly? It depends on the moment?

Acceptance. This is where I think I am. Mostly. Even if my family doctor doesn’t agree, I know that I have herniated my L5 S1. I realize that the road to recovery is going to be long and tedious, but I am willing to do whatever it takes to get through this. I can joke about it, because now I can legitimately say that I have a pain in my ass. My chiropractor has instructed me to ask for help and to avoid bending and lifting. Although it is somewhat humiliating to ask for help at work (because I should be capable of picking up a box), at home I now have a valid reason to motivate my kids to be my slaves. See that? More humour!

While I might be mostly in the acceptance stage in this moment, I do have to acknowledge that grief is not bound by stages or rules or laws. Grief, in all its forms, tends to cycle through stages at random. I might be accepting today, but next week I could be angry or depressed. I could be reduced to bargaining in a month before returning to a state of acceptance. If grief is anything at all, it is unpredictable.

Raising Cattle & Other Stories

My son is laughing at me, although he tells me that he is truly laughing with me. I am laughing, he reasons, so he can only be laughing with me. He isn’t completely wrong. I was laughing, but it was laughter born out of a sense of futility and an effort to keep panic from exploding out of my pores.

I had my first physio appointment this morning, and it went rather well…for an appointment necessitated by an injury. He asked me a bunch of questions and put me through a series of tests. One of his questions asked if I had noticed any weakness in my left leg. I said no. There is numbness in my left leg, but I didn’t think there was any weakness. Apparently I was wrong.

One of the tests required that I do 5 calf raises per leg, starting with my good right leg. Without any trouble at all, I did 5 calf raises using my right leg. Then I switched to the left leg…and nothing. I stood there, hands on the edge of the exam bed, balanced on my left foot, mentally willing my foot to rise up off the floor, but nothing happened. I could not  do a single calf raise with my left leg.

I don’t even know the best words to describe how I felt in that moment. I had to scrape together enough emotional strength not to dissolve into tears right then and there. The realization that there is a disconnect between your brain and another part of your body is disconcerting. Eerie. Troubling. It freaks me out, and I am not so easily freaked out by most things.

As disturbing as this revelation is to me, it also makes me feel slightly angry towards my family doctor and his lackadaisical approach to my health care. With this injury, I have now seen 4 different health care practitioners: 1 chiropractor, 2 medical doctors, and 1 physiotherapist. Of those 4 practitioners, only 1 doesn’t believe that I have a disc issue. That oddball is my family doctor. My family doctor is, rather unfortunately, the one I must go through to get proper imaging or whatever treatment is even an option. How can it be that 3 separate practitioners can reach the same conclusion, yet my doctor disagrees? It makes me mad. My doctor tested my reflexes, so he surely must have noticed that I have no reflex in my left leg (every other practitioner realized it). Why didn’t he test me further? Why didn’t he ask me to do some calf raises? My chiropractor never asked me to do calf raises, because he could tell from the way I was walking that I wouldn’t be able to do it.

Yes, I am bitter towards my family doctor, and this isn’t the first time I’ve been whisked in and out of his office with a patronizing deflection of my problems. If doctors weren’t in such short supply I would look for a new one. I do not run to the doctor with every sniffle, sneeze, bump, or bruise. I will only go to the doctor when absolutely necessary, which means that whatever the issue is it is worth more than 5 minutes of brushing aside my concerns. When I am in so much pain that I have not slept for entire nights and my entire leg is numb and I come to you on the recommendation of my chiropractor who says I have herniated a disc, don’t you dare brush my concerns off and tell me that it’s just a muscle thing and not a herniated disc. Don’t you dare! But he did.

So yeah. This emotional cesspool that I’m swimming in just gets deeper and murkier, but the physio appointment did go well, despite my inability to raise my leg. I got to experience the joys of IMS (intramuscular stimulation), and I was given a bunch of exercises to rehab that little disc problem of mine.

They Told Me to Go to Rehab

This morning I went to the gym. It was my first time back in the gym since my competition ten days ago. My husband started to question my sanity when he found out I was planning on going to the gym today until I explained what I would be doing. No squats. No deadlifts. I wouldn’t even be looking at a barbell. Instead, my coach has programmed some rehab exercises: 90/90 breathing drill, bird dogs, standing lunges, hip hinges, one arm dumbbell floor presses, and standing cable facepulls. Hardly the stuff of a powerlifter’s dreams!

Yesterday a friend asked if I might be up for a bit of a day road trip on Saturday, and I optimistically said that I could handle it. Then I left my house this morning to go to the gym. I hadn’t even backed my car out of my driveway before I was in agonizing pain. My drive to the gym barely takes 5 minutes, but it felt much longer today. By the time I got to the gym, I had to peel my hands off of the steering wheel, and I’m surprised that the steering wheel was still in one piece. Sitting is pure torture. I had to text my friend to say that there was no way I could go with her on Saturday.

So, I was in a lot of pain by the time I got to the gym. Putting on my gym shoes resulted in more pain. I feel like my husband did prior to his hip replacement surgery…unable to put on a sock or a shoe or trim my toenails without great difficulty and pain.

The exercises my coach programmed for me this week are not overly difficult, but the purpose isn’t really to challenge me physically. As easy and basic as the exercises were, I did experience some pain from the positioning of my left leg, even when the leg wasn’t doing any work. It seems that just having that leg passively bent is enough to cause pain to flare up, which is something I have noticed at home already. The left leg also fatigued quite quickly during the standing lunges when it was doing the work. I should point out that pretty much all of the exercises were to be done quite slowly and methodically for a small number of reps. The lunges were 3 reps per side with a 5 second descent, 3 second hold, and 5 second ascent. The right leg had no trouble at all doing the work, but that left leg was burning by the second rep. My only other struggle was getting in and out of position for some of the exercises, like the breathing drill and the floor presses. Getting down onto the floor and back up off of the floor were tricky to do without sending shards of pain through my left hip and butt.

Waves of self-pity are battering against the shoreline of my confidence and self-control. I have no regrets and wouldn’t change anything about my performance at the competition. I had no reason to suspect that this might happen, and chances are that it would have happened sooner or later even if I was doing something seemingly innocuous. My other back issues had been doing very well leading up to competition, and my training had also been going well. No, I do not regret a single thing about the competition, at least not the things that I could control. It would have been nice not to have herniated a disc, but that wasn’t exactly in my control.

But seriously, who enjoys being in constant pain? I know I don’t. Pain clouds your judgement and colours your perception. It wears you down physically and emotionally, and it can paralyze you. This is true of any type of pain.

“Pain has a way of clipping our wings and keeping us from being able to fly. And if left unresolved for very long, you can almost forget that you were ever created to fly in the first place.” ~William P. Young, The Shack 

I was at the gym for an hour doing my rehab exercises. For the first half hour, I struggled. My body felt a bit shaky and weak, as if the 10 days of idleness had stolen all of my strength and flexibility, and my thoughts, as few as they were, castigated me for struggling. The work wasn’t difficult, but 10 days ago I was breaking all the records and now I couldn’t even get myself onto the floor without whimpering.  I had tucked myself into a corner to do my exercises, out of the way and out of anyone’s notice, as if I should be ashamed or embarrassed. My attitude wasn’t much improved by the time I finished my exercises, although I wasn’t even aware of having an attitude until now.

But there is an attitude. It is an attitude of frustration, of despair, and maybe even resignation. I feel stuck. It’s been 10 days of intense pain and a leg almost entirely numb from butt to toes. I am not having fun. I cannot even see fun on the horizon. But despite all the negatives, I am still determined to hold my head up (because I can’t imagine that drowning would be very pleasant) and rise above this injury (because I don’t think I can sink any lower).

There is one positive for today. I slept quite well last night. In fact, it was the best sleep I’ve had since before the competition. It was also the first night I spent the entire night in my own bed since the competition! Of course, I still woke several times with pain raging, but at least I got some sleep.

Choice or Compromise

“If you limit your choice only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is compromise.” ~Robert Fritz

Nationals are 14 weeks away, and I have been striving and working towards my goal of competing there in February. I have all the prerequisites necessary to take part in the National competition. I have a qualifying total within the 24 months prior to Nationals. I competed at Westerns last year. The only thing I don’t currently have is a healthy body, and that is something that could wipe out my Nationals goal.

Although it is highly suspected that I have herniated my L5-S1 disc, there is still so much yet to be determined with this injury. Physiotherapy and X-rays are looming in my future. I wish the X-ray appointment was sooner than it is, because I really do want to get this injury figured out and dealt with. Even if Nationals weren’t on my agenda, I’d still want to hurry this process along. I do not like taking medication, but doing so now is paramount to my sanity. The medication is helping me to get some sleep, even if it is still in short segments. I do not enjoy the pain I am still experiencing…the pain that rudely wakes me from my slumber and cannot be ignored. I do not enjoy the permanent state of numbness that ranges from the tips of my toes all the way up to my buttock on my left leg. At work yesterday, there were many instances where I had to squat or kneel. Doing so felt incredibly weird on my numb left leg. It made my leg feel like a sausage bursting out of it’s casing, fat and swollen. My leg isn’t actually swollen, but the numbness is driving me crazy. I limp when I walk, because one leg is numb and the numbness in my calf makes walking that much harder. I want to feel normal again.

With all the uncertainty surrounding my injury, I have to consider the impact it may have on my goal of competing at Nationals in February. Part of me would be devastated if I had to pass on it, but that is a reality that I need to acknowledge. My health is ultimately more important than a competition. I think the fact that I am silently acknowledging the possibility of not going to Nationals is an important step. Call it maturity or sanity or wisdom or whatever. Nationals may not be possible or reasonable this time, but I am not prepared to give up on my dream quite yet. It’s too soon to say it won’t happen, so I will listen to my body, my coach, my chiropractor, my physiotherapist and see how things progress. However, I do also need to make room in my attitude for the worst case scenarios.

I apologize if this post seems disjointed. Even as I am laying down while typing, I am squirming in pain, unsuccessful in finding a comfortable position. My morning dose of medications is finally making me drowsy, which means I might manage to get a nap in before I go to work. I thought I knew where I was going with this blog post, but the more I type the more I realize I don’t have a clue. Except for this…I recognize that this is my most significant injury in my short powerlifting “career”. I don’t yet know what that will mean for my powerlifting “career” or my goals. After months and months of struggling with injury and rehab, the process continues. 2017 has turned out to be the year of struggle and pain, but I’ve walked through the fire before and come out stronger. That’s my ultimate goal right now.

 

Back to Work

I am back to work this afternoon after having the past five days off. I hadn’t planned nor expected to have all of those days off, but I am thankful that I was able to unload a few of my shifts in order to begin the process of healing. During that time I have been doing very little. I sleep in short bits. I stand and walk. I take my medication. I sleep in short bits some more. I stand when the pain prevents me from laying down. I lay down when I am weary of standing. Sounds exciting, right! Mostly I am waiting…waiting for my physio appointment, waiting for my x-ray appointment, waiting for the pain to subside, waiting for the numbness to disappear. It’s not exactly fun.

I expect that returning to work will not be all fun and games. Standing is less painful, but it isn’t pain-free. Standing and walking on a numb foot and leg isn’t fun either. My medication makes me drowsy, as in I can drink two cups of coffee and then immediately take a nap.

Still I am looking forward to being back at work. It will be nice to be doing something after all these days of doing so little. The hardest part may be remembering to ask for help to do the most basic of tasks that involve bending and lifting, which I am not supposed to do right now. It is never easy for me to ask for help, but doing so becomes all the more difficult when it is asking for help for something I can normally do quite easily.