It’s All Downhill From Here

It has been almost a week since I stopped taking Duloxetine. Since I was already taking the lowest possible dose, I could not taper and simply stopped, and so far I haven’t noticed any super terrible withdrawal side effects. However, it can still take a few weeks for the body to fully adjust to being off the drug. I have noticed some changes already though. Instead of waking up every 15-60 minutes through the night, I am back to waking up 5 or 6 times through the night. That’s still not ideal, but it is my herniated disc normal. The nerve pain and symptoms have increased to what they were before the drug, which was expected but still unfortunate. Although a far cry from the worst days, this past week has been kind of rough physically and that makes it all the harder to not have a rough go of it emotionally and mentally.

This morning started out well, or at least as well as a carefree day off could be for me. No alarm clock but still awake earlier than I would have liked. Leisurely enjoyed my cup of coffee, then soaked in a hot bath before tackling some housework and getting a pot of lentil barley soup simmering on the stove. Shortly before noon I found myself feeling kind of gross. Not a sick kind of gross but still a vague ickiness that was becoming difficult to ignore. Then I joined my husband on a trip to Costco and my physical discomfort became more belligerent. My back is feeling super achy and clunky. The nerve pain in my right buttock is strong and screeching down the back of my thigh. My legs and feet are burning, tingling, throbbing…all fairly routine and “normal” for me in my herniated disc life, but these symptoms were much milder on the drug. The drug that gave me insomnia and stole my appetite and caused me to sweat buckets and on and on. Why? Why can’t I get some relief without suffering in other ways?

So, I got a lot done this morning but expect to get nothing else done for the rest of the day. Tuesday’s appointment with my pain doctor cannot come fast enough.

Angela and the Very Full, Pretty Good Weekend

The weekend has been very full and pretty good overall.

It started on Friday morning with a couple of squats at 200 pounds. While this was still well below my personal best, it was only 9 pounds less than my post-herniated disc best squat which I did in competition July 2019. Although it has been more than a year since that post-injury PR, Friday’s squats felt much easier and smoother than last year’s. This makes me happy as it means strength is growing again.

Friday also had a couple of appointments. The first was with my chiropractor, following up on my right hip which had recently become irritated during a run. He worked on my hip the week before with good results during my 7K run last weekend, and with my plans to run a 10K soon I wanted to nip this hip thing in the bud. The appointment was a good one, not that I’ve ever had a bad one at this clinic, and he didn’t even need to do any work on the hip. In fact, he said my hip was moving as well as it would have had he just worked on it, which made me very happy. It’s no fun to have body parts hurting, and I have enough of that already with Hank the herniated disc, so the seemingly quick turn around with the hip was exciting.

The second appointment was a video call with my family doctor. It wasn’t a long appointment but we touched a few bases. She referenced an update she received from my pain doctor in August and asked how things were going on the Cymbalta again. In fact, I didn’t take my dose that morning and had decided to stop as of that day. The decision wasn’t as easy to make as I had thought it might be, because I was actually experiencing a measure of pain relief. However, while a few of the side effects had mostly settled, the insomnia was brutal and I simply cannot justify the little bit of pain relief at the cost of being awake every 15 to 60 minutes through the night and often for hours at a time. My doctor supported my decision, although she also suggested taking something to help me sleep which I politely declined. I do not want to take multiple drugs; I’d prefer not to take any in the first place. We talked about sending me to see a neurologist. The last surgeon to turn me down suggested I see a rheumatologist. That referral has already been sent off, even though both my doctor and I feel that this will be a waste of time and not a rheumatological issue. I’m not sure that a neurologist will be any more helpful, but at least seeing one makes much more sense considering the fact that I do have a herniated disc and nerve pain. My doctor agreed, so that referral will be sent off along with a request for EMG testing. In August, my pain doctor asked me to think about having a procedure done that essentially burns the nerves. It is a rhizotomy, I guess, although the position of the injection would be somewhat different in my situation. I have looked over information on the procedure and heard first-hand accounts from people who have had it, but I wasn’t feeling certain or comfortable with whether or not I should. In talking about it with my GP, I feel more comfortable about it and will let my pain doctor know when I see her later this month. The procedure still seems big and scary, even though it is pretty much the same as the most recent injections I’ve had. The only difference is that the nerves get pulsed through the needle rather than injected with a solution. It makes me a little nervous, but I somehow feel optimistic and energized.

Today is my third day NOT on medication, and I’m wondering how long it will be until I am completely free of any lingering effects. I definitely noticed an increase in the nerve pains by Friday afternoon…so not thrilled with that. I’m still experiencing excessive sweating, but I only woke up 5 or 6 times last night which is an improvement. It is, however, very difficult to wake up when I actually need to get out of bed, but I have felt more energetic during the day than I have in a month. Between Friday and Saturday, I purged, cleaned, and rearranged furniture in my son’s old bedroom, which also involved moving stuff out of my living room and bedroom. My weekend has been very productive; it’s so lovely to have energy and drive again!

This Sunday morning I ran my 10K virtual race. I had to get it done between September 17 and 26, but this weekend was what worked best with my schedule and I put it off until this morning as the smoke was finally supposed to be cleared out from the sky (and it was!) After doing my warm up, I set out on my run. I didn’t expect it to feel easy. The last time I ran this far was six years ago, before the herniated disc and when I was a much more conditioned runner than I am now. But today’s run was really quite challenging and tough, even more than expected. The first three kilometres were about what I anticipated, knowing that I’m a stronger finisher than starter. The fourth kilometre was mostly uphill, not an extreme elevation gain but enough to suck the energy out of my body. The fifth kilometre was mentally challenging, because I was feeling demoralized by the 4th and was getting quite annoyed with the timing app repeatedly telling me to “virtually turn left”, “virtually turn right”, and “virtually turn around” when I didn’t need to do any of those things. (It wasn’t my normal run app but the one recommended for this virtual race.) I felt a little more alive during the sixth kilometre, knowing that I was halfway through and that I used to find my second wind in the seventh. The start of the seventh kilometre involved a turn towards home, and I was overjoyed to see a hot air balloon in the sky before me. I focused on that balloon as long as I could, because now that hip was beginning to hurt and quickly feeling bad. That second wind did hit me, but the hip and the sciatic nerve in that leg were not playing nicely at all making those final three kilometres a weird combination of feeling wonderful yet also torturous and grueling. I had to take brief walk breaks more frequently than I wanted to during those final kilometres, but walking was almost more painful than the running. It was tough, but I got it done and still managed to finish slightly faster than I anticipated. I went in knowing that I’d never beat or even equal my best ever 10K time, but I expected to finish in about an hour and 20 minutes. My final time was one hour and 16 minutes. I did say it was a slight improvement over my expectations! 😉

The rest of today has been a combination of resting, relaxing, and somehow still moving and doing things, like baking donuts on a whim. There has also been some quality time spent with an ice pack and my heating pad, along with liberal amounts of BioFreeze. The hip is not in as much pain as during the latter stage of the run, but it is feeling quite distraught with no indication of appeasement anytime soon. As the hours of the day have passed, the frequency and decibel level of my groaning have increased. My chiropractor is away for a couple of weeks now, so I need to take care of my poor hip on my own. Thankfully, I don’t need to do any running for a while and certainly not as great a distance when I do decide to run again. This week at the gym is a deload, so I am also thankful the way the timing of that worked in my favour. As for the rest of what’s left of the day…dinner is almost ready: scalloped potatoes, ham, and green beans along with a bottle of bubbly to celebrate my run, because it is a pretty big deal to me. It was a goal I set for myself a few months ago when surgery was once again denied and I resolved to just get back to reclaiming and living my life the best I can in spite of Hank and the never-ending pain. It wasn’t pretty, but I did it!

Zombiepocalypse

I feel a bit as if I have lost my voice. Not in a literal sense though. There have been so many times when I think I would like to write a blog post, but I let the opportunity pass me by. Most of the time I watch it pass without any remorse. I have had thoughts and ideas and things to say…just not the heart or will to translate from inside my head to keyboard and the virtual world.

While it isn’t all that uncommon for me to go through phases of more or less writing (and other activities), this phase feels different and I have to wonder if it is the medication. Makes sense, I suppose. Although it has been prescribed to me for an off-label use, Duloxetine is first and foremost an antidepressant.

I am about three weeks into this current test with Duloxetine, and I have been weighing the pros and cons for continuing every single day since starting the medication. The side effects this time around on a lower dose seem less onerous, but they are still enough to make me feel disinclined to continue. I do not like taking drugs anyway, but I really don’t enjoy feeling like a zombie all the time, having little to no appetite, and dealing with waves of excessive sweating and nausea. The only reason I haven’t quit already is that I am experiencing some pain relief, particularly in my left leg and foot. I’m not pain, burning, or tingling free, but my feet have not felt this close to normal in 34 months. Is this as good as it is going to get on the low dose? Will the side effects ever go away completely? Do I want to remain medicated long-term for this partial amount of pain relief? That’s what I need to consider and soon.

Feeling like a zombie mostly revolves around the constant state of extreme fatigue I feel and the fact I am awake on pretty much an hourly basis through the night; however, I have begun to realize that it might also refer to how my emotions seem to be suppressed lately and I think that’s the antidepressant’s fault.

Lazy Days of Summer

How is it that we are already six days into September? What happened to spring and summer? This Corona virus pandemic has made 2020 a memorable year, although most might like to forget this year ever happened. Time always feels as if it is passing at the speed of light, so I shouldn’t be surprised that we’re a good step or two into September, and yet, I am. It is easy to think about all that didn’t get to happen over the last several months and to be disappointed, frustrated, or angry. I am not immune to those feelings, but I have also learned not to get too caught up in what I cannot control (at least most of the time!)

Typically I look forward to September. As much as I enjoy summer, fall is my favourite season. I love running in the crisp, cool temperatures, the changing colours of the leaves, the crunch of fallen leaves underfoot, and hearty comfort food. But right now, my eagerness for fall is restrained by a sense that there just hasn’t been enough summer. September has always seemed like a bit of a restart. As a kid and a later as a parent, September meant a new school year full of possibilities, and so I guess I carry this inner expectation of this flip of the calendar meaning something fresh and new. This pandemic, however, has tainted the specialness of the month with continuing uncertainty and disruption. I don’t worry much about a lot of things, but I do wonder what the next few months will bring as the pandemic continues and the weather gets colder. Although there is a chill in the early morning air these days, we are experiencing some beautiful weather and temperatures still. Perhaps summer will last a bit longer after all.

Medication Musings

Medication is a funny thing in a dark, twisted kind of way. I have always been amused by the television ads for various medications and the rapidly listed potential side effects, which tend to include death in the same breath as headaches or nausea, and I have always wondered why anyone would want to take these drugs. Since herniating a disc, I have been on more medications in the past 34 months than I had been on in probably twenty years or more. While there are many valid reasons for needing medication, in general I just don’t want to be taking drugs. Having tried something like eight or more different drugs in an effort to reduce my nerve pain, I have run the gamut of side effects with little to show for benefit, which only makes me all the more opposed to taking the drugs.

I have been back on Duloxetine for almost two weeks now but at a low dose. My pain doctor is hoping that the low dose will allow me some relief without prolonged side effects. To be honest, I was doubtful after what I experienced on this same drug from February to April, but I agreed to give it a try. I don’t know if my body has simply remembered the drug or what, but the side effects don’t seem quite as drastic as the first go round; however, that does not mean there haven’t been side effects. Today was the first day that I haven’t noticed any nausea, but I’m still not eating enough calories each day. There are still a couple of moments of feeling very shaky or overly heated throughout the day. Fatigue is still high, but there is definitely more difficulty with sleeping, which isn’t good when sleep has already been affected by the constant nerve pain.

Strange dreams have always been normal for me, but lately the strangeness of my dreams has taken an even more drastic turn. Can I blame that on the medication? I don’t know. It’s amazing that I can dream at all considering that I am awake every 20-60 minutes through the night, but I have had quite a few extremely bizarre dreams in the past two weeks. Don’t ask me for details though, because I’m pretty sure that brain fog is also a side effect and I’m experiencing it completely. Along with the frequent waking and strange dreams, falling asleep is problematic. It doesn’t matter how exhausted I am when I crawl into bed, I will lie awake for an hour or two or three, trying every trick in my book to shut off the brain and relax the body enough to drift off into sweet slumber. It just doesn’t work. Isn’t medication grand?

So the big question…is the medication helping with the nerve pain? When the doctor suggested staying at a low dose, I was skeptical since I knew what the full dose did or did not do for the pain previously. The first time around I noticed a decrease in back pain after two weeks at the low dose and a very small decrease in pain in my feet at the full dose for several weeks. Just shy of two weeks on the low dose now, I have yet to feel any decrease in back pain, but I have noticed a decrease in the burning and tingling in my feet, especially my left foot. It’s a decrease to be sure, but it’s not a drastic change really. From an average 5/10 to 2/10 for the left foot and 3/10 for the right. Maybe. The rest of the legs feel much the same. I see my pain doctor again near the end of September at which time I will be asked how things have been. She gave the okay to stop the medication if the side effects didn’t ease up after a few weeks, so I’m willing to give it a solid shot. At this point, I’m just not sure the little bit of benefit is worth it.

The Guinea Pig

I am glad to be on vacation this week, yet here I am with four days left and not a heck of a lot to show for it. We got away last weekend, which was lovely and wonderful, but now that we’re back home I’m little more than a lump on my recliner. It’s not like I all sorts of grandiose plans for my week at home, except I did imagine savouring a morning cup of coffee on the deck while writing and possibly getting creative in the kitchen. You know, the sort of things that a person cannot do when they start work at 5:00 AM or need to rush from work to the gym then hurry through dinner before crawling into bed. Sure, this was my week to be leisurely and go with the flow, but I still thought I’d be more productive. It’s not really my fault though; it’s the duloxetine.

A week and a half ago at my regular pain clinic appointment, my doctor recommended trying the duloxetine one more time. A sliver of my soul shriveled up and died when she said that, because, out of all the medications I have tried, this one has had the nastiest side effects and the memory of them is still fairly fresh. My doctor countered my reluctance by saying that we would stay at a low dose and not increase it. The logic being that the worst of the side effects may ease off after a week or two, and this drug had shown the most promise in relieving some of my pain. If the side effects don’t go away after four weeks, then I can stop. I’m not sure why she thinks a low dose might be helpful, when I was on the full dose for at least 6 weeks with only minimal benefit, but here I am trying again. It feels foolish. It is foolish, but I kind of feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. The pain doctor is trying to help me with my pain; it would be even more foolish to refuse everything she asks me to try. And yet, I have tried so many things already and so many drugs. I just don’t think this is worth it.

This is the third day since starting back on the duloxetine, and the side effects kicked in about three hours after the first dose. Nausea. Loss of appetite. Headache. Dry mouth. Oppressive fatigue, the kind that crawls into your eyeballs and covers you like a weighted blanket. Insomnia. Isn’t it ironic how a drug can make you so tired but also so unable to sleep? It is cruel and unusual punishment. Occasional dizziness and overall brain fog. No energy. No motivation. No get up and go…except to use the bathroom because of drinking so much water to combat the dry mouth. Time will tell if I will get the numerous unexplained bruises that I experienced before. So much fun.

She Used to be Mine

“It’s not simple to say
That most days I don’t recognize me
That these shoes and this apron
That place and its patrons
Have taken more than I gave them
It’s not easy to know
I’m not anything like I used be, although it’s true
I was never attention’s sweet center
I still remember that girl”

She Used to be Mine by Sara Bareilles

Face down on my chiropractor’s table yesterday, I found myself struggling to hold back tears. Scratch that! What I was really trying to hold back were actual sobs of the sort that erupt from a heaving chest and deep anguish. I listened as my chiropractor spoke, desperately trying to calm the storm rising within, barely noticing the tissue work he was performing, while tears leaked out from my eyes. Crying in any sort of a public setting is extremely low on my list of things I like to do, and I most definitely do not like to appear as overly emotional, unbalanced, needy, weak or incapable. I am a strong, independent, white woman who can take care of herself and has her shit mostly together, and a random crying episode just doesn’t fit that image.

“She’s imperfect, but she tries
She is good, but she lies
She is hard on herself
She is broken and won’t ask for help
She is messy, but she’s kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie
She is gone, but she used to be mine”

I cannot really explain what triggered the tears yesterday. Despite the roughness of the preceding week or two or thirty-something months, I walked into the clinic feeling like my head and spirit were in a good place and they were. But that’s the way chronic pain infiltrates every inch of one’s life. I can say that it is tolerable, at least until it isn’t, but it never goes away, never allows me to forget that something is not right with my body. Pain is messy, and that mess gets everywhere. It’s like having a can of paint explode inside a room. No matter how diligently you try to clean it up, the paint smears on the walls and floors and seeps into cracks and gaps in the floorboards. Pain disrupts sleep which leads to permanent exhaustion. Pain and exhaustion lower one’s tolerance for idiot drivers, rude customers, long car rides, and sitting on someone’s soft sofa. Pain, exhaustion, the routine daily annoyances, and frustrations with the medical system can make even the sunniest of days dark and dreary. The struggle is real and yet mostly unseen, unsaid, because I like to be that strong, independent woman who has her shit together.

I suppose that is why the lyrics of this song resonate with me so much, although I think I am still somewhat like I used to be, more or less. Probably mostly less, but the core of my character is still there, I think.

I hope. I am strong. I am kind. I work hard and refuse to give up, but occasionally I wish that I could. And I keep trying. I laugh. Recognizing small moments of joy and gratitude is my habit. I give because it brings me joy. But all of these things sometimes get lost or forgotten in the midst of the mess that has been created by the pain.

As I laid on the table yesterday, there was just something in the way my chiropractor said, “You know, Angela, that I’m always going to be honest with you,” or something along that line, that hit me in a tender spot. I have been thinking about it since walking out of the clinic yesterday morning, but there doesn’t seem to be a simple answer. Prior to herniating a disc, I seldom needed to see a doctor. Since herniating a disc, I have seen at least twenty doctors in varying fields, and the majority of my experiences have been fraught with bumblings, fumblings, and the overwhelming sense that caring for a patient is no longer the priority. That alone is depressing enough without being in constant pain! But when my chiropractor says that he is always going to level with me, I believe him because I know that he has always done so and that means a lot to me. He did not know me before the disc herniation, so I’m afraid that he only knows the broken and distorted image that sort of looks like the person I used to be. I grieve for her sometimes…the girl who could wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning, work a full busy day on her feet, go to the gym at 4 in the afternoon still full of energy, and then force her inner night owl into submission in order to get a full night’s sleep before starting all over the next day.

It’s not simple to say that most days I don’t recognize me…”

It’s true; I don’t. But maybe within the promise to speak honestly, there is an undercurrent of recognition, of who I have been and who I am now and who I can still be. Or maybe it isn’t as deep as all that and that’s okay. I readily admit that I think too much, but for today, as I continue to ride this emotional roller-coaster, it makes sense to me.

Summer in the Time of Pandemic

If I ignored the people wearing masks and gloves everywhere and the occasional line up to enter a store, there really is not much that screams global pandemic like there was a few months ago. Although as a society we are still far from functioning like our old normal, we seem to be coasting along as if everything was fine and the pandemic was but a distant memory. Of course, that is simply not the truth. My city and province might not be in a terrible position, the Corona virus continues to spread its way through communities, and the fallout is still yet to be wholly realized. As such, this summer is a weird combination of some people overly fearful and panicked and others stubbornly rejecting the seriousness of this virus and the need for masks or social distancing. There are people in the middle, of course, but the extremes always garner more attention. Regardless of where you fall on the Covid spectrum, this summer, this year is drastically different even as we try our best to regain normalcy.

I am two weeks away from vacation time, and I can hardly wait. While I enjoyed the many weeks my workplace was closed in the earlier days of the pandemic, that just wasn’t the same thing as a real vacation. There was nowhere to go and nothing to do outside of your home, so we did home workouts and baked sourdough bread and crocheted and read books and watched Netflix…all enjoyable activities but not time away from the daily grind. Most of my vacation time will be spent at home with the exception of a weekend away at one of my favourite spots, because many hotels have substantially jacked their rates. It’s frustrating and disappointing. I appreciate that their business has suffered during the pandemic and tourism will be reduced for the rest of the year, but we have all been affected by the pandemic in one way or another. Some have lost income or jobs. Others have had no choice but to work through the worst of the pandemic, deemed essential and thus faced all the more pressure and stress and risk. Due to the huge increase in rates, we won’t be staying at the hotel we most enjoy staying at and had to settle for a motel of significantly lower standing to find a rate comparable to what we used to pay for the hotel. Parts of our experience won’t be quite as comfortable or enjoyable as a result, but I am still thankful that we are able to be in the area we want to be. Although it is technically a touristy location, it is also a very small, quaint and quiet place where we can disconnect, relax and unwind. I am so looking forward to being there!

I did not run at all this week. The main reason for that lies with my new tattoo. It’s still in the healing process, so I need to avoid clothing that rubs, I cannot use sunscreen but I need to keep it out of the sun. As much as I would have liked to have gone for a run at some point during the week, I have enjoyed not feeling the self-induced pressure to get it done. My work schedule often makes it difficult to fit a run in during work days, especially when I need to prioritize balancing work, the gym, early bedtimes and early shifts, so it has been lovely to start my weekend mornings at a slower pace, savouring coffee and breakfast before tackling the rest of my day. The soonest I might run again is next Saturday or Sunday, although I will still need to find the best way to keep cool and keep the sun off my tattoo.

Birthdays and special days are scattered throughout the year, but the August page of my calendar always seems to be packed. I sent a friend a text the other day asking if I had forgotten their birthday again; I had. I realized today that I missed another friend’s birthday yesterday. It isn’t the end of the world, but I like to stay on top of such things. I like to send a card or a text or post something on Facebook or give a gift. I do not want to be the person who always forgets important dates. Even non-birthday dates are important to me sometimes! I remember things. I acknowledge and celebrate things. Except when I forget and sometimes I do, but that isn’t the real me. Just an hour or so ago, I wrote in a card and got it ready to drop in the mail tomorrow. It’s a card for my coach, because I am celebrating working with him for three years now. Three years as of late July. It’s not like I forgot, because Facebook reminded me of the memory…I just got distracted and forgot to actually acknowledge it with my coach. Can I blame the memory gaps and distraction on the pandemic?

Yesterday I also realized that my oldest son has been living on his own for more than a month now. How did that month just fly by so quickly? It’s craziness, I tell you. He doesn’t miss me enough to want to move back home, which I guess is a good thing and I am really happy for him, but I am also glad that he works with his dad, so I still get to see him several times a week depending on my work schedule.

August just started and we’re heading into the middle of the month already! As much as Fall is my favourite season, I am not ready for summer to end yet. I love the cool, crisp Autumn air, but I also love running in shorts and a tank top, sitting on the deck in the shade of my maple tree, early sunrises and later sunsets (even if I’m in bed long before the sun). The pandemic has taken my concept of time and scrambled it like my morning eggs. It feels like we missed Spring completely, shut up in our homes only venturing out for necessities, and now Summer is evaporating as quickly as the morning dew on a hot day. But hey, we have been barbequing more this summer than we have for the past couple of years combined, so that’s good! Also, little by little, I am crossing things off of my old to-do list…the one I started before the herniated disc interrupted everything but the most basic tasks. This may not be the summer we thought we’d have, but overall it isn’t so bad.

Inner Strength

Four years ago, after getting my first little tattoo, I began thinking about a second one. I had always been gravitating towards the Wonder Woman logo, never quite certain how or where or if my why was enough, because, for me, the why is of the utmost importance. I am not the type to get a tattoo for no other reason than to put more ink on my skin. While I can often admire the artwork on others, if I’m putting something permanent on my skin, it must hold significant meaning to me. (You can read the story behind my first tattoo here.) So, I wasn’t about to rush into another tattoo based merely on being a fangirl. This is also why I do not have a Star Wars tattoo!

For a while, that second tattoo idea faded into the background. Life was busy with work, training, competing in powerlifting, a daughter in college, and all the in-between stuff of life. Then I herniated a disc and everything was pushed deep underground, until somewhere along the way that idea pushed through the soil like the first crocus of spring. When I’m healed I will get that tattoo, I thought. Then there was the possibilities of surgery, so my waiting game added the tattoo to its fold. Time moved on, the disc hasn’t healed and surgery was repeatedly denied. As I waited for the final surgical appointment, I mentally prepared myself for the disappointment I knew was coming my way and made a list of things I was going to do when it arrived. The tattoo was one of those things.

I knew that the final result would not be an exact copy of the image I gave for reference, but I am simply blown away with what my tattoo artist created for me. It is amazing and perfect, and I love it!

I am also really glad that it is done. Everyone I talked to about it said that calves are generally not painful areas to tattoo. They might be right, but my calves are far from typical these days and nothing was painless. There were some early bits that were merely uncomfortable, but the discomfort and pain increased as the work progressed with the final bits of white lines being the absolute worst. Laying on my stomach for almost three hours was also not super comfortable for the back, and the nerve pains in the legs didn’t take a break either. It took a lot of effort to stay still, to not hold an extreme amount of tension throughout my body, and to breathe, but I did.

The tattoo is on my left calf, my “numb” left calf. I say that it is numb, but that isn’t necessarily the best word to describe how it feels. From the day I herniated the disc, this calf and the ball of my left foot have felt this way…heavy, kind of numb, almost like the way your cheek feels after dental work, weirdly sensitized. It’s not an easy thing to describe, which is why I just say numb, but it isn’t numb in the way that you feel nothing. I was nervous about how much it would hurt to tattoo this particular calf, but I was also determined that it would be this one because of how the disc has affected it.

I have loved Wonder Woman since I was a little girl. She is strong and powerful and embodies so many amazing qualities. She is my favourite superhero, and I only wish I could bench press as much as she can! The inspiration for my tattoo flows out of dealing with the herniated disc, the constant nerve pain, and all of the shit that has been part of my “healing” process. I am never going to be an Amazonian warrior, but I have my own strengths and amazing qualities inside and they refuse to be hidden.

The thoughts and emotions inside my head are getting tangled up with each other, and I fear that I am bungling my attempt to articulate everything this tattoo represents. Somehow that seems to fit. The artwork on my skin is so much more than I could have ever imagined or expected, so it is no surprise that I can’t adequately express what it means to me. But here it is in all its glory.

I Am…I Know

“Everything has changed and yet, I am more me than I’ve ever been.”

Iain Thomas

This quote popped up in my Facebook memories from three years ago today. At that time, the changes included friendships ending and finding a new powerlifting coach. Those changes took me by surprise and shook up my little world a bit, but I survived and thrived through them all. Of course, those changes were roughly four months before Hank happened. Hank being my herniated disc. Three years ago, in the midst of upheaval, I knew I would be alright, even better than just alright. I knew my character. I knew who I was and what I was capable of. As my thoughts reflect back on those days, those changes were actually quite small, even though they seemed so big in the moment. I was blissfully unaware of what was coming my way in a few short months and just how much would change as a result.

Although the three year anniversary of herniating a disc is still almost four months away, the fact that I am still struggling is rather depressing and frustrating. I have tried so many things, seen so many doctors, and I still hurt all of the time with answers or help always out of reach. This injury has changed my life in so many ways. It has robbed me of some of my powerlifting goals, stolen months of work and always affects my work no matter how much I push through the pain and discomfort. Emotional upheaval. Physical limitations and restrictions. Fatigue. Medication side effects. It’s difficult to wholly understand just how wide and deep the tendrils of chronic pain go unless you’ve been there yourself.

So much has changed in the past three years. I have climbed to the top and plummeted to the bottom, and I’ve been scrambling to climb back up ever since. I have dark days and bad days, but yet I am more me than I’ve ever been. This I know is true.

I can still laugh at myself or a good joke, maybe even a bad joke if it hits me just right.

I keep on keeping on, even if I need to take a few minutes to lay out in my recliner or whine about going for a hike with my daughter, knowing that my legs and feet will hurt the entire time. I still go to the gym, and I am thrilled to be squatting with a barbell again after several weeks of home workout goblet squats. I am excited to be getting out for some runs more frequently than I have been for months, and I am finding just enough determination to push myself a little bit further than I think I can do.

I still remember birthdays and important stuff. Most of the time.

I still have goals, and I’m pointed in the right direction.

I still care about people and rooting for the underdogs.

I still like to try and learn new things.

I want to be more, do more, be better, do better.

My current situation has been and continues to be frustrating, but I also feel peace. I know that I will be alright, even if I am not alright.

I know who my friends are, the people who love and support me. I know who has my back and who wants to see me succeed.

I know who I am. I know where I have been and can envision where I want to be. I know that I can get there, unless I discover that the challenge is unattainable and then I know that I am flexible and adaptable and resilient. I am anti-fragile. I am strong.

I am more me than I’ve ever been. It’s going to take more than a herniated disc to take me down.