Reflections #2

Taken from nosidebar.com

2. What did you enjoy doing this year?

This question is a bit easier to answer than the first one, although I often felt like I wasn’t able to enjoy doing nearly as much as I would have liked.

My husband and I spent several days at the end of the summer in Harrison, BC. This was where we spent our honeymoon, and we have truly enjoyed returning there for the past few years. We love the fact that this is a village. Although it is a touristy place, it isn’t full of cheap tricks, gimmicks, and high profile companies. There is a real sense of quiet and peace there, and we enjoy the change of pace, the natural beauty, and all of the amazingly delicious food. This year I was also able to try some stand up paddleboarding, which has been on my to-do list for some time.

After a four year hiatus, I was given the green light to return to running. I have been so excited about being able to run again, even though the act of running isn’t exactly as easy or comfortable as it once was due to the herniated disc and neurological symptoms. My running is typically short and more sporadic than I’d like, but I get to do it.

I always enjoy time spent with good friends. Some girlfriends and I made a weekend trip this summer to Fort Langley. We did some window shopping, visited a winery and cidery, ate good food, and just enjoyed our time together. It was nice to get away and enjoy the time with my friends.

In September, a friend invited me to come jump in the lake with him and some others. He’s a fan of sitting in the lake regardless of the season. The water was chilly but actually kind of comfortable after the initial shock. I estimate that we were chilling out in the lake for about half an hour. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.

In May I went to a November Project morning. This had been something on my radar for quite a while, but the timing just never worked until then. Actually going thrust me out of my comfort zone, but I went. Honestly, I did enjoy it, but it was tough and kicked my butt. Talking with someone about that particular session later, she said it was actually one of the toughest workouts. For me, with my herniated disc and constant leg symptoms, the workout was indeed very tough and I had to make adjustments throughout just to sort of keep up. Even still, I enjoyed it…the timing just doesn’t work for me to go anymore.

Reflections #1

Here we are firmly established in December and, despite several trips to holiday markets, I am not quite yet feeling festive or excited about my most favourite holiday. I have no doubt that I will get there by the time Christmas rolls around, but in the here and now I’m just going through the motions, struggling with pain and emotional upheaval, and trying to live life. But I have begun thinking about the end of this year and the start of the new one. It has long been my habit to reflect on the past and to refocus on the future by creating a personal theme and goals for the days, weeks, and months ahead. Usually I wait until closer to the end of December, but since I am frequently distracted these days I might as well get started. Besides, I rather like the list of 10 questions I found here, so I am going to answer one question at a time.

1. What makes this year unforgettable?

At first glance I would be tempted to say that there wasn’t anything unforgettable about this year. After all, there is a great deal I would rather forget about the past two years; however, just as I make it a habit to practice daily gratitude, I can look deeper than the surface of constant pain.

The first thing that pops into my mind was being able to compete at a local powerlifting competition this summer after a lengthy hiatus. Obviously I was still dealing with my disc injury and constant pain, but it was still wonderful to step on the platform again twenty months after my last competition. I wasn’t chasing any records and the only possible personal best would have been in the bench press; the competition was just about getting back to it, even if I wasn’t healed or where I wanted to be physically. It was a good competition. I failed to beat my personal best bench press, but the rest of my lifts were perfect and far from maximal. It felt so good to be there, to put on the singlet and wait for my name to be called right before the “bar’s loaded”. I have no idea when I might step onto the platform again, which is disappointing but also realistic.

Another unforgettable moment involves my daughter. After months of developing friendship with Ryan at school, they discovered that there was something more there. Last month they essentially made a promise to each other, and I know that my daughter could not be happier. It’s been exciting to see her glowing, to hear all about Ryan and their relationship. This Christmas will be a first for us. Abby will be flying out on Christmas Eve to spend the rest of her school break with Ryan and his family. We’ve never celebrated Christmas without one of our kids at home, but that is probably something we’ll need to get used to sooner rather than later. Seriously though, we are happy for Abby and proud of the woman she is becoming. Ryan’s a pretty good guy, too.

The Wreck

The mental battle rages on.

Yesterday was a rough day. The pain was mostly the same as usual, which I would classify as about an 8/10 average for the day. That seems high and maybe it is. If I can be happy about one thing it would be that the worst of the pain is in the legs and feet, because if the back was also an 8 then I’d be in a more debilitated state. But the nerve pains are unrelenting. While in one moment I can say that the pain is tolerable, that same level of pain in another moment can bring me to tears or fill me with despair.

I was an emotional wreck most of the day and even choked on a few tears in the bathroom before starting work. Shed a few more tears when I got home and my husband asked about my day. Externally my day was okay. Internally it was the pit of despair. The pain brain was scattered and struggled with basic tasks. I left work feeling like I should have done so much more for the closing supervisor, but I was also so desperate to be back at home where I could cry and isolate and suffer in silence.

Things aren’t feeling or looking much better today. I washed my hair, but even that was more of a challenge than it should be. It’s an emotional and mental challenge more than a physical one. This pain is like water torture, one drip after another without ceasing. Here I am reclining in my living room, my laptop on my lap typing this blog, and my legs and feet are burning from buttocks to toes. My legs are throbbing, tingling, pulsing. It feels like things are crawling under the skin. There are little spasms like popcorn popping in my legs. My left calf is burning and throbbing so strongly. It’s overwhelming, and I feel as if I am drowning.

This post is complete garbage, incoherent and rambling, but it is also exactly how I feel. I do not like feeling this way, but it happens. It is hard to be strong all of the time. The mask that says I’m okay slips. The water torture never ends.

5 Lessons

Over the past two years since herniating a disc, I have made dozens, if not hundreds, of online searches for all sorts of related information: symptoms, pain, medications, therapies, surgery, and so on. I doubt a week has gone by without a fresh google search, and this week was no exception. Yesterday I came across a blog post which was all too familiar and completely spot on to my own experiences. The author shares five lessons he learned after three months of dealing with a herniated disc. He said it all quite well, but I want to take his five lessons and share a little about my experiences in learning those same lessons.

  1. Sitting

Three months post-herniated disc, sitting was a definite no-no for me. Now that I am two years post-injury, I can sit for varying lengths of time, seemingly with ease although the outward appearance is rarely the same as what I am feeling inside. It is not always easy to predict in advance, but I tend to find certain sitting surfaces to be worse than others. The pews at church, the waiting room chairs at the pain clinic, a sofa, a chair with too much angle in the backrest…all will almost instantly increase the pain in my back, legs and feet and also make my feet go numb. Sitting in the car for a drive across town is usually okay now, but a half hour drive will start to feel uncomfortable and anything longer will be painful.

I sit as little as possible, which is difficult when I am out of the house. Going out for dinner. Going to a friend’s house. Watching a movie or play at the theatre. Attending a sports event. Church. Meetings and appointments. You never really realize how much sitting we do until it hurts to sit. I’ve missed out on seeing many movies at the theatre. I’ve missed a lot of church. I am constantly weighing my current pain level against how much sitting might be required. Even waiting for a doctor’s appointment often “requires” sitting, because waiting rooms are not designed with space for people to stand while they wait. I’ve looked rather out of place standing in front of a chair in a busy waiting room many times.

My husband bought me a recliner to replace the zero gravity lawn chair that I had been using for well over a year. It’s still not quite perfect; I need a pillow under my low back, but it is better than lying on the floor all the time. I do everything from my recliner: eat, watch TV, read, surf the web and write my blog posts. Reclining or lying down doesn’t eliminate my pain; it merely changes the focus. I have constant nerve pains in both my leg, which are worse when I am lying down. Sitting makes the legs worse but also the back, so I avoid sitting as much as possible, knowing that sitting will only make the disc situation worse.

2. Non-linear healing

Sigh. This is absolutely, completely true! Although I have never had even one minute without pain in the past two years, there are plenty of not so bad days and very bad days. Predicting when things are going to go downhill is a crapshoot. I am thankful, I guess, that the actual back pain I feel tends to be sporadic and often related to too much bending at work, thus easily alleviated at the end of the day. The nerve pain is the worst. Mostly it has been stuck between a 5-8/10 range for the past year. It never gets better than a 4/10 though, and lately the range has been trending upwards. Some sneezes put fear in my eyes. I lost two weeks of work recently due to the back pain going Mount St. Helen’s on me. One tiny step forward, four or five steps back.

3. The Mental Game

The injury and ever-present pain take enough of a toll on the mental game, but, when you add unfruitful treatments/medications, lengthy waits for procedures and appointments, and ongoing frustrations with the medical system, the mental game gets a whole ‘nother level of nitty gritty.

My emotions have been up and down, inside and out, twisted and gnarled. I cry. I rage. I am angry and bitter towards the health care system. There is an air of despair and defeat swirling around me that threatens to blow me over. Depression is constantly knocking on the door. Even when I feel as if I am in a good head space, those darker emotions are still lurking in the shadows. I am easily annoyed and irritated by so many things that are of little consequence. Some days are a struggle to do basic self-care, while other days I feel like I could conquer the world.

4. Differing Opinions

Oh boy! Yes!

My former GP seemed to have limited knowledge with treating a herniated disc. His standard response was that it takes time. That and, “Have you tried traction?”

My physiotherapist had me do lots of extension exercises. My chiropractor also had me do extensions, at least until he put me through more testing. I am thankful to have good chiropractors in my life, ones with all sorts of tools at their disposal, and they have never treated my injury with a cookie-cutter. My chiropractors are always testing me and making changes to my rehab homework based on how my body responds at the time. I like that my chiropractors aren’t afraid to change things up based on what is helpful or not, so I don’t really see this as quite the same thing. This isn’t conflict but appropriate experimentation.

But I do see conflicts elsewhere. From my GP, my pain doctor, and all manner of articles on the internet. This makes navigating one’s injury all the more challenging and confusing.

5. Exercise: Helpful or Not?

I have exercised throughout the past two years, because exercise had been a regular part of my life for the four years prior to the injury. Of course, my activity level and what I was actually doing changed drastically after the injury and slowly, very slowly returned to something closer to my pre-injury state and yet not quite. Has staying active helped? Maybe. Maybe not. I like to think that being active, healthy and strong prior to the injury actually helped me at the moment of injury, but I suppose that could be debated by people smarter than me. Staying active after the injury, with a great deal of respect for what was going on inside my body, helped strengthen my back and core while allowing me to retain some of my strength and regain flexibility.

Some exercises certainly would not be helpful, and I am well aware of the potential for setbacks if I push too hard or far. Thankfully I have a coach to help guide me, and he communicates with my chiropractor, which means I am well looked after.

I don’t want to give up on exercise, even though there are still limits to some things I can or cannot do and the constant nerve pain makes certain exercises harder than they should be. If I didn’t have a coach and chiropractor working together to help me, I’m not sure that I would be exercising as much as I do, and I do think that would be a bad thing on many levels.

Two years with a herniated disc. Five lessons learned and, I’m sure, many more yet to come.

Undaunted

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

~the Talmud

One does not need to look very far or very hard to find grief and suffering in the world. Hurting, broken people are all around us. These people are our customers, our co-workers, our neighbours, our friends, our family, the stranger in the grocery store, and, in all likelihood, you are also hurting. Some hide it better than others. Some lash out at others for things completely unrelated to what is actually causing them internal pain. It is so easy for me to paint my angry and rude customers with the same brush, to feel personally wronged by their selfishness and unpleasant demeanor, but the truth is more likely to be that they are just broken, hurting people, too. I feel deeply. My heart breaks for those I know going through terrible situations. Goodness! My heart breaks for fictional characters going through terrible situations! It doesn’t matter how close I am with people…I tend to get emotionally invested in those I interact with on a regular basis.

We are bombarded on a daily basis with news of doom and gloom on a national and international level, but we also get hit with bad news on a much smaller, more personal level, too. As much as I know the depths and softness of my heart, I often feel as cold as stone inside, because I do not know what to do. What can I say to that person? How can I help? As I have been struggling with my own physical pain and fallout for the past two years, my limited ability to help others adds heaps of guilt and shame onto my shoulders. I don’t know what to do or what to say or how to help, especially when most of my days are spent fighting my own internal battles.

But I do not need to be anyone’s Saviour. As much as I desire to be like Wonder Woman, I don’t need to be anyone’s super hero. I only need to be Angela. Saving the world isn’t my obligation, but being kind is. I cannot erase someone’s grief, but I can offer comfort and a hand to hold. When words fail, my presence can speak for me. Love. Kindness. Mercy. Humility. Trustworthiness. Respect. Compassion.

Do justly, now.

Still Here

So I gave up on my intention of blogging every day in November. It wasn’t an easy decision, because I don’t like to quit on a personal challenge; however, I found myself at a complete loss of desire to do it. Can I blame that on my pain brain? Maybe. I don’t know. Probably, I guess. My brain doesn’t always seem to be functioning properly these days, or at least as well as I think it should. And sometimes, motivation just dries up when nerve pain is loud. It would be easy to brush off some of my mental lapses as one-timers, but they have been occuring far too frequently to ignore.

While emptying the mop bucket at work last night, the wringer handle slipped out of my hand and whacked me in the lip. I was certain my lip would swell up, but it didn’t.

Because of a change to my work schedule yesterday, my shift today was also changed. That wasn’t a major deal, but I didn’t feel mentally prepared for the day. I should have been, but I wasn’t. The work day still went well, I think, but internally I felt like I was floundering.

After work today I went to the gym, because that is what I do on Wednesdays. Nothing seemed to go right for me. My warm up routine is fairly simple, but I was struggling from the get-go. I hit my head on a barbell in the squat rack. It was sitting in the rack higher than where I would set it, but I wasn’t using the bar yet and wasn’t concerned about it. At one point during my warm up exercises, I knelt down and then stood back up…right into the bar. That hurt a bit, although I think it hurt my pride more than my head. Still warming up, the nerve pains in the right leg went ballistic with pain and spasms which continued throughout my workout and is still raging on now. When I was doing my sets of tempo bench press, I hit the rack with the bar every single set and often for multiple reps in each set. Hitting the rack is something that I do once in a while, never as much as today; it was rather irritating but goes to show how out of sorts I was.

I have been home for about six hours now, and the nerve pain and spasms continue. To be honest, the nerve pains in the right leg increased at work last night. The best way to describe the way it felt last night is to say that it felt as if Wolverine was shredding the back of my thigh with his claws. I am so done with this nerve pain.

Tomorrow I will see my pain clinic doctor for my regular three months check up. I expect it won’t amount to much, but maybe I can at least get her to broaden my medical cannabis prescription enough so that I can actually play with my dosage. As far as interventions go, I think I’ve exhausted all the possibilities, except for surgery, but the pain doctor can’t help me with that anyway.

The Cancellation

So I had booked my last free yoga class for this afternoon, but I canceled it early this morning after thinking about it a lot while I was awake through the night. While the back feels okay since my first foray into yoga two days ago, the nerve pain in the legs has been stronger. I don’t sleep well anyway, but the past two nights have found me more awake than sleeping due to the burning, throbbing, squeezing pains in my legs and feet. Is the yoga to blame? Maybe. I don’t know for sure, but I think so. Still, it wasn’t an easy to decision to cancel today’s class.

I kind of enjoyed that yoga class and was looking forward to trying it again, maybe even incorporating yoga into my regular routine. Last night I did some googling and came across numerous articles stating that yoga, while beneficial, can also not be good for a lumbar disc herniation because of the flexion or forward bending. That makes a lot of sense and could explain the increase in pain, because I was cautious with extending my back too much and less cautious about bending forward. I was less cautious, but I did still make some adjustments to my bending and even skipped out on a couple of deep forward bends that were beginning to feel uncomfortable. But I guess that is something I need to be even more mindful of.

I know that too much bending is very hard on my back, because I feel the effects of that at work all the time. Bending at work just seemed to be a completely different thing than the bending during yoga. Pretty much every doctor I have ever seen since the injury has had me bend forward to touch my toes, so I guess I didn’t see an issue with doing something similar in a controlled environment like yoga. As I was awake last night, I debated with myself about canceling or going anyway, because I did like it and I don’t like to give up, especially not so quickly; however, I think I made the right choice for today. I thought I had been gentle with myself last class, so if I wasn’t as gentle as I thought, then where is the demarcation line between gentle enough and not? I am not feeling confident in my ability to discern that distinction. That isn’t to say that yoga wouldn’t be helpful in some ways or at some point in time, but for now, I’d rather not be wide awake feeling like I’m going to puke because it feels like my nerves are being crushed and torched.