Snow Days and Nerve Pain

“If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow.”

~unknown

I went through a great deal of life disliking many aspects of winter, but that changed once I began running several years ago. That still strikes me as oddly funny. I had always considered myself a fair weather outdoorsy type person, but there was something about running that changed the way I perceived the downsides of winter, namely the cold and snow. It became my habit to go for a little run on Christmas day, and I always enjoyed running on freshly fallen snow. Although I had to give up running for a few years, my dislike for winter didn’t return. Until now. Sort of.

It’s not that I hate winter again, but I am definitely feeling less enthusiastic about it, even though I am permitted to run again. We have had a lot of snow over the past couple of weeks and some pretty cold temperatures. The snow, while pretty to look at, makes life a little more difficult for me. Shovelling it is out of the question. Even if I wanted to shovel some snow, I don’t think that would be good for my back in any way. Then there’s the matter of putting on and taking off boots/shoes every time I need to go outside. It is either bend over, kneel or sit down to do it. My natural tendency is something between bending over and kneeling down, but it still feels cumbersome on the back. My husband wonders if the cold weather might make my body hurt more. I don’t know if that is true. My back has been especially achy lately…maybe it’s the cold temperatures or maybe it is just my normal. After all, the nerve pain in the legs is constant and the back pain is frequent regardless of the weather. So, I don’t really have any answers, but I am ready for spring or at least for the snow to melt completely away. I am ready to go back to wearing flip flops and not stressing out about icy roads and sidewalks.

And yet, I still enjoy winter.

The snow is beautiful, and I will get back to running again soon. I hope. I last ran on December 31st. There wasn’t much snow then, nor was it very cold; however, neither of those things are why I haven’t been running yet this year. Maybe I will go for a short run tomorrow, although that will greatly depend on how I feel when I wake up and that has always been the deciding factor. When every night’s sleep is disrupted, I wake up as tired as when I went to bed. When pain is constant, it is often too easy to erase items from one’s to-do list. Even though I hope to run in the morning, I know that lacing up my shoes and stepping outside my door will require every ounce of courage and determination I still have within me.

My husband took me out for dinner tonight, which was a welcome treat because I struggle far too much lately with having the energy and desire to make dinner myself. As we waited for our food, the pain of sitting was so strong that I could barely stop myself from crying. I had been doing a decent job of keeping the tears at bay until my husband asked how I was feeling. And that about sums up life these days…the most ordinary of tasks can be infinitely more challenging and result in much more pain. I’m trying to enjoy the snow and this season of suffering, because joy is not dependant upon how much or how little snow. Joy is not necessarily diminished by pain and suffering. I cannot control the seasons or weather or the pain raging within my body, but I can choose how I respond to each and I can choose to find joy.

The Twilight Zone

I mentally began writing a blog post while laying in bed last night, but my thoughts stalled for a moment and everything was lost. This is an all too common occurrence for me, that is being easily distracted and forgetting what I was doing or thinking prior to the distraction. Although there are occasional moments of forgetfulness during the day, the worst of it takes place in the evening after I have taken my nightly dose of medical cannabis oil.

While the cannabis oil still isn’t doing much for the nerve pain, my evening dose with all the THC and none of the CBD does make me feel very tired and relaxed, which doesn’t necessarily mean I sleep any better but that’s normal now. The heavy, relaxed feeling is kind of nice, and yet I also find that parts of my body are resistant to releasing the tension they carry throughout the day. Like my neck and upper back. It requires a concentrated effort to make those muscles relax, which is made all the more difficult by the way my thoughts scatter like an overly-caffeinated squirrel.

The mental effects of the cannabis oil are interesting and amusing. Contradictory most of the time.

I will go nearly brain dead, zoned out, staring a hole into the wall. I will forget what I was thinking about while I am in the middle of the thought. Not even joking about that! I can start mentally running through the list of exercises in my workout the next day, get halfway through, and then forget what it was I was thinking about. The other night, I was in and out of the bedroom as I was getting ready for bed..brushing my teeth, earplugs in, putting out my clothes for the next day, setting the alarm…then I shut off the light and walked to my side of the bed and spent the next minute trying to locate my earplugs on my nightstand before realizing I had already put them into my ears. Or I will say that I need to get up and do something, like fill my water bottle or go to the bathroom, but then I just stay where I am staring off into space. These experiences are why people should not drive after consuming!

But the flip side of the zombie-state is all sorts of creativity! Of course, most of that creativity occurs when I am in bed, not sleeping. I get ideas for blog posts and things to write in my journal or just to write creatively. There are ideas for gifts for family and friends. Ideas for projects. Thoughts to communicate to others. Things I want to add to my to-do list for the next day or next week. So many creative and inspiring thoughts inside my head, but you know what the problem is? That zombie-state! I get that great idea and it is gone in an instant. Now if only I could get the upper back and neck to let go so quickly…

Heavy Things

“Yesterday is heavy. Put it down.”

~unknown

This quote is a timely reminder for me, as in it is something I should have written on the backs of my hands and posted on every wall, so I can see it all the time. Every day of the past two plus years has been difficult. Many of those days, especially the past few months, have been heavy. I am staggering beneath the weight, and recently I am finding the oppression almost too much to bear.

Going through the motions seems to be my default setting now. I go to work. I go to the gym. I take my cannabis oil. I do a load or two of laundry once a week. I throw together a meal now and then. I go to bed early. I buy necessary groceries sporadically and have little bursts of catching up on neglected housework.

I have good intentions. I had wanted to go for a run this morning, but I didn’t because I had a rough night. After tossing and turning for several hours in bed, I moved to the living room between 1 and 3:30 AM. I tried to sleep in my recliner. I tried various positions on the floor. Even after returning to the comfort of my bed, I was still more awake than asleep until I got back out of bed at 7 AM.

The pain is constant and strong enough, but it isn’t the worst it has ever been. I wake up every day feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck or something. My back has settled into a permanently achy state. The legs and feet always burn with moderate to strong nerve pains, throbbing, tingling, and spasms. I have noticed that I groan a lot more than I used to. It seems like there isn’t much I can do physically now without a groan escaping my lips; everything just seems to require more effort now.

The physical discomfort and pain and lack of sleep take their toll on my emotions and mental state. I have always tried to remain positive and hopeful, and I would like to believe that this is still true. But I’ve been struggling. I wake up exhausted, achy, hurting, and I want to pull the quilts over my head and sleep for a month or two. Except that I can’t. I force myself to get dressed and go to work and the gym. Everything else is negotiable and easily dropped from my to-do list. That feels like the only way I can make it through each week, but I hate being so unproductive and undisciplined. The distance between where I am and where I want to be only adds to the weight pressing in on me each day.

At the gym yesterday, I very nearly lost it completely. I’ve had a few emotional moments at the gym over the past two years, but yesterday was something else entirely. For the first time during the course of this injury, I desperately wanted to give up, throw in the towel and quit. I was still doing my warm ups, but I was moving like a woman twice my age. And groaning. There I was laying on my back preparing to do a warm up set of floor presses, when the emotional weight crashed in on me and made me want to give up.

I had planned on making dinner tonight, but an hour ago I told my husband that I didn’t want to make dinner. I don’t have the energy or desire.

I am not a very good wife or mother these days. I am not a very bubbly, energetic barista these days. I am not much of anything, except maybe a lump in my recliner or on the floor.

Yesterday is heavy and I need to put it down. Mostly I need to put it down because today is also heavy. As is tomorrow.

Love Languages

Words are important to me. In fact, they are my primary love language. I thrive on words, soaking them in, saving and savouring them. Words have weight and meaning, but I’ve been thinking a lot about words lately and how they matter to me. Of course, words of praise and affirmation are always appreciated. Those words make me feel loved and valued. Those words fill my emotional tank and encourage me, but not all words have that effect. Obviously words can be spoken with the intent to hurt or degrade, but those are not the only types of words that are unwanted. And some words are never even spoke out loud.

Insincerity is a cancer. Most of us speak with a little dash of insincerity now and then. When asked how we’re doing, we might say great even though we are hurting or struggling or tired or depressed. It’s not necessarily our intention to be deceitful. Our answer flows out of the desire to put on a good, brave face and avoid rocking the boat of societal norms. The time and place just is not right for baring our truth, and yet, this is not the insincerity of which I speak.

You’ve experienced it before, I’m sure…the praise, the compliments, the polite and friendly talk that has all the depth of a children’s wading pool. Splashing around in the shallows might be refreshing on a hot summer’s day, but it is a refreshment that doesn’t last. It’s not quite the same thing as diving into the deep end of a pool and being fully submerged in cool, soothing water. These kinds of words annoy and irritate me on varying levels depending upon who is speaking them. Some insincerity is to be expected and tolerated, like in my customer service job. Although I enjoy having the opportunity to create meaningful connections with my customers, there are still many customers who will never move beyond the carefully sanitized surface of insincerity. I understand that and even approve of it from time to time.

There are instances where words are often best left unsaid; however, there are also times when words go unsaid but really should have been. Is there something you admire and respect about someone? Tell them! Is there a behaviour that needs addressing? Address it in a productive manner. Maybe you just need to actually ask an ordinary, benign question to begin a conversation with a stranger or someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time…so do it. Trust me when I say that the people who value words will notice their absence, and they will wonder what they’ve done wrong to deserve the silence.

And I have realized that, as much as I thrive on the good words said to me, I am also wounded by the insincere words and the words that go unsaid, not necessarily by strangers but by those with whom I feel more deeply connected. When words are what feed your soul, you can go through each day feeling nourished, starved, or poisoned, and the truth of how you feel isn’t even necessarily an accurate reflection of what you were served. When words mean everything, what has been said or not said twists and turns around inside your brain, bouncing around and wrecking havoc.

There’s no wisdom here for you. This is just my own recognition of the potential flaws found in the primary way I receive love. Maybe you feel the same way, maybe you don’t. Perhaps your love language is something else, but maybe you’ve recognized a similar flaw in the language you speak best. I think it is good to recognize those flaws, so that we can better discern what is right and true. Just because I don’t hear the words I want to hear from someone doesn’t mean I am unloved or uncared for. When someone speaks to me with insincerity, that doesn’t necessarily diminish my significance or worth. As much as words might be my love language, they might not be everyone’s love language.

48 Years Old

“Take a minute to honor what you are rather than focusing on what you are not.”

~Rebecca Minkoff

Today is my 48th birthday. Since my birthday falls so close to the start of the year, I tend to meld the two into one. It just makes sense, but we still generally make too much fuss. This year was no exception. Most of today was spent in the car driving back home after taking our daughter back to school yesterday. I hadn’t planned on making the trip, because sitting that long is torture, but I changed my mind at the last moment. The physical pain of sitting was brutal and very nearly made me regret my decision; however, I am ultimately glad I went.

Now that we’re safely back home (not a fan of driving through the high mountain passes in the winter), my husband remarked how he feels rather weird but in a good way as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders, and he asked if I felt the same. I wasn’t sure how to answer his question and the words that did leave my mouth were mangled at best. It’s not easy to put into words how I feel lately. My emotions and mental space were so up and down for most of December, and although they are more even now, I feel as if my grip on them is tenuous. I am so incredibly tired and just plain old tired of always hurting. The past couple of weeks have been physically hard on my body, so my decision to sit in the car for many hours this weekend was not exactly wise and I’m paying for it now. But how do I feel apart from the pain and fatigue?

I still do not know. It’s too easy to focus on all that I am not these days…not free from pain, not competing, not lifting heavy weights, not setting big new PRs, not full of energy at any time of day, not sleeping well, not clear-headed, not disciplined. Those things are not who I really am, but it is easy to lose sight of the truth when there are parts of life that hurt to the point of overwhelming the rest of life. So, I want to focus on what I am more than what I am not.

I am determined and focused, even despite my prolonged state of pain brain. I can be stubborn and persistent in pursuing my goals.

I am loyal and kind and caring and loving.

I am open to trying new things, and I am not afraid of change.

I am brave.

I am strong inside and out.

I am eternally hopeful.

Although I am a realist and can see a dozen negatives in any scenario, I will also see every potential positive and look for the good.

I work hard and do my job well. Or as well as I can these days.

I am alive, and I am striving to thrive.

Happy birthday to me!

Resolution Run Recap

The past two work weeks have been long, busy, and my body is exhausted and unhappy; however, now that I have finished my work day and work week, I can finally blog about my 5K run on New Year’s Eve.

The day started a little before 4:00 in the morning as I had opening shifts at work all week. The run wasn’t until 5:00 in the evening. Yes, I was tired before I even began to run, but I’m in such a permanent state of exhaustion that I just push through the fatigue. Besides, there is always a level of excitement that comes with being involved in a competition or race, even if the event is more for fun than actual competition.

We received a small dump of snow the night before, but the run route was completely plowed and fairly dry by the time the run began. I’m not sure what the temperature was, but it was quite mild. Maybe -3 Celsius but possibly a tad warmer. Still, it’s better to layer up and be prepared than to freeze, so I had a toque on my head, a buff around my neck, and gloves, even though I knew I’d likely remove them at some point.

As much as I had been looking forward to this run for several months, I really didn’t have high expectations for it. I think the only time I’ve “run” 5 kilometres this year was way back in the spring when I was first getting into the run game again, so it was a combination of running and walking. Mostly I have done 2-3K runs since then, and nearly all of them have involved some walking breaks as required. I am glad to be able to run again, but I just don’t have the same level of commitment to it that I used to have. That’s because of the herniated disc and ever-present nerve pain and symptoms stemming from it. At best I hoped to complete the 5K in about 40 minutes, which I based on the fact that my average pace has been between 7 and 8 minutes per kilometre and I expected to need several walking breaks. It wouldn’t be my best 5K ever, but I wasn’t aiming for that either. I just wanted to finish.

The wonderful thing about running in a race-like environment is the energy that you get simply from being in the midst of other runners. When the run got underway, I started out at what felt like a comfortable and reasonable pace with the understanding that I would run as far as I could before taking a walk break, which I expected to occur around the first kilometre or so. I no longer have a running watch, so all of my run timing/tracking is done on an app on my phone which I keep tucked in my pocket. Since the route was far from where I normally run, I didn’t know the landmarks to mentally map out the kilometres except for the midway turnaround point. So when my app notified me that I had completed the first kilometre in 6 minutes and 28 seconds, I was surprised. I have not run a kilometre under 7 minutes for five years!

I was still feeling pretty good at that point, so I kept running at my comfortable pace and told myself I would run as long as I could before walking. The second kilometre was also under 7 minutes…totally shocking but motivating. Now I didn’t want to walk unless I absolutely had to, so I kept telling my feet to keep going and they could walk at the midway point. Around 2.5 kilometres, I nearly choked up with emotions and tears as my thoughts began processing what was happening. Here I was running a 5K for the first time in five years, and I was so far surpassing my expectations. After two years of pain and suffering, I was in the midst of achieving a fitness goal that seemed impossible and out of reach at the start of the year. But I couldn’t afford to break down at that point. The toque came off at that point (the gloves had come off well before), and I kept running.

The third kilometre was still under 7 minutes but not much. My body really wanted to stop running and take a break, but I was stubbornly determined now to run the entire thing. I only stopped long enough to remove the buff from around my neck, so I could lower the zipper on my jacket and wool base layer, then I was running again. The fourth kilometre was a touch over 7 minutes, which was still much faster than I could have anticipated.

The last kilometre was the second fastest of my night. I was definitely feeling the struggle to keep running, but my back felt okay and the pains and symptoms in the legs weren’t any worse than usual. As I turned the corner for the final homestretch, that emotion began to rise to the surface again and my ability to repel it was compromised. There was no sprint to the finish…just the same steadyish pace. It’s been so long since I have done a race, that I had forgotten how hard it is for me to breathe properly once I finish running! I’m sure I looked like a hot mess with my choking gasps for air mingled with trying not to weep like a baby, but I didn’t and still don’t care. The unofficial time clock said 32 minutes and something seconds; I wasn’t looking at the clock when I crossed the finish. By the time I stopped my app, the timer on the app said 33:21. Regardless of my time, I crushed it and far exceeded my expectations!

I enjoy listening to my music when I run, and that night was no different. Usually I listen to a playlist I created for running, but I decided at the last moment to use a playlist I made of my theme songs which is what I listen to at the gym a lot. I hit the shuffle button and let it go, so it wasn’t planned at all, but the song playing as I came down the homestretch was Rise Up by Andra Day. Rise Up was my theme for 2019. It was absolutely perfect.

I ran 5K and survived, when I wasn’t sure I would and others probably thought I shouldn’t. It wasn’t easy, but I persevered and rose up to the challenge. At one point during the run, I had a moment of proclaiming inside my head that I was back, but am I really? I’m not so sure actually. I do want to continue to run, but already I feel the struggle to feel motivated or stay consistent with getting out there and doing it. Part of me wants to aim for a 10K this year, while the rest of me doubts and frets. There are still too many “what if’s” waiting to be answered with my back, so I don’t want to make too many future commitments until I’ve had a few more appointments that might give me those answers. What do I do in the meantime? Keep moving, I guess, as much as possible, when possible, and cut myself the slack I need when it simply doesn’t feel possible.

2020: Alive to Thrive

It has long been my habit to create a theme for each new year, a theme to give me focus and purpose, and this coming year will be no different. Sometimes it is easy to think up my theme. Last year was exceptionally easy and essentially decided upon during the previous summer. Some years themes are harder to come by. My 2018 theme of Making Lemonade was inspired by something my chiropractor said to me in regards to herniating my disc. December began with me thinking about a theme for the new year but struggling to come up with something. My head space just wasn’t in a good place for much of anything, and yet, I think being in the depths of despair also helped me find my theme.

2018 was about making lemonade with the lemons I had been given by my injury. 2019 was about rising up despite the lack of healing and continued pain. I am still juggling lemons and trying to make sweet lemonade out of their bitter juices. I keep rising up, because the alternative is simply unacceptable and unproductive. But I want something more than merely coping and putting one foot in front of the other. I want to thrive and live my life abundantly.

What is an abundant life? It is an abounding fullness of joy and strength for mind, body, and soul. There are Christians who will say that an abundant life involves prosperity and health, as if to say that you are not living properly if God isn’t blessing you with riches and healing. I believe God can do many things, but I do not believe in a prosperity gospel. However, I do believe that God came to give us an abundant life, but I don’t think that necessarily means a McMansion, fancy cars, and designer clothes, miraculous healings, or a life free of hardships. Look at that definition again. Fullness of joy. Strength for mind, body and soul. To me, those are more a matter of mindset than wealth and health.

The deepest longing of every living being is to live–and to live in the fullest and most authentic way possible.”

~Frederick Dale Bruner

The past two years have been challenging for me in many ways, but I have kept going, kept pushing and striving. That isn’t going to change, however, I do not want to be content merely to exist and survive these challenges. I want to thrive. That’s why I am alive. So what does being alive to thrive mean to me personally?

It means experiencing and radiating joy. Being thankful and grateful for the blessings in my life, big and small, and allowing that joy and gratitude to shape me and move me.

It means getting rid of some of the clutter weighing me down. Clutter can take many forms, from debt to time wasting habits to unused objects taking up space in my house.

It means striving for my goals. I love having goals to work toward and often the striving is more beneficial than the actual achievement. Although I’ve still made goals for myself the past two years, I’ve also intentionally lowered my goals and expectations for myself because there is so much up in the air with this injury. Everything is still up in the air. Will a surgeon say yes to surgery? If so, will surgery help? If no surgery, will I ever get any relief from the constant pain? It’s difficult to plan too far ahead with those questions unanswered, but being in perpetual limbo is no fun at all. I don’t want to go through life stagnant; I want to live to the fullest.

It means growing my connections and relationships by being authentic and present. Listening. Caring. Loving. Giving. Encouraging.

It means peace in spirit with where I am at with this injury. If surgery can help or it’s a no go…being at peace. If the pain goes away or is with me forever, being at peace. In many ways, I think I am at peace, but I know that peace is incomplete right now.

So my theme is about thriving, but what are my goals for 2020?

  • reclaim sleep
  • run a 5 or 10K…I cannot decide which one, but I don’t think the distance really matters too much. Okay, so maybe 10K because I want more.
  • get another tattoo. I have the idea of what I want. I just need the money and right timing.
  • I don’t think it is likely I will compete in 2020, but I would like to get closer to being back on the powerlifting platform again. At least training more like a powerlifter again.
  • clean up my diet, eat out less, be more consistent with meal prep and planning
  • reduce my footprint by remembering my cloth shopping bags more consistently, using my travel mug more often, and further reducing plastic use and waste
  • help get Casey’s old bedroom reno finished, as well as finishing up other little reno leftovers
  • gut, purge and reorganize the storage room under the stairs that I have wanted to do for a long, long time

Undoubtedly there will be additions to my goals as the days and weeks progress and my situation ebbs and flows. It’s easy to say I want to do X, Y and Z, but I cannot predict what will happen in the next couple of months. This is why I often value the striving and seldom set specific and narrow goals, although there is a time and place for those, too.

My birthday is six days away, and that is when I feel my year truly begins anew. January 1st may be the official start of the year, but I don’t go out of my way to celebrate it. In fact, I’m usually in bed well before the ball drops. But January 4th, when I add another candle to my birthday cake, that feels like a good time to start the year fresh and new. I am alive to thrive, and that’s the plan.