While In Purgatory, Purge!

I have been bored and restless these past 6 weeks that I have been off of work while recovering from my herniated disc, and I still have about 4 weeks left in my medical leave of absence. Over the past two weeks, I have been attacking the pockets of clutter that had been festering and multiplying around the house. Of course, as I am healing a back injury, I have had to be mindful in the process of purging, not putting my back into disadvantageous positions or loads and taking breaks as frequently as necessary. Although I have always gone through purging and decluttering phases over the years, it is truly amazing how much more productive one can be when there are virtually no constraints on one’s time! My schedule is wide open, day in and day out. The only things I actually need to plan around are my physiotherapy, chiropractic, or doctor appointments and my “unsatisfactory” training sessions at the gym. The medical appointments aren’t terribly frequent, and my gym times are flexible since I have no real schedule to speak of. I’ve had loads of time, so I have made loads of progress in the purging!

Although I am not finished yet, I already have 7 boxes and two garbage bags full of stuff to donate. I don’t even know how much I have tossed in the trash or the recycling. Little by little, I am finding space and organization where none previously existed, or at least hadn’t existed for some time. It feels incredibly wonderful to reclaim margins and order in the house. I am not a neat-freak. I am not Martha Stewart. My home will never be ‘show home’ ready. My home is well lived in, and it shows. It will always show that truth. But I do so enjoy having clean lines and spaces and room to breathe and stretch and move. It simply isn’t always easy to get the rest of the family to follow my lead. Still I try.

Simplifying is something I strive towards every year. I recognize that I am unlikely to ever achieve a perfect, final state of simple in my life; however, I am okay with being ever conscious of and deliberate in my intentions to move towards simple. Sometimes I make an impulsive purchase that seems like a good idea at the time, only to have that item end up in a donation box a few months later. I won’t always make wise purchasing decisions, but I am thankful that my dislike of shopping keeps me from making too many unnecessary purchases overall.

I have bigger purging plans that involve a storage area under the stairs in the house and under our deck outside, but both of those areas will need to wait for a while. The deck storage will obviously need to wait until spring and warmer, drier weather, while the stair storage will need to wait until my back is even healthier. The stair storage clean-out will require stooping, bending, and twisting in combination with picking up objects of varying sizes and weights. As much as I’d like to tackle that area now, I know my limits and how to play within them!

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Side Sleeper

There are many positions in which to sleep, and everyone tends to have a favourite. For me, I am a side sleeper. When my shoulders act up, sleeping on my side is uncomfortable and a position to avoid. In the early days of my herniated disc, I could barely sleep in any position and definitely not on my left side at all. Thankfully, I have been able to resume my side sleeping, but sleep has still been elusive due to the leg pain whenever I lie down. Sleep has always been important to me. I understand the role that sleep has to play in good health and recovery…and keeping me sane and happy.

So when the physiotherapist asked me how I was doing this morning, I told him that I am tired. Of course, I am tired of this injury and all that comes with it, but I am also just plain tired from endless nights of inadequate, disrupted sleep. After some trouble-shooting discussion, my physiotherapist suggested sleeping on my stomach. On my stomach?! I am not a stomach sleeper. In fact, sleeping on my stomach is the one position that I never use. I do not like it at all. But here’s the thing…when you’re desperate you will try almost anything! And I am desperate for a good night’s sleep. I want to go to bed and actually fall asleep soon after rather than laying awake for hours. I want to sleep through the night instead of waking multiple times from the pain in my legs. I have tried sleeping on my sides and my back. I am already taking pain medication which feels ineffective. I am also taking an opiate before bed that my doctor said would help me sleep; it’s not. I’ve tried a rolled up towel under my side. Will sleeping on my stomach help? I don’t know, but I am willing to give it a try.

 

This is Me

A big, bad ass powerlifter shared a bit of his story on social media yesterday. Although I do follow his account, as is often the case of social media, I didn’t see the post until my coach tagged me in the comments. The reason he tagged me was immediately apparent. This big name, successful Canadian powerlifter had shared a small glimpse into his “broken back” experience in 2010. He mentioned the long, hard road back to the platform, the pain, the unsatisfactory workouts, and the permeating doubts about ever being able to compete again. Then he went on to talk about his first two competitions back and how much he loves the sport of powerlifting. He even dared to say that his injury was the best thing that ever happened to him and that he came back better than ever in every way possible.

I read his words last night as I was reclining in my living room, feeling self-pity along with the pain coursing through my legs, and the tears ran down my face. Of course, it didn’t help that I was watching This Is Us. For the record, that is not a good show to watch when you are already feeling down and emotional! But, despite the tears, I did feel hopeful and encouraged.

It is easy for me to put on the happy face during the day. Even though I am bored and restless, I can putter about the house or walk in the mall or go to the gym to do my unsatisfactory workouts. My left leg and foot are still numb, but walking and moving are generally beneficial. I can easily feel it in my back when I need to take a break and get off my feet. It’s easy to feel hopeful and positive when I’m upright and mobile.

It is in the “getting off my feet” that the shine fades and darkness moves in, because laying down brings instant pain to my legs. This pain varies in intensity, sometimes mild and other times intense, but is constant. It is as if the act of laying down plugs my body into an electrical outlet which then sends currents of electricity throughout my legs. My daytime lay down sessions are uncomfortable enough, but somehow the setting of the sun only elevates my sense of frustration, self-pity, and despair. In the safety of my home and the silence of the night, I am at my lowest. That is when I am most vulnerable.

As is frequently the case, I slept horribly last night and struggled to pull myself out of bed. But I had to get to the gym. Given my current situation of volatile emotions, little sleep, pain, and unsatisfactory workouts, there are many days where I simply do not feel like going to the gym; however, I am thankful that going to the gym has been an activity that I enjoy and have faithfully scheduled into my life from the beginning more than 4 years ago. I might not feel like going some days, but the gym is an appointment with myself that I rarely miss.

I went to the gym this morning, feeling tired and reluctant and not so excited. Today’s program had an awful lot of upper body/arm work, like the kind of arm work that I am not good at and makes me feel weak. I started off with my physio exercises to warm up, then I hit the incline chest press machine. I suck at incline pressing at the best of times, and the weight I’m using is hardly worth mentioning it is so low. But in the midst of my sets, a song came on my playlist that shifted the direction of my attitude to North. The song was Invincible by Sia. I love this song, but this morning I felt the words sink into my skin like water on parched soil. As I soaked in the words, I found myself pushing just a little bit further than I thought I could go. Over the course of my workout, some of my rep numbers weren’t fantastic, but I still mostly managed to push that little bit more. Except for the leg curls. There is something going on with my left hamstring/knee that isn’t feeling super great on the curls and a few other movements. It could be related to the nerve and numbness issues in that leg, or it could be something else. I don’t know but will point it out to my physiotherapist again on Friday and my chiropractor next week.

What am I trying to say here? I am not sure.

Injuries can be debilitating beyond the physical aspects. An injury can be just as traumatizing on the emotions as it is on the body. Just as my pain levels fluctuate, so do my emotions. It’s bad enough to be in pain, to have physical limitations, and to have emotions run amok, but then there is the sense of isolation to make one feel truly lost. Although I am so not a social butterfly, I do enjoy the social connections of my job. Being off work, I am missing out on those connections. I feel disconnected from my job in so many ways beyond just going to work each day. Not being able to sit without pain means I need to be extremely choosy about going out for dinner or a movie. The inability to sit with the inability to remain standing for hours on end means being extremely selective about my involvement in many other social opportunities, like going to church or a gathering with friends.

There is the pain, the emotional upheaval, the isolation, the loss of previously enjoyed activities, and then there is the mental haze of medication. I am taking three different medications to help with the pain and supposedly to let me sleep. Well, sleep is still problematic and the pain seems largely unchanged on the drugs compared to when I was not on them, but I do have the wonderful side effect of feeling permanently tired and often in a mental fog.

Each day is unique. There is much that seems unchanged from day to day…the numbness, the pain, the lack of sleep. What does change each day is my attitude, my emotions, my perspective and outlook, my fears and doubts, my confidence. Yesterday was a gloomy day. Today is brighter. This journey through injury is not one I wanted to ever travel, but here I am. Today I feel some hope that I will get through this to be better and stronger than before. Today I feel hopeful that I will look back at this time and say that it was the best thing that ever happened. I might not feel the same way tomorrow, but I am going to grab hold of today’s hopefulness and drag it along with me through each new day like a toddler’s favourite blanket. I can focus on the good, the small steps forward, and wrap myself up in that blanket of hope on the days when nothing seems right in my world.

Never Perfect

As I trudge my way through these days of recovering from a herniated disc, I am discovering that each day is unique. There is a great deal that is the same day in and day out, and yet there is still variations in the similarities. Not a day goes by without pain. There is always pain in my legs when I lay down, but the intensity and scope varies. Lately the leg pain has been consistently more intense and broader in its range. Back pain is felt less often. I can make it through a day or two or three without any back pain to speak of, but then I will be blindsided by aches and pains in the back for a day or two. Less often but occasionally I experience nausea and a mild sense of dizziness. There is no rhyme or reason for why one day might be worse than another, and that unpredictability is just as frustrating as dealing with the limitations of my injury.

Today has been a bad day. When I have been standing today, I have felt nauseous. The nausea would disappear once I laid down, but then the leg pain would hit with ferocity. The mental fog has been thick today, too. I’ve hardly eaten much today because of the sense of yuck in my stomach, but I’m not actually sick.

My husband took me to the mall this afternoon when he was finished work. He was in search of a particular item and thought that I might appreciate getting out of the house. Despite how I felt, it was good to get out of the house and to get some more walking into my day (because walking is good). As we walked through the mall, we passed a young woman wearing a t-shirt with a lovely statement written across the front. The message caught my attention, and I had to stop to enter it as a memo in my phone so I wouldn’t forget. It said:

Never perfect, always beautiful

My thoughts immediately turned inward and reflective. Aside from moments when I am obviously joking, I know and readily admit that I am not perfect. I know most of my flaws and weaknesses. I know what areas of my life need improving. Acknowledging my imperfection is the easy part. Accepting the truth that I am always beautiful is where the real challenge lies. I seldom see myself that way and would never presume to call myself beautiful. My husband says I’m beautiful, and his words make me squirm in awkward discomfort, as if I am an imposter. Believing myself to beautiful has always been a struggle, but the difficult level has only risen higher with this season of injury. When I feel weak and useless, how can I feel beautiful? When I am weary from daily pain and tired from lack of restorative sleep, how can I feel beautiful? When I couldn’t shave my legs for 9 weeks, how could I feel beautiful? When certain types of clothing make my back hurt more, which means I’m living in pajama or yoga pants, how can I feel beautiful? When I cannot do some of the things that I most enjoy doing, how can I feel beautiful?

I don’t have an answer. Not in this moment. As I mentioned, today hasn’t been a particularly good day. I’m just gathering my lemons…

Nationals Deadline

Registration for Nationals closes in just a few hours. My name will not be on the list of competitors, but that isn’t exactly surprising. I’ve known that I wouldn’t be competing for almost as long as I have been suffering from this herniated disc. Way back to my second physiotherapy appointment, I had asked about the likelihood of competing at Nationals in February, and the physiotherapist hadn’t completely ruled it out but had said it was unlikely. That had been disappointing news to swallow, but I had to accept it as the right decision. As I’ve seen the Facebook posts about the event and impending deadline, I have felt both resignation and frustration. This was not how I had planned things, but it is my reality.

Nationals begins in 6 weeks. Instead of competing, I hope to be back at work. My current medical leave ends the week prior. I feel hopeful about that date, because I am incredibly bored and restless. However, on a day like today, I wonder and doubt. I slept horribly last night, despite this additional drug which is supposed to help allow me to sleep. My back hurt. My legs hurt. I’ve been in a good deal of pain all day long. As I was out on errands with my husband, I couldn’t even bend forward in my seat to reach my coffee in the cup holder low between the seats.

I feel stuck in a season of frustration and limitation, and I don’t particularly enjoy it. I’m trying to embrace the suck, to make lemonade with all of these lemons, but it isn’t always easy to do. The medications make me feel tired and fill my brain with haze, yet make no noticeable difference to the level of pain I feel every day. Some days are better than others, but some days are not so good at all. Today was one of those not so good days. Still, I managed to go through my drawers of clothing and pull out a garbage bag’s worth of rarely worn clothing to donate. I also picked through a bookshelf and purged dusty, long since read books. This is what I am doing with some of my time these days…purging. It needs to be done in short bursts of motivation, and I need to remind myself not to overdo things. As much as I know that I should be able to pick up that heavy box of books, I also know that I shouldn’t and so I won’t. But I will make a dozen trips from the living room to my bedroom, bringing a few books at a time from the bookshelf to the box in my room. I putter and purge in small bursts of energy, and then I find I need to lay down, give my back a break and hope the reclined position will alleviate some of the numbness in my foot. Purging, cleaning, and organizing are things that I am tackling in bits and pieces. At least it allows me to feel like I am doing something with my time.

I’m skipping one of my drugs tonight. I take three different medications now. I take Naproxen when I wake up and again after dinner. I take Gabapentin three times a day, and my doctor just recently instructed me to double up my dosage. My doctor also recently added Dilaudid which I am to take before bed. The theory is that the Dilaudid will allow me to sleep, but my experience with it thus far has proven that theory to be false. While I slept very well the first night I took the opiate, the next few nights have not been so restful. Since alcohol doesn’t mix well with at least two of these drugs, I haven’t had any wine for a while. I have had some wine while on the Gabapentin before, but I am not willing to indulge while taking Dilaudid as well. So, I have opted to not take my Dilaudid tonight, so that I can have a glass or two of wine. The wine will be about as effective at reducing my pain as my prescriptions, but at least I can enjoy it more.

Three Little Words

fridgeinspiration

Many years ago now, I was given these words as part of my journey of becoming, and they have been on my fridge ever since. They are there in plain sight. Not a day goes by without my standing before the fridge. I see the words every single day, but I don’t always allow them to penetrate the surface of my busyness and state of mind. It is far too easy to see without seeing, without believing, without action. Inspiration has impact only when we allow the idea access beyond the surface.

As I was reheating leftover beef barley soup for tonight’s supper, my gaze settled upon these words once again and lingered there. I paused and mentally chewed my cud. Determination is something I have a firm grip on, I think. I know how to focus on a task and how to strive towards a goal. Quitting is a concept I seldom acknowledge. Now that I am at the 9 week mark with my disc herniation, I am firmly determined to do whatever it takes to heal and regain normalcy in my life once again. It’s the other two qualities that I sometimes struggle with.

Well almost. Peace is fairly easy for me to feel, although it can also be easily disrupted for a brief period of time. I’m like a still pond most of the time, calm and peaceful. A pebble tossed into the pond will send out little ripples that eventually settle back into nothing but calm waters. That’s me.

But I don’t exactly feel empowered all of the time. Especially not lately. There is nothing quite like an injury to make you feel insignificant, powerless, weak, and incapable. When something as simple as shaving your legs becomes a major physical challenge, you do not feel empowered. Or at least I don’t. When you used to stick to the section of the gym with the squat racks, deadlift platforms, and free weights, but you’ve been stuck in the other section of the gym with stretches and machines…you feel more frustrated than strong and capable. As I lay down and feel pain coursing through my legs, I want to cry. Maybe cry is a strong response, and yet it is also entirely appropriate at any given moment. This is not how empowerment is supposed to feel.

I’m talking as I think, which could be a dangerous thing or not, but I think my three words work best as a group rather than individuals. I cannot just pull empowerment out of a closet and put it on like an article of clothing. Determination, peace, empowerment…they are meant to be an outfit. They compliment each other, build upon each other and build each other up. I cannot determine to feel empowered all of the time, but I can feel peace in those moments when empowerment is hard to find. Empowerment doesn’t actually leave me; it just lurks in the haze of whatever trouble I’m in the midst of. My determination to continue and rise to a challenge coaxes empowerment to step out of the shadows; peace allows me to endure my struggles until that happens.

Isn’t it crazy the thoughts one can have while staring at the fridge door!

46 Years

“The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.” ~Ashley Montagu

Today is my 46th birthday.

I hadn’t given much thought to the day or what I might want to do to celebrate. As I have been dealing with my injury for the past two months, my attention has been focused more on pain and recovery than on an impending birthday. As 2017 drew to a close, birthday thoughts did start to run through my mind; however, those thoughts were like mist. It’s bad enough that my birthday is during the awkward post-Christmas/New Year’s bustle. The weather can be iffy. People are exhausted from the holidays, or they are out of town or still hosting company. And then there is the sickness that always seems to make the rounds over the holidays! Even if I had wanted to make something out of my birthday, my plans would have been defeated by the illness inside my house. I’m not sick but almost everyone else is.

I went to the gym this morning, both excited and nervous about new exercises in my program for the week. As is often the case with a new exercise, the weight was left for me to choose and I chose cautiously. It’s been some time since I last did these types of exercises, but they felt better than I thought they might and I actually upped the weight on a couple of them.

The rest of my day was hardly worth commenting on…recline (while wincing in pain), putter around the house aimlessly (limping actually), drinking coffee, drinking water, nibbling on food, watching my son fold the laundry that he washed (bless him), watched the US lose to Sweden, more reclining, more puttering, ate pizza and cake, and watched Canada beat the Czechs. Real exciting, right! And all this while my husband and daughter moaned, groaned, coughed, ate soup, slept, and blew noses. Happy birthday to me!

But the day hasn’t been horrible. It may have been less than I hoped for, but it was still an okay day. My phone was alive with the sounds of Star Wars. I received plenty of birthday love on Facebook and Instagram.