Today I’m Okay

A season of healing can often feel as if you are blindly groping your way through a dark maze filled with all sorts of perils. Once in a while, you might think there is a bit of light at the end of one tunnel. You strive with all your might to get to the light only to discover that it moved even further away. This is where I am at these days, striving and struggling and discovering that my destination keeps moving out of reach.

For the third time since I have been on medical leave, my return to work has been denied. The reason for being kept on leave has changed slightly each time. This time is due to the fact that I am not permitted to bend forward and twist while lifting. When I had emailed the most recent functional abilities form to the leave of absence team, I felt optimistic, but I could also picture their decision being the opposite of what I was hoping for. And so, when I opened the email this morning, I wasn’t overly surprised by the words within, telling me that my safety could not be guaranteed in the workplace at this time. I thought I was almost at that beam of light, but it moved further away.

In the same way, the pain and discomfort in my body seems determined to make my life miserable rather than diminishing with time. It’s been bad enough to feel as if healing has been stalled for almost two months, but lately it feels as if my body is taking backwards steps. Although what I’m experiencing is still a far cry from those first couple of months post-injury, the pain often feels worse than it did in January and early February. I made myself stay on my feet for two straight hours this afternoon, as I made dinner, cleaned the kitchen, and basically puttered around. Despite varying my position and movement as much as possible in an upright position, I was in absolute misery well before the end of that time span.

Even before I heard back from the LOA team this time, my husband has repeatedly asked me if I am certain that I am ready to go back to work. I desperately want to return to work. I miss being useful, having a purpose outside of my house, and feeling connected to life. Quite honestly, I simply want my life back, and going back to work, even with limitations, seems like a big steps towards that goal. So yes, I want to go back to work! However, in complete honesty, I am also realistic about the odds of returning to work and experiencing all sorts of pain and discomfort. I’m certain that accommodations for my limitations can be made when I do eventually get the okay to go back to work, but that doesn’t mean I won’t feel a heck of a lot of pain during a shift. As eager as I am to get back to work, I also know that doing so will be more than uncomfortable for quite some time. After all, I’m in utter misery after standing for less than two hours. How am I going to make it through even a 4 or 5 hour shift on my feet without being in incredible pain? I am both a dreamer and a realist. I am always hopeful and optimistic, and yet I am also a realist. For all my eagerness to return to work, I also realize that I might not truly be ready.

Still, it was disappointing to read the news this morning, and frustrating knowing that we probably could have worked around the functional limitation, but I have no choice but to accept the decision. And I am okay with it. Disappointed, yes, but ultimately okay. I think I am more bothered by the fact that I need to go through the process of having paperwork filled out by a health professional for a fourth time than I am about more time off work.

Here I am stuck inside the dark, perilous maze. It is indeed dark and I feel lost more often than not, but I am okay. For today.


Poetry in Motion

Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous–to poetry. ~Thomas Mann

One thing about dealing with an injury that takes a long time to heal, at least in my experience, is that the opportunity for solitude is higher than the opportunities to be busy and connected with others. In my situation, I have degrees of pain and physical discomfort with pretty much everything I could possible do. Sit down for a meal out? Back pain and maybe numbness in the left leg. Drive anywhere that takes longer than 10-15 minutes? I’ll be squirming uncomfortably in my seat for a while, and if the drive is longer than an hour, I’ll be in a lot of pain. Want to go for a walk? Sure, but my back will begin to hurt within the hour. Go to church? Sit on the pew and feel instant back pain or stand through the entire service and feel the back pain increase with every minute? My opportunities for social interaction are not automatically dead because of my injury; however, my willingness to subject myself to physical pain and torture is limited to those activities or outings I deem worth the suffering. Throw in a severe shortage of sleep and my eagerness to be out and about is pathetically weak.

It has been four and a half months since I hurt my back, and three and a half months since I have been on medical leave from work. Since I continued to work through that first month, I was at least connected with my co-workers. Since I’ve been on leave, I feel so disconnected from everyone and everything. I go to the gym, do my thing and then leave, maybe exchanging a quick hello with a staff member or familiar face. I go to my Starbucks for an Americano and connect briefly with my co-workers and regulars. I endure the pain of standing through a church service, maybe chat with one or two people, and then scurry (or limp) out as quickly as I can. I go to my appointments, buy a few groceries, and run errands, but mostly I have become even more of a home-body than normal. Home is my safe place where I can switch between standing, walking, cleaning, and laying down as often as necessary. There is nowhere else that could possibly cover all the bases of positioning for my pain-wracked body, and so I feel isolated in solitude.

I enjoy poetry, and I have read a fair bit over the course of the past few months; and yet, I have not written a single line of poetry myself. This is somewhat surprising, and I have often wondered why I have not put pen to paper during this season. Sometimes I write poetry, but my poetry seems to flow out of struggle and emotions more often than from happy, peaceful thoughts. This season of my life should be perfect for creative writing. It brings drama, volatile emotions, pain, suffering, anguish, frustration, shattered dreams and goals…everything that fuels my creative juices. But not this time.

It’s not that I haven’t entertained thoughts of trying to write poetry; I have. I just don’t know if I have it in me to write. My emotions and thoughts are ALL over the place, and they have been since hurting myself. Some days I feel mentally okay, while other days I am certainly an unpleasant person to be around. I don’t even like myself on those difficult days. The act of writing a poem is like stripping oneself bare and parading down Main Street, exposed and vulnerable, and I feel too fragile for such vulnerability right now.

And yet, creative thoughts swirl within me, bubbling so violently they threaten to boil over. Maybe one day I will put those thoughts to paper, or maybe I won’t. It doesn’t really matter, I think. Healing, whether physical, mental or emotional, is something that happens on its’ own schedule.


Last week was mostly a write-off for me. Two weeks ago I was given an unexpected deload in my training program, which was deloaded even more in an attempt to facilitate some healing in my left shoulder. So I had fewer sets and reps for everything, and the weight for any upper body accessories was cut in half. Then last week, I was given a 2-day training program to allow me an extra couple of days to “recover.” I also started a new medication last week, and I am still trying to determine whether or not some of my new-ish symptoms are related to the medication. I have been hurting a lot, dizzy, and more tired than I’ve been through 4.5 months of poor sleep, so I didn’t do the second day of training last week. This morning, I did that day of training.

In some ways, this morning’s training felt better; and yet, I still felt utterly fatigued through the entire thing. And it was, at times, tough. I couldn’t help thinking about just how tough some exercises felt compared to what I was capable of before injuring my back. Last October, I was squatting more than 200 pounds for 2-3 reps for multiple sets, while today I used 30 pounds for goblet squats for three challenging sets. That’s one of the hard parts of recovering from an injury…knowing you have taken massive steps backwards in what you used to be able to do. Even though I know that healing from this injury can take a long time, it’s almost impossible to maintain a Pollyanna attitude day after day after day for months at a time. And so, sometimes I mentally chafe against my limitations, even as I go through the motions of rehab and self-care.

As I was benching this morning, my thoughts sifted through the memory banks and settled upon one particular memory from roughly 28 years ago. Although the memory is fuzzy around the edges, I believe that was my first downhill skiing experience here in British Columbia. I may have been born here, but I grew up in Saskatchewan, where mountains are non-existent. While there may not be real mountains on the prairies, I did actually get to go downhill skiing once in Saskatchewan at Fort Qu’appelle, and it wasn’t exactly my favourite activity. A few years later we moved to BC where the mountains are real and skiing is an activity enjoyed by many. The memory that came to mind today was during my youth group’s outing to a local ski hill.

I fell a lot that day, and I definitely felt out of my element. Most of my friends had been skiing for years and a natural grace that eluded me. But I kept going. At some point, I found myself down a run that was extremely bumpy. I didn’t even know what moguls were until that point, but I quickly learned that moguls and I were not destined to be friends. I’d hit a mogul and fall down. I’d get back up, hit a mogul, and I’d fall down again. Over and over again. One friend laughed as he watched me struggle and made a comment about how I don’t give up, or something along that line. I cannot recall what I said in response, but I honestly had few choices available to me. This was a lengthy section of moguls, and there was no going around it. I had to go through it either on skis or walking. I chose to continue to ski a few feet before wiping out and getting back up.

It’s interesting that this memory popped into my head today, but I think it was also a timely reminder of who I am and what I am made of. I also think the visual is quite timely after yesterday’s sermon, and that is something I will need to chew over for a while. In the meantime, I will just keep getting up again.

Swimming in Side Effects

After three days on the new medication, I’m still waiting to be convinced it will be of benefit to me. The first night was positively horrible for sleep, as I was wide awake for roughly 5 hours. To make matters even worse, the pain in my legs every time I lie down has increased significantly since beginning this medication. That increase in leg pain is accompanied by fairly strong itching, burning, tingling sensations. So not fun!

I did sleep decently well the second night, being in bed for a little more than 12 hours, although there was still the leg pain, lots of tossing and a few wakeful periods. It took me a little while to fall asleep last night, and I still had the pain, itching, and restlessness to deal with; however, my sleep was adequate.

Maybe this medication will actually help me sleep, but I’m not enjoying the side effects. In researching this medication and potential side effects, I’ve learned that there are a wide range, from common to rare and from the ‘call your doctor immediately’ to the ones that should disappear once your body has adjusted.

So what side effects am I experiencing?

  • fatigue (more than usual)
  • dizziness/lightheadedness
  • muscle spasms
  • burning, crawling, itching, tingling sensations
  • muscle and bone pain (more than usual)
  • shakiness (this has been really bad today)

Some of those side effects are made all the worse by the fact I already experience similar symptoms as side effects from the herniated disc. For example, the crawling sensations in my legs, the muscle spasms, the pain, and fatigue. These symptoms vary in intensity from day to day, but they are always present and now made worse. I’m hoping that the extra intensity will settle down once I’ve been on the medication for a few more days. The alternative will mean more conversation with my doctor sooner than I’d like. One day I hope to look back on these months of suffering as being a small footnote, but for now I have no other choice but to play the waiting game.

Mental Check

When last I saw my doctor at the beginning of this month, he whisked me in and out within five minutes and told me to see him again in two weeks. I left feeling highly doubtful that I would in fact make another follow-up appointment. After all, I’m not exactly happy with my doctor’s interpretation of appropriate diagnosis and care, and I was hopeful that I’d be returning to work, thus reducing my need for continuing the medical paper trail. The best laid plans of Angela fell apart though, when my return to work was denied, especially when I realized that my medical employment insurance coverage is about to come to an end and I might be able to apply for short-term disability through my benefits coverage. Because applying for short-term disability requires more paperwork, including paperwork from my doctor. I wasn’t happy about the need to book a follow-up appointment after all, but it would be better to receive some money over the next few weeks rather than none at all. So I booked an appointment for this afternoon.

As I anxiously waited in an exam room, I was surprised when a stranger walked in the door. It seemed that my doctor currently has a medical student doctor working in his clinic, and she was going to be taking care of me today. And wow! What a difference! Instead of an appointment less than five minutes in length, this doctor spent at least 15-20 minutes with me, and she asked pertinent, probing questions. My doctor only asks how my back is doing without actually hearing what I’m saying, and then he tells me that these things take time. This doctor asked me a lot of questions and listened to my answers. Perhaps the biggest and most important question was, “How is your mental state?”

Now I realize that a med student is generally going to be more thorough in examining or diagnosing a patient, but experiencing it in action today was like a breath of fresh air and I walked out of my appointment with a new prescription, a referral to the chronic pain clinic, my paperwork filled out, and another follow-up appointment. Somehow I’m okay with yet another appointment, which will more than likely be just like most of my appointments. I think I’m okay with it, because this appointment actually felt worth my time and productive.

Back to the question about my mental state…

It was the kind of question that I didn’t want to hear yet also was relieved to be asked. Mentally, I have a lot of really good days, but there are also more than a few tough ones. I knew that I was struggling with low mood, but I’m always reluctant to admit it. Part of that reluctance might be the stigma that often comes with mental illness, while a large part of it is the fact that my struggles are mild to moderate, a far cry from the debilitating depression so many others face. But refusing to acknowledge my own struggle won’t make it go away. I also know that the combination of depression and months of not sleeping well can have a negative impact on healing and how the body deals with pain. And so, I left my appointment with a prescription for a low dose antidepressant that can help my mood and supposedly help me sleep. As much as I dislike taking medication, for the short term it sounds like a ‘win-win’ situation to me.


Singling Out Shame

As I laid awake in bed last night, my mind randomly flashed back to a situation I found myself in about a month or so ago. It was the kind of situation that would be quite easy to ignore or glide over, but in chewing it over in my mind last night I was able to talk myself through the awkwardness and the negative emotions which threatened me in that situation. Of course, all of my best thoughts and words were probably used up in the dark of night, but let me try to spit it out now in the light of day.

I don’t know what day it was exactly, not that it matters at all, but we were at Costco, my husband and I. We had wandered the aisles and thrown a few items into our cart before planting ourselves in one of the long lines to checkout. As we were waiting and talking, I noticed a woman in a line next to ours, and I immediately recognized her face. That’s my super power…recognizing faces. It might take me a month to remember where I know a face from, but I remember faces. Anyway, I recognized this person as a friend of a former friend. I don’t know if she recognized me (we had met once or twice before), but I was instantly flooded with anxiety and shame. Our items were scanned and paid for, and we walked out of Costco, while I shoved those feelings into a mental closet and locked the door.

I know why I felt anxious and ashamed when I saw this person, but I didn’t want to spend any time thinking about it. Sometimes we think that shutting painful emotions off is the same as dealing with them, but that’s not how it works. It was easy enough to ignore how I felt in Costco all those days ago, and I could probably continue to ignore that for a long time yet. Until the next time I see someone with a connection to a former friend.

The anxiety comes from the fear of being disliked or treated with disdain, while the shame flows out of the fear of what the former friend may or may not have said about me. The end of our relationship was surprising and odd. The last conversation was confusing and one-sided, as if designed to create shame within me. In some ways, it felt like I was being gas-lighted. As confusing and hurtful as that was to experience, I was able to see the smoke and mirrors, even if I can only guess at the motivation behind them. It was surprisingly easy to move on, but maybe not so surprising given the growth in my self-confidence over the years. Seeing someone connected to the former friend rattles that confidence. Negative thoughts whisper in my ear, questioning what gossip or lies about my character might have been passed on. In actuality, I feel no shame about what happened with the former friend, because I know I did nothing wrong. But I feel shame in thinking that someone might have been told misinformation. Why? Why should I feel shame about that? Why should I feel anxious simply because I recognize a face in a crowd?

I have absolutely no idea if the former friend has ever said anything about me or the end of our relationship to anyone. No idea whatsoever! Quite honestly, I think it is more likely that this person hasn’t mentioned my name at all. Or maybe my name gets mentioned like a piece of trivia or a historical tidbit of information without emotion or explanation. I have no way of knowing, and I don’t want to care about it one way or the other. What is of greater concern to me is the way that I respond emotionally to a situation that I cannot control and is likely not even a situation to speak of, like seeing someone at Costco.

The feelings of shame that I felt in Costco that day were nothing more than lies designed to imprison me. To the best of my ability and with the grace of God, I have peace within myself in the end of that relationship, so there is no need for me to feel ashamed at the possibility of being recognized as someone’s former friend. I don’t need to stress out over what may or may not have been said about me, when I know my own actions and words and attitudes and have examined them most carefully. If some random person has a problem with me because of misinformation…well, he/she can have a conversation with me about it or not. As for me, I don’t have a desire to waste my time fretting over what ifs, and I do not want to be weighed down by misplaced guilt or shame. There may be moments or days when my confidence is battered and shaky, but I know who I am and I know my worth.

And now that I’ve got that off my chest, perhaps the only thing that will keep me awake tonight is the ever-present pain in my legs!

Still No

I was optimistic this time around and believed that head office would give me the okay to return to work next week. Still I waited with baited breath for the email confirmation. This morning upon waking I checked my email from the comfort of my bed and discovered within my inbox the email from head office. The news within the email was not what I had expected, so I read the message again and again as my hope was reduced to a pile of ashes. They are keeping me on medical leave for another month.

While I might have been a little scared about returning to work while still very much in the healing process, I was also eager to get back to a semblance of normalcy and feeling connected and of worth. I might be getting better at squeezing lemons, but sipping lemonade is becoming rather old. My husband jokes about all the time I have to do his paperwork, but even if I knew how to do it for him, that really is not what I want to be doing with my time. I want to go do my job and know that on payday I will actually be getting paid. I want to be able to sit without pain, lie down without pain, stand for hours without pain, and bend forward as often as I want without pain. I’d like to stop making regular appointments with my doctor and physiotherapist. I’d like to resume training like a powerlifter and plan for future competitions. I would love it if my left leg and foot would return to feeling normal again. There are a lot of things I’d like to be doing instead of being stuck on a medical leave, but here I am.

Perspective is important all of the time but especially during seasons of struggle. The struggle itself doesn’t matter a whole lot; it is merely a catalyst for change or growth. Another month off work allows me another month to heal. It gives me more time to strengthen my back and core to be able to tolerate hours on my feet again. I am extremely disappointed and frustrated with another month off work ahead of me, but I can see past those dark clouds to catch glimpses of the clear skies ahead. And that’s the thing about all of this struggle…there is sunshine and clear skies ahead. I just don’t know how long it will take me to reach them!

Today, in real life, the sun is shining and the sky is a beautiful shade of blue. It feels like spring, and I am hopeful that spring is indeed coming soon. However, for me today, I feel socked in by a thick layer of grungy, grey clouds. My heart feels heavy and my head hurts. The head might be hurting from this morning’s chiropractic adjustment, but it fits the mood within.