Tapering or Done

I officially started weaning myself off of my medication about two weeks ago, although I did not consult with my doctor first and have no intention of doing so. While I do not think he would have a problem with me getting off of the medication, I really just want to limit my contact with him to what is absolutely necessary. My doctor has not been an interested participant in my care, and I value my time too much to waste it on useless appointments. The only benefit there would have been in talking to my doctor about weaning would have been the ability to get a small supply of the medication at a lower dosage to allow for a slower taper, but I think my system has been working just fine.

My dose was never very high, but I was taking one 50mg capsule in the morning and again in the evening. Since I couldn’t cut the capsule in half, I simply omitted one dose a day for about a week, then I took one capsule every 36 hours for another week. As of today, I was thinking that I would extend it to once every 48 hours…or I might just not take another one again at all.

There has been little difference in the symptoms and pain levels since beginning this taper. The numb areas are still numb. The pins and needles tingling is still constant and still stronger when I sit or lie down. I still have currents of electrical fire running down my legs from buttocks to toes. I still feel quite tired most of the day, but I am also discovering more pockets of energy and alertness than I have had in a long time. And ironically, for the past two or three nights I have slept better than usual. I’m still awake multiple times during the night and require frequent position changes, but I actually feel like I am getting into REM more often. The only foreseeable downside to not taking the medication is the possibility that the nerve pains and tingling will interfere with my ability to fall asleep in a reasonable time frame, but that was often an issue even on the medication. So really, I think I am better off being drug-free!

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Fear & Trusting

I had to cut yesterday’s gym session short. That’s not something I like to do, but it seemed like the smartest decision in the moment. Bench was first up and was basically fine. Just a tad heavy feeling but no issues. Deadlifts were next on the agenda. I was slightly tentative heading into them, because the weight was 195 pounds, which is a weight I have not pulled for fifteen months. My deadlift weight has been slowly increasing every week, and I pulled 185 on Monday without any trouble. In theory, yesterday’s weight shouldn’t have even been a blip on my radar, but there is something about coming back from a back injury that makes you more cautious or fearful. Anyway, I was asked to do five single reps at that weight. My set-up was somewhat slow and tentative for the first two singles, but the bar moved well and everything felt fine. Even the next two singles felt fine. I never got to the fifth single.

During my rest time between the fourth and fifth singles, my lower back began to hurt like it hasn’t hurt for quite some time. I’m not even certain that the pain was the same as I have experienced since the injury. There was a different feel to it, so the rational part of my brain believed that I was fine and the pain was unrelated to the disc. The irrational part of my brain was in the cockpit of the space shuttle listening to the countdown, ready to blast off into full blown panic that I had re-injured my back. I tried to do some light stretching. I walked around a bit. I sat down on a bench. Mostly I was talking myself down from panic mode. It was really a no-brainer to cut out that last deadlift rep, but it took another minute or two of mental arguing to decide to scrap the rest of the session. I went home and applied some freezing gel to my back and kept moving as much as possible. Later I rested with my heating pad, moved some more, used my TENS machine, moved some more, and continued the tug-of-war between the halves of my brain.

The back is still somewhat achy and sore today, but it is definitely not as bad as yesterday. Thankfully I had a chiropractic appointment this morning and was reassured that the deadlifts were most likely not to blame for the back pain. It was a very good appointment in that we covered a lot of ground and laid the foundation for building me back up. This was only my second appointment with this “new to me” chiropractor, and already I like him a lot. I also understand why my beloved former chiro told me to change from his replacement to this guy. While I did like the replacement chiro, this new chiro is tackling my care in a completely different way, which is actually very similar to how my beloved chiro treated me. My new chiro told me that he is in my corner, and I believe him. He has already had a conversation with my coach, and I appreciate that the two of them can and will communicate with each other so we are all on the same page. It appears that I have some sensory issues in my posterior chain, so my homework is to do a few daily exercises in order to build up that mind/muscle connection and get the glutes doing their job properly. I need to learn to trust those muscles.

A few days ago, a fellow powerlifter asked how my mental state was these days as I have been slowly adding weight to my squats and deadlifts. My answer to her was that it was mostly good lately, but I also expected more tentativeness to creep in as the weight got heavier, especially on the deadlifts. I don’t think that tentativeness is necessary good or bad, although it certainly can be both. It depends on the mindset. Even though I was somewhat apprehensive about pulling 195 pounds yesterday, I didn’t let that fear make me sloppy in my technique and I didn’t let it beat my confidence into submission. I felt the fear and even embraced it for a moment or two, but then I did what I knew how to do. The fear wasn’t rooted in the weight on the bar or my ability to pull it. To me, it didn’t matter that I hadn’t pulled that much weight in more than a year. I knew I had done that weight dozens or hundreds of times before. I didn’t doubt my ability. No. The fear was in the what if I re-injure my disc. Whether or not the deadlift was too blame, my disc herniated during a deadlift and that memory lingers in the dark corner of my brain. That is the fear, the apprehension, the tentativeness that whispers beside my ear now that my deadlift weights are getting heavier. I suppose this is the same fear that any athlete has after an injury. In the same way that I need to learn to trust my muscles, I need to learn to trust myself and my abilities. I cannot guarantee that I will never get hurt again, but one injury doesn’t mean I can never do the same things again.

Stress

Yesterday was an interesting day. It was my last work day of the week, and I knew that it would also be the most challenging. In talking about it with a co-worker the day before, I acknowledged my tendency to mildly stress out over certain things, like the work day to come, and yet when the moment actually arrives I just deal with it and usually come out fine. My last work day of the week did not disappoint my expectations. It was not a terrible day, but it was not nearly as smooth and good as the rest of my work week. Some of the challenges I expected did happen, while others happened that I had not considered. All in all though, the day was pretty darn decent, except for a few particularly obnoxiously rude customers. But I’m not wanting to talk about those customers.

Twice during my work day I had opportunity to listen to someone state feelings of stress and anxiety over different situations. One was a regular customer and the other a co-worker. In both instances, I was able to speak some encouragement. At least I hope I did! One was stressed out over a situation well outside of his control, while the other was allowing his inner self to doubt his ability to effectively handle a busy period. I understand both. I’ve been in both sets of shoes, and sometimes it even seems as if those shoes fit me. In the midst of our unique situation, whatever that may be, it is easy for us to lose sight of what is good, what is right, what is true, and what is helpful. While we need a measure of stress in life to grow, the fact is that we tend to hold and carry far more stress than is necessary or beneficial.

At the end of my work day yesterday, I considered my two earlier interactions and my own fretfulness heading into the day. Maybe it is a bit of arrogance or myopia, but I feel as if my pre-work stress was more beneficial than not. I like my shifts to run smoothly, efficiently, and for everyone to feel good about the shift. I also like to be organized and to have a plan, whether on paper or in my head, of what needs to be done and how we’re going to get it done. The natural by-product of trying to be organized and efficient is the ability to recognize potential pitfalls and work through the options to avoid them or minimize their impact. I think that most of my stress leading up to certain events or days is simply part of my process of working the angles and finding solutions to problems that may or may not occur. It feels proactive. It is preparing me or priming me to be at my best when the situation may not be ideal, and, at the end of it all, I usually find myself thinking that it wasn’t that bad.

I don’t truly stress out over too many things, but there are some things that create stress deep within me that is difficult to shake. Even in those tougher situations, it is very rare for stress to weigh me down. I recognize the cause of the stress I feel and I find a way to deal with it. I talk it out with someone or myself. I pray. I journal or blog. I plan and organize and simplify. I sit in a hot Epsom salts bath or go for a walk. I listen to classical music. The way I deal with it varies depending on the source. It might sound simplistic, but you need to know what you can control and what you cannot. Once you know the difference, then you need to focus your energy on what you can control. For those situations outside of your control, you can still control how you respond to the situation. I know it can be easier said than done, but I think we owe it to ourselves to unload some stress from our lives.

Decisions & Experiments

I did a thing. It seems like I’ve been saying that a fair bit lately and, in fact, I have done two things over the past week or so.

Firstly, I changed chiropractors. This wasn’t something on my radar, but I cancelled the appointment I had already booked for last Friday and made an appointment for this Monday with someone else. There wasn’t anything wrong with the chiropractor I had been seeing since August, when she took over for my beloved chiropractor who was taking a sabbatical. But last week, my beloved chiro strongly recommended making a change and I listened.

I had no problems with the replacement chiro, but the change was suggested for my own benefit. The new chiro I will be seeing has experience with lifting, and the thought is that this experience will ultimately be more beneficial to helping me get back to what I enjoy doing. I listened to my former chiropractor, because I trust his knowledge and judgement. Often I am hesitant to make assumptions about how others view me in terms of my worth or the depth of our relationship, even though I will often place great value on the relationship I have with those same individuals. I mean I’d like to think that my former chiropractor and I have achieved a friendship level of some sort, but I am always afraid that my opinion of the matter is one-sided and this goes for all sorts of relationships. But my former chiropractor has stated that he cares about me and the track that will get me back to lifting heavy. When someone knows you well and understands you better than most, you listen to what they have to say. When that same person says that he cares about you and your track and makes suggestions to guide you on that track, you listen. The choice was ultimately mine, and I made it.

The other thing I did this week was a little experiment with my medication. It’s no secret that I hate taking medication or that I hate the medication I am currently on. The pain clinic doctor wanted me to try Lyrica, so I’ve been on it for two months now. Thankfully the mood swings seem to have settled down after the first two weeks; however, I don’t know that I have ever felt such consistent fatigue and exhaustion. There has not been a single day on Lyrica where I have felt awake, alert, and rested, and I am not convinced that the minimal pain relief is worth the side effects. Besides the fatigue, I also have frequent dizziness, vision issues, and random muscle soreness. So, Thursday and Friday I skipped my morning dose. Quitting cold turkey is not recommended, so I still took my evening dose both days, but I wanted to see what difference there was in halving the dose for a couple of days.

I’m sure it was an imperfect experiment, and I am left uncertain what to do with my results. I took my dose this morning, so the experiment is over. As much as I hate taking medication, hate feeling this way, I just cannot see enough benefit in going off of it. How depressing to be stuck between a rock and a hard place.

I never felt like the medication made much difference to the pain and tingling I feel all of the time. At most I would have said the difference was marginal. My little experiment has me rethinking that opinion. The past two days combined with a couple of days missing one dose resulted in an increase in pain and symptoms. The difference isn’t drastic, but it is slightly worse than the marginal difference I had assumed. The pins & needles tingling in my feet and legs became sharper, pricklier. The numb left calf throbbed more, burned more. The currents of nerve pain coursing from buttocks to toes were hotter, pricklier, stronger. Everything was still tolerable…just more uncomfortable than usual. Last night, even though I had taken my evening dose, I had trouble sleeping. I was most definitely tired and wanting to sleep, but the pains in my legs and feet were strong enough to keep me awake for longer than normal.

If my family doctor wasn’t such a jerk, I’d feel more inclined to discuss this with him and get his advice. But he is a jerk, at least with my care. Every fibre of my being rebels against the idea of making an appointment for anything that is not absolutely necessary, because the past fifteen months of “care” have been little more than a sad comedy of errors and bungling. So I feel stuck taking a drug that has turned me into a zombie. Stuck waiting for a nerve block, although I wonder how effective that will be since there is no damage to the nerves. Stuck living with constant pain and discomfort. Stuck living with pain and discomfort despite taking this terrible drug.

There’s not much rising up going on today. I think that’s okay.

The Joy of Purging

It has long been my desire to simplify life by reducing the number of possessions in my house. Even though I am not much of a shopper, the task of removing clutter and unneeded things is constant one. With every cycle of purging, I find my grip on long-held preciouses slipping. I suppose this is a natural side effect of repeatedly making the choice to create space in one’s life.

This weekend I have been working on my bedroom closet and my dresser. Despite going through my clothing a few times a year, I always seem to have full drawers and a pile sitting on top of my hope chest. The closet has also remained an abyss of long unworn or rarely worn items and all sorts of random objects. Now all of my clothing is either hanging in the closet or folded nicely in the dresser drawers. And there is even space to spare in the drawers! As of today, my closet has visible flooring. In fact, the handful of small shelves in my closet are almost entirely empty, and I don’t know what to fill those spaces with.

Three of the items removed from my closet are dresses from my youth: my grade 9 graduation dress, a taffeta party dress I made, and my grade 12 graduation dress. A few years ago, I could still fit into them, more or less, although I wouldn’t ever wear them again. I have held onto them for nostalgia’s sake. I’m getting rid of them now, because I know that I don’t need them. Nostalgia still tugs at my heart strings; it always will. I am a romantic, a dreamer, a keeper of memories and words and preciouses. I loved those dresses and loved wearing them, loved how wearing them made me feel. There was a measure of joy to be found in those dressed tucked into the back of my closet. I removed them now, not because they no longer give me joy, but the joy found in creating space and breathing room in my life and home is much greater.

I take this need to create space beyond my possessions. When my email inbox is filled on the daily with messages urging me to take advantage of the latest shopping sales, I find that little ‘unsubscribe’ link and get rid of the inbox clutter. The same principal applies to social media. As much as I might like a Facebook page, I have chosen to unfollow most of them, because I don’t want to see the same posts every few days. I don’t have a lot of apps on my Iphone. There are a handful of apps which I use regularly, but a couple of them need to be used. One is a form of communication for work, while the other is a form of communication with my coach. One is being used to track my food, calories and macros, but this app will only be kept for as long as I need to track.

I like to think I am a simple girl. I am not high maintenance and definitely not a diva. And yet the older I get the more I want more simplicity. The concept of margins in life was implanted in me many years ago. It is a concept that I strive to achieve and maintain in my life. A margin is quite simply space, and I believe that margins can apply to all aspects of life: work, relationships, living space, and beyond.

So, cleaning out my closet is one way of creating space in my life. Being able to find what I am looking for creates space. Removing unused items creates space. Creating space makes cleaning faster and easier. It reduces stress and invites a sense of peace and satisfaction. Space in my living space allows me to enjoy it more, and it allows me freedom to step outside my front door more often. When the sun shines through the windows as it did today, I see clean lines, order, neatness, and space to breathe and move…and this fills me with joy.

Do you have margins in your life?

Sinking

Months of waiting ended with today’s electromyography test. The good news is that my nerves are normal; there’s no damage and that is truly good news. However, that good news has been overshadowed, at least for tonight, by other things said during the course of my appointment.

I was told that I will never be able to go downhill skiing and do big jumps. No problem! I haven’t skied in at least twenty years and jumps were never part of my repertoire. I was also told that I will never be able to squat or deadlift heavy weights again. That is a problem, because I have no intention of quitting yet. I do plan on playing smart though. But this proclamation wasn’t even the most disappointing.

After the testing had been completed and the doctor had explained his findings and misguided opinion on what I could never do again, he asked if I had any questions. The only real question remaining? If the nerves aren’t damaged, then how long am I going to continue to experience these symptoms in my legs and feet?

His answer? These types of symptoms can take up to 18 months to resolve; however, if they do not resolve by then, they will likely last forever.

When I walked out of the appointment, I think I felt mostly frustration over the declaration that I could never compete in powerlifting. I wasn’t raging, but I grumbled under my breath over a couple of aggressive drivers on my way home. I wasn’t exactly angry, but I was definitely something.

Laying here (because sitting is one of the worst things for me) as I ate dinner by myself, an occasional tear escaped from my eyes. Since getting home I have been quiet (not out of the norm for me but still). I have been making excuses to avoid some tasks and doing mental gymnastics trying to find the best way to put off tasks and still get them done this week. The non-negotiables will get done when they need to, but those non-negotiables include work and the gym. I want to put everything else on hold and crawl into bed for the rest of the week. Okay, that could be the medication-induced fatigue talking, but it is also a sure sign of slipping into low mood.

It’s not the “you can’t” that is pulling me down. I could ask other professionals and get the same comment or the opposite, and I would rather let my body determine what I can or cannot do rather than someone’s say so. What’s pulling me down is the very likely prospect of always having nerve pains running down my legs, numbness in my calf and foot, and burning/tingling in my feet. There are many worse things I could have to live with every day, and I have never lost sight of that perspective. The pain level is quite similar whether on medication or not, so I should be able to choose my own direction there. But, in the past 14 months, I have never been able to lie down without feeling electrical currents and pins & needles in my legs and feet. I have never been able to sit without the electrical currents, pins & needles, and numbness expanding through my feet and lower legs. It might be tolerable but…

Up and Down

Up days and down days and everything in between…that’s what Angela is made of.

Yesterday’s sunshine filled me with joy and pieces just seemed to fall into their proper places with ease. Today’s skies are back to the typically moody grey of an Okanagan winter. It’s not like everything has fallen to pieces, but today life is less joyful and more painful. And I think I have discovered that the medication might actually be doing just a little bit of something besides just making me tired all of the time.

I am taking Lyrica twice a day and at a low to moderate dose. The pain clinic doctor wanted me to try this drug, so I have been on it since the end of last November. The effect on my mood the first few weeks was brutal. The fatigue has been constant, while I haven’t really noticed a difference in the nerve pains and tingling in my legs and feet.

I failed to take my evening dose last night. No big deal, I thought. My sleep was horrible. I tossed. I turned. I had all sorts of dreams from disturbing to the sort that feels like reality and left me momentarily confused when I woke up. I was awake often and falling back to sleep was difficult. There is always nerve pain and tingling coursing through my legs and feet when I am laying down, but it was stronger than usual. Now the increase in pain could just be normal, or it could be a result of the missed medication. How can I know for certain? Does it even matter? I am not about to skip more doses just to test the theory, because this isn’t the sort of medication one should stop suddenly. Even having taken my dose this morning, I am still feeling stronger pains. Maybe the increase in pain isn’t about the missed dose.

It might not matter much either way. If the Lyrica is helping, it is only minimal, and I’m not sure the constant fatigue is a fair trade-off. If I’m going to hurt, I’d at least like to feel awake and alert rather than ready to curl up for a long winter’s nap.