Hibernation Envy

I don’t think I have ever wanted to be a bear as much as I do these days. Hibernation sounds terribly appealing. I would like nothing more than to retreat to my bedroom, close the blinds and shut off the light, snuggle beneath layers of quilts, and just sleep for days, weeks, months. My reality is that I cannot even sleep soundly for more than an hour or two. While I can easily be in bed for 8, 9, or even 10 hours a night, waking up is like slogging through quicksand. Once out of bed, I stumble around like a zombie and yawn as if I haven’t slept for a year (which isn’t too far from the truth).

Martha Stewart I am not, but I am generally organized and focused on routines. While I was on medical leave, I appreciated the vast openness of my weekly schedule. Other than going to the gym three times a week and various medical appointments, my days were blank slates. I was usually in bed early and struggling out of bed slightly later than was my norm before the injury. Since returning to work, my weekly schedule is a lot fuller. There are fewer medical appointments, but I still go to the gym three times a week and I am almost back to full-time hours at work. Some weeks present a challenge for me in determining when I will go to the gym, because my work schedule in combination with how my body feels doesn’t always fit into my preferred training routine. This week saw me choosing to train Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, which I knew would be physically tough but the lesser of two evils. Monday was out for training, because I worked from 9 to 5:30. With how difficult it is to get out of bed in the mornings, there was no way that I could get myself to the gym to train before work. And I also knew that my body would be hurting too much to train effectively after work. This weighing of options has been a weekly necessity since returning to work. It’s about making decisions that allow me to do what needs to be done while extending grace to my continued healing.

Today is my last day of work for the week, and it is a closing shift. Today was also the only day of the week in which I didn’t have to wake up to an alarm and force myself to get moving to get to work, the gym, or an appointment. It was 8:13 when I finally cracked an eyelid to look at the clock. It was 8:30 when I finally decided I should get out of bed. As usual, I tossed and turned and was awake frequently through the night, but my deepest sleep periods tend to be the last hour or two before waking. It is almost 10 AM now and I’m still not dressed. My tired eyes are leaking, not because I’m crying or sad…it’s just something they tend to do first thing in the morning or late at night. I need to go wash my face and get dressed, get ready for the long day ahead, but I also don’t want to move. My legs hurt. My skeleton hurts. My head hurts. I am still exhausted, and fog has invaded my brain. Bending at work is the one thing that I am still supposed to do my best to keep at a minimum, because the back pain increases if I do too much bending. And I do try to not overdo the bending but I don’t avoid it entirely. However, the past three work days have seen me do an excessive amount of bending. Mostly out of necessity. But my body feels it. I just need to get through today. Tomorrow is the chiropractor and the start of my long weekend!

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Carefully Taut

I have been noticing with startling frequency just how much tension I carry in my body. This isn’t actually much of a revelation. I seem to recall my chiropractor making such comments to me on a regular basis, so I know this is common for me. But I am finding myself constantly choosing to relax my body, only to revert back to tense without even realizing it.

So I’ve been wondering why. Surely I haven’t been quite this tense all along. The constant pain and suffering since herniating my disc nearly a year ago is likely a major contributor to the tension. When the body hurts, it tends to go into protection mode, and sometimes the body thinks that tension is required to protect. There may be truth to that, but at some point too much tension no longer helps but hinders, I think.

Stress is also a likely culprit. Since I tend to keep stuff bottled up, it makes sense that I carry stress around in my body. The past year, possibly even longer, has been quite stressful. Being off work for seven months made things tight financially. Then the car died and we had to replace it. Then the roof leaked like a sieve and we had to replace that, too. Add in non-financial stressors, like broken relationships, health issues, one kid moving out, another kid going away for school, and work issues…well, there is a lot going on in a life! Although I can still say that life is good and we are blessed, I still feel figuratively battered and bruised.

I am trying to relax and let go of the tension, but it is an easier said than done kind of thing. Stretching. Foam rolling. Hot baths. Epsom salts and essential oils. Heating pad. It’s a constant process that rarely seems to get me anywhere.

Progressions

“True progress quietly and persistently moves along without notice.” 

~Francis of Assisi

I grow weary of being asked how I am doing. While it is nice to know that people are interested and care about my health and well-being, my response always feels so inadequate and tired.

Pretty good. Not too bad. Okay. So-so. It’s been a rough day. My legs have been hurting a lot. Still not sleeping well. Exhausted. Fine. Waiting.

Those are the easy answers for an ongoing situation that doesn’t really seem to have easy answers. I don’t know why I still have constant pain and tingling and numbness in my legs, but it is there. I don’t know when the pain will go away. I don’t know how to make it go away or even less, and I have tried a great number of things without success. Mostly I feel stuck in place, motionless and stagnating, and I feel that way because my legs and feet are in a state of constant discomfort. Some moments or days are slightly better or worse, but the level of pain and discomfort is generally pretty steady. That just does not feel like progress to me.

And yet, I am also aware of all the ways that I have experienced progress over the past eleven months. The pain is no longer raging like death metal music. The numbness in my left leg and foot has decreased significantly, even if there are two seemingly permanently numb spots. I might not be sleeping well all of the time yet, but I am getting more sleep than I did in the early months. I can bend close to the mirror to put my contacts in without my back screaming in pain. My bending ability to shave my legs or paint my toenails has improved tremendously. I can walk faster than my husband once more. It’s no longer challenging to put socks or shoes on. It’s easier to get down onto the floor and back up again. I can do a single leg calf raise on my left leg. I no longer need to force myself to sleep on my back. Depending on the chair, I can sit without too much discomfort for a while. Lifting my left leg to put pants on is no longer difficult. I can wear jeans and pants with a non-elastic waistband again. For a while I wasn’t allowed to lift any real weight. Now I’m doing goblet squats with 65 pounds and rack pulls with 225 pounds. I couldn’t work for seven months, then I had three months of work with restrictions and limitations, but now I’ve been cleared to resume full work hours and duties.

Many of those improvements have been of the quietly and persistently moving along type. They happen so gradually that it is quite easy to completely miss the fact change has happened. In a moment of boredom a few days ago, I thought about these months of recovery and put pen to paper to list the very things I mentioned above. It’s kind of like the proverbial frog in boiling water scenario, where the frog will instantly jump out if put into boiling water, whereas the frog will continue to sit in water that is slowly brought to a boil. Some changes do happen in an instant, or at least quite quickly. Those types of changes are easily recognized, but the slow changes can be missed if you’re not paying attention. And it is good to recognize progress, especially the quiet and persistent, slow moving changes. They may not be as glamorous, but they are still important.

Thanksgiving Struggles

Yesterday I wrote about being thankful, and today I am going to do a bit of complaining. Sounds about right, doesn’t it?

I had planned on going to the gym this morning, and I had even taken my usual steps to be prepared. Yesterday I had put clean shorts and socks into my gym bag and printed off the week’s training program. After breakfast, I filled my water bottle and put it in my gym bag before heading to the bedroom to get dressed. I was half-dressed when I paused, considered my options and schedule for the week, and made the last minute decision to put off training until tomorrow. Today would have been a better choice than tomorrow, but the delay works better for the rest of the week.

Mornings have been tough since herniating a disc. Between the pain, various medications, and trouble sleeping, I wake up each morning feeling exhausted and sluggish. This morning was no exception; it was worse. My daughter asked me how long my alarm was going before I shut it off, and her question surprised me. I wasn’t even aware that it had been going off more than a few seconds.

I have a nasty headache. It is crawling up the back of my neck and piercing through my eyeballs. The headache may be at least partially due to some kind of tweak in my trapezius. Not entirely sure what happened to make my trap so sore. It was perfectly fine when I stepped into the tub for a bath yesterday morning, but by the time I was drying off to step out of the tub, I could hardly move my neck. Eventually I realized that my neck wasn’t the actual problem, but my efforts to release the sore muscles hasn’t helped.

The nerve pain running from my buttocks down to my feet has been stronger these last few days. It’s not a huge increase, definitely nothing like the pain of the first few months, but I have noticed an increase since starting on Cymbalta. The numb feeling in my left calf has also been stronger lately, along with throbbing and a burning sensation. About the only positive of being on this drug is that the pins & needles feeling in my feet is sometimes less, but apparently it takes some time to get past side effects to real benefits. Or so I’ve been hearing from others.

I did finish my cup of coffee this morning, which shouldn’t be surprising but actually is, oddly enough. For the past few days, I haven’t been able to finish a cup of coffee at all. Not even half of a cup! Of course, since starting this drug, I haven’t had much of an appetite and I’ve had frequent waves of nausea. Last night’s turkey dinner was the most I’ve eaten at one time in almost two weeks.

So there’s my complaints for the day, although most of them are daily complaints. These complaints have been “regular” life for me for many months, so much so that they almost don’t even feel like complaints to me anymore. They are just facts. But I do get to spend another day with my daughter before sending her back to school. I have a short work shift later today and a short work week ahead. There is turkey and pumpkin pie leftovers to eat. A Star Wars marathon is playing on the television. Maybe I’ll even attempt a second cup of coffee!

An Attitude of Gratitude

After Christmas, I think my favourite holiday is Thanksgiving. I have felt this way for a very long time, and yet Thanksgiving tends to be celebrated on a very low-key scale. A turkey dinner is usually the extent of any celebrating, and I seldom even bring out the good china for the occasion. While I love a turkey dinner with all that goes with it, Thanksgiving is much more than a statutory holiday on the calendar. As I am laying here with my belly full of delicious food and considering the holiday, I am struck by the personal nature of Thanksgiving. It’s not that we cannot be thankful in community, but I think that thankfulness needs to begin internally. Individually.

A number of years ago, I took up a Facebook challenge to post three things that made me happy every day for a week, and I am still making such posts on a regular basis. Sometimes I miss a day because I’m busy with life or don’t feel like it, but I always come back to it. It is a habit that has permeated the fibers of my being. It is quite normal for me to be making mental notes of my happy things throughout the day, although I do sometimes forget items by the time I get around to writing my formal list. Even beyond Facebook, I make a point of recognizing reasons to be thankful. In my blog. In my journal. In prayers. In conversation. In actions. In attitude.

My life isn’t all roses and honey, and I try not to pretend otherwise. Some days are hard, and some days just suck. But I firmly believe that gratitude is an attitude much more than it is dependent upon circumstances. We cannot always control what happens to us or around us, but we can always choose how we respond to such things. I admit that my first instinct isn’t always positive, not always thankful, but a misstep isn’t the same as giving up. Even on the darkest days, when nothing goes the way I want or the constant pain is stronger than usual, I still make the choice to be thankful for something.

Because gratitude is an attitude. It’s a posture that acknowledges the good in life, because there are a lot of good things out there. As a Christian, choosing to be thankful and looking for positives helps centre my spiritual focus. But even without my faith in the picture, I think there is great value in choosing gratitude as a daily ritual, if only to shift your focus from negative to positive. It has been my experience that practicing daily gratitude can have a profound impact on one’s overall sense of peace and joy. Being thankful for all sorts of things, big and small things, helps to make the painful and ugly parts of life easier to bear. I cannot imagine what my state of mind would have been like during these months of injury if I hadn’t made gratitude my habit a few years ago.

 

11 Months

I just received an email indicating that I am now fully back to work with no modifications or restrictions or graduated hours. When I texted my husband to let him know, he asked if this was good or bad news. Overall, I consider it good news indeed! My only hesitation is rooted in the fear of the ‘what if’ possibilities lurking around dark corners. Since I still have symptoms and pain, what if things get worse? As much as I am eager to be free of the modifications and restrictions, they have also been both a safety net and a leash. It has been reassuring to know that I had support and valid excuses to be careful about what I do at work, and it’s also been good to have others keep me in check when I have wanted to do more than I possibly should. I suppose that I won’t truly lose those supports now that I am not deemed a medical risk at work, but somehow having that piece of paper made it easier for me to be kind to myself.

But that’s just mental stuff.

I am quite relieved and excited to be done dealing with the Leave of Absence people. They have been pleasant and helpful, but I am so done with paperwork and waiting to hear what they have determined about my situation every few weeks. There is a thick file folder in my desk that contains almost all of the paperwork and medical receipts for the past eleven months of dealing with this injury. And now that I won’t need to submit another functional abilities form, perhaps I won’t need to check in with my doctor quite so often either!

Although the restrictions are officially over, my doctor has placed a small restriction on bending. This is the one thing that I know will cause me a great deal of pain if I do it too much during a shift. It’s not that I cannot bend at all, but a few hours of constant bending will leave me hobbling and hunched over like a 90 year old woman. I can deal with the limitation. Most of the time. There will be days when I have little choice but to bend often, and hopefully the back will tolerate more over time.

It’s been 11 months today since herniating my disc, and I went on medical leave 10 months ago, not ever thinking that my return to full work duties and hours would be such a long and arduous process. Of course, I also didn’t think I would still be dealing with the injury at this point in time either.

Eleven months ago, I broke a World record with a 253 pound squat. Today I set a post-injury PR with a 65 pound goblet squat. One day. Some day.

The Spotlight

To borrow part of a line from a movie…I’m just a girl standing in front of a mirror, trying to love herself.

I have come a long way on this journey of becoming, and I am happy to be comfortable in my skin and loving myself. And yet, I can still find myself having fallen into the trap of negative self-talk which in turn leads to a distorted sense of who I am and what that looks like to others.

A few days ago on Facebook, a friend shared some odd facts about himself and welcomed others to share their own facts, and I did. Someone I do not know saw my facts and inquired after my fact of holding a World record, which led to further discussion and comments between the three of us. My friend called me a warrior and amazing and told this other person that she would really like me. Reading my friend’s comment was heart-warming but also rather made me feel the uncomfortable glare of a spotlight. It was high praise that I instantly felt was grossly exaggerated and unwarranted, and I pretty much said so.

Being a curator of thoughts, I have been dwelling on that Facebook conversation. The words written about me don’t quite seem to resemble me, not when I look at myself or when I look at others. This warrior, this amazing person worth knowing sounds like someone I would love to meet, but it doesn’t sound like me. However, in thinking about the comment and the source from which it came, I have had to pause and reconsider my position. The person who made this claim about me is not the sort of person who would throw out artificial praise. In fact, given what I know about this friend’s values and integrity, if he told me that Jane Doe was someone amazing and worth knowing, then I would believe him and want to know her. So why do I doubt his sincerity when I’m put in the spotlight?

Am I a warrior? Am I amazing? As much as I’d like to think so at times, the truth is that I am no better than anyone else and my struggles are no worse than anyone else’s. Everyone has a story that is uniquely their own. There will always be someone with a story either happier or uglier than the next person, and I dare say that a person’s story can be both happy and ugly, even at the same time. We are all stories. I think the lesson here, at least for me, is that stories draw people in. In the same way that I will always return to those books I love, people with interesting stories will always capture my attention and work their into my heart. And if I can look at others this way, then it shouldn’t be so surprising if others take interest in my story.