Bench Set Resting Thoughts

As I sip a rare afternoon cup of coffee, settled down to write this blog post, I can hear traffic sounds tinged with rain and I can see clouds sitting low on the hill across the way. For some this might be an utterly dreary and unwelcome day, but I love it. This is my moment to sit and savour, not only my coffee but my thoughts. My day started early for a day off work, which meant that I was at the gym even earlier than I would typically aim for, but the early bird gets the worm or an empty gym to work out in. Today’s training program focus was bench press with seven sets at a weight that would normally scare me. That kind of weight is something I never used to do for many reps and definitely not many sets, but I’ve been surprising myself these recent weeks and boosting my confidence in the process. Week by week I have been gradually increasing the number of sets I could do at the heaviest weight in the range given to me, and today I even exceeded my own expectations by completing 6/7 sets at that weight. Go me!

At one point between sets as I listened to one of my power songs playing through my earbuds, my thoughts were taken back to New Year’s Eve 2019 as I completed my first 5K race in several years. The exact same power song was playing in my ears as I crossed the finish line and was, in fact, my theme song for the year: Rise Up. In the three minutes I had to rest between bench sets, the past four years flashed before my eyes. In just two weeks will be the fourth anniversary of herniating a disc. That feels like so very long ago and yet still not far enough in the past. There has been a lot of healing since then, yet issues remain. Through it all I have worked hard to be more than the injury. Some have said that this injury would define me for the rest of my life, that it would forever prevent me from doing certain things. While I believe that every body is unique and personal experiences may vary greatly, I don’t want to be forced into a box based on someone else’s experience or bias. This is what drives me, and yet, I sometimes feel as if I’m merely treading water, barely keeping my head above the surface. My life today isn’t nearly as dark and painful as it was when the injury occurred or even a year ago, but I still fall into the trap of thinking I’m getting nowhere. This morning’s three minutes long flashback highlighted a few of the ways that I have indeed succeeded. Not only was there that 5K race, there was also a solo 10K in September 2020. I returned to the powerlifting platform in July 2019. It wasn’t my best performance but it wasn’t my worst. With the exception of vacations or a few acute pain days, I have been consistent with going to the gym and recently increased the number of times I train each week. And I said good-bye to my pain doctor this summer. Depending on your point of view, these might seem like big things or small, and even my point of view will vary depending on the day. But they are things to be proud of, milestones of progress and growth and character.

My theme for 2021 is A New Hope, and I have felt new hope off and on throughout the year to this point. However, I think hope can be difficult to see or feel at times, even for the most optimistic, but maybe part of hope is trust and consistency. In this situation, I have had to be patient with the process of healing and discerning in who to trust when it came to the care and advice given to me. I have also had to be consistent with rehab and all that goes into setting a body up for success in healing and moving beyond the trauma. Even when I had negative and indifferent voices speaking to or directing my healing, I am thankful to have also had positive and supportive voices to speak louder into my life and position me in the right direction. Hope has never been completely lost for the past four years, but this year has truly found me feeling a new sense of hope that is difficult to put into words. It’s intensely personal and more emotion than spoken word. As I look ahead to competing at Westerns in three weeks, I feel a sense of hope that is being bolstered by the small wins I have been having in the gym recently. This will not be my best ever competition and that is okay. There’s still a dark, dusty corner deep inside me that contains the fear of revisiting the trauma of the injury, but hope, even when thin and fragile, is still stronger and I will choose it every day.

Thanksgiving Ted Talks

It feels as if summer just ended, and here we are at Thanksgiving already. Tomorrow will be five weeks until I compete at Westerns, which seems both so far away and much too close. The lines between days on the calendar have blurred until one day bleeds into the next, and I have frequently found myself mentally mixed up with the date at least once or twice a day. And somehow this is exhausting. Or more exhausting than my normal exhausted that comes from disrupted sleep and constant nerve pain. I slept somewhat decently last night, even slept in until nearly 7:30, but still woke up like one dragged from the darkest, deepest sleep into the harsh light of day. It wasn’t pretty, but this is how I’ve been waking up most of the week. C’est la vie!

As mentioned, this is Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada. My family enjoyed our turkey dinner last night, as I have to work on Monday and we had to juggle a couple more schedules to make the time work for everyone. This was our first big dinner with one son’s girlfriend and the daughter’s boyfriend in attendance, and it was all good. The food was delicious. The boyfriend made the gravy and knocked it out of the park! Several games were played after dinner which made for a lot of laughter.

Today, the last day of my weekend, has been kind of a lazy day. The rest of my weekend was busy with almost an entire day of travel to bring the daughter home, two training sessions, and all the housework and prep required for the big dinner last night. I may have had four days off work, but I hardly feel rested or ready for a new work week. The nerve pains have been a bit stronger all weekend, too, which essentially sabotages my rest as they’re always worse when I’m sitting or laying down. It sucks, but c’est la vie.

With Thanksgiving in my rearview mirror, it is now time to focus solely on Westerns next month. Training has been going well, I think. A few weeks ago, I had a one-on-one session with my coach, where he provided feedback and made some tweaks to my technique for squats and deadlifts that have been beneficial. That doesn’t mean I don’t have lingering doubts about deadlifting at Westerns, but I’m not sure that I could ever erase them. By the time of the competition, I will have reached the 4 years anniversary of herniating a disc. While I cannot confirm it without new imaging, I do think that the disc itself has healed and the continuing nerve pain is something that is merely hanging on for the long haul. But there’s a difference between believing that your back is okay and having no fear that the injury could happen again. This competition will be very different from any that I have been part of before, and at this point in time I can’t even imagine how it actually will look like. That in itself is disconcerting because I like to visualize the entire competition. It will be what it will be, I guess.

Tomorrow or five weeks from now will take care of itself. I am just going to do what I can and know how to do, trust the process, and have some fun along the way. As if work, training, and household stuff wasn’t enough to keep my busy, I’ve taken it upon myself to cook my way through an entire Star Wars cookbook and blog about it. This is something I’ve been contemplating for a while now, and it is very exciting to me. Also intimidating. I like to blog and write but don’t think I’m any good at either. I like to cook but know that I’m not anything fancy or gourmet. Currently I’m planning on one recipe and blog post a week, but even that might make me feel too pressed for time. Just remember, Angela, that it doesn’t need to be perfect!

When the competition is over a month from now, the focus will shift to Christmas and then the new year and my big birthday. The rest of 2021 is gonna be busy but a whole lot of fun. Thankfully though, we still need to take things one day at a time. So, happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Canadians! If you’re not celebrating Thanksgiving this weekend, have a great day regardless and be thankful for all the blessings in your life just because.

Ready for a Comeback?

I came across a blog post on of the powerlifting social media pages I follow, and it could not have been more perfectly timed for me. The article lists some tips for getting your mind and body for a return to competition after a lengthy absence. The article doesn’t touch on the reasons why someone might have had such an absence, but it would be easy to assume the pandemic is a primary factor as many competitions have been cancelled since early 2020 because of the pandemic. Of course, apart from a lack of competitions to enter, there are other reasons for someone having a sizeable gap between contests. For me, the only reason has been the injury that occurred in November 2017. In spite of the fact that my injury seems to have turned into chronic pain, I made a return to the platform in July 2019. It wasn’t my best competition. It wasn’t my worst. It was simply a chance to compete again.

When I made the decision to compete again this coming November, I didn’t put much thought into it. The opportunity presented itself to me, and I wanted to grab hold of it. However, when I tweaked my back a couple weeks ago, I was hit by an almost overwhelming wave of uncertainty and fear and considered pulling out. My chiropractor talked me off the ledge, and my back was fine again before the week was out. But that experience gave me pause to consider my why and recalibrate my mindset, something which the article I read the other day completely reinforces. (You can read the entire article using the link at the beginning of this post, because I am not going to list all of the points made there.)

First and foremost, I need to forget about who I was before and what I did before. This isn’t always easy for me. I love history. I love learning from the past, celebrating accomplishments, and reaching for more…and I don’t think there is anything wrong with any of that. I can be proud of what I accomplished on the platform in the past, but those numbers are no longer relevant to where I am physically today. I can be proud of my wins and world record, but how I ranked and what I did no longer matter. The injury may have healed, but I am still living with the fallout. I am not on the same road I once was. This journey is different, and different is not a bad thing. It’s not about “what was” but “what is.”

The basics are called the basics for a reason. They’re important and foundational for everything that comes after. The basics affect all areas of life: training, nutrition, sleep, hydration, focus, attitude, relationships, and so on. Some basics I already do well, while others can use some improving. I am grateful to work with a coach who isn’t afraid to have me work on improving technique. Sleep is something that I prioritize consistently, although my efforts don’t always produce a solid, restful sleep (thank you nerve pain). Sometimes the basics don’t feel very fun, but successful people do the basics well.

For me right now, the second biggest thing is to think small and seek wins. This point goes hand in hand with the first one, in my opinion. As much as I tell myself that I’m not the same person as I was four years ago, I still find myself weighing today’s goals and victories against the past and the results are often disappointing. It’s hard to feel excited about successfully struggling through three sets of Bulgarian split squats with 10 lb dumbbells, when I once had a world record barbell squat. It’s not a fair comparison, but I make it all the time and in all sorts of ways. Instead of thinking that I suck for not using heavier dumbbells or doing more reps of Bulgarian split squats, I should be excited by the fact that my balance, though still wobbly, was better than the last time I did Bulgarians. Instead of being discouraged and frustrated by the number on the scale in the morning, I can be proud of making nutritious choices throughout the day. On a day when the pain is stronger, I can see it as a win that I made it through my work day or finished my workout. Mindset matters, and the great thing about our minds is how much they love positivity. It’s like making a daily gratitude list and finding all sorts of things to be thankful for throughout the day. The more you look for small wins, the easier it becomes to see them everywhere. It’s a mindset recalibration from what was to what is.

So this is what I am striving for in the here and now as I continue to prepare for my return to competition in 7 weeks: “what is”, the basics, small wins, and having fun.

Disrupted

I have been feeling sluggish today to the point of consuming a cup of coffee at 2:00 this afternoon. An hour and a half later, I’m not sure that the caffeine has had any effect, but the coffee sure tasted delicious. Why do I feel so tired and unmotivated today? The only thing that makes any sense is the fact that I worked yesterday morning on what should have been a day off. Typically I have Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays off, but a sick partner required some schedule juggling and I was asked to come in. The short work shift yesterday was fun, busy and good, reminding me of the not-so-distant past when I worked Saturday mornings all the time, and I was back home to enjoy the rest of my weekend before noon.

But my body definitely misses those 6.5 hours, 7.5 hours if you include the time I was awake, getting dressed and leaving for work. Instead of waking up at a reasonable time, I was awake by 3:30 which was before my alarm. My job might not be hard labour, but it does require being on my feet and a lot of movement. By the time I’m done work for the day, regardless of the day, I am tired mentally and physically, and I already know that my body and soul prefer having consecutive days off. I like having routine. I plan out my days and the week ahead, even if some of those plans are only loosely formed. While I can adapt and roll with sudden changes or roadblocks, something always suffers in the process. It doesn’t bother me much that I didn’t get to dusting my living room this weekend, but I am probably going to regret not getting to the laundry. My wallet will benefit from the extra hours worked yesterday, but I am heading into the start of a new work week feeling tired and sluggish rather than rested and rejuvenated. And last night in my dreams, I was struggling to figure out what time I had to go to bed, what time I had to set my alarm, and how much time I had to get dressed, eat breakfast and drink coffee before work this Monday and Tuesday. Work-related dreams are never fun. I might love my job, but that doesn’t mean I can’t also love my time away from work.

Coming Out of the Darkness

I tweaked my back earlier this week while at the gym. At the time, the tweak didn’t feel too terrible. In fact, in my training journal I wrote that I felt a weird sensation in the right side of my low back. A couple sets later I wrote that the back felt less weird but still uncomfortable enough to drop some reps. Back at home an hour or so later, while updating my online training journal for my coach, I noted that the low back felt weird and uncomfortable and not too bad. In hindsight, I admit that I totally downplayed the actual state of my back, although that wasn’t my intention at all. I am not the sort of person who is easily frightened. I see the proverbial glass as equally half full, half empty, and refillable. Since herniating a disc, I have strived to maintain a positive attitude (most of the time) and to see past the struggles and chronic pain to live my life to the fullest extent possible. This week’s tweak of the back was not my first experience with a tweak or a nagging or minor injury in the gym (or anywhere!) My downplaying the discomfort I was in was likely a byproduct of my personality, attitude, and overall life experiences. However, as time went on that day, the discomfort and pain increased to the point that at times I could barely walk and I still had to go to work that day. That was Tuesday.

At some point that day, evening or early the next day, I felt something I hadn’t felt before or at least for a very long time. It was fear but not the kind that flows from a phobia, a scary movie, a mouse in the house, or the nerves before something new. I felt deeply scared of the what if I compete in November and hurt myself again. No fear of the unknown here! I’ve been down this road and I do not want to travel it again. Somehow I made it through my short work week, figuratively stumbling through the motions and feeling both numb and disconnected. Sleep was more elusive. I made several mental mistakes at work that I typically don’t make, and I seesawed back and forth about going to the gym yesterday and ultimately didn’t go. But the biggest weight upon my shoulders was the competition in November. Should I go? Should I drop out because what if?

The back felt a bit better on Wednesday and a bit better still yesterday, but that did not make me feel any more confident about competing. There was a tug-o-war going on inside of me that seemed to be slightly lopsided. My what if wasn’t limited to the possibility of hurting myself again. The possibility of reinjuring myself brought out the what if the naysayers say, “Told you so!” What if the people in my corner changed their minds and no longer supported my decision? <sigh> Of course, I am also the sort of person who keeps most of these sorts of thoughts and emotions locked up inside which really only adds more weight to the burden I’m carrying. Thankfully, I had an appointment with my chiropractor today, so I told myself that I wasn’t going to make any decision until after that visit. I knew that I could trust him to be honest about what I could/could not and should/should not do.

We talked about the back tweak. I talked about being scared and wanting to quit and cried, because I will forever be the person who cries when talking about emotional stuff. He nudged the tissue box towards me and talked a lot about all the right things, like tweaks are a part of going to the gym and training with a goal, and that my experiences with a herniated disc, nerve pain, and medical system will naturally elicit a fear response when a tweak happens. The importance of movement was brought up again, too, as was the assurance that his opinion about me competing hadn’t changed.

I wish I could say that everything he said was new to me, but it wasn’t. Even if I hadn’t been officially told those things before, I knew them. I’ve had tweaks and minor injuries at the gym in the years before I herniated a disc; I’ve also had tweaks and minor injuries at work, at home, at play. As such, I do know the importance of staying active and mobile even when injured. And yes, I am well aware that herniating a disc and going through years of doctors, specialists, poking and prodding, and constant pain has left a mark that cannot be seen but will rear its’ ugly head under certain circumstances. It’s a form of trauma. Somehow, I also knew that my chiropractor’s opinion about me competing would not have changed. But really, when we’re slogging through a tough time, sometimes all we need is someone to remind us of all the truths we already know.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

With the end of my 18 day vacation just around the corner, I am enjoying the solitude of an empty house while my son is camping and the hubby is driving the daughter back to school after a whirlwind trip home for a wedding. Today is going to be a pretty lazy day, although I have already done a load of laundry, unloaded the dishwasher, performed some sets of my chiropractic homework, and planned the week ahead. With tomorrow being the final day of vacation, I still have time to remove the nail polish from my fingers and make the mental switch to work mode.

A few days ago, I realized that I hadn’t really done a whole lot during my time off work. I had plenty of things I had wanted to do during vacation, like enjoying my morning coffee on the deck, writing/blogging more, and a few other things that I can no longer remember. But I kind of forgot about real life stuff: housework, appointments, days out of town, and going to the gym three times a week. Since I prefer working out first thing in the morning, morning coffee on the deck just failed to happen. The one morning I had free to sit on the deck with my coffee…I woke up to pouring rain. That’s okay! We needed the rain and I loved listening to it through open windows while I drank my coffee.

We did get away for several days, and that was lovely. I quite enjoy our annual holiday in Harrison. It is definitely a touristy kind of place but in a way that is unobtrusive and still relaxing. There’s just something about this place that I haven’t experienced anywhere else. There can be crowds of people and busy restaurants, but I never feel crowded or rushed. Nature’s beauty is all around you. I haven’t sat on a beach in my hometown in years, yet I can sit on the beach in Harrison for as long as my back will allow and never feel bored or anxious. We eat good food, hike and walk a lot, and simply relax.

Those things I had planned on doing during my vacation? Not very important at all. The pandemic has been stressful, and the past few months have pushed the stress levels to the extreme. I’m not a big worrier. I haven’t been fearful or anxious. I roll with the punches rather well, I think. But working in the service industry during the pandemic is something else. There is so much anger, hate, fear, anxiety, and division amongst people and it has been spilling out all over, splashing everyone who has simply been trying to do their job. This vacation was probably the most desperately needed vacation I’ve ever taken. So what if I didn’t check a bunch of things off a list! I read a few books. I watched some baseball and tennis. I hiked, moved my daughter, had wine with a friend, ate good food, stayed up late, and tried to sleep in. More important than what I didn’t do is the fact that I feel rested, relaxed and refreshed.

Working in the Time of Covid

What’s true in the light
Is still true in the dark
You’re good and You’re kind
And You care for this heart
Lord I believe
That You weep with me

~Rend Collective

This heart of mine is battered and bruised. The distinction between days has blurred and bled into the next to the point where I can barely answer the question of what did I do on the weekend or even yesterday. Darkness pushes fiercely against the light, which is not the way that darkness and light normally operate but it is what it is. These days are not normal, have not been normal for a long time now, even if normal has always been a subjective term. Thanks a lot pandemic.

I feel like I can confidently state that the pandemic has not disrupted my day-to-day life too much. As a middle-aged introverted woman, the closure of bars and nightclubs didn’t bother me at all. The closure or limited hours/service of restaurants and other businesses was occasionally mildly inconvenient but not really a big deal. Wearing a mask hasn’t always been comfortable, especially not when I’m wearing one for hours at a time at work, but the hardship was not nearly as difficult as some would have us believe. I even workout wearing a mask and haven’t expired from lack of oxygen yet! Staying 6 feet apart from other people? Yes! I have never enjoyed having my personal space crowded by strangers anyway. Honestly, the biggest inconvenience or hardship during the pandemic has been restrictions around gathering with friends, extended family, or in large groups for events, church, and special occasions, but even then, as an introvert, those situations do not all weigh the same to me. Some matter more, some a bit less, and how that balances out is itself quite variable. So, I have not felt too hard done by as I’ve navigated through various restrictions and guidelines through the nearly two years of this pandemic. I also have not, for the most part, been unduly nervous or afraid. I have followed the guidelines and protocols, but never have I been afraid of getting sick or afraid of other people. I like to think that I’m strong, mentally and physically, that I am fairly laid back and easy-going, capable and emotionally able to roll with the punches and pick myself up when I get knocked down. So where is this post going?

Lately it feels as if I am on the verge of weeping all of the time. ALL. OF. THE. TIME. Even as I sat down to finally write this blog post, I was hit with the overwhelming need to sob. (Typing the previous sentence caused some leakage from the eyes.) This is not a sudden feeling; it has been building in intensity for several weeks now and the past couple of weeks have seen accelerated growth. It’s not just tears though. There is anger and frustration, but I am too nice and kind to let most people see just how much there actually is inside of me. It is ugly and messy and very real.

I have begun to realize that this pandemic has burned me out. Or more accurately, working through the pandemic has burned me out. I love my job and most of my customers are good people, but the pandemic has exposed so much ugliness and turned people against one another. I get it…everyone is weary of the pandemic, the restrictions, the constant barrage of Covid news! So what happened to we’re all in this together?

As an employee in a service industry, I am already considered by many to be at the bottom when it comes to my value and importance. My job doesn’t require a degree or high tech skills. Anyone could do my job, or so they say when there is talk of raising the minimum wage. These things might be true, and yet, there we are day in and day out, early in the morning and late at night, performing menial tasks and serving all sorts of people to the best of our abilities through all kinds of challenges beyond the pandemic. We are expected to be kind, courteous, friendly and upbeat, fast and efficient without ever making a mistake. Blessed are the customers who appreciate our efforts and challenges and are in turn kind, courteous and friendly. The service industry has always and will always have those customers who treat service staff as robots or glorified slaves. The pandemic has taken those few bad apples and created an entire orchard of angry, entitled, rude and obnoxious customers, not just at my business but everywhere. One can hardly look at social media or the news these days without seeing/hearing about yet another altercation or aggressive behaviour from a customer unhappy with a business’ safety protocols or restrictions. In the early days of the pandemic, there was a lot of attention given to our essential workers. Essential workers sort of applied to anyone whose business was still open during shutdowns, although there always still seemed to be a bit of an attitude that some jobs were more important than others. Understandable really. First responders, doctors and nurses certainly have more important jobs than a fast food or grocery store employee, and yet, not even a pandemic can deter the public from getting their daily latte or fast food lunch while they are forced to work from home. It’s hardly fair but life isn’t fair, and I accept that.

I do enjoy my job, but I am weary of working through a pandemic in an environment where I am at best invisible and at worst insignificant to the ones I am serving. I am tired of the need to police customers who choose to ignore the safety protocols and restrictions put in place either by the company or our government. I am tired of being treated like a moron because of circumstances beyond my control, and I am definitely tired of being treated with hostility and disdain for all of the above. It’s not like my workplace is the only business required to follow the provincial mandates. It’s not like my workplace is the only business to have their own protocols in place for the safety of staff and customers. Every business has been impacted. We are all tired of the pandemic! But can we not treat others with kindness and respect in spite of the pandemic?! I’d love to stop wearing a mask, too, but I have to wear mine the entire time I’m working while you as my customer only need to wear it for mere minutes. I think you can manage that. So you’re fully vaccinated and can’t understand why you should need to wear a mask? Well, I’m also vaccinated but that hardly matters when the government has issued an order for everyone to wear masks indoors at this time. You’re day has been ruined because I don’t have what you want due to product shortages due to the pandemic? Look around…all sorts of businesses have product shortages. You’re pissed off that we have reduced hours and/or that we’ve limited service options? Yeah, bummer. There’s this little thing going around making people sick and sometimes, even if they aren’t sick, they still need to isolate for ten days, which kind of creates challenges with staffing. But hey, we’re hiring if you want to help us out, and that’d be really great because we’re super busy!

I have worked in the service industry for a long, long time. I’ve seen a lot and dealt with a lot, and my skin sometimes gets a bit bruised but it is generally thick enough. But my personality type also desires justice and fairness. Even if it isn’t me on the receiving end, the emotional and physical burdens currently being experienced by those in the service industry weighs heavily on me. I care about my performance at work and the job that I do. I care about the people I work with, and I care about my customers. I feel the pain and emotions of others. I treat others with courtesy and kindness, even when I’ve been given poor service. But I am not a robot, a woman made of tin without a heart or soul. I am strong and grounded in my faith, but I am struggling internally, worn down from working so hard and giving so much to those who would rather spew their toxic waste on me than see me as a person just as deserving of the kindness and grace they expect demand.

In the light of day, I go to work and do my job. I’m not perfect, but I like to think I do my job well. But when I think I am alone or unseen, I sometimes fight back the urge to break down and weep and, in the cover of darkness, sometimes I do.

Sitting in Silence

“Silence is a source of great strength.”

~Lao Tzu

Hello! It’s me. Yes, I have not written a blog post in a long time, despite numerous thoughts and half-hearted attempts in recent weeks. Life has been busy and generally good, but I am also feeling incredibly burnt out and unmotivated beyond the necessities. This Coronavirus pandemic keeps dragging on, and I am as weary of it as anyone else. The fact that my job is customer-facing puts me directly in the path of all sorts of people, attitudes and expressions of such. My enjoyment in my job shrivels up in the face of the entitled and selfish, the arrogant and rude, the ignorant and condescending, the misplaced frustration and anger and hostility, and the lack of common sense and decency. Of course, I’m painting with a broad brush here, but the negative customers sometimes leave a lingering odour in their wake that overpowers the sweetness of the positive encounters. When your workplace is busier than ever and striving so hard to perform well in the midst of a pandemic and many other challenges, burnout and fatigue are almost inevitable. This is where I am right now. Because of my character, I will always care about my performance and the people I am serving, but I got to admit that there are moments, sometimes too many lately, where I find it difficult to care beyond the bare minimum. I still do my job well. I still give good service. But I am tired of being treated like a lesser being and tired of being a verbal punching bag for people angry with our government and health officials. I just want to do my job and be treated with the same dignity, understanding and respect I’m expected to give. Is it any wonder that I am counting down the days until my vacation?!

It is hard to believe that the summer is half gone already! My daughter arrived back home at the beginning of July after spending six months in Tanzania. We’re enjoying having her home, if even for only a few weeks more before she heads off to school again. At least her college is much closer than Tanzania! Last weekend, we moved our oldest son back home. His landlords sold his apartment and the rental market is extremely hot and expensive here, so he’s back home until he can find something that fits his budget and needs. The emptier nest was nice, but I don’t mind it getting a little fuller again. We gave it a valiant effort but failed to get the basement reno finished before he moved back home, which means that my house is in a state of chaos with boxes in the dining room, furniture in the garage, and drywall piled up in the rec room.

Summer in the Okanagan tends to involve forest fires and smoky skies, and this summer seems to be particularly bad. Today is actually a fairly clear day, at least the clearest we’ve had in at least a week. I did not sleep well at all last night due in part I’m sure to the smoke. I worked a closing shift yesterday, which already tends to result in a poor night’s sleep, but my throat was so dry and rough that I was awake for quite a while in the middle of the night with coughing fits. We had some rain on the weekend, which was both glorious and sad at the same time. Glorious because I love the rain and we desperately need it, but sad because the skies were so smoky that you couldn’t even open the windows to enjoy the freshness of rain. It wasn’t even very fresh smelling rain.

The only other truly exciting item of late is the potential to compete in powerlifting again this November. My coach and chiropractor have given me the green light, so now I simply need to wait until registration opens and get that final confirmation. Even though I’ve looked over the requirements several times, I am half afraid that I won’t be allowed to compete, that I have missed noticing some random requirement that I have not met. This potential competition is a big one being Western Championships, so my cautiously optimistic approach makes a lot of sense. One typically doesn’t just sign up for Westerns without meeting a bunch of qualifying requirements; however, this is one case where the pandemic might work in my favour. Since most competitions over the past two years were cancelled due to the pandemic, the requirements for Westerns have been drastically reduced with the main one to have competed at least once since January 2018. I have competed only once since 2017, but it was in July 2019 which means I meet that requirement and, unless I did miss something important, I should be good to register. Westerns is a big competition to enter, but I have been there before in 2016. For me, it won’t be about breaking National or Provincial records. It probably won’t even be about breaking my own personal bests, but I am interested to see how far I can push myself. My training hasn’t been specifically powerlifting focused for most of the year, so it feels like a lot of hard work in a relatively short period of time but this is the kind of hard work I don’t mind. It’s nice to have something to focus on and work towards again.

Vacation begins in sixteen days! That’s only eight work days away!

Stories Are More Than Words

“We are all stories in the end, just make it a good one.”

~Doctor Who

Being the sort of person who ruminates on things written or said or even left unsaid, I think it is quite natural for me to have had the theme of stories twisting about inside my head for a while now. Four years ago today, I had an appointment with my chiropractor that ended up being more of a mental therapy session than a physical one. One of the many things I like about my chiropractor is the way he genuinely connects with his patients on a personal level and how that compliments his treatments. He does not view his patients as merely walking, talking injuries or diseases or excerpts from a medical textbook. In my experiences with dozens of health care providers of all sorts, this level of whole person care is exceedingly rare, but it makes all the difference in the world when you receive it. Since that day four years ago, I reflect back on that conversation and the blog post that flowed from it with some regularity and particularly the past month or so.

Stories tend to have chapters, at least that is true if you have moved on from the picture and learn to read books of early childhood. Life has chapters, too, but then again, what is life if not an epic story. As I have been reflecting on the past four years, I have realized that that moment was the beginning of a new chapter for me. Sure, I might have thought the same at that time, but I could never have anticipated where my story would lead me to four years later. I couldn’t even foresee what the next few weeks would lay at my feet, and those troubles were so much greater than what led up to that conversation with my chiropractor. Isn’t that ironic? Something inconsequential devastated me for a day or two until I was given a listening ear and good advice. And yet, that compassionate ear and good advice reminded me of who I am and what makes me me and cleared the debris so I could see the solid foundation beneath my feet, which enabled me to traverse the troubles ahead with more grace and dignity than I would have thought possible.

The purpose of my blog is, I suppose, to tell my story, to share my journey of growing and becoming. Sometimes I forget that. Sometimes I forget who I am and what matters most in determining who I am. My chiropractor has said that I will always need to be reminded of this, because I am never going to feel as if I have arrived at my best or fully defined self. I could not agree more. I am not content with good enough. I am not satisfied with being less than. When I read a good book or watch a good movie, I want to know more. What happens in the story after I turn the last page or after the credits roll? I want to know! And personally, I want to be more, not to be famous or anything so outwardly showy or shallow. I don’t even know how to explain it; it is just the way I roll. This is part of my story.

The chapter of my life started four years ago has yet to be tidily wrapped up in anticipation of a new chapter’s beginning. I hadn’t expected this chapter to last so long, and I did get a little lost in the pages and weary of the narrative. If my life was an actual book, this chapter is one that I would quickly skim through once I realized how dusty and boring it was. There isn’t much that is exciting about healing something that seems prepared to fight you every step of the way. In fact, it’s rather exhausting, in real life and in the retelling. When you have stood on the top of mountains, it isn’t so easy to feel excited about standing on top of a mound of dirt, but that is precisely what the past few years have felt like. Personal victories have been small, seemingly inconsequential, and easily missed. Progress in some areas has stalled and in others regressed. The sad story gets really old very quickly. But the story does not need to end there.

“Go laugh in the places you have cried. Change the narrative.”

~unknown

Having felt quite frequently that I have lost sight of myself and mulling over conversations on that subject, I have begun the arduous task of clearing the debris from my path once more. That solid foundation of who I am is still there beneath my feet. In fact, I have been standing on it all this time! That’s the thing about solid foundations…they are built to last and they support us even when we forget their existence. I am thankful for the One who has given me the ultimate foundation, and I am thankful for those who have been placed in my life and care enough to speak into it. You know what? I am also as thankful for the struggles along the way as I am the triumphs.

“If you look back at my story, it doesn’t matter where you look, but God’s fingerprints are all over the place.”

~Jeremy Lin

A Letter to Self

Hey you!

I’ve seen you cringe when you look at yourself in the mirror. I’ve heard your sighs of disgust every time you get dressed or sift through your clothes for something that might fit a little better. I know your frustration with not seeing a change on the scale, and I bear the brunt of your self-loathing when you beat yourself up for not being perfect with your nutrition or exercise. It breaks my heart to see you despair at ever feeling as strong and confident as you did before the disc herniation. I know that lately you feel alone, invisible and unseen, as you keep going and doing in spite of the pain and the weariness that has seeped into the marrow of your soul. Very few see your tears, but I see every single teardrop and I hear your cries of sorrow and anger and frustration.

Do you remember 2017? I know you do, because the herniation occurred that November. But do you remember early in the year when your sacroiliac joints were quite irritated for a few months, followed by a less than stellar performance at Provincials in June, and then being dropped by your coach in July with a competition only a few months away? Back then we thought those were difficult times, but we made it through. Of course, you were more confident then and, while you didn’t always react well in all of those circumstances, you were quick to find your footing and move forward. Things weren’t easy, but you knew who you were, what you were capable of, and you had a vision of where you were going. When the herniation happened, you didn’t lose sight of yourself or your goals, even though the process of recovery derailed life quite drastically. That was a challenging year, but it was also a very good year for personal growth out of those circumstances.

Here we are now in 2021, and you do not feel like the 2017 version of you and you can’t see a way back to her. Healing has not been linear, nor has it happened the way you thought it would. Who would have thought you’d have constant burning, tingling, and throbbing pain in both legs and feet after 3.5 years? It doesn’t seem fair, but it is what it is. You might feel as if you’ve stopped being strong, but do you realize how strong you are for doing all that you do every day despite being in constant pain? I know you like to downplay your efforts and your pain, saying others have it much worse and you have no other choice. Yes, there are people suffering more than you! Yes, your pain is mostly tolerable. But pain is pain, and each person experiences pain uniquely. While your pain may be mostly tolerable, that does not mean that your pain is insignificant or invalid. Do you know why you say you have no choice but to carry on? It’s because you are strong! Some people give up at the slightest inconvenience or discomfort, but you have never let your pain completely stop you from living life. Take courage, dear heart! Your strength of spirit has never wavered.

A dozen different medications over the past few years have messed you up. Weight gain, weight loss, weight gain, mood swings, brain fog, nausea, loss of appetite, insomnia, fatigue…the side effects have always been more effective than the supposed benefit of pain relief. While you can’t always cling to the drugs as an excuse for being heavier and lumpier than you’d like, beating yourself up for struggling to lose the excess doesn’t help and only adds fuel to the lies that there is something wrong with you, that you’re not good enough. It is good that you know where you could do better or make positive changes, but remember that you can’t do it all at once. Allow yourself some grace to slip up now and then, and focus on making small changes consistently. You’ve done this before, remember, and you can do it again.

But here is the thing that is most important…remember who you are! The number on the scale does not speak of your character. After Provincials in 2017, a friend spoke wisdom to you, reminding you that you are more than a title, an occupation, or a performance. Those words are still true today. You are still Angela. My job as a barista does not make me who I am. Lifting weights and hoping to get back to powerlifting does not make me Angela. I am a wife and mother, but even those important things do not make me me. So often in our society, we link our self-worth to what we do or the people we are associated with, when really who we are at our core is what makes us a good wife or mother, a good employee, professional or athlete or performer, a good neighbour. Everyone has an expectation or ideal for who you should be, and we are just as guilty of slapping a label on ourselves, placing ourselves inside of a tiny box, and expecting ourselves to live up to our own definition of self. We fool ourselves into thinking that we have a set destination where we will have arrived at our ideal identity. Do you recall why you called your blog Becoming Angela? It’s because you knew this was an active process, living and breathing and changing. Life is about change and growth. But Angela, the core character parts of you should not, and indeed have not ,changed. You are still strong, caring, compassionate, empathetic, loving, hard working, grateful, joyful, hopeful, determined, confident, focused, organized, and fun. There might be some rust around the edges, because let’s face it, chronic pain does knock you around more than you let on; however, you are still Angela. Your value is not based on your job. Your strength and confidence are not dependent upon a return to powerlifting competition. Your peace and hope are not based upon a pain-free existence. Your self-worth is not found in a particular number on the scale or a clothing label. You were not created to be put in a box but to live abundantly. So keep on becoming!

Love,
me