Information Overload

Have you ever realized just how much information is available on the internet? So. So. Much. Maybe too much.

Since herniated a disc five weeks ago, guess what has been on my mind a lot. If you said herniated discs, you’d be correct! For being so smart you get nothing more than a pat on the back and a glance into the chaos that is within me.

I like knowledge and knowing and understanding and learning. I herniated a disc, so what exactly is that? How does it happen? What are the symptoms? How do you treat it and manage the symptoms? The list of questions is nearly endless. For all the information on the internet though, sometimes clear answers are hard to come by. Sometimes too much information muddies the waters and makes things more confusing. Clinical answers to medical questions aren’t always easily understood by someone without a medical background. The answers aren’t always black & white, and yet finding answers to the questions living in the shades of grey isn’t always easy either. It is confusing. It can be frightening to read about worst-case scenarios or the problems encountered by others in a similar situation. Finding a few answers might alleviate fears or inflame them or both. Or create more confusion.

Five weeks into my herniated disc and I feel more fear now than I did at the onset. Even though I have more knowledge and answers now, there is still so much that is unknown, so much to work through and fight for, especially in terms of persuading my family doctor that I need to pursue next steps. Should I be successful in my quest that will create new sources of anguish and frustration, because waiting is part of the medical system around here and I don’t want to wait anymore. I want to heal. Like yesterday.

 

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Chaos

“It was her chaos that made her beautiful.” ~Atticus

2017 is rapidly drawing to a close, which turns my thoughts both inward in reflection and outward in anticipation. I like to give myself a theme and a bunch of goals for each year. My theme for 2017 has been Powerfully Beautiful, but I’m afraid that I haven’t felt like this has been applicable for most of the year. The year has been full of various struggles and challenges, many revolving around little injuries and a big one, most recently. It is this recent injury that has the potential to cause the most chaos in my life, and I cannot imagine that chaos being beautiful in any way, shape or form.

Although the pain is generally tolerable now, it still fluctuates quite wildly. I had two good night’s of sleep, then last night happened. I slept well enough, but I also experienced more aches and pains in my back than I had the previous two nights. I went to the gym this morning to do my rehab exercises, but the pain in my back was enough to make me cut some exercises short or out completely. For the most part, I’ve been able to do these exercises without much discomfort in my back, and really these rehab exercises are supposed to easy on my back. Most of my pain or discomfort while exercising has been in getting down on the floor or up off the floor, so today was disheartening. Since I cut the exercises short, I thought I’d spend some time on the treadmill. I could only manage a speed of 2 mph. I tried 2.5 mph but could barely handle it for just over 50 metres. My initial goal was to walk for 10 minutes, but then I changed the goal to completing 2 laps or 800 metres. My hands had a vise grip on the handles for almost the entire walk because of the pain in my back.

My mood feels as fragile as my back these days. Grumpy. Moody. Liable to dissolve into tears. Frustrated. Dejected. Hopeful. Resigned. Weak. Pathetic. Useless. Not powerful. Not beautiful.

For all the progress of the past month, it is still incredibly slow. The ‘surgery’ word has now been uttered, although that does not mean I will require surgery, only that I should get a referral and begin the waiting process in case it is. The physiotherapist made a point of saying that they generally like to see more progress by this point, and I can’t argue that, especially when he re-tests the reflex in my left Achilles tendon and finds none.

I just feel broken. In more ways than one.

Slipping

I had a small slip this morning, and I think I’ve been slipping ever since.

I left the house this morning to give my daughter a ride to the mall. My plan was to try to get some Christmas shopping done before my back was tired and sore from the walking and upright position. Then I was going to drop some paperwork off at work, return home, spend some time in a reclined position with a heating pad, do my rehab exercises, then make some soda cracker cookies, recline some more, get supper started, recline. That was my plan, and it pretty much worked out the way all the best laid plans do.

My daughter and I walked out of the house and down the three steps to the driveway. As I walked towards the driver’s door, my left foot slipped off of a small lip of a curb between the driveway and the berm. It wasn’t very far, not as big of a drop as a typical curb, but it still resulted in a horrible jostle of my entire spine. Pain had grabbed hold of the base of my skull by the time I had pulled the car out of the driveway, while the back was a bit slower to react. I still made one trip around the mall, but the back was not at all happy by the time I got back home. The back hasn’t been very happy with standing at all today, and my skull is still in a vise. I managed dinner with some help from my kids. I skipped the cookies and laundry and any semblance of productivity, with the exception of my rehab exercises. For the most part I’ve been okay since running out of Gabapentin last Friday. There has still been pain that fluctuates throughout the day, but it is still a huge improvement from a couple of weeks ago. Today I was wishing I had something stronger than Ibuprofen.

Registration for Nationals opened today. The decision to not compete at Nationals is a no-brainer, but I cannot help but feel…something. Disappointed. Frustrated. Numb. Dejected. Slipping…

The Green Grass Proverb

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence is an old saying that warns against the folly of thinking others have things better than ourselves. It’s a lesson in making assumptions about appearances which would seem to reveal our faults and short-comings. Despite the popularity of the phrase, it can be easy to fall into the trap of looking at our neighbour as having a better situation than ourselves. Lately I have been twisting that phrase inside out with a different perspective: the grass isn’t always greener on my side of the fence. Or, the grass on the other side of the fence isn’t necessarily more in desperate need of water, sunshine, and TLC than my own!

It has now been 4 weeks since I herniated my disc, and I am still living with numbness and varying degrees of pain. Despite a reduction to the hours in my work week and modifications to my activities and tasks, I am still finding work to be extremely taxing on my body. I came home from work last Thursday night in so much pain that I almost cried myself to sleep. Actually, the tears soaked into my pillow as I wrestled with the physical discomfort and the emotional upheaval born out of dread for another painful work shift the next day and decisions I could make to help myself out. Once or twice in the early days of my injury, my boss had asked if I wanted to take a medical leave, but I demurred. As I laid in bed Thursday night (or early Friday morning), I had to consider the possibility.

When I broached the subject with my boss the next day, I was still somewhat reluctant to take a leave. She asked me what was standing in my way. There are 2 things. Firstly, I don’t like to let people down, and secondly, I don’t like to ask for help. That’s it in a nutshell.

I don’t want to leave my co-workers scrambling to cover my absence. Being a key-holder makes filling that gap a bit trickier. It’s not an insurmountable obstacle, but I really don’t like to let people down.

It’s the asking for help part that is the big one here. Taking a medical leave may not be asking for help in the strictest sense, but it does make me feel weak  and incapable which is tantamount to asking for help. This is where my mind has been turning the ‘grass is always greener’ phrase inside-out.

I don’t feel like I should need to take a leave! I mean take a look at me. Well, I guess you can’t see me through a computer screen, but my point is that, unless you know me well, you wouldn’t necessarily see that there is anything wrong with me. Even those who do know me well would have to look carefully to see cracks in my veneer. Over the course of a day, my ability to walk will vary considerably. One minute I can walk with almost no limp at all, while the next minute will have me hobbling like a 100-year old lady. Mostly I look normal, so I feel guilty for wanting/needing time off work to heal. I am in pain, yes, but less so than I was in the first week or two of the injury. Things are improving…even if not even close to as fast as I would like. There are people much worse off than I am! And that is where I think my grass is greener than on the other side of the fence. Why should I need special care for my injury, when there are so many people suffering and struggling with illness and injury so much worse than mine?

It has been pointed out to me by a few people that I need to take care of myself first, that I am not doing myself any favours by continuing to push myself to go to work when it is causing me such difficulty. As difficult as it is for me to admit to weakness, I do see the wisdom being spoken into me. I need to take care of myself, which includes allowing myself the opportunity to heal properly so I can resume a normal life. Failing to do so will only prolong my suffering and negatively impact all areas of my life. Acknowledging my own injury, pain, and current limitations is not about comparing myself to anyone else. Each person’s suffering is valid and real, even if of no importance to anyone else.

So I have made the decision to seek a medical leave of absence, but first I need to get a doctor to sign off on the paperwork in agreement. Obviously I am not keen on seeing my family doctor after his erroneous dismissal when I first went to him with this injury, so I will return to the walk-in clinic where I received better care along with the referral for physiotherapy. Part of me is so skeptical of the medical system that I am half-afraid of meeting with resistance to the idea of a leave. I can hear the arguments against it in my head. Why not reduce your work hours? Why not just find ways to accommodate your limitations within the workplace? Thankfully I have answers for those questions! I have been working fewer hours for the past 4 weeks. I have made as many modifications to my tasks as I am capable of making. I have already been making my best efforts to avoid doing anything I cannot or should not do with this injury…but it simply isn’t enough! My job isn’t in the same league as someone in construction or some similar type job, but my job consists of so much bending that I cannot avoid it all. There is no value in paying me to stand there for hours each day, but even something as simple as preparing one beverage for a customer requires me to bend and lean and twist in ways that are subtle but take a toll on my body in it’s damaged state. My job cannot be modified any more than it already has. As much as I don’t like the idea, I need some time off work. I love my job, but I do not enjoy how I have dreaded each shift lately, knowing the pain I’d be in through the shift and after. Although I am in much less pain than I was originally, there is a significant increase in the pain when I’ve been working. I need to take care of myself first.

So, while the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side of the fence, please don’t think that you are wrong to put extra care and attention on your own lawn. Especially not when it comes to your health!

Dignity in the Shadows

“Who would ever know the greater graces of comfort and perseverance, mercy and forgiveness, patience and courage, if no shadows ever fell over a life?” ~Ann Voskamp

I think it is safe to say that being injured feels quite like having heavy shadows blanketing one’s life. There is a distinct chill in the air as you lose the warmth of taking part in the normal routines of life, and it doesn’t take long to feel as if darkness is closing in, suffocating and impenetrable and permanent. You stumble about in the darkness, lost and afraid and alone. Or so it can seem.

I had someone tell me today that I am handling my situation…the injury with all of its disruptions to my plans and the limitations to my everyday life…with more dignity than most. If my name had not been used I would have wondered who was being referred to, because I don’t know that I would have come up with “dignity” as pertaining to me in this situation. It’s not like I’m wailing and gnashing my teeth, but I suppose I do generally have a positive and relaxed attitude about it all. Even when I do have an emotional meltdown, I am usually quick to return to my more typical calm and rational self.

Where I struggle the most is with feelings of guilt and obligation. My house is a mess. My husband washes the dishes and works long, hard hours with one of my sons. The other son is on the other side of the world until just before Christmas, and my daughter is in the midst of midterms, assignments, preparing for exams and juggling her work and volunteer schedules. They help around in the house in varying degrees, but there is still so much that has been neglected. And here’s another scenario…today is a day off work, so I am home to make dinner. A new recipe has caught my interest and I intend to make it tonight. It sounds simple enough yet potentially delicious, but there is one little problem. The oven is required. A baking dish is required. Bending to put the baking dish in the oven is required. This is something I am not supposed to do in my current state, even if I feel no pain in the act. Thankfully my daughter is already home and can help me out tonight, but that isn’t always the case. I needed to do some laundry today and had my daughter carry the hamper downstairs for me before she left for class. I might have carried one clean load back up the stairs, but I did leave the last load for someone else to bring up. I popped into a grocery store for just a few items this morning, and the cashier put them all in one bag. Normally that would be perfectly fine. I wasn’t even halfway to my car before I realized that I was feeling some slight discomfort in my back and probably shouldn’t be carrying a bag of groceries as heavy as that. Oh how all this chafes against my sense of self-sufficiency!

And then there is my job. Sweeping, mopping, lifting large trays of dishes down into the sanitizer, bending down to lift those same trays out of the sanitizer, bending forward to take jugs of milk out of bar fridges, lifting boxes from the floor or from far overhead…all that and more a regular part of my job and I am not supposed to do it. Even though I can do some of those things without pain. Even though I think I should be able to. On the one hand, I want this injury to heal and to heal properly, while the other hand doesn’t want to be a burden or handicap to the lovely people I work with. They have all been incredibly supportive and helpful, but I still feel guilty and useless.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, as uncomfortable and miserable as the shadows may be, I am striving to allow my experiences, good and bad, be a source of joy and blessing in my life. As uncomfortable as I am permitting myself to be seen as weak, my weakness allows me the opportunity to feel grace and mercy, to experience love and kindness, to learn humility and patience. If choosing to accept my struggles makes me dignified in the eyes of others, I will just shrug my shoulders and carry on as best I can.

Die Another Day

I have been dreaming, planning, and working for more than two years to get myself to the CPU Nationals this coming February in Calgary and hopeful that I could perhaps earn myself a spot at the IPF Worlds also in Calgary in the summer. There is a definite process involved in getting to Nationals, and I had checked off the final box on the list this past June when I competed at Provincials.

  • achieve a qualifying total within 24 months of Nationals (achieved at Westerns August 2016)
  • compete at a Regional championship (achieved at Westerns August 2016)
  • compete or volunteer at Provincials (achieved June 2017)

The only thing left for me to do was to fill out the registration form when it opened up and hand over my money. To qualify for Worlds, I would need to have an epic performance at Nationals. I knew my odds of qualifying for Worlds would be slim, but I at least wanted the opportunity to try for it.

The 100% RAW competition that I took part in a couple of weeks ago was supposed to be a stepping stone for Nationals. With only two competitions planned for 2017 and the way most of the year ended up being hampered by injury, I was really looking forward to having a good performance in the RAW meet and going into Nationals strong and healthy. The thing about plans is that they don’t always go the way we imagine.

It hasn’t been a secret that I had the amazing competition I was hoping for with RAW and that I walked away having herniated my L5-S1 disc. (Unless you’re my family doctor who doesn’t think I did that kind of damage to myself.) My optimism about competing at Nationals stayed strong for the first day or two after the injury…before I actually knew what the injury was. Once I was told that I had herniated a disc, I had to entertain the thought that Nationals might not be in the cards for me. The fact that my left leg is numb from my butt to the tips of my toes made the severity of my injury quite clear. The fact that I experienced the most excruciating pain for days on end without relief made the severity of my injury quite clear. I can be stubborn at times and I’m not claiming to be super smart, but I am smart enough to see the writing on the wall that my head is banging against. Deep in my heart I knew that Nationals wasn’t going to happen for me this time, but suspecting the truth doesn’t negate the devastating impact of hearing that same truth from someone with the medical knowledge and wisdom to make that call.

And that is what happened this afternoon when I was at my physio appointment. I laid there, face down on the table while the physiotherapist made a pincushion out of my back, wiggling and jiggling the needles to release the muscles. After a bunch of small talk, I began asking the questions that have been burning inside of me. What is the typical recovery timeline for this? Will I be able to compete in February?

The timeline for recovery isn’t much of a timeline at all. There are too many variables. Instead of focusing on a timeline, I need to look for milestones. There are a bunch of steps that I need to make in the process of recovering, like eliminating the leg numbness, being able to do a calf raise, being able to bend forward and touch my toes, being able to raise my leg past a certain point and certainly equal to the other leg, and so on. All that makes sense, even though it would be so much simpler to have a definitive timeline of X number of weeks until I was back to normal. <sigh>

As for competing…highly doubtful. It will be some time before I am even allowed to do weight-bearing exercises. I’m not even allowed to do anything requiring intra-abdominal pressure, which means no squats, and I already knew that deadlifts were out of the question. My gym life has basically been reduced to simple, easy rehab exercises for the lower back. Oh! And I am allowed to walk on the treadmill or elliptical. My dislike for the elliptical machine is intense, but I suppose I can hobble along on the treadmill.

As the physiotherapist gently pointed out (not that I actually needed to be persuaded), the best course of action is not to rush recovery. Rushing could lead to chronic disc problems, and I’d really rather avoid that if possible. As much as I love powerlifting and competing, I also want to live a long and healthy life where I can continue to enjoy doing what I love. I had already guessed that I wouldn’t be able to compete at Nationals, but here it was in the harsh glare of reality. The physiotherapist did say that there could be a small chance, that we’d know better in a couple of months; however, I refuse to even accept that exceedingly slim possibility. A couple of months from now would most likely be after the deadline for registering, and there is no point in registering just to throw that non-refundable money away. Even were I given the green light to compete, with weeks of easy, rehab, body weight exercises, I would be a far cry from ready to compete and certainly not where I would want to be physically. So, there it is…I won’t be going to Nationals in February.

I can accept that this is the right decision, but the rightness of it doesn’t make it sting any less. As the physiotherapist’s words sunk into my heart, I was thankful that I was face-down on the table and could choke back silent tears without the added embarrassment of having them witnessed. I kept the tears at bay for the remainder of my treatment, but I couldn’t keep them from choking me later. It still hurts to let go of a dream, even if it is the right decision to make. Instead of gearing up for Nationals in a few months, I have weeks and months of rehab to look forward to. I have little milestones to achieve rather than PRs on the platform. There can be other Nationals in my future, although I will need to jump through all the hoops all over again to quality. It’s cold comfort in this moment, but it will be fuel to keep me going in the days to come. Taking the time to take care of this injury properly now will only be beneficial to my overall health and well-being. Of course, I’m going to wallow in my self-pity for tonight but only tonight. Tomorrow it is time to get back on track with everything.

 

Leaving on a Jet Plane

“Fear is a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.”

~Donald Miller

My youngest son is going to Thailand with a friend. They are leaving tomorrow and won’t return until December 20th.

Naturally, my son is excited about his trip and eager to leave. He has been teasing me about my tears ever since he bought his flight tickets, even though I have worked very hard to keep those tears locked up tight. I am excited for and proud of Casey for his ability to step outside of the safety and comfort of home to explore a country on the other side of the world, and yet, I am also fearful, nervous and worried.

I can imagine all of the things that could go wrong during my son’s trip. I can imagine all of the nasty, horrible things that could happen to my son during his stay in Thailand. Despite my fears and worries, I tend to avoid dwelling on them. Instead I trust that my son has a good head on his shoulders. I trust that my God is bigger than my fears. I can only trust and let go, but that doesn’t mean I won’t shed some tears at the airport tomorrow. Or when he returns.

Casey means brave. Sometimes I think Casey means reckless or one who blindly races headfirst into trouble. I wish that Casey felt a bit more fear about his trip, or would at least acknowledge the potential problems he may experience. But he’s stretching his wings out, eager to soar on his own, and who am I to stop him. As a parent, I want my children to succeed in their pursuits, to experience life, and to be their own persons. I do not want them to be paralyzed by fear. But I am still going to cry when he leaves.