Rise Up

I heard a song a few months ago which immediately joined my favourite playlists and struck a chord within me. When I am at the gym, it is not uncommon for me to listen to it over and over again, and this song has inspired my theme for 2019.

Rise Up by Andra Day

You’re broken down and tired
Of living life on a merry go round
And you can’t find the fighter
But I see it in you so we gonna walk it out
And move mountains
We gonna walk it out
And move mountains

And I’ll rise up
I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up
I’ll rise unafraid
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again
And I’ll rise up
High like the waves
I’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousands times again
For you

When the silence isn’t quiet
And it feels like it’s getting hard to breathe
And I know you feel like dying
But I promise we’ll take the world to its feet
And move mountains
We’ll take it to its feet
And move mountains
And I’ll rise up
I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up
I’ll rise unafraid
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again
For you

This past year has been a tough one, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Being off work for half the year was far from a vacation. An endless string of medical appointments. Lots of waiting. A long list of medications with varying degrees of side effects, including weight gain and mood swings. Sleep quality always stuck between 50 and 60%. Constant pain at varying levels. Missing out on so much living. While it is okay to not always be in control of everything, my control over these intimate personal details has been minimal and I do not like it. For a season, I let things slide, because I was too tired or simply couldn’t do some things. I have learned a lot about myself, and I have grown in many ways, but I still want to rise up and find myself again.

Rising up is my theme, my focus for the new year. I don’t know when, or if, my current situation will improve, and that doesn’t really matter. I’ll rise up in spite of the ache. I’ve already been doing that for a long time. In fact, I think I’ve become so accustomed to simply picking myself up that I tend to forget that I am actually doing it, which brings me to the flip side of my theme. Not only will I continue to rise up, but I can use those positive aspects of my character to help others to rise up as well. Because I have long known that I am an encourager, even if I sometimes forget that I am or feel empty and unable to give of myself in such a way.

We gonna walk it out…

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Against the Current

Christmas is in ten days, and I am slowly inching towards being less Grinchy. After two weeks of emotional chaos to start the month, I think my mood has finally stabilized. More or less or at least somewhat. I am definitely more myself than I had been…just in time for an upcoming appointment with my family doctor to review the medication and make decisions about continuing or increasing the dosage. The low dose I am currently on hasn’t made any difference to the nerve pains in my legs, so maybe the dosage needs to increase. But do I want to go through the emotional upheaval that will come with an increase? 

While my emotions may not be as volatile today as they were last week, I am still feeling all sorts of sad, depressing, and conflicting things inside. I keep plodding along, because there isn’t any other option. I can’t stay in bed all day, definitely couldn’t sleep that long if I tried. I can’t seem to figure out the gifts for Christmas, and I definitely dropped the Christmas cards this year. I barely cook, although that’s mostly due to working a lot of nights. I’m eating a lot of crap, hating it and hating feeling stuck in this rut. Life feels very big these days, while I feel incredibly small. And through it all, the nerve pains and tingling continue on. 

Motivation and will-power flare up brightly and fade just as quickly. I am like a child trying to swim against a strong current. 

Mrs. Grinch

Christmas is one of my most favourite holidays; however, in the weeks leading up to the big day, I feel more like the Grinch than a lover of the season. 

I love Christmas, but I do not like the commercialized behemoth it has become. While I do enjoy giving and receiving gifts, I loathe the advertising and push to spend, spend, spend and buy, buy, buy. Have you ever noticed that the push to spend never ends? Back to school sales, Thanksgiving sales, Christmas, Boxing Day/Week/Month, Valentine’s Day, graduation, weddings, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Canada Day, Independence Day, Labour Day, and all the random holidays and non-holiday special days in-between…retailers use them all in an attempt to lure you in and part you with your money or inspire you to go further into debt. It irks me. A lot. That’s not what any of those special days is truly about. 

I also get irritated with the “Christmas” music that is played on repeat in every retail and customer service related business. Now I love Christmas carols and music, but I am not fond of the pop spin on the classics or the obnoxious, superficial holiday songs. Santa Baby makes me cringe. Anything by Mariah Carey sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard. It’s a Marshmallow World in the Winter shrivels my heart until it is much more than two sizes too small. 

When you add those two aspects of Christmas with the usual stresses and busyness…well, I feel like the Grinch. I am cranky and irritable, particularly in certain settings, like heavy traffic, a crowded mall, and when dealing with people who stopped using their brains and common sense. The ever-present nerve pain and recent mood swings make my grinch-like qualities shine. 

I can recognize that beast inside of me, even though I cannot always keep it hidden. But there is a reason why How The Grinch Stole Christmas is one of my top two Christmas shows of all time (and I’m talking the original cartoon.) 

Christmas isn’t found in a store or in a box or a gift bag. Gifts can be special and meaningful and a blessing, but the spirit and meaning of Christmas is not dependent upon external wrappings, like decorations, presents, and feasts. Christmas Day arrives regardless of how ill-prepared or less than excited I feel. And you know what? I don’t believe I have ever had a bad Christmas! It doesn’t matter what has been going on in the weeks prior, Christmas still comes. I cannot stop it from coming, and I really wouldn’t want to. 

I may be feeling more Grinch than Who these days, but I am feeling my shrunken heart gradually growing. Excitement is creeping into the corners of the chaos, and, even if Christmas is somewhat smaller this year, I suspect that it will still be a season of great joy. 

A ‘Not Sick’ Sick Day

As someone who almost never gets sick, the need to call in sick for work is something rarely required. After herniating my disc, I continued to work for a month until agreeing to take a medical leave which wound up being much longer than I had ever anticipated. I was supposed to work a full day today, but I left just shy of an hour after I started. I am not sick, and it wasn’t easy for me to acknowledge that I would rather go home early than stay. I hate to let others down. I don’t like being thought of as weak or useless or flaky or whatever. I could have not said anything about how I was truly feeling, and I could have pushed through and worked the entire day if necessary. But I am glad that I was honest and thankful I was able to come home. But I am not sick and that irritates me like a pebble in my shoe.

I am not sick, but my legs are aflame with nerve pain, currents of throbbing electricity and relentless pins & needles. Both legs from buttocks to toes. Constant. Non-stop. Still tolerable but more intense than the more recent usual. Walking, kneeling, squatting are all uncomfortable, and I feel like I am moving like a 90 year old woman. The icing on the cake is a head that feels out of sorts with my body, maybe not even attached to my neck, dancing along the border of dizzy while remaining solidly in the realm of not quite right. The increase in pain began yesterday and raged through the night, but I still managed to sleep reasonably well. By well I mean I only woke up about 4 times and fell back asleep fairly quickly. Despite the continued issues with my legs, sleep is one thing that has been seeing improvements lately.

I want to cry but not actually. I feel like there is no real reason to cry, but tears have been piling up against the walls I have erected behind my eyeballs since Saturday’s gym session, threatening to break through, and I don’t understand where all that emotion is coming from. It’s been a very long year, yes, and the injury and recovery have been arduous; however, in looking at the big picture, I am still incredibly blessed and in a better place physically than so many. My health issues are minuscule compared to what others are dealing with every day, and I know that extremely well. Sometimes I feel like others make my injury into something bigger than it actually was, but then there are times when I feel like a lot of people actually don’t understand what I am going through and feeling in my body every minute of every day for the past year. Two opposite extremes, and yet, most of the time I simply feel lost somewhere in the middle. I don’t look hurt. I go to work and do my job effectively and efficiently without looking like someone in pain. Or at least I try not look like I’m in pain all of the time. I suck it up and do my job.

But today I really, really hurt and I don’t want to suck it up. Today I am sick and tired of feeling this way. I know it has gotten a lot better over the course of the year, but this still is not where I want to be physically. I have tried so many things in a vain attempt to mute the pain and nothing has helped. When I decided to stop taking the most recent medication, I also made the decision to try any other medications. There may yet be treatments I haven’t tried yet, but I’m weary of trying and, quite frankly, I’m done with trying. I have an appointment for a nerve block at the end of the month, and if that doesn’t help then I don’t know what else to do. I am still waiting for an EMG to see if there is an actual problem with a nerve, and I think the pain clinic might have more options beyond the nerve block, but do I want more.

 

Pulling Through

Ever been blindsided by emotions you weren’t expecting? That happened to me this afternoon between sets of rack pulls at the gym and continued in the grocery store after training, all the way home and beyond.

It’s no secret that the past couple of weeks have been long, exhausting, and stressful for me; however, I’m in the middle of a three day weekend and feeling so much better for the down time. A good chunk of today was spent with a girlfriend checking out a vendor’s market at a local winery, followed by browsing some boutique shops and grabbing a bite to eat. Time with a friend is always time well spent, and I had a great day. Once I got back home, I decided to go to the gym to finish off my training week. Bench press was up first, and the weights felt easy and moved well. I felt strong and powerful and confident.

And then came the rack pulls with the heaviest weight I’ve pulled since the injury a year ago. 245 pounds. Well before the injury, I loved doing rack pulls. Somehow rack pulls always felt easier than actual deadlifts, but that is now in the past. The weight of my pulls has been increasing slowly over the past few months since I have been allowed to add them to my training program, but anything over 200 pounds continues to feel tough.

Today called for 4 sets of 1 to 3 reps. I managed two reps on the first set, tried for a third and just couldn’t do it. As I waited for my obligatory rest period between sets, my first thought was disappointment for not getting all three reps, but then I reminded myself that I was given a range of reps for a reason and there was no shame in only doing two. No sooner did that little pep talk end than my brain fell down a rabbit hole of dark and twisty emotions. I remembered squatting with that much weight on the bar. I remembered when that weight would be part of my warm up for my deadlift working sets. I remembered those two specific things in a heartbeat and was hit by a tsunami wave of emotion that I’m still struggling to recover from nearly three hours later. Like seriously! I just about burst into tears several times through the rest of my rack pull sets, in the grocery store, in the car, and most definitely did at home.

But why? Where did that emotion come from? It’s been a year since the injury, and I thought I had already dealt with any emotional fallout from it. While I cannot say that I have always handled things perfectly, I do think that I have managed to maintain a generally accepting, patient, and positive outlook on my situation. I grieved the loss of competing at Nationals. I accepted the limitations of healing and was okay with not having a timeline for competing again. Sure I’ve had frustration with the my doctor and the medical system at times, but other aspects of my care have been fantastic. I am human and imperfect, but I firmly feel that I have handled everything better than not. So I don’t know what hit me today or why.

Trying to explain what happened to my husband resulted in real tears, and he speculated as to the source of my distress until I could spit words out through my choked up emotions. The past year has been some journey.

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.

 

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.