Nationals

Many athletes dream of making it to the Olympics, and there is no shortage of struggle, sacrifice, and hard work in the pursuit of the dream. For every athlete who earns the privilege of competing on the world stage, there are undoubtedly even more who will never quite get there. As a Canadian powerlifter, I suppose my Olympic games would be the IPF World Championships, with the Canadian Powerlifting Union’s National Championships being the ultimate qualifier for earning a spot at our “Olympics.”

Tomorrow marks the start of the CPU’s National Championships, which makes this week bittersweet for me. All of my striving since October 2015 has been to get me to the National platform in Calgary this week, or more specifically, this Tuesday. It seems so long ago when I laid on the physio table and asked about the likelihood of being able to compete at Nationals…roughly 3 months ago. The answer stung even if it was what I expected to hear. I knew the answer a week or so before I even posed the question to my physiotherapist. In my heart, I knew the truth a day or two after hurting my back, before I even realized that I had herniated a disc. Knowing the reality of my situation didn’t make the bitterness any easier to swallow, but I had to make a decision. I could wallow in my disappointment and feel sorry for myself, or I could feel my disappointment, accept the situation, and focus on healing before looking too far ahead.

Ultimately I decided to accept the situation for what it is, but that doesn’t mean I never feel disappointment or frustration in where I am in this moment compared to where I wanted to be. It’s human nature. I should be making my way to Calgary right now, excited about competing on a national level against very strong women. Instead I will be going to another physio appointment tomorrow and will watch live stream coverage of Nationals from the comfort of my zero grav chair. (Even on a much smaller scale, I am still experiencing disappointment and frustration in that I should be back to work now, but instead I am still on medical leave for three weeks.) Since I can cry over even the silliest of things, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if I shed a few tears while watching Nationals, but that’s okay. It’s okay to feel the disappointment, to wonder what could have been if only…

The tears won’t last too long, and they aren’t filled with bitterness. I don’t think. My journey to Nationals will need to start all over from the beginning…once I am well and fully healed, of course.

Advertisements

A Little Less Conversation

Conversation is not where my strengths lie. I can exchange casual dialogue with a stranger, a customer, an old acquaintance bumped into in the unexpected places. I can plaster a smile on my face and respond pleasantly, graciously, even when dealing with the obnoxious, the slimy liar, or the downright creepy. While I can generally navigate these conversational minefields, the process can be mentally exhausting and damaging. A statement that strays too close to personal might hit a soft target or stir up lingering fears and doubts. Even when the conversation isn’t quite so perilous, there is always the strain of needing to be on, to have a response or reciprocal question.

It is seldom simple or easy to be an introvert in our extrovert-focused culture, and I find myself frequently at odds with how I think and feel compared to the expectations impressed upon me. I relish quiet and solitude and being left to my own devices, and yet, there are instances when I enjoy a little bit more noise and a few more people. Being on a leave of absence for almost 2 months has meant that I have had more time of solitude than is typical for me. (Except for around Christmas! With the holidays and sick family, I had no space, no quiet, no solitude.) Days and weeks of being stuck mostly at home have made me feel isolated, bored, and restless.

I left the house yesterday and surrounded myself with people. Mostly, it was good…good to get out, good to see people and even talk to a few, and good to return back home to safety. In the course of being with people, a brief conversation was begun with a couple I do not know well at all. It wasn’t a bad conversation, but I found myself glad and relieved to have had it interrupted and abandoned.

The brief conversation moved rapidly from exchanging hellos to an inquiry into the state of my back. As is frequently the case when I have been in the midst of a conversation I wasn’t prepared for, replaying it in my mind later is like watching a pinball game in the hands of an expert. I say expert, because that is the only way I see the little ball bounce and ricochet and speed through the obstacles. In my hands, the ball shoots up, around, and straight through the hole at the bottom. Anyway, I am not adverse to talking about my back, my injury, my love for powerlifting, etc. and so on, but I don’t enjoy wasting my breath and enthusiasm speaking about something that another has no interest in listening to or understanding. Differing opinions are okay, but a closed opinion is not.

I was quickly asked if I was going to return to lifting weights. Before I could even open my mouth to respond, someone else spoke for me with absolute confidence in the correctness of the statement. I would not ever be able to do the things I used to do! How does one even begin to respond to such a statement in the course of an extremely brief conversation that really allows for nothing more than exchanging pleasantries? And this is one reason why I do not enjoy such little, forced conversations! Either you fake a connection by exchanging hellos and maybe a tidbit about the weather or some similarly benign topic, or you jump in with both feet into a conversation too deep for the moment leaving at least one party feeling more alienated than they had been before.

I am an easy-going person, eager to please and easily pleased. I have no trouble whatsoever being told what to do by certain individuals for specific situations. I listen to my boss. I listen to my spouse. I listen to my health care practitioners. I listen to my coach. I listen to those who speak with wisdom and experience. Do I always make the right choices? Probably not. I am human, after all; however, I do strive to make good choices based on what is right and best.

It’s been almost 3 months since I herniated my disc, and I am closer to “normal” now than I was even a few weeks ago. There is no specific timeline for healing this type of injury, and I think it would be foolish to even attempt to create such a timeline. Every body is different and so are the injuries and healing. I want to heal well and properly, which means that I am trying my best to listen to my body and to my health care team. Do I want to continue to lift weights? To compete in powerlifting? Yes and yes. I can be honest in admitting that I do not know what I do not know. When will I be able to compete again? Don’t know. When will I be able to put a barbell on my back again? Still don’t know. Will I ever be able to challenge my own records? Nope, don’t know. But not knowing is not the same as accepting that it will never happen!

As much as I haven’t enjoyed these past few months of being injured, I have been purposeful in allowing myself the time and space to heal. My leave of absence ends in two weeks, even if the process of healing will continue for an undetermined length of time. I have taken the pain medication that I hate taking. I have gone to my physiotherapy appointments and faithfully done my physio homework. I have continued going to the gym, walking past the heavy weights, and immersed myself in the safe, gentle, and back-friendly exercises that I have been permitted to do. Sometimes I have chafed under my limitations, but I have never once believed that life as I knew it is over now that I have hurt my back. I know how to work for what I want. I know how to claw my way out of the muck and fight for my goals. It is my intention to lift heavy weights again and to step back onto a powerlifting platform, so I didn’t appreciate being told that I would never be able to do that again.

Let me clarify that last bit. I didn’t appreciate being told that I would never be able to do that again by someone without the proper credentials. The person who made the statement has apparently experienced a back injury of their own at some point in time, and obviously that person’s life has never been the same again. That’s fair! I can appreciate that perspective, but I don’t think it is as simple as that. What kind of back injury? What kind of treatment to heal? How proactive in allowing healing to take place? There are all sorts of questions that would need to be answered before I could give weight to such a statement based upon an experience. My own experience with this injury would be rather different if I didn’t seek treatment promptly, if I didn’t take a leave of absence from work, if I didn’t follow my physiotherapist’s protocols, and so on. So no, if you want to tell me point blank that I cannot do something, then you’d better have more behind your statement than personal experience.

I want to lift weights and powerlift again. That’s my goal. That’s the plan. However, there are a few people in my life who do have the proper credentials to influence my plans and goals. If one of those people were to tell me that I should not, then I would at least listen and give serious thought to what they had to say and the reasons for saying it. Would I like it? Probably not but that would be a conversation worth engaging in.

Ownership

Grey gave way to blue sky and yellow sun this afternoon, and for a moment my restlessness gave way as well. The sun has slipped back into its hiding place behind the layers of cold, grey clouds. As I type I can feel a figurative finger pressing into my skull between my eyes, eyes that feel scratchy and tired and leaky. My body is reclining, because sitting is painful, uncomfortable, something to be avoided as much as possible. For the first time in nearly three months, I can recline and feel only minimal tendrils of pain in my legs. Instead of non-stop electric currents of pain from butt to toes, I am now getting sporadic shards and spasms in my butt, in my calf. This is progress and it makes me happy, but I feel heavily weighed down by restlessness, boredom, and the darkness that swirls within. I have been feeling this way for days.

This morning, while the day was still dismal and grey, I drove to the gym, grumbling under my breath at the idiots on the road and in the parking lot. As is my habit, I parked at the far end of the parking lot and I trudged, lost in my own negative self-talk. Suddenly I heard a voice call out, “Hello, beautiful Angela!” I looked up and towards the road to see a friend waving as she drove past. Outwardly I smiled and waved back, but inwardly I was already thinking about the less than beautiful parts of me: the eyebrows that had been left to grow wild for almost three months and the hair that still carried the scent of dry shampoo. I carried those thoughts into the gym with me, and I am certain they shaded my confidence with more doubt than I should really have felt in the circumstance.

In my grey days I struggle to like myself. The gross fuzzy caterpillar eyebrows had been annoying me for at least a month, but they were well past being rescued by a pair of tweezers. I had intended on washing my hair last night, then there was no point washing it before the gym this morning. Self-care gets dicey on the grey days. It’s a vicious circle; however, in fairness, these grey days are based more on the boredom and restlessness of being on medical leave since early December.

I am trying to chase the clouds away, even if it seems as if I’m using my breath when hurricane strength winds would be more effective. Today I am choosing to accept what belongs to me, even if I need to double check the name on the gift.

take the compliment

do not shy away from

another thing that belongs to you

~rupi kaur

This is Me

A big, bad ass powerlifter shared a bit of his story on social media yesterday. Although I do follow his account, as is often the case of social media, I didn’t see the post until my coach tagged me in the comments. The reason he tagged me was immediately apparent. This big name, successful Canadian powerlifter had shared a small glimpse into his “broken back” experience in 2010. He mentioned the long, hard road back to the platform, the pain, the unsatisfactory workouts, and the permeating doubts about ever being able to compete again. Then he went on to talk about his first two competitions back and how much he loves the sport of powerlifting. He even dared to say that his injury was the best thing that ever happened to him and that he came back better than ever in every way possible.

I read his words last night as I was reclining in my living room, feeling self-pity along with the pain coursing through my legs, and the tears ran down my face. Of course, it didn’t help that I was watching This Is Us. For the record, that is not a good show to watch when you are already feeling down and emotional! But, despite the tears, I did feel hopeful and encouraged.

It is easy for me to put on the happy face during the day. Even though I am bored and restless, I can putter about the house or walk in the mall or go to the gym to do my unsatisfactory workouts. My left leg and foot are still numb, but walking and moving are generally beneficial. I can easily feel it in my back when I need to take a break and get off my feet. It’s easy to feel hopeful and positive when I’m upright and mobile.

It is in the “getting off my feet” that the shine fades and darkness moves in, because laying down brings instant pain to my legs. This pain varies in intensity, sometimes mild and other times intense, but is constant. It is as if the act of laying down plugs my body into an electrical outlet which then sends currents of electricity throughout my legs. My daytime lay down sessions are uncomfortable enough, but somehow the setting of the sun only elevates my sense of frustration, self-pity, and despair. In the safety of my home and the silence of the night, I am at my lowest. That is when I am most vulnerable.

As is frequently the case, I slept horribly last night and struggled to pull myself out of bed. But I had to get to the gym. Given my current situation of volatile emotions, little sleep, pain, and unsatisfactory workouts, there are many days where I simply do not feel like going to the gym; however, I am thankful that going to the gym has been an activity that I enjoy and have faithfully scheduled into my life from the beginning more than 4 years ago. I might not feel like going some days, but the gym is an appointment with myself that I rarely miss.

I went to the gym this morning, feeling tired and reluctant and not so excited. Today’s program had an awful lot of upper body/arm work, like the kind of arm work that I am not good at and makes me feel weak. I started off with my physio exercises to warm up, then I hit the incline chest press machine. I suck at incline pressing at the best of times, and the weight I’m using is hardly worth mentioning it is so low. But in the midst of my sets, a song came on my playlist that shifted the direction of my attitude to North. The song was Invincible by Sia. I love this song, but this morning I felt the words sink into my skin like water on parched soil. As I soaked in the words, I found myself pushing just a little bit further than I thought I could go. Over the course of my workout, some of my rep numbers weren’t fantastic, but I still mostly managed to push that little bit more. Except for the leg curls. There is something going on with my left hamstring/knee that isn’t feeling super great on the curls and a few other movements. It could be related to the nerve and numbness issues in that leg, or it could be something else. I don’t know but will point it out to my physiotherapist again on Friday and my chiropractor next week.

What am I trying to say here? I am not sure.

Injuries can be debilitating beyond the physical aspects. An injury can be just as traumatizing on the emotions as it is on the body. Just as my pain levels fluctuate, so do my emotions. It’s bad enough to be in pain, to have physical limitations, and to have emotions run amok, but then there is the sense of isolation to make one feel truly lost. Although I am so not a social butterfly, I do enjoy the social connections of my job. Being off work, I am missing out on those connections. I feel disconnected from my job in so many ways beyond just going to work each day. Not being able to sit without pain means I need to be extremely choosy about going out for dinner or a movie. The inability to sit with the inability to remain standing for hours on end means being extremely selective about my involvement in many other social opportunities, like going to church or a gathering with friends.

There is the pain, the emotional upheaval, the isolation, the loss of previously enjoyed activities, and then there is the mental haze of medication. I am taking three different medications to help with the pain and supposedly to let me sleep. Well, sleep is still problematic and the pain seems largely unchanged on the drugs compared to when I was not on them, but I do have the wonderful side effect of feeling permanently tired and often in a mental fog.

Each day is unique. There is much that seems unchanged from day to day…the numbness, the pain, the lack of sleep. What does change each day is my attitude, my emotions, my perspective and outlook, my fears and doubts, my confidence. Yesterday was a gloomy day. Today is brighter. This journey through injury is not one I wanted to ever travel, but here I am. Today I feel some hope that I will get through this to be better and stronger than before. Today I feel hopeful that I will look back at this time and say that it was the best thing that ever happened. I might not feel the same way tomorrow, but I am going to grab hold of today’s hopefulness and drag it along with me through each new day like a toddler’s favourite blanket. I can focus on the good, the small steps forward, and wrap myself up in that blanket of hope on the days when nothing seems right in my world.

Never Perfect

As I trudge my way through these days of recovering from a herniated disc, I am discovering that each day is unique. There is a great deal that is the same day in and day out, and yet there is still variations in the similarities. Not a day goes by without pain. There is always pain in my legs when I lay down, but the intensity and scope varies. Lately the leg pain has been consistently more intense and broader in its range. Back pain is felt less often. I can make it through a day or two or three without any back pain to speak of, but then I will be blindsided by aches and pains in the back for a day or two. Less often but occasionally I experience nausea and a mild sense of dizziness. There is no rhyme or reason for why one day might be worse than another, and that unpredictability is just as frustrating as dealing with the limitations of my injury.

Today has been a bad day. When I have been standing today, I have felt nauseous. The nausea would disappear once I laid down, but then the leg pain would hit with ferocity. The mental fog has been thick today, too. I’ve hardly eaten much today because of the sense of yuck in my stomach, but I’m not actually sick.

My husband took me to the mall this afternoon when he was finished work. He was in search of a particular item and thought that I might appreciate getting out of the house. Despite how I felt, it was good to get out of the house and to get some more walking into my day (because walking is good). As we walked through the mall, we passed a young woman wearing a t-shirt with a lovely statement written across the front. The message caught my attention, and I had to stop to enter it as a memo in my phone so I wouldn’t forget. It said:

Never perfect, always beautiful

My thoughts immediately turned inward and reflective. Aside from moments when I am obviously joking, I know and readily admit that I am not perfect. I know most of my flaws and weaknesses. I know what areas of my life need improving. Acknowledging my imperfection is the easy part. Accepting the truth that I am always beautiful is where the real challenge lies. I seldom see myself that way and would never presume to call myself beautiful. My husband says I’m beautiful, and his words make me squirm in awkward discomfort, as if I am an imposter. Believing myself to beautiful has always been a struggle, but the difficult level has only risen higher with this season of injury. When I feel weak and useless, how can I feel beautiful? When I am weary from daily pain and tired from lack of restorative sleep, how can I feel beautiful? When I couldn’t shave my legs for 9 weeks, how could I feel beautiful? When certain types of clothing make my back hurt more, which means I’m living in pajama or yoga pants, how can I feel beautiful? When I cannot do some of the things that I most enjoy doing, how can I feel beautiful?

I don’t have an answer. Not in this moment. As I mentioned, today hasn’t been a particularly good day. I’m just gathering my lemons…

Nationals Deadline

Registration for Nationals closes in just a few hours. My name will not be on the list of competitors, but that isn’t exactly surprising. I’ve known that I wouldn’t be competing for almost as long as I have been suffering from this herniated disc. Way back to my second physiotherapy appointment, I had asked about the likelihood of competing at Nationals in February, and the physiotherapist hadn’t completely ruled it out but had said it was unlikely. That had been disappointing news to swallow, but I had to accept it as the right decision. As I’ve seen the Facebook posts about the event and impending deadline, I have felt both resignation and frustration. This was not how I had planned things, but it is my reality.

Nationals begins in 6 weeks. Instead of competing, I hope to be back at work. My current medical leave ends the week prior. I feel hopeful about that date, because I am incredibly bored and restless. However, on a day like today, I wonder and doubt. I slept horribly last night, despite this additional drug which is supposed to help allow me to sleep. My back hurt. My legs hurt. I’ve been in a good deal of pain all day long. As I was out on errands with my husband, I couldn’t even bend forward in my seat to reach my coffee in the cup holder low between the seats.

I feel stuck in a season of frustration and limitation, and I don’t particularly enjoy it. I’m trying to embrace the suck, to make lemonade with all of these lemons, but it isn’t always easy to do. The medications make me feel tired and fill my brain with haze, yet make no noticeable difference to the level of pain I feel every day. Some days are better than others, but some days are not so good at all. Today was one of those not so good days. Still, I managed to go through my drawers of clothing and pull out a garbage bag’s worth of rarely worn clothing to donate. I also picked through a bookshelf and purged dusty, long since read books. This is what I am doing with some of my time these days…purging. It needs to be done in short bursts of motivation, and I need to remind myself not to overdo things. As much as I know that I should be able to pick up that heavy box of books, I also know that I shouldn’t and so I won’t. But I will make a dozen trips from the living room to my bedroom, bringing a few books at a time from the bookshelf to the box in my room. I putter and purge in small bursts of energy, and then I find I need to lay down, give my back a break and hope the reclined position will alleviate some of the numbness in my foot. Purging, cleaning, and organizing are things that I am tackling in bits and pieces. At least it allows me to feel like I am doing something with my time.

I’m skipping one of my drugs tonight. I take three different medications now. I take Naproxen when I wake up and again after dinner. I take Gabapentin three times a day, and my doctor just recently instructed me to double up my dosage. My doctor also recently added Dilaudid which I am to take before bed. The theory is that the Dilaudid will allow me to sleep, but my experience with it thus far has proven that theory to be false. While I slept very well the first night I took the opiate, the next few nights have not been so restful. Since alcohol doesn’t mix well with at least two of these drugs, I haven’t had any wine for a while. I have had some wine while on the Gabapentin before, but I am not willing to indulge while taking Dilaudid as well. So, I have opted to not take my Dilaudid tonight, so that I can have a glass or two of wine. The wine will be about as effective at reducing my pain as my prescriptions, but at least I can enjoy it more.

Lemons in Shades of Grey

With the year being still fresh and new, I have seen quite a few social media posts announcing the start of new goals and/or the first workout of the year. Such posts are equally encouraging and depressing to me. It is good to see people pursuing fitness goals or striving to improve their health, and I applaud those efforts and encourage them. But for me, in this current season of dealing with a herniated disc, it can be a struggle to keep my grip on positivity from slipping. Sometimes I simply feel frustrated. Frustrated with my limitations. Frustrated with the slowness of recovery. Frustrated with being unable to do…normal. My normal. I’m not just talking about at the gym. I am bored and restless. I have oodles of time on my hands, but there are limits to what I can do.

Although I was given a program for last week, I told my coach that I wasn’t going to do all of it. In fact, I didn’t go to the gym at all last week. There was Christmas. We got a lot of snow. My car is on the brink of death. And I just had a rather painful week. I did my rehab exercises at home and that was it. I enjoy going to the gym, but it was a mental struggle to get myself there today for my first “workout” of 2018. I went through the motions, occasionally feeling some rust from the week off, but mostly I was acutely aware of the numbness in my foot, the weakness in my calf, and the currents of pain down my legs. It’s not that my activities were doing harm, at least I don’t think they were, but then again, I don’t honestly know.

Not knowing seems to be what I do best these days. Every time someone asks me how I’m doing, I don’t know what to say or how to answer the question. Am I doing better? Yes. I think so. In some ways. In many ways I am moving better. I feel like I could do a lot of things that I probably shouldn’t actually do yet. But there is still so much that isn’t right and good and normal. The numbness. The lack of reflex in my Achilles tendon. The pain. No one can see those things, but I feel them. I walk with the sensation that three of my toes are swollen and twisted because of the numbness. I lie down and immediately have ripples of pain and muscle spasms radiating from my butt all the way down both legs. Sure, I can tolerate the pain now, but it is unrelenting. I go to bed with the pain. I wake up with the pain.  I want to be better, but I don’t know when that will happen. The pain in my legs feels a bit stronger today. The numbness has felt a bit worse for the past couple of days. I have to call my doctor, but I am dragging my feet, knowing the futility of such a task.

If you’ve never had such a back injury, can you fully understand what a person is going through or feeling? I don’t have an answer for that, although I can say that I can now admit that I would never have completely understood prior to my own injury. I look normal and whole, so why shouldn’t I be able to pick up a heavy bag of garbage, shovel snow, or even sneeze without bracing and fear. I’ve been living in yoga pants, because somehow wearing jeans bothers my back. I am in danger of being mistaken for a sasquatch, because I haven’t shaved my legs for 8 weeks. That’s not from winter laziness; it’s too painful to sit in tub or to kneel/bend over in the shower. Sigh.

Today is just a gloomy day or a day full of lemons, and I don’t particularly want to make lemonade today. The lemons will still be here tomorrow…