Out of the Depths

peony

“The most beautiful people I’ve known are those who have known trials, have known struggles, have known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.”

~Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

These peonies are currently blooming in my front yard, which is in itself quite amazing given the black state of my thumbs. Maybe ten year ago, someone gave me a box of cuttings from her flower beds to plant in my own yard. While I have always known that I am not a gardener, I have a tendency to think that my thumbs might turn green one day. So I carefully planted the cuttings after perusing my heavy Better Homes & Gardens book on everything outdoor plant related. I planted the peonies, daisies, day lilies, irises, and a couple other plants of which I can never remember the names. Thankfully, each of those plants were perennials!

Not only are my thumbs not green, but my husband is also not the gardener type. He has dug up and mowed over many of my plants over the years. As such, our yard has become something of a wasteland, more weeds than grass, and certainly not a yard you’d want to spend time in. I usually make an effort to weed my flower bed, but with my back injury this is not a chore I can do this year. My daughter did do some weeding recently, so the flower bed at least looks mostly presentable. The peonies had been getting tall and leafy, and I was excited to see the first blooms the other day.

I took the picture of those first blooms and stood there for several minutes just contemplating the wonder of their existence. Any plant in my care is in for a difficult life, and survival is not guaranteed. No fertilizing or feeding. Limited watering. Limited weeding and pruning. Everything that a plant needs to survive and thrive is in short supply for plants in my care, and yet, these perennials come back every year and present me with the gift of colour and beauty.

I am someone who strives to see beauty and blessings in all situations and things, big and small. I strive to see reasons to be happy and thankful, but I am not a Pollyanna. I see the ugly and darkness swirling around us, and I feel their touches in my own life. My season of injury and pain is often a struggle. It sucks to hurt all of the time and to be unable to live your life the way you used to, the way you want to. It is no fun to bounce between medical appointments or to jump through the hoops of the medical and insurance systems. I have had dark days of feeling hopeless and overwhelmed by pain and frustration. But I am not stuck there in the dark.

I feel like my darkest days are well behind me, even though I am still suffering and struggling. Hope is bubbling to the surface like an unexpected spring in the desert. I am sipping lemonade and looking for positives wherever I can find them. I would never call myself a beautiful person, but I am making my way out of the depths.

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Weekend Whimsy

With my days a jumble of really bad, bad, and not so bad, some effort is often required to keep my thoughts all neat and tidy and composed. An idea or thought ignited in the morning is typically lost by the time I have the energy to execute it. In all honesty, my life feels mainly made up of movie quotes and song lyrics which would probably soar over the head of anyone I might share them with. My husband had some errands to run this morning and asked if I wanted to tag along for the ride, so I went. It wasn’t long before I was thinking to myself, “I shouldn’t have come!” Now I am a Star Wars fan, but I don’t know every line of dialogue; however, I am reasonably certain that Luke Skywalker makes a similar comment on the forest moon of Endor. My reason for regret wasn’t due to Darth Vader sensing my presence, but rather the pain and numbness in my legs as I sat in the car. The end of the month and my neurosurgeon consult cannot come soon enough!

So it is the weekend…a long weekend, in fact! Every day is the same for me, more or less. Boredom. Lots of pain. Exercises. Short bursts of tolerable activity. Fitful sleep and too early mornings. There are so many things I want to do but cannot. Today I am going to share a few odds and ends about myself.

  • I drink my coffee black, but I prefer any iced coffee drink with some type of milk.
  • I love yogurt, cheese, sour cream, whipped cream, and ice cream; however, I seldom drink milk.
  • When I am sleeping, I almost always need to have my shoulders covered by the blanket and/or sheet, but if I get a little warm, I will stick a foot outside of the blanket (with my shoulders covered).
  • I don’t mind pineapple on pizza, as long as the pizza is still fresh and hot. Once the pizza is cold, I pick off the pineapple.
  • I love living in British Columbia with mountains and a lake on my doorstep, but I also love the prairies with endless sky and fields.
  • I am a night owl, but I love being an early bird for work. (These days my natural inclinations have no say in anything! I go to bed early, because I’m tired all the time, yet I wake up much earlier than I would like after another restless sleep.)
  • I have always enjoyed having strong fingernails that grow long, but lifting weights keeps my nails short and I’m okay with that.
  • I hate wearing socks. My preference is bare feet and flip-flops; however, I have a rather large collection of fun and funky socks.
  • I have loved English bulldogs for a very long time, since my days of watching professional wrestling and the British Bulldogs. But I am more of a cat owner than a dog owner.
  • I prefer silver over gold, except when it comes to winning medals.
  • A few years ago, I would drink 4-5+ Cokes a day. Since I quit drinking Coke, I find any pop too sweet to drink.
  • I love tomatoes, but I’m not so keen on sun-dried or cherry tomatoes.
  • Peanut butter is okay but I don’t go gaga over it. Mention salted caramel though and I’m all over it!
  • Normally I am a fast walker. These days I hobble slowly. Some days I could even be easily passed by a turtle.

 

Days That Blur Together

How is it the middle of May already? Part of me wants to slow time down just enough so my days stop blurring together, and yet, I would really rather prefer time to speed up enough so I could be past this injury and healing process already. I have been waiting as patiently as I can for healing and progress and an appointment with a neurosurgeon. My days are mostly boring and routine, but I struggle to keep track of which day of the week it is today. A piece of good news is that I now have an appointment date with the neurosurgeon for the end of the month, which makes me feel hopeful, as if I have finally taken a step forward after being stuck in one place for so long. Between now and then, my routine remains the same: rehab exercises, gym, doctor appointments, chiro appointments, brief periods of light housework and activity, small grocery shopping trips, dinner prep, periods of reclining, the odd occasion to get out of the house, and less than restful sleep.

The past few days have been quite bad for pain, although I cannot pinpoint any particular activity to have caused the increase in pain, except for sitting to get my hair done yesterday. As I am reclining alone in my living room, I feel like a wounded animal, whimpering and reclusive. Truth be told, I am literally whimpering. From my buttocks to my toes, there is very strong, burning pain and tingling, throbbing and pulsing, micro spasms and stabbing sharp pains. The low back itself feels unstable and supremely achy. When I am standing or walking, there is pain deep in my hips, and my left leg frequently feels as if it will collapse beneath me. The left calf and portions of the left foot and toes are still permanently numb. So much fun!

But all is not sadness and frustration, even though there is a great deal of both. My head is in a pretty good place these days, despite the pain and lack of progress in healing. I smile and laugh, even through the tears that can find reason to spill. With an appointment marked on my calendar, I feel hopeful that something might happen soon. Maybe a recommendation for surgery. Despite surgery not being a welcome outcome originally, I am now at a place where I can see the benefits of going that route and would embrace the opportunity. My heart is light and tender and open. I see things to be thankful for, things big and small, the ordinary and the quirky. It’s really just about placing one foot in front of the other and going forward, even if only inches at a time.

Tipping Scales

One lesson that I have learned over the past 4.5 years of weight training is that the numbers on the scale are not the most important thing to focus on. Before I began weight training, at my heaviest I was 180 pounds. Through the years of training and powerlifting, my weight has ranged from 145 to 174 pounds. The fluctuations came with cycles of hoping to increase strength and fit into a reasonable weight class for competition. Through most of those weight fluctuations, I still wore the same clothes in the same sizes, and that is where the lesson hit home the most. Losing or gaining weight in the process of eating reasonably well and lifting heavy weight changed body composition, and scale changes were of no great importance.

I am trying to remember that lesson these days, but I admit it isn’t always easy. Like this morning when I was getting dressed and searching for shorts or capris to wear that weren’t intended for the gym. I have one pair of denim capris (which I’ve owned for a couple of years now). While I could put them on and do them up, I was dismayed by the muffin top oozing over the waistband. I chose not to wear them, in part due to the muffin top, but also because of the strain the waistband puts on my back. The number of times I have worn jeans or pants since herniating my disc last November can be counted on one hand; the waistband hurts my back, so I’ve been living in leggings. With the warm, sunny weather, I am wanting to wear tank tops and shorts or capris, but I feel limited by the physical discomfort and my current struggles with too much belly jiggle.

The weight gain bothers me a bit, because I am the heaviest I’ve been since I started training. The weight gain isn’t muscle, and it seems to settle in my belly. It’s not surprising though. After all, for four years I was a lot more active and lifting a lot more weight than I have since the injury. Most of the time I am still eating reasonably well, but I haven’t paid any attention to calories or portioning. Less activity+uncontrolled eating=weight gain. To top it all off, I am on at least one medication which can have the side effect of weight gain.

Even though I have gained weight over the past few months, I am really only about 10 pounds heavier than where I maintained for quite a long time. That maintenance weight was within easy reach of my competition weight and allowed me to build strength. Getting back to that weight shouldn’t present much of a problem once I am off medication and able to resume more physical activity and weights in the gym. Of course, I can still turn my attention towards what I am eating and drinking, even if I do not want to count calories. My toolbox is well-stocked…I just need to use it. This means eating more vegetables and fruit and less treats. I don’t need to go crazy, just keep it simple.

Is it odd that I am freaked out over my physical appearance rather than what I actually weigh? I seldom step on a scale and only use the numbers when I’m preparing for a competition. But I am not happy with the jiggles and extra baggage. Does it bother me because I know this injury plays a big part of that outcome? Is it just part of the frustration of being hurt, of always hurting, and being limited? As much as I know that I will never have the body of a fitness model, I am human with moments of vanity and self-conscious thoughts.

Running on Empty

“It’s hard to grieve in a town where everything that happens is God’s will. It’s hard to know what to do with your emptiness when you’re not supposed to have emptiness.”

~Miriam Toews, A Complicated Kindness

This isn’t intended to bash husbands or anyone. It is not knocking faith in God or His will for one’s life. Many years have passed since I read the book this quote is taken from, so the original context is lost from my memory; however, I read this quote and agree with it and in ways that differ somewhat from grieving.

It’s hard to _______________.

I think that blank could be filled by many things. Feel pain. Be injured. Be physically sick. Be mentally unwell. Be poor. Be weak. Be lonely. Struggle with X, Y, or Z. Be sad or frustrated or angry or hurt. I am certain to have come up short on my list of potential fill-in-the-blank options, and I suspect everyone’s experience is unique.

Today has been a bad day for me as far as my pain levels go, despite having a fairly low-key day as far as activity. My eyes are leaking as I type, slow, random tears that trickle down my cheeks, which will leave a crusty salt trail in their wake. I am in pain all of the time, but I can tolerate it most of the time. Not so much today. During dinner I mentioned to my husband how much pain I was in, and he asked why that would be, what had I done to cause it?

Now I was already in a grumpy mood, but I refrained from making a sarcastic comment about herniating a disc months ago and simply said I didn’t know. That’s true…I don’t know. I hadn’t been sitting. I hadn’t spent too long standing. I hadn’t done any physical activity that I know I shouldn’t. I had done my nerve flossing and rehab exercises, but those have never resulted in this level of pain. Was it one brief moment that occurred in the middle of the night? I got up to use the bathroom and had only taken a step or two from the bed, when I felt a strong pain and “off” sensation in my lower back. I don’t think I had done anything out of the norm in getting up out of bed, but my back didn’t feel right for a few minutes. Was that the culprit for today’s increase in pain? Maybe? I don’t know.

I understand why my husband asked me that question, but it made me think of this quote in the context of my injury. I am injured, hurting, and not even close to living up to my potential. It feels like a heavy weight on my shoulders, this injury and all that has flown out of it, the good and the mostly bad. Whether intentional or subconscious, it often feels like more pressure is placed on me by others expecting me to fit into their little boxes.

When my husband asks what I did today, I feel guilty for not having cleaned the house from top to bottom or cooking a gourmet meal. I’ve been home all day, every day for months…I should be doing more.  I know that is not driving his question, and my reaction to it is completely internal. But that’s where my brain goes.

When someone says they’ll pray for healing for me, I do appreciate and welcome it. Yet, I often wonder why. Some of those people barely know me, and even some of those who do know me seldom interact with me. I am a person of faith, but I can also be cynical. Is saying that you’ll pray for me to make yourself feel good or because you are genuinely concerned about my well-being? If you’re genuinely concerned, then why don’t you show more interest in who I am beyond this injury?

How do I respond when someone asks how things are going today? If it is someone I see regularly? Will they understand what I mean when I say it’s been a bad day? Will they understand what it means to have a herniated disc with all the symptoms? Will they look at me seemingly normal and healthy and question the truthfulness of my reply? Maybe I will be regaled with a sad tale of their own pain or even herniated disc. I could be lectured on all of the things I should be doing to get better.

My doctor seldom seems to actually listen to what I have to say, and I have been required to see him frequently since the injury occurred. He seems uninterested in deviating from his old-fashioned, slow approach to treating a herniated disc, which probably wouldn’t be so terrible if he would listen to me. In essence, it feels hard to heal when everything is my doctor’s will. Let’s misdiagnose. Let’s lecture on the perils of opiates. Let’s make multiple mistakes on paperwork. Let’s push a form of treatment that causes me more pain. Let’s ignore the expanding symptoms and paramedical recommendations for surgery until you decide surgery is warranted. I can’t just change doctors. I need my doctor to access pain medications, diagnostic imaging, and a surgical consult, but he isn’t making the healing process any easier.

Even in the process of grieving the repercussions of this injury, I feel the truth of this quote. I’ve lost a goal I had worked hard for two years to achieve. Four years of hard work and strength gains is being obliterated, and I know that getting back to where I was will take time and more hard work. It wasn’t an easy decision to go on medical leave, even though it was the correct decision, and that grief is still tender, knowing how much I have already missed out on. Any goals or expectations I might have had for this year have had to be discarded or held lightly, tentatively. Want to have an actual holiday this year? That depends on my ability to sit long enough for travel or potential surgery date. Want to compete in powerlifting this year? Not gonna happen! My daughter wants to make a trip to Ikea. The vacation wrenches apply to that Ikea trip, too. I am a planner. I like to know where I am going and when. I like to make my lists and cross them off. It’s hard to do that when so much uncertainty has invaded my world. Does that make sense to anyone else? Can they understand what I’m feeling about my losses? Grief is different for everyone. As a society, we don’t always know how to handle someone else’s grief, especially when the grief is not associated with death.

I don’t know where else I was going with this, but I hope I’ve made my point. Whatever that was! I did say that today has been a bad day for me…

 

Know Yourself

“Who you were, who you are, and who you will be are three different people.”

~unknown

 

Two recent conversations have left me thinking about who I am in this season of injury. The first conversation was with my husband, and he made a comment about me still looking to find my own identity. The other conversation was with one of my best friends and was about parents wanting more for their kids, while the kids are generally satisfied by enough.

Since herniating my disc six months ago, I have often felt lost and adrift without purpose, usefulness, or potential. Of course, those feelings have never been completely true, and yet, I struggle with the pain and physical limitations I am forced to endure. My life has been turned upside-down and inside-out. The activities I used to enjoy doing, I cannot do. I am on medical leave from work, so I feel the loss of being a part of my work community, and I stress about the loss of income for months on end. After competing in nine competitions since 2014, this will be the first year without a competition. Some of my powerlifting goals were crushed into dust the moment I hurt my back last November…a bitter pill to swallow. Although I have all the time in the world at home while on leave, my ability to do things is still hampered. Housework can only be done in short bursts of time, because standing too long results in lots of pain. My housework abilities are also limited to what is safe for my back. I wash dishes, sweep the floors, tidy the bathroom, fold laundry, make dinner, do grocery shopping in small, manageable trips. The rest of my time is spent going to appointments, going to the gym to do safe exercises and rehab, going to Starbucks for coffee and to soak up a bit of connection with my co-workers, and varying my position between standing and reclining as frequently as necessary. It’s a boring life and frustrating. I feel like I should be doing more and living a real life, not this paper doll existence I am living. With the warmer weather, I want to be outside and active, much more active than my body will agree to, and I fear that I will miss out on spring and summer just as I missed out on winter.

My husband’s comment took me aback a little, because I was confused as to why he would think that I was still in need of an identity of my own. Didn’t I already do that? In my opinion, that’s what I had done between 2010 and 2017. I had hit the bottom and clawed my way back to the top. Hard work, determination, and the right people in my corner allowed me to feel comfortable in my own skin and to be sure of who I was. Through powerlifting, I discovered something within me that I could never have expected, and I loved being strong both physically and mentally. There is no doubt that I had grown substantially over the course of those years, and I learned to weather the storms and grow through them. Who else could I possibly be? What was missing?

The conversation with my friend revolved around parents and kids, but I instantly grasped how the concept of ‘wanting more’ and ‘satisfied with enough’ could apply to me as I mulled over my husband’s statement. From the time I started going to the gym and focused on powerlifting, I have wanted more. This desire for more was focused on my performance and goals within the sport far more than it ever applied to the rest of my life. I’m an easy-going and low-maintenance kind of person. I’m not interested in keeping up with the Joneses. Even when there is something I would like to improve in my home or have as an experience, I am still easily content with what I can realistically have. Enough is perfectly fine for me, unless I’m in the gym and setting goals for future competitions. I don’t need to be the strongest or the best, although I will always strive to win while knowing there are others better than me. Most of the time I succeed at my goals, but not always. The sting of failure hurts for a little while, but I always manage to learn and grow through the experience. That is enough!

But here I sit (figuratively because sitting hurts like hell), not knowing what my future holds, where it will lead me, or when I will reach the next stage of the journey. When I realized the nature of my injury, I fully expected to be back to normal within a few weeks, maybe a couple of months. Six months later, I no longer have a clue when I will be back to normal, if that will even happen. I’ve been stuck in limbo, playing the waiting game with my body, my doctor, and now a neurosurgeon. My doctor has repeatedly said this will take time and that there are proper steps to follow in treating such an injury. Time, I understand, even proper steps, but I chafe at the unnecessary delays created by the medical system when a slightly faster pace could potentially create improved health sooner (and less of a burden on the health care system, my workplace, and employment insurance costs). I feel alone, forgotten, cast aside, and broken.

I believe that I am still me. This injury hasn’t erased the woman I had become in recent years. In many ways, I think this injury will only make me a stronger person. But in the meantime, I feel stripped of so much of what makes me who I am. Is that true though? I am a barista. I am a powerlifter. I am a wife, a mother, a friend. Those are things that I do or titles that apply to me, but they are not who I am. Last year I learned that lesson after a disappointing competition after a disappointing and frustrating several months of training. Powerlifting is what I do, not who I am. So, I know who I am even though I feel lost, but I am beginning to realize that this injury can shake up my assumptions and put them back together as something entirely different than what I had imagined. I don’t know what that means for me yet, but I suspect it will add another layer to claiming my own identity. In the same way, I also believe that the theme of being satisfied with enough will weave through that layer in a most wonderful way. It’s not always easy to sit in these days of uncertainty, but I am excited to see who I am at the end of it.

Defining Success

However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.

~Stephen Hawking

It’s May, and spring is in full bloom all around me. Leaves now wave at me from my maple tree, and the front yard hedge once again provides some beauty against the ugly backdrop of traffic. A bouquet of yellow flowers grace my dining room table. The sun is shining, and the weather is fine. It’s a great time to get outdoors and to be active…if you can.

I wish I could do more. I think it has been about three years since I last went for a run, and, while I am content to no longer consider myself a runner, I suddenly wish that I could. Of course, the very thought of running is enough to inflict more pain upon my body. I have no intention of going for a run today, next week, or next year, and yet, I’d give up my Star Wars collection to be healthy enough to run.

On social media, I see all sorts of people getting out and about, doing things that I can only look upon with mild jealousy. My son is enjoying his afternoon off work by going for a hike. ‘Tis the season of camping, paddle boarding, hiking, cycling, and all sorts of outdoorsy physical activities. My desire to be active is high, like I am going stir-crazy here high, but I also have to respect my limitations and the pain. Could I go for a hike? Sure! But for how long? How far? How difficult the terrain? As it is there are days where basic walking is slow and painfully uncomfortable.

So yeah…it feels like there is a great deal of things that I cannot do these days, outdoors and indoors. But I still manage to putter around doing little things or things in small bits. Today I baked cookies and did my chiro homework and washed dishes. I will probably throw together something for supper, too. Tomorrow’s dinner has been planned out and ingredients gathered. Tomorrow I will go to the gym (though not doing all the things I’d like), make my Star Wars-themed dinner, do my chiro homework, and play the rest of the day by ear, or more appropriately, by back and legs (as in how much pain I’m in.)

Tomorrow is the sixth month anniversary of injuring my back. It’s not exactly the kind of anniversary I’d like to celebrate, but things happen and you just have to deal with it the best you can. The past six months have drastically changed what I can and cannot do, and I am not always happy about that. I have never been the busiest person around, but I was used to being much more active and productive than I have been since the injury. It’s easy to focus on what I can’t do and what I’m missing out on. Although I am confident that this injury will eventually be a thing of the past, the vagueness of “someday” can cloud my sense of purpose and usefulness. Stephen Hawking certainly had a more difficult life than I do, so I guess I need to try looking for what I can do through this difficult season.