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.


The Brain Game

In a way it seems odd to think about the fact that November is almost over. I mean, wasn’t it just yesterday that I had the best powerlifting competition of my life?! Well actually that was on November 4, slightly more than 3 weeks ago now. What happened to all that time in-between?

One positive of rapidly inching towards December is that NaBloPoMo is almost finished, and so far I have been successful in the challenge of blogging every day in November. Some years this is a real struggle, whether for a lack of blogging material or an inability to remember to blog. This year hasn’t felt nearly as challenging, although I guess it helps that I have an injury and subsequent rehab to chronicle. Still, thinking of something to blog about on a daily basis is downright taxing.

My mind feels like it is going at full speed these days. This isn’t too far from normal for me, but it seems to be more of a nuisance these past few weeks. I’m not sure if this is merely the result of having more time on my hands than usual, but it is entirely possible. The injury has resulted in a reduction to my work hours for a bit, and I am unable to do a whole lot with all this unexpected free time. Housework is falling by the wayside, and my physical activity level is sorely hampered. Over the past few weeks I have had two completely sleepless nights. The first was due entirely to pain and the inability in the freshness of the injury to find comfort in any possible sleeping position. The second occurrence was just last week and had nothing at all to do with pain or comfort; it was all an inability for my brain to shut off long enough to fall asleep.

Ironically, on that second sleepless night, I was aware that my brain wasn’t shutting off; however, for the most part, I wasn’t actively thinking of anything. Of course, the conundrum of lying in bed wide awake is that eventually your mind will meander down rabbit holes for lack of anything else to do and you can seldom control which holes it dives into. My thoughts that night, or early morning, briefly settled onto a subject that is quite a few months old and water under the proverbial bridge, and yet, I felt anger as I laid there that night. My mind rehashed situations and conversations, and I felt quiet anger at the injustice and all that was wrong about that situation. I allowed myself to feel the anger, let the emotion swirl within and focus my thoughts but only for a short time. Sleep is important to me and especially right now as I am healing, so I know the futility of allowing such negative thoughts to run amok in the night. I entertained them then closed them up tight inside a box, but I still could not sleep. My thoughts did not return to those negative rabbit holes, but the brain was still actively churning, looking for something to grab hold of instead of succumbing to slumber.

Last night I lost a couple of hours of sleep to the brain once again churning and active without any traction. No thoughts to speak of. No emotions to drag about. Just a wide awake brain wanting something to do that wasn’t sleep. Thankfully I did fall asleep, even if much later than I had planned. Even during my non-busy moments of the day, I will often find my brain racing ahead, fracturing into a dozen or more pathways at the same time. It’s rather messy and problematic, and it makes me a little more emotional than I might like. That’s just the way it is right now. But all those thoughts cannot be blogged about. I’m looking forward to December 1st.

When Small Equals Huge

I can be patient about a great many things, but sometimes I just want to know the nitty, gritty details and I want to know them now. Right now I keep reminding myself that healing a herniated disc is going to take some time, and there is just no way that I can be given a timeline. The only thing I can know for sure is that it will take time, which is why I have “Trust” as the current message on my water bottle. I have to trust the process.

I had absolutely no sleep last night. I laid in my own bed until about 1:30 AM, went to the living room for about half an hour, then tried the empty bed in my son’s room (he’s currently in Thailand) until roughly 3:30, at which point I figured sleep just wasn’t going to happen. So, I made myself a cup of coffee and stood at the dining room table working on my candy cane puzzle while everyone else was asleep. I made myself another cup of coffee and then another. I made significant progress on the puzzle. I also decided to test out my lame left calf muscle.

Since the disc herniation and resulting left leg numbness, I have been unable to do a calf raise with my left leg. I can lift my left heel off of the floor only if I do both heels at the same time. With both heels elevated, the left heel has dropped instantly the moment I would attempt to remove the support of my right foot. It’s been a source of frustration for me, and it is something that will easily show my progress or lack thereof. In the wee hours of the morning, I discovered that I can lift that left heel off the floor by the smallest of fractions. I also discovered that, although the left heel still drops instantly without the support of the right foot, the drop is slower and I can almost control it and hold my heel just off of the floor. It’s not much, but it is something. As my coach put it, “Small improvements are huge improvements right now.”

He’s right, and what a good way to look at it. It’s highly unlikely that I will wake up tomorrow to find my back and leg completely healed and back to normal. Sure would be nice though, wouldn’t it! Nope. Not gonna happen that way. It’s most likely going to be that 1 step forward, 2 steps back kind of progress. It’s going to take time and patience. Progress will be measured by degrees or the little milestones. Every little improvement is progress, and progress is worth a lot right now.

Not a Victim

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” ~Nora Ephron

You can say that you’re sorry this happened to me, I guess. Herniating a disc does suck. It sucks to be in pain and to not be limited in your regular activities. It royally sucks to watch goals and plans evaporate before your eyes. But I am not a victim.

I herniated a disc. It could have happened at any time and anywhere. The fact that it happened at the end of a powerlifting competition doesn’t make my sport hazardous or something I need to give up permanently. People herniate discs all the time. Even people who don’t do powerlifting!

I will heal. I will overcome these temporary difficulties that I am experiencing as the result of a herniated disc. Why? Because I am stubborn and determined and I want to return to the platform. I don’t want to be a victim but a heroine. Life is an adventure, and I want to enjoy the journey. I do not want to curl up and give up because of an unexpected derailing and delay. Why wait for the train when I can continue the journey on my own two feet? Sure, I might be hobbling for a while, but I’ll get there eventually!

A couple of days ago I sat down with my owner’s manual and made a plan of attack, because I am all about my lists. I have my rehab exercises to do, and I am doing them faithfully. My diet basically tanked over the past couple of weeks, so I need to rein that back in since a good diet will help reduce inflammation and improve overall health. I need to ensure I’m getting adequate sleep, since rest is important for healing and overall health. While I cannot always control how well I sleep, I can do what I can to set myself up for enough sleep. The good news is that I have generally been sleeping better lately. I need to make sure I am more consistent with taking my beneficial supplements, like Omega 3 and vitamin E. DO NOT SIT! I am so conditioned to avoiding sitting as much as possible…have been doing that for well over a year already. Listen to my chiropractor. Listen to my physiotherapist. Listen to my coach. Listen to my body. Ask for help when necessary, even when I think it isn’t necessary but it really is. Just because I know I should be capable doesn’t mean doing so is a good idea. Nourish my soul. Be thankful. Be happy, because having the right attitude is so important!

One Forward, Two Back

I know that healing my disc is going to be a lengthy process complete with stops and starts and hiccups. There might be really good days, maybe even a string of them, and then I might have a bad day.

The challenge for me will be to not get too frustrated by the perceived setbacks and to not get too hyped up by the perceived positive progress. This isn’t as simple as throwing a cast on a broken bone and having it all healed up in 6 weeks, and I know myself. I will get frustrated. I will get hopeful. But either way I will get there eventually.

Monday night was probably my best night of sleep since herniating my disc. I spent the entire night in my own bed. That sounds weird, I know, but the pain has sent me to the living room floor in the middle of the night up until then. Not only did I stay in my own bed, but I also slept rather well and through the night. I counted that as progress, especially since I had also cut back my pain-killers that day in order to ration the remaining capsules as long as possible.

On the heels of that great night’s sleep came last night’s not anywhere as good night’s sleep. I did manage to stay in my own bed all night again, but I lost hours to a brain that would not shut off. There was nothing on my mind, but I was wide awake. I could actually lie on the left side of my body for a while without excruciating pain, but then again, my body was also rather restless all night. Hitting the snooze button is not something I ever do, but around 6 AM I shut off my sleep app and set the alarm for 8 AM. I had planned on waking up at 7 this morning but needed the extra hour.

As I am rapidly nearing the bottom of the little bottle of pain-killers, I have cut back on my doses. Last week I was taking 6 capsules over the course of the day. As of Monday I have been taking only 2 a day, which leaves me enough for another 5 days. The fact that my level of pain has decreased so significantly is another positive.

Of course, my overall pain level may have decreased, but the degree of numbness in my leg has not changed. Not that I can discern anyway. And there are still movements that are guaranteed to send shards of pain down my leg or through my pelvis/lower back. Putting my left leg into a pair of pants. Putting a sock or shoe on my left foot. Sitting. Moving my left leg in just the wrong way or too fast or too much.

I went to the gym after work today to do my rehab exercises and walk on the treadmill. <gag> Doing the exercises felt completely fine. Getting up from the floor or down onto the floor sometimes hurt. A lot. Walking on the treadmill was itself an exercise in frustration. I cannot remember the last time I was on a treadmill, but my old runner’s brain instantly wanted to crank up the speed and break into a gallop. Unfortunately, my best walk right now is a limping hobble on a numb left with weakness that prevents me from doing a simple calf raise, and physio’s instructions said to walk holding onto the handles and maintaining an upright posture. I started out at 1.5 mph before annoyance had me jacking the speed up to 2 mph. That lasted all of a few seconds once I realized that the shuffly leg wasn’t going to keep up very long. I dropped it to 1.8 mph, because I’m stubborn and determined. That lasted a minute, I think, and then I had to drop it back to 1.5 mph. <sigh> And there I stayed. I challenged myself to walk for 10 minutes, and I did. Barely a quarter of a mile but I know I will see improvement.

The ride home from the gym, all of 5 minutes, was pure torture. I hurt. There are a lot of variables at play, and I don’t know how much weight to give to any of them. I went to the gym after being at work for the previous 4 hours, on my feet, walking, and squatting/trying not to bend to lift. Sitting in the car because sitting is death. Physio did IMS (think acupuncture on steroids) on Monday, and I think there is some residual stiffness/soreness in the muscles from it. I didn’t sleep well last night. The treadmill probably did it because treadmills are death!

I’ve been applying heat and reclining for the past few hours, and the pain has decreased quite a bit. Tomorrow is a full work night, which means I will likely be hurting by the end of it. However, this pain is still an improvement compared to what I experienced the first week and a bit. One step at a time.

An Exercise in Frustration

About two weeks ago I pulled out the diabolical candy cane puzzle that I received as a gift from my eldest son a few years ago. I say it is diabolical, because it is. This puzzle is 1000 pieces and the most difficult puzzle I have ever done. Now I have done hundreds of puzzles over the years and even the toughest ones seldom take me more than 2-4 days to complete. This puzzle easily takes me a month. I took the photo below this afternoon, and yes! This is two weeks worth of progress.


For most puzzles, I have my own little system that works for me. This puzzle takes my system and throws it out the window. Solving this puzzles is an exercise in frustration and patience. It requires an eye for the smallest details which connect two pieces together, even if you cannot connect those two pieces to anything else. What you see on my board is a hodgepodge of randomly connected pieces and an assortment of pieces with just the sort of details that might be helpful at some point. Ever so slowly I manage to put the scattered bits into small groupings, and eventually I can connect those groupings to the edges. I cannot work on the puzzle for large periods of time; this is partly due to the fact that I need to stand and partly due to the fact that I have other things to do with my time. This is not something that can be rushed.

As I was working on my puzzle today, my thoughts bounced back and forth between the frustration that is my candy cane puzzle and the frustration that is my herniated disc. I see a lot of similarities between the two. Healing the herniation will take time; it cannot be rushed. There will be tedious exercises and small victories that won’t appear to connect to much of anything. Patience will be required, and frustration will undoubtedly be felt on many occasions. Progress might not always look like much, but little steps of progress will gradually reveal the bigger picture that I’m looking for. It would be easy to give up and quit, but determination and perseverance will bring results. The results might trickle in slowly at first, but at some point they will come more quickly. And just like I can feel pride in finishing the puzzle, I can take pride in weathering the storm of injury and coming back stronger.

About the only difference between this puzzle and my injury is that I will finish the puzzle before the end of the year. My physical recovery might take longer than that!

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.