Good vs. Bad

Living with this injury for the past five months is taking its toll on me. There are good days and bad days.

good day is simply a polite way of saying that the day has been tolerable. Since I haven’t had a single pain-free minute since herniating my disc, a good day is typically one in which the pain is just there instead of raging. These days are occasionally productive, or as productive as I can manage. My mood and attitude are more positive and hopeful on these days. But a good day is still a day with pain and fatigue and frustration.

Today has not been a good day. On a bad day like today, the pain is too strong to ignore. It screams at me. The electrical currents running down both legs are on fire. The numbness in my left foot and calf feels worse. My back aches and trembles; my hands and arms shake. So cold…it feels like I will never be warm. The eyelids are heavy, but I have done almost nothing all day.

This morning I went to the gym for the first time in a week. I had been instructed to take the time off in order to properly assess a change in my care. That change came to an end yesterday after determining that it was having a negative impact on the pain in my back. So, with permission and instruction to take it easy, I went back to the gym today. It was the shortest work out I’ve ever done, like 15 minutes!

Goblet squats were up first. 30 pounds. During the first set I realized that I was glad my coach had instructed me to decrease the weights by 10 pounds. The squats didn’t hurt, but I could tell that a heavier weight would have caused problems. Single leg calf raises were fine, although as always the left calf is weaker and unable to “raise” as well as the right. The only exercises left on my program were leg curls and single leg leg extensions, and both were pain-inducing from the get-go. After a few reps of each, I called it quits, because I’ve been told to stop if something is causing pain. And most of the time, I listen.

Of course, it is easy to listen to that type of advice when the alternative is potentially damaging. This kind of pain is not the sort one should push through in a work out. A relatively easy, 15 minute work out has left me in extreme pain for the rest of the day. This is a bad day.

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5th Month Anniversary

Happy herniated disc anniversary to me?!

Five months ago today, I competed in my ninth powerlifting competition, and I had a fantastic performance. Practically perfect, except for the injury. My medal is hanging on the wall beside three photos of my lifts. I see them every day. I have a plaque commemorating my World record squat which is still waiting to be hung on the wall, because I don’t have immediate access to the proper tool and parts needed to hang it and I haven’t nagged my husband about doing it for me. Despite being in pain upon finishing my final lift of the competition, I had no reason to think that the pain was anything serious. Certainly, I thought, I’d be back to normal in a couple of weeks and ready to focus on preparing for Nationals.

My bubble of hope was popped a few days later with a proper diagnosis and realization that recovering could take some time, but I held onto a sliver of hope that recovery would happen quickly. Five months later and I’m no closer to being better. Well, sort of closer, because the first month was absolutely brutal. There was some progress for a little while, but I have felt stuck for a couple of months now. In some ways, I actually feel worse than I did two months ago at the peak of my progress. With another three months of medical leave ahead of me, my sense of being stuck is only increasing. I am exhausted and worn down. I am weary of the paper trails I have had to navigate and must keep slogging my way through: employment insurance, functional abilities forms, short-term disability. My life consists of appointments, follow-ups, forms and phone calls, waiting, and always pain. It’s not much of a life, but it is draining.

Sometimes I wonder if my moment of glory was worth all of this suffering. For all my pondering, I still don’t have an answer. What I do know is that I wouldn’t change a thing about that day. My training and preparation had gone well, and I was healthy and ready. My attempts were smartly selected and all within my capability. Everything went according to plan, except for the surge of pain I felt as I lowered the bar to the floor after successfully completing my last deadlift. There was no way to predict that such an injury would happen, and I cannot imagine going through life avoiding anything that could potentially result in any kind of injury. That’s not the way to live. I do not want to live that way. Be smart, play safe…absolutely! But you can herniate a disc while doing a “safe”, routine task.

Five months ago, I never could have anticipated being off work for four months already with at least three more to go. I never would have thought I’d be experiencing such pain every minute of every day or that I would get a surgical referral. I was hopeful back then, but hope is a funny thing. It is easily crushed and bruised, and yet, it is difficult to snuff it out completely. There are so many dark and stormy days in the process of dealing with an injury. Finding hope requires digging deep, and there are times when all you hit is rock bottom. But hope is still there. Somewhere.

I hold onto the hope that all of this will pass into mere memory one day, that I will recover and return to living my life. My hope is often as shaky as my body after I’ve been standing for a while, but shaky hope is still hope. One day…I will get there.

Shadowlands

Wasn’t it just the other day that I was commenting on the gift of struggle? So why am I currently mired in my struggles and feeling defeated? Why? The answer at its most basic level is that I am human. There are limits on what my own strength and determination can do to keep doubts, insecurities, and low mood from striking, and being a person of faith doesn’t insulate me from all of those negatives either. I think my faith allows me to recognize the gift of struggle and to maintain a hopeful perspective through the darkest hours, but sometimes you still need to walk through the shadows.

There might be some blue sky outside my window today, but I’ve been on the cusp of grumpiness all week. As I laid awake in bed last night, I realized that I was carrying a lot of tension in my body. In my efforts to find a comfortable position in which to (hopefully) fall asleep, I had to force myself to relax my muscles on several occasions. Lying awake in the darkness of my bedroom often releases my brain to trip its way down rabbit holes and hallways it seldom has access to in the light of day. Such thoughts are seldom productive or beneficial. Some thoughts are more benign but still pointless.

  • What if my return to work is denied again?
  • When will I be able to lie down without pain/discomfort/the sensation of things moving in my legs?
  • There have been so many changes at work since I was last there. How am I going to adapt?
  • In that situation that occurred months ago, I should have said this. I should have done that.

I am beginning to wake up a bit earlier these days, which perhaps sounds better than the reality of the situation. With little on my schedule over the past several months and great difficulties with sleeping, I have been waking up without an alarm most days with anywhere between 7:30 and 8:30 being the time my body would begin to stir enough to suggest waking up. Waking up though has still been a struggle. So, lately I have begun to wake up between 7:00 and 7:30…not a great difference but enough for now. Unfortunately, when you’re not sleeping well, waking up earlier doesn’t help you get enough restful sleep!

This morning I woke up, stayed snuggled in my warm cocoon, silently debating the merits of getting up until I was at least sufficiently awake enough for the task. I ate breakfast. I dressed. I left for the gym. Once in the car, I felt the internal resistance and wondered why. I like going to the gym, but the act of leaving the house to go there has often been more of a struggle over these recent months. The herniated disc, of course. It’s not that I no longer enjoy going to the gym…it is the fact that I am injured, healing, feeling pain, lacking sleep, off work, off-kilter, and out-of-sorts.

I acknowledged the source of that struggle and arrived at the gym believing that the training session would be okay, all things considered. It would be a bit much to say that the training session was horrible, but it definitely felt tough. Physically and mentally. The first thing on my agenda was bench press, and I was barely into it before realizing that I wasn’t feeling it at all today. The left shoulder continues to be a problem, and it felt pinched through every rep. The right wrist sometimes didn’t feel seated well under the bar. An ankle randomly felt out of place…go figure! The back. The weight felt easy enough, but everything that goes into moving the weight seemed determined to make it feel heavy. My head wasn’t there, or rather it was but in all the wrong ways.

  • I know it’s going to take time to heal, but seriously how much?
  • When will the numbness in my foot and calf go away?
  • When will I stop feeling as if my legs are infested with living, squirming things?
  • Why do some of these little exercises never seem to get any easier?

I’m not feeling the gift today, but I’ve been reminded that my experience is not unique nor insurmountable. Even if it doesn’t chase away the shadows, it is a reminder that there is still light to be found and enjoyed. For today, I accept the shadows. Tomorrow is a new day, and I have determined that I shall go for a long walk, barring extreme cold or snowfall. I’ve walked on a treadmill or indoors during my recovery, but I haven’t done any walking outside and that is a much more delightful prospect than a treadmill or the mall. Of course, I wholly expect to encounter resistance by the time tomorrow rolls around, but maybe I can use a cup of coffee as a carrot on a stick.

Nationals, Fallen Records & Pain

Yesterday, instead of competing at my first Nationals, I watched my fellow competitors from the comfort of my zero-grav chair in my living room. I wasn’t sure what I would actually feel in the watching, but I think I made it through the hours in a good mental space. My heart sank a little when I saw the opening attempts put up by my group, because I knew that all of my BCPA Provincial records were about to be smashed to pieces. And they were. Every single one of them!

I am competitive. I don’t like to lose, but I am gracious in losing. The woman who broke my records is very strong, and she made her attempts look easy. Congratulations to her! I’ve always known that there were stronger women than me, and I knew that my records wouldn’t last forever. It is hard to be disappointed in the loss, when you can see the bigger picture. There is almost always someone better than you. Had I been able to take part in Nationals as I had hoped, I expect that I would have placed either 4th or 5th out of 5 competitors. The four women who were actually there ARE strong!

Even if I didn’t have a realistic chance of winning Nationals, I really wish I could have been healthy enough to compete just to have the experience of not winning. I have never been in a competition with that many direct competitors, so that would have been an amazing learning opportunity. Of course, I’d love to challenge for those records again, but that might not be realistic for me for a long time, if ever. She set the bar high! Without this injury, I’d be hard pressed to reach those heights. With this injury so much is in doubt. I don’t know when I’ll be able to squat with a bar or deadlift. I don’t know when I’ll be able to compete, but I am about 95% certain that it won’t be this year. I am still healing. Will I even be able to get back to where I was? I don’t know. So yeah, I am a competitor who wants to strive for new goals, but right now I need to just focus on being cleared to return to work.

Last night was not a good one for sleep. Maybe 3 hours and finally out of bed at 2:30. Thank goodness the Olympics are on TV at that time of the morning these days! Leg pain was the culprit that kept me awake most of the night. I almost put off going to the gym until tomorrow, but I changed my mind and went early in the afternoon. It wasn’t super great. The back seems to be handling the return to having legs down and an arch for my benching sets, and the shoulders are loving being in a proper position once again; however, almost everything else was less than stellar.

The shoulders, despite feeling fine on the bench press, are still sore and feel unstable. As much as I’m not a fan of laterals, I shouldn’t feel like I need to scrap the second and third sets. The left shoulder felt especially unstable throughout several exercises, like dumbbell curls and dumbbell floor press. The back felt fine all morning and through the bench press sets, but it did not like the single arm triceps pushdowns. The left hamstrings are still feeling the effects of IMS treatment from Monday, but the bigger leg problem today (and last night) has been throbbing and shooting pain down both legs between the hips and knees. This pain is quite familiar…I’ve only lived with it in varying degrees of severity since herniating my disc, but the level of pain in the legs had settled down substantially over the past few weeks.

I’m not thrilled with the way my body seems to be fighting me on multiple fronts right now, but I need to respect the fact that healing isn’t always a straight line. It’s often bumpy, especially with some types of injuries. Here now at the end of the day, the back is feeling okayish again. The shoulders aren’t throbbing, but I can feel the instability depending on how I move my arms. Honestly, the shoulders are the least of my worries, because I know they are just over-used and annoyed. They will get better. What feels the worst right now are my legs. I’m still experiencing throbbing and shooting pain in both legs, and there isn’t much I can do about it. I can increase my pain medication dose tonight, and I will, even though the medication has never erased the pain. But, if I’m really, really lucky, maybe it will help me sleep tonight.

 

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.

The Olympics

I was in the midst of making dinner when Olympic TV coverage began afresh for the day. Before today’s events began, the TV station began with replaying events that Canadians might have missed while sleeping last night. Even though I already knew the results, I often found myself dashing from the kitchen to the living room to watch the action. I cheered on Ted-Jan Bloemen as he set an Olympic record on his way to winning gold in the 10K speed skating race, and I cried. I watched our luge athletes win a silver medal in the team relay, choking back emotion with every run and breaking into tears as I watched their reaction to the speed of their final run. Olympic season is a weepy one for me. I told my daughter that there should be certain restrictions to what can be shown on the television during the Olympics:

  1. The only commercials allowed should be boring and completely product focused, like for feminine hygiene products or dish soap.
  2. No features on athletes. No mention of their families. No mention of the injuries or hardships overcome to get to the Games.
  3. No camera shots of coaches or teammates reacting to a performance or finish.

If you eliminated all those things from the Olympic coverage, then I wouldn’t be a puddle of tears and choked up emotion all the time. Of course, I absolutely love all of those aspects of the Olympic and would not truly want to see them disappear. Listening to the athlete stories though is inspiring and motivating at any time but especially during a season of injury and struggle. My situation is not even close to being on the same level as that of a world-class athlete; I know it and would never presume otherwise.

Still, there are themes and stories worth listening to, sifting through the choreographed emotional tugs to find the little golden nuggets that you can use to change your own fortunes. I won’t ever win an Olympic medal. I might never set another World record. While I am hopeful to compete again someday, I don’t know when that will be or even if it will be. The past 3.5 months have been an entirely new and unexpected experience for me, and the fact that healing has no clear time frame chafes against my yearnings to get out and do something. I have improved so much since herniating my disc, but that doesn’t mean things are perfect or where I’d like them to be. Some days are frustrating. Some are painful and achy. My ability to sleep well has been severely impaired for 3.5 months. Emotions have been down, up, and everywhere in-between. This injury has created disappointment in being unable to compete at Nationals which begin next week. I’m not an Olympic athlete, but I am still someone with hopes, goals, and dreams.

Healing is a day by day thing rather than an overnight occurrence. Healing well requires patience, determination, hard work, and slogging through the rough, dark patches. It would be easy and simply to say that this injury will define me forever, that I will never compete again or even enjoy ordinary activities again. I’d like to believe that I am not that sort of person, but that doesn’t mean I won’t have mental and emotional struggles through the journey.

The good news is that the truly stormy days seem to be well in the past now. I feel as if, figuratively, my broken pieces are being crazy glued together, piece by piece. Oddly enough, I am finding some enjoyment in my rehab focused training, and I am encouraged at every little weight increase or extra rep performed. Tomorrow I am looking forward to trying a bit of an arch on my bench press with a change in foot position…and a little nervous. Nervous because I’ve not benched with an arch since hurting my back. I haven’t benched using my legs since hurting my back. Nervous because I still have varying degrees of aches and pain in my back and legs. Good days. Bad days. Okayish days. Head games and a sometimes uncooperative body. Fun times!

I am not an Olympic athlete, but I have the ability to write my own story and I want to make it a good one. I can set my sights on the future and strive to come back to the platform. It won’t be easy. Hard work will be required. There will most likely be more ups and downs and things that go completely sideways, but all I have to do is continue to pick myself back up and refocus. Goals and destinations sometimes need to change, but sometimes the journey (and the attitude along the way) is of more importance than actually reaching a goal. The Olympics are an emotional catalyst to dig deep, to keep going, and to push a little bit harder to get a little bit further.

Stronger Than I’ve Ever Been

I didn’t have an amazing sleep last night, but it was okay…the best it has been all week. That could be due to the fact I took 900mg of Gabapentin last night instead of the 300mg I have been taking lately. I do not like taking medication, so I severely cut back my daily dosage a few weeks ago when we realized that the nerve was stuck sending pain signals. In fact, there has even been the odd day here or there when I haven’t taken any pain medication. I know that skimping on pain medication isn’t always an intelligent decision, but I seldom claim to be smart.

My back was quite sore and achy yesterday, actually all week long, so I had no intention of not taking some pain medication. As I opened the bottle and shook out a single capsule, I remembered that I was allowed to take three capsules at a time, even three times a day, if necessary. As I shook out two more capsules, I wondered why I had been so insistent on limiting myself to one capsule a day. Because I hate taking medication and being dependent on it! But still…if I’m experiencing pain that is consistently impacting my day-to-day life, then why not help myself out? I still chafe against the idea of taking more pills, but I also need to accept that I might need to use them for a while yet. Even if I only take some in the evening in the hopes of experiencing real sleep. Okay, so real sleep won’t magically appear because of my pain medication, otherwise I’d have been sleeping all along, but you get my point. Right?

The back was still quite achy and sore when I woke up. I was also still groggy and slow and tired, but I planned on going to the gym in the morning after eating breakfast and “waking” up. I ate breakfast. When I decided it was time to get dressed and head to the gym, I felt the ache in my back and considered NOT going to the gym. I could go later in the day. I could go tomorrow. I really didn’t feel up to going today. Those thoughts flashed through my mind in the span of a minute, and then I got dressed and went to the gym.

My training session was good, solid, and I felt strong. I maxed out my reps on a number of sets and exercises, and where I didn’t max out I still increased my reps. Even on the arm exercises that are usually tough and weak, which isn’t to say that they weren’t tough today because they still were. Strength was just there today, and so was the mindset that I will get up again.

If you knock me down I get up again I get up again Born unstoppable I get up again Now I’m stronger than I’ve ever been ~ Kaleena Zanders