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.

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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.

Regret

7. What was your biggest regret and why?

We’re not perfect and we all make mistakes. It’s an uncomfortable truth we don’t like to think about. But facing our failures helps us in positive ways. When we admit and accept our mistakes, we grow. And best of all, we’re less likely to repeat them.

As far as regrets go, I don’t think I have actually held on to very many this year. There have been regrets, of course, like the loss of a friendship. That regret is for the loss rather than a failure or mistake on my part. Despite what the other party might say about the situation, I know that I did nothing wrong. I can mourn the loss of the relationship while not carrying the weight of regret over someone’s decision.

I would have preferred to have not herniated a disc, but it happened. Although it happened at a competition, I don’t regret my training or competing. I don’t regret the efforts it took to break all of those records that day and to set a couple of personal bests. I wish the injury hadn’t happened, but I think I am at the point where I can honestly say that I don’t regret it happening at all. The injury didn’t happen because of a personal failure. It just happened, and I am choosing to embrace it rather than continuing to wallow in misery over it.

I know that I am far from perfect, and I am more than willing to admit my faults. A year is a long time and memories tend to jumble together until the images are distorted. Smaller mistakes and regrets are most likely there, swirling among the debris, but I cannot pull many out for full examination.

However, there is one thing that I do regret and it is an action that I take sole responsibility for. In January, I thought it would be fun to see how long I could sit in a body weight squat. I stopped after 5 minutes, impressed with myself. Everything was fine until about a week later. All of a sudden my lower back hurt while squatting when I had never had back pain while training before. It turned out that my 5 minute squat had made my SI joints quite angry, and thus began many months of pain and suffering. I do regret that, but I learned a lesson. Do not sit in a body weight squat for a long period of time! Through the months of struggles, I was forced to learn other lessons that I might have preferred to avoid if given the chance, but I know I came out of those struggles stronger.

 

Enjoyment

Continuing the end of year reflection theme from No Side Bar that I began in yesterday’s blog post …

2. What did you enjoy doing this year?

2017 has been a difficult year for me in so many ways. What did I enjoy doing this year? That’s a question that requires grinding mental gears and peering deeply into the dark corners of my memories.

Yesterday I mentioned celebrating my 25th anniversary with my husband, and our little celebratory holiday was definitely something I enjoyed doing.

My most recent powerlifting competition was also highly enjoyable.

This summer when I changed my gym and my coach, I stepped out of my comfort zone into unfamiliar and potentially scary territory. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if I would thrive or even like what I was doing. As an introvert, it is not easy for me to dive into the unfamiliar or place my trust in someone I don’t know and doesn’t know me. At the time of the coaching change, I had already been through months of struggles with my SI joints and low back and a disappointing competition. My confidence in my ability to overcome those struggles and regain strength was a little shaky. Despite my struggles, doubts, and nerves, I can honestly say that I have enjoyed the change and the process.

It wasn’t easy to step into the unknown like that, but a small part of me was glad for the challenge. My doubts and fears resurfaced every week as I would receive my new program, yet a part of my spirit soared at the prospect of squashing those doubts. In the gym as I put in the work, the load sometimes felt heavy and hard, but I did it and I took joy in the results. Those months of uncertainty and challenge were enjoyable! It sounds odd to say that, but it is true. I enjoyed it, because I grew through the challenges instead of being destroyed by them.

This year I have also found enjoyment in the company of family and friends. Celebrating birthdays. Family holiday gatherings. Graduation. Escape room success. Celebrating successes. Cards. Texts. Notes. Christmas bake day with girlfriends. Grey Cup party. Homemade gelato. An impromptu dinner out with friends. Musical theatre. A heart-to-heart over wine with a best friend. Many of these instances are of little consequence in the grand scheme of a year. As a lover of words and authentic relationships, these small instances add up to a whole lot of love and affirmation.

Unforgettable

I stumbled upon an article this morning which immediately caught my interest enough to click on the title to read the entire thing, and I liked what I read. It is about ending your year intentionally by asking yourself some questions. The words line up with the way that I usually look at the end of each year and the start of a new year, so I think I am going to answer those questions on my blog over the remaining days of the 2017. Or at least as many of them as I can, because I feel like some of the questions can easily overlap.

  1. What makes this year unforgettable?

There are two things that immediately come to mind when I look at this question, and it isn’t surprising that both things are recent (or current) events. Undoubtedly I had many experiences and interactions over the course of the year which are memorable in their own ways. It is also easy to lose sight of those unforgettable people and events for no other reason than the passage of time.

1.Unforgettable number one was my powerlifting competition on November 4th. This was the competition that I had been working for and hoping to have for a long time. I’m not even certain that words could ever adequately describe just how much this competition meant to me on various levels. I’ve tried to blog and talk about it, but I fear that the resulting injury has overshadowed everything that was good and positive and empowering about that competition on that day.

I broke all the Provincial records and almost all of the National records (not the bench press). I broke a World record! I achieved every goal I had going into that day, and success is sweet. I am competition. I am driven to reach my goals, but my performance was so much more than just the records. So much more! My performance was the culmination of many months of hard work, sweat, tears, pain, stepping outside of my comfort zone, changes, uncertainty & doubt, and scratching my way back. Stepping onto the platform and walking off with white lights was empowering, reaffirming, redemptive, and peaceful. On the platform that day, I felt powerful and confident and competent. As I completed each lift, it was as if a heavy layer of debris was being shed from my body. Even walking off the platform in pain after my final lift, I still felt whole, clean, and powerful. I’m sure that sounds weird, but I have no better words to describe how I felt and still feel, despite the other unforgettable thing.

2. The second most unforgettable event of 2017 is my herniated disc. How can I forget something that has caused me so much pain and anguish and is still a major factor in my life? Although the competition is not entirely to blame for the injury, the two will forever be tied together. In the eyes of some, the injury casts my competition in a negative light, but I cannot see it that way. This is something that happened at a particular time, but it could have happened at any time or any place.

It’s slightly more than 6 weeks now since the herniation occurred, and I am still reeling. My left leg is still numb from butt to toes with pain radiating down from butt to ankle. The back sometimes feels okay and other times has solid pain, radiating pain, or spasms. About a week or so ago, the right leg began experiencing radiating pain from butt to knee and sporadic tingling and numbness in the foot. The new pain is not good. Heck, the old pain isn’t good either!

I had an appointment with my doctor this morning, and he is still an ass. However, he did give me two prescriptions for the pain, although I am fairly certain that he tried to lump me in the same category as opiate addicts. This is in spite of the fact that I haven’t been on an opiate and really have no desire to be on an opiate. I’d much prefer to not take medication at all. I’ve had the same doctor for close to 20 years and we used to attend the same small church…you’d think he’d know me better than he obviously does. Of course, he also essentially criticized me for going to a walk-in clinic previously, even though my reason for doing so was for a second opinion after he said I hadn’t herniated my disc! He treated me like a child, explaining the proper steps and procedures for getting the care I need. Hmmm…if only he had taken my pain, symptoms, and concerns seriously when I first saw him 6 weeks ago! Despite receiving an email from my physiotherapist recommending a surgical consult, my doctor will not initiate the referral until he sees the results from the CT scan, which would take months to get an appointment. Thankfully, my husband said that he was willing to pay to get an MRI done at a private clinic, which means I’m having the MRI on Wednesday, as in 2 days from now instead of months! The sooner we know what is actually going on inside of my back, then the sooner I can get adequate treatment, even if my doctor thinks it is perfectly acceptable to suffer for months, even a year before seeking further treatment. <insert colourful adjective here>

My one other request from my doctor was a bit more time off of work. I went in asking for 2 weeks, but he gave me 8 weeks off work. I am surprised by that, to be honest, and I don’t know how I feel about it. Torn and conflicted. Just as I was about my initial two weeks off work. I appreciate the time to heal and take it easy on my body, but I miss my job and feel like I’m letting everyone down. Also, the extended leave means that I need to apply for Employment Insurance, because that’s a long time to be without income.

3. I almost forgot about one other unforgettable thing! In August, my husband and I celebrated 25 years of marriage. We were able to get away for a long weekend at Harrison Hot Springs. That was probably the first no-kids, no sports event weekend away just the two of us, and it was amazing. We had no agenda, and Harrison is a small, relatively quiet tourist spot. We ate delicious food, drank some wine, did a lot of walking and talking. I love my husband, and 25 years has not diminished that love one bit. He is my biggest fan and supporter. He is everything that I am not, which means that we mesh fairly well, most of the time.

Rise of the Machines

Being injured is not my idea of a fun time. If I had broken an arm, I would quite likely be having a cast removed any day now and on my way to regaining strength, but a herniated disc doesn’t necessarily have a predictable and tidy healing schedule. I’d rather have a broken bone or a pulled muscle, a sprain or stitches, or a week long flu. This is not fun.

I feel like two different people. One is the optimist who knows how to dream big and work to achieve it. The other isn’t quite defeated yet but is broken, frustrated, and despairing. I am both people, flipping back and forth sometimes as frequently as a heartbeat.

My training routine since the injury has been little more than rehab exercises. Everything has been careful and slow and simple. I’ve not been allowed to touch a barbell or perform certain movements. While I appreciate the necessity of the rehab and the restrictions, I miss moving some weight and training more like an athlete than an injured person. I might have a World record squat, but these days my prowess is pretty much limited to bird dogs and body-weight glute bridges.

With my training playlist blaring in my ears, I go through my rehab motions fighting an internal battle between determination and despair. It’s an ugly battle of hand-to-hand combat, trenches, and no man’s land. One day a song might bolster my spirits and fan the flames of positivity and determination, while the same song the next day might shoot down my hope in a fiery hail of bullets. The ongoing numbness in my left leg weighs heavily on me. It’s bad enough that I can feel the weakness in that leg and the tentativeness that comes with diminished physical sensations, but the thought of potential long-term nerve damage is rather frightening. Having resigned myself to missing out on Nationals, I have also accepted that there is no specific timeline for stepping back onto a powerlifting platform. Although I have seen some improvements over the past five weeks, my physiotherapist has pointed out that ideally there should be more. My worth and sense of self are not dependent upon being or training like a powerlifter; however, I do still greatly miss doing those things that I enjoy doing in the gym.

I smiled last night when I opened up this week’s training program from my coach. Not only did he put in a reference to the new Star Wars movie opening later this week, but he also changed up my program to incorporate a bunch of machines! This is both exciting and out of my comfort zone. It’s exciting, because machines means I get to use some weight, even if I’m still starting out low and slow. This is potentially uncomfortable and scary, because I’ve never really used machines before! I’ve seen them in the gym, but I’ve always looked at them as strange, wild animals that you look at but don’t touch. I have no idea what they are or how to use them, so I quite literally need to google each exercise/machine before going to the gym. I need to know what machine I am looking for and how to use it properly. That’s the easy part. Then I need to find those machines at my gym. My gym has two floors with machines on both levels. Some are labelled, some are not. But I think I found all of the machines I need for now.

I’m still a long way from deadlifting, bench pressing, or squatting with a barbell, but it was so good to use some muscles that haven’t been used since the injury. The weights I’m using must start off low. I need to take each rep slowly and carefully, but I was able to work biceps and triceps, pecs and delts, quads and hamstrings. It’s been a long time since I’ve had so many muscles quivering from exertion. I felt the effects of a lack of strength training and the ongoing left leg nerve impingement. Standing body weight calf raises…the left calf is weaker and lagging. The same is true of the left hamstring when doing leg curls. Even though my left quad is unaffected by the herniated disc, when doing leg extensions I can still feel a lack of involvement in my left foot, or at least the numb half of my foot. As I’m extending both legs, my right foot feels engaged and active, while the left foot isn’t engaged and feels as if it is merely hanging out for the ride. <sigh> Small weights. Small steps. Turtle’s pace.

Loaded

“It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.” ~Lena Horne

That quote was added to my little notebook of quotes quite some time ago, but it has never been quite as applicable as this current season of my life. There are so many ways to take that quote. It applies perfectly to the simple act of picking up a box as it does to a sport like powerlifting. There are also applications to the mental and emotional loads we carry.

There are some who are quick to point to my herniated disc as a reason why lifting weights or powerlifting are not good things to do. My response to such comments depends on the person uttering them. I might make an attempt to defend powerlifting, or I might just politely smile while seething on the inside.

My technique when lifting may not always be perfect, but I was taught well. Did lifting weights contribute to this injury? Possibly. But you can herniate a disc doing seemingly safe and ordinary things, too. Now that I am rehabbing an injury, I am even more aware of body positioning and load carrying. I get in and out of bed differently. Getting down to the floor to do my exercises and back up again after requires more consideration as to how best to accomplish the movement. Some of my effort is to minimize an outburst of pain from my still upset sciatic nerve, while the rest is just mindfulness of the fact that I have a herniated disc that I want to heal. For the most part when at the gym, I am quite mindful of how my body is moving or carrying load. It is outside of the gym where I tend to forget.

My job involves a lot of bending and lifting and movement. I take it for granted until such movement results in pain. Putting away boxes of stock? I’ve always been pretty good about lifting boxes properly, but it’s so easy to twist at the waist and lean over to fill a cup with water rather than to turn the entire body to the task. Grabbing a jug of milk from the bar fridge…open the door, bend forward and heave the jug out and up. Or take the extra second to squat or kneel down to remove the jug.

Outside of work and gym is not much better. Twisting and bending to get in or out of bed. Poor posture. Lots of sitting (although this hasn’t applied to me for a long time!) Picking up, carrying things awkwardly. Twisting to reach something. There are just so many ways that we put unnecessary stress and strain on our bodies, day after day. That’s the way to break yourself.

So I am trying to remember to use my body properly. Of course, I also kind of have to because of the injury thing. I am not supposed to pick things up off the floor, regardless of perfect technique. I am not supposed to bend forward. I am not supposed to do things that involve twisty, swaying motions like mopping a floor or vigorous sweeping. I am not supposed to sit. There are a lot of “not supposed to’s”. Sometimes I feel constricted by all that I cannot or should not do, yet I know that the purpose is to heal. Not being able to do the things I enjoy doing in the gym is a heavy load in its own way. So is the internal feelings of guilt that I cannot do many aspects of my job right now. But it isn’t the load that breaks you down…