8 Months, 7 Months

I’d like to say that tomorrow is the day I have been anticipating for seven months, but the truth is that my seven months of medical leave were more necessary than I could have imagined back in December. Sure, I was hopeful about returning to work in December, February, March, and April and disappointed when it didn’t happen, but my desire to return to work was firmly based on emotion. My body, however, was relieved with every delay in going back to work. So in reality my body has only recently begun to fall in line with my emotions, and I feel confident that now is the best time to go back to work.

It’s not the ideal time, but one cannot always wait for something that might not ever be. Ideally, all my pain and nerve-related symptoms would be completely gone by the time I return to work. Tomorrow will be 8 months since herniating my disc, and I still have symptoms and pain. Only the severity has changed. Everything I feel these days is tolerable but annoying. Tolerable but constant. Tolerable but still impacting my daily life. I hope that things will continue to improve. I hope that there will come a day when I have no more symptoms, but I don’t know when that will be. Or if ever. I strongly suspect that even if  these symptoms do vanish, they will show up again from time to time. I cannot wait for someday.

I return to work tomorrow, but I will have a graduated return for the first month or so. I feel good about it and realistic. My body will most likely not be as thrilled with resuming work activities as I am. Tomorrow is supposed to be a gym day for me. With a short work shift in the middle of the day, I will need to go to the gym sometime after work. I am going to play that by ear, knowing that I might be physically done in by the end of my work shift and that I have flexibility with the rest of my week to get the training in. Continuing to be smart by listening to my body is kind of the name of the game.

Advertisements

The Matrix

Husband: How’s your back feeling right now?

Me: It’s fine.

Husband: How about your legs?

Me: Meh…they’re not bad so far, at least until I get into bed.

Me within minutes of crawling into bed: And there’s the electric currents in the legs!

Husband: That’s so weird!

This conversation was a couple of nights ago, and yet we run through a similar dialogue on a regular basis. The healing process has been slow and long and still incomplete. While I feel significantly better than I have since herniating a disc, there are still symptoms and those symptoms still cause discomfort and pain. Thankfully, everything is mostly tolerable these days, but sometimes I think tolerable should mean ‘finished with the suffering and completely healed.’ It doesn’t.

Explaining all of that, how I feel mentally and physically, isn’t easy. During my mandatory rest between sets at the gym this morning, my thoughts turned towards the sensations I was feeling in my legs. I would sit on the bench for a minute or two and simply feel the currents moving through my legs. If you’ve seen The Matrix movies, then you will know the moment when Neo truly sees the matrix. That’s kind of how I equate those moments when I am still and inwardly focused on what is happening inside my body. I mentally trace the route of the electric currents from buttocks to toes and probe the weakness and numbness in my left calf and foot. Of course, I don’t see my symptoms through the lens of a medical practitioner. I have gained bits of knowledge over the months of treatments and appointments, but I just don’t look at my injury or symptoms with the same eyes as a doctor, physiotherapist, or chiropractor. But I spend a lot of time listening to my body, even if I cannot always understand what it is saying! It’s also not easy to ignore. The symptoms might be tolerable, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a nuisance and frustrating.

 

It Isn’t Easy Being Green

I am not one of those people who feel compelled to chain themselves to trees, to stop all personal hygiene, or to live off the grid growing my own clothes and food. I typically tend to be a middle-of-the-road kind of person, balanced, thoughtful, and considerate rather than swinging like a pendulum from one trendy extreme to another. Being born in early 1970, I grew up at a time when convenience was still something of a novelty. Growing up in a small Saskatchewan city likely meant an even slower introduction to all the new-fangled conveniences and inventions. I think I remember when the grocery store introduced plastic bags. My family purchased our milk directly from a dairy farm, which meant scraping off the cream every morning before pouring milk on our cereal. I remember when Pizza Pops were new…and plastic bottles began to replace the glass ones in the pop machines. Schools sent home lists of items needed for crafts and projects, like empty egg cartons and toilet paper rolls. We didn’t recycle back then, at least not the way we recycle today with our curbside bins and depots, yet I think we were less wasteful, more resourceful.

Society has changed over the years since I was a child, and I’m not certain that all our changes have been positive. Convenience is king these days, which means so much is disposable, cheaply made, filled with chemicals and preservatives, and frequently over-packaged. I am not an environmental activist, but I do believe in being a good steward of what has been given to us. We have one life on this one planet. How do you want to live it? How do you want to leave the world for those that come after you?

Everyone makes their own decisions about what they value and how they want to live. I get that, and I am not the lecturing type. As for me, I have been striving to make even better choices as often as I can (and remember). Small steps take one forward and sometimes make the journey less traumatic than trying to make massive changes all at once. We’ve had reusable cloth shopping bags for years, but I haven’t always been good at remembering to use them. Over the past several months, I have been working to improve in that area and have seen measurable success. I have used a reusable water bottle for several years now, but I struggle to be as consistent with my reusable coffee mugs. My daughter just introduced me to a shampoo bar, and despite my skepticism, I liked it enough to make that my next shampoo purchase. I’ve been making my own facial scrub for quite some time. It’s a simple combination of coconut oil, baking soda, and essential oils, and I love using it.

I don’t garden; my thumbs are pitch black. There is a composter in my backyard, but it has sat untouched for years and never amounted to much when I did use it. Maybe I didn’t completely understand how to use it effectively, or perhaps my failures flow out of my black thumbs. I don’t know, but it sits there idle and avoided by everyone but the wasps. I’d like to figure it out one day, and maybe I will.

I don’t always get to our local Farmers Market on a consistent basis, but I do try to purchase most of my fruit and vegetables from local producers. Thankfully I live in an area where this is easily accomplished. Local honey. Kombucha. Wines. Etc.

Packaging is one thing that has been bothering me a lot lately. I understand that some products need to be packaged, but I do not understand why three pairs of underwear need to be individually folded over pieces of cardboard, taped to another piece of cardboard, and then wrapped in plastic. (I’m looking at you, Calvin Klein!) While I cannot always eliminate packaging, I am beginning to look for items that are not heavily packaged.

So, I’m doing my part to keep myself and my planet healthy and vibrant. Often it may feel like a waste of time and effort, but there is also kind of a thrill in knowing that you are making positive changes, even on an individually small scale.

The Email & The Outcome

Without looking back through old emails and paperwork, I have lost track of just how many times I have submitted paperwork with the unmet hope of being permitted to return to work, but I can confidently say it has been at least three times since I first went on medical leave at the beginning of last December. In each of those instances, I was hopeful about returning to work, even though I was still in significant pain and limited mobility. Having my return denied on each of those occasions was equal parts frustration, disappointment, and relief. It is truly mind-boggling how many hoops must be jumped through as one wades through the layers of medical care/treatments, a medical leave from work, employment insurance, and short-term disability. At times I have felt as if I had been dropped in a foreign land where English is non-existent, and I still kind of feel that way today.

Last week, I submitted a fresh functional abilities form to the leave of absence team and began holding my breath once more. I felt hopeful and more optimistic that I’d be approved this time, but I had felt fairly hopeful the last time, too. And yet, this time felt different. Although I cannot say that I am pain-free or symptom-free, there has been a distinct improvement between how I feel today compared to three months ago when I had my leave extended. As I lie here typing, my back is somewhat achy and mild electric currents and tingling are coursing through my legs and feet. Then there is the permanent numbness in my left foot and calf…but everything, every ache, pain, and symptom is generally tolerable these days. It would be nice to return to work free of pain and symptoms, but I could still be a long way from that outcome, if it is even ever going to happen.

This morning, the email I had been waiting for arrived in my inbox, and I hesitated a moment before opening it. I think I have re-read that email about a dozen times since this morning, making certain that I haven’t imagined it or misread the content. I have been approved for a gradual return to work with a few minor modifications and accommodations to my ongoing recovery. My leave of absence officially ends on July 3rd, eight months after my injury and seven months after going on medical leave!

I am excited about going back to work, although I am sure nervous butterflies will settle in my stomach the closer I get to that first shift back. So much has changed in the months I have been gone! My numbers might be slightly off, but I think there are seven new staff members I have never worked with before. There have been a few staff members who have left in the time I have been gone. There are new products and procedures, new hours and new customers. I know that I am a decently quick learner and I’m sure everything will come back to me once I am back to it, however, I do feel out of the loop and out of sync. But I get to return to work!

Be Kind & Mischievous

“I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.” ~Mary Oliver

I do not always know what other people think of me, and I try not to care about that too much. But I do wonder sometimes. How do people perceive me, and does that perception line up with how I see myself?

I know that I am not always the easiest person to get to know. Ever the introvert, I open my doors cautiously, slowly, and there are many doors to pass through. It took my husband twenty years to realize that I have a thing for shoes, because I have kept that passion locked up tight. It’s not that my love for shoes was a secret I felt I needed to hide; in fact, I was actually surprised that my husband hadn’t been aware of it. (I think he knew it and simply forgot!) My reasons for not indulging in shoes have been financial (I had three kids burning through shoes on a regular basis.) and practical (Where am I going to wear 4 inch stilettos? And honestly, the heels I love are brutal on the body.) My shoe example might point more towards my husband’s attention to detail than my being difficult to know!

After powerlifting competitions, I have been told that I am so calm and cool on the platform. I go out and do my thing without drama or some grand production. That is just how I often tend to be. When I am at work, I tend to be mostly calm and cool and focused on the tasks at hand. In social situations, I am much the same. I might be trembling like a leaf with doubt and insecurity on the inside, yet I’m easy-going, calm, and doing what needs doing. But don’t let my calm manner and cool exterior fool you!

I know how to be silly and mischievous. I even sing, although usually when alone in my car or while doing housework or with my daughter when Bohemian Rhapsody comes on the radio. Green hair isn’t a shocking sight these days, but it definitely wasn’t common when I was a teenager, who on a dare sat in the front row at church with green hair. There are too many times to count when my family rolls their eyes at my fan girl freak outs over Star Wars and Wonder Woman, but I am a 46 years old fan girl! Fingernail polish and flashy jewelry are not permitted at my work place, but I have always enjoyed expressing myself through the colours painted on my nails and big, funky earrings. Sometimes I forget that about myself, because I have grown so used to being work place compliant. Kindness is something I know how to do, to be, even though I fail miserably at times.

Kindness can turn around and bite you though, and I bear many unseen scars. Earlier today, I found myself reading something I wrote quite a few months ago, which brought some of those scars to the forefront of my mind. The words I wrote were in response to being bitten by the very kindness I had given away. There is a measure of sadness in the memory, a touch of anger at the injustice, but mostly, I think, I feel so far removed from that actual attack. It happened, and I still don’t understand what doesn’t make sense. But I do believe that kindness is still a valuable commodity worth sharing with others.

Self Worth Project

I am having a love/hate relationship with summer this year, or more appropriately perhaps, my issue is related to my body more than the weather. Although my favourite season is Fall, I really do enjoy Spring and Summer, when warmer weather means bare feet, shorts, and tank tops instead of fuzzy socks, jeans and heavy sweaters. But I have been feeling dismay and disgust increasing along with the temperature outside, and my feelings are firmly rooted in my physical appearance. I know better than to focus on the scale, a size, or the image reflected in my mirror. I have fought that battle before and come out victorious, yet here I am again. Still.

Hurting my back has impacted my life in many ways and for much longer than I ever thought possible, so I also understand and accept that I will be in a state of “recovery” for quite some time and in many ways. My activity level has been severely hampered for months. Not only have I been unable to train for powerlifting or with significant weight or intensity, but my every day activities of work and life were wiped out. When you add months of medication with a weight-gain side effect, it really shouldn’t be surprising that I’ve gained some weight and look like a potato.

Now that the hot weather is here, I am finding it difficult to ignore the weight gain. I cannot easily hide under layers of loose clothing anymore, but finding cooler, comfortable clothing that doesn’t make me feel like a potato is almost impossible. After nearly eight months of wearing leggings and yoga pants almost exclusively, one of my biggest moments of panic about the possibility of returning to work soon is wondering how I am going to fit into work-suitable clothing again. Although I am a long way from being pain and symptom-free, every bit of progress and improvement makes me feel excited and hopeful that I will be back to normal again soon. Perhaps I get too excited in my expectations of being back to normal, thinking that it should have happened last week even though today might have been the first “good” day in a month. Sigh.

I also know that the only one who is actually critical of how I look is me. Even if someone were to mock my body, my confidence in myself is solid enough to see through the bluster and discard the garbage, but it isn’t so easy to stop insulting myself. Isn’t that the way it usually goes…being our own worst critic?

As I continue to heal, I know that I will return to work. I will regain strength and conditioning, and my weight and body composition will change. I know this to be true. In the here and now though, between the moment of injury and the day I am completely normal again, my confidence in the truth is often shaky. This isn’t where I thought I would be. This being less than isn’t who I want to be. In all honesty, I think this frustration of not being who I was is the ultimate source of my disgust with myself now.

Puddle-wonderful

Pluviophile

-a lover of rain; someone who finds joy and peace of mind during rainy days

We’ve had some hot days recently. Hot enough for my husband to claim “heat exhaustion” as the reason for his after work nap yesterday, even though he naps on the sofa virtually every day. This morning started out quite warm and bright, but dark clouds rolled in mid-afternoon, plunging my normally sunny kitchen and living room into darkness. Soon there were little rumbles and grumbles to be heard, and I interrupted my indoor activity to step outside for a while to enjoy the cooling breeze with its hints of rain.

The back door leads from my kitchen to the deck, and the maple tree is beside the deck, close enough to provide afternoon shade and to touch leaves and branches without reaching too far. I love the maple tree, but it requires frequent clean up through the seasons: wind-blown blossoms in the spring, “fidget spinner” seeds in summer and, of course, the leaves in fall. Even though I had swept the deck only a few days ago, everything was once again covered with seeds. I grabbed the broom and began to sweep, even as I felt the first sporadic drops of rain on my bare arms. I called out to my daughter to open all of the windows as the rain drops got bigger and fell faster.

Back inside to resume the house cleaning tasks I had temporarily abandoned, I still frequently found myself in front of an open window, nose to the screen inhaling the fresh, earthy scent of the storm. I love the rain, especially when it comes in the form of an afternoon thunderstorm. The storms and rain never last quite long enough, although our cat would argue that they last far too long her liking.

“The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.”

~ ee cummings

I don’t think we got enough rain to leave any puddles behind, but the fresh scent is still wafting in through the windows. The dark clouds have long since moved on, leaving blue sky and a few straggly white clouds in their place. Although I seldom scope out the weather forecast, it wouldn’t surprise me if tomorrow is another hot and mostly sunny day. I suppose that’s okay, too.