Sleep vs. Shoulders

Sleep was elusive last night, so I am sipping a quad grande Americano as I am reclining on my heating pad. I had a physiotherapy appointment this morning, and the IMS (some with electricity) always leaves my body feeling bruised and battered. Today should be a gym day, but my resolve dissolved with my sleep-deprived fumbles to shut off my alarm this morning. Even if I had slept better, I don’t know why I thought I might be capable of training immediately after physio. I can go to the gym later today or, more likely, tomorrow morning.

My brain feels full to overflowing, yet that is not what kept me awake. Last night was all about the body rather than the brain. My shoulders were the main culprits, but their crankiness affected the rest of my body as I struggled to find a comfortable position in which to sleep. The shoulders act up every once in a while, but last night seemed to come out of nowhere. The low back was a bit tender and achy, and there was the ever present uncomfortable sensations in my legs. Honestly though, I blame it all on the shoulders. I am a side sleeper.

Despite the post-physio aches, my appointment went well. It was pointed out to me that, although I may not see it day in and day out, from my physiotherapist’s perspective, he is seeing good progress. He asked how I was feeling about returning to work soon. I get asked about returning to work a lot, but his question somehow seemed different, more probing maybe, and I was able to be more reflective and honest in my response. Mentally I am more than ready to get back to work! Physically, I am a little nervous. I know I am much improved and moving better, but I also know that I will still need to be careful, to ask for help and modify some of my tasks. I am nervous about being on my feet for hours and hours at a time. Since sitting is uncomfortable and often painful, even my breaks will be spent on my feet. Although I’ve been trying to mimic some of my work movements at home, I haven’t attempted staying on my feet for several hours at a time. So I am eager to get back to work but cautiously nervous. My physiotherapist feels that I will be fine, so long as I do use appropriate caution and ask for help. He did also warn me that it would be completely normal to experience an increase in pain and soreness during the first few weeks back to work, which I think I knew subconsciously but it was good to have it pointed out.

I need a nap. Or more coffee. Probably more coffee. Naps never seem to work for me, no matter how tired I am.

 

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Smashing Lemons

I spent some time this afternoon writing in my paper journal, catching up on the past 2 months or so since I last wrote in its pages. Part of catching up involved casting my glance 3 weeks from now to the Canadian Powerlifting Union’s National Championships in Calgary. I had intended on being there to compete. This had been my goal since 2015, and I worked hard to check off the prerequisites necessary to get me there. Herniating my disc changed the course of this part of my journey. Instead of heading to Calgary in a few weeks, I will be freshly back to work after a 2.5 month medical leave of absence. I made peace with not being able to take part in Nationals a long time ago, because there wasn’t really any other choice. There is no way that I could have been physically healthy enough to compete, and so I also had to accept that I cannot foresee when I will be able to compete again.

Knowing the reality of my situation and the unpredictability of recovery, I can only look at future competitions with a dispassionate eye. However, as I was writing this afternoon, I found myself revisiting my ultimate goal of competing at Nationals. Not for this year…obviously! But not making it this year will place me nearly all the way back at square one. Those prerequisites I checked off over the past two years will need to be checked off again.

  1. compete at BCPA event and obtain a qualifying Wilks total for Provincials
  2. compete at Provincials and obtain a qualifying Wilks total for Westerns
  3. compete at Westerns and obtain a qualifying Wilks total for Nationals

Qualifying totals must be achieved within 24 months of a Championship event, which means that the total that qualified me for Nationals will “expire” in August of this year. While I think my last BCPA total might be good enough to qualify me for Westerns this year, I would still need to compete at Provincials in June. It would be lovely to compete in June; however, I do not know if that will even be physically possible. No matter how much I want to return to powerlifting, I am not in a rush to do so at the sake of my health. So if I don’t compete at Provincials, then there will definitely not be a trip to Westerns this year, which also means that there will not be a trip to Nationals in 2019. As I wrote, I realized that the earliest I could possibly get to Nationals will be 2020…two full years from now!

Seeing all the steps and timeline laid out is rather depressing. I understand why the prerequisites exist and have no issues there; it is just frustrating to see all my hard work evaporate in an instant and to see how long it can take to get back to where I was. It is in that knowledge where the sourness of the lemon puckers and stings. I’m not sure there is enough sugar to make that lemonade drinkable. It sucks and I’d much rather throw that lemon into a brick wall with as much force as I could muster.

 

 

A Little Less Conversation

Conversation is not where my strengths lie. I can exchange casual dialogue with a stranger, a customer, an old acquaintance bumped into in the unexpected places. I can plaster a smile on my face and respond pleasantly, graciously, even when dealing with the obnoxious, the slimy liar, or the downright creepy. While I can generally navigate these conversational minefields, the process can be mentally exhausting and damaging. A statement that strays too close to personal might hit a soft target or stir up lingering fears and doubts. Even when the conversation isn’t quite so perilous, there is always the strain of needing to be on, to have a response or reciprocal question.

It is seldom simple or easy to be an introvert in our extrovert-focused culture, and I find myself frequently at odds with how I think and feel compared to the expectations impressed upon me. I relish quiet and solitude and being left to my own devices, and yet, there are instances when I enjoy a little bit more noise and a few more people. Being on a leave of absence for almost 2 months has meant that I have had more time of solitude than is typical for me. (Except for around Christmas! With the holidays and sick family, I had no space, no quiet, no solitude.) Days and weeks of being stuck mostly at home have made me feel isolated, bored, and restless.

I left the house yesterday and surrounded myself with people. Mostly, it was good…good to get out, good to see people and even talk to a few, and good to return back home to safety. In the course of being with people, a brief conversation was begun with a couple I do not know well at all. It wasn’t a bad conversation, but I found myself glad and relieved to have had it interrupted and abandoned.

The brief conversation moved rapidly from exchanging hellos to an inquiry into the state of my back. As is frequently the case when I have been in the midst of a conversation I wasn’t prepared for, replaying it in my mind later is like watching a pinball game in the hands of an expert. I say expert, because that is the only way I see the little ball bounce and ricochet and speed through the obstacles. In my hands, the ball shoots up, around, and straight through the hole at the bottom. Anyway, I am not adverse to talking about my back, my injury, my love for powerlifting, etc. and so on, but I don’t enjoy wasting my breath and enthusiasm speaking about something that another has no interest in listening to or understanding. Differing opinions are okay, but a closed opinion is not.

I was quickly asked if I was going to return to lifting weights. Before I could even open my mouth to respond, someone else spoke for me with absolute confidence in the correctness of the statement. I would not ever be able to do the things I used to do! How does one even begin to respond to such a statement in the course of an extremely brief conversation that really allows for nothing more than exchanging pleasantries? And this is one reason why I do not enjoy such little, forced conversations! Either you fake a connection by exchanging hellos and maybe a tidbit about the weather or some similarly benign topic, or you jump in with both feet into a conversation too deep for the moment leaving at least one party feeling more alienated than they had been before.

I am an easy-going person, eager to please and easily pleased. I have no trouble whatsoever being told what to do by certain individuals for specific situations. I listen to my boss. I listen to my spouse. I listen to my health care practitioners. I listen to my coach. I listen to those who speak with wisdom and experience. Do I always make the right choices? Probably not. I am human, after all; however, I do strive to make good choices based on what is right and best.

It’s been almost 3 months since I herniated my disc, and I am closer to “normal” now than I was even a few weeks ago. There is no specific timeline for healing this type of injury, and I think it would be foolish to even attempt to create such a timeline. Every body is different and so are the injuries and healing. I want to heal well and properly, which means that I am trying my best to listen to my body and to my health care team. Do I want to continue to lift weights? To compete in powerlifting? Yes and yes. I can be honest in admitting that I do not know what I do not know. When will I be able to compete again? Don’t know. When will I be able to put a barbell on my back again? Still don’t know. Will I ever be able to challenge my own records? Nope, don’t know. But not knowing is not the same as accepting that it will never happen!

As much as I haven’t enjoyed these past few months of being injured, I have been purposeful in allowing myself the time and space to heal. My leave of absence ends in two weeks, even if the process of healing will continue for an undetermined length of time. I have taken the pain medication that I hate taking. I have gone to my physiotherapy appointments and faithfully done my physio homework. I have continued going to the gym, walking past the heavy weights, and immersed myself in the safe, gentle, and back-friendly exercises that I have been permitted to do. Sometimes I have chafed under my limitations, but I have never once believed that life as I knew it is over now that I have hurt my back. I know how to work for what I want. I know how to claw my way out of the muck and fight for my goals. It is my intention to lift heavy weights again and to step back onto a powerlifting platform, so I didn’t appreciate being told that I would never be able to do that again.

Let me clarify that last bit. I didn’t appreciate being told that I would never be able to do that again by someone without the proper credentials. The person who made the statement has apparently experienced a back injury of their own at some point in time, and obviously that person’s life has never been the same again. That’s fair! I can appreciate that perspective, but I don’t think it is as simple as that. What kind of back injury? What kind of treatment to heal? How proactive in allowing healing to take place? There are all sorts of questions that would need to be answered before I could give weight to such a statement based upon an experience. My own experience with this injury would be rather different if I didn’t seek treatment promptly, if I didn’t take a leave of absence from work, if I didn’t follow my physiotherapist’s protocols, and so on. So no, if you want to tell me point blank that I cannot do something, then you’d better have more behind your statement than personal experience.

I want to lift weights and powerlift again. That’s my goal. That’s the plan. However, there are a few people in my life who do have the proper credentials to influence my plans and goals. If one of those people were to tell me that I should not, then I would at least listen and give serious thought to what they had to say and the reasons for saying it. Would I like it? Probably not but that would be a conversation worth engaging in.

Ownership

Grey gave way to blue sky and yellow sun this afternoon, and for a moment my restlessness gave way as well. The sun has slipped back into its hiding place behind the layers of cold, grey clouds. As I type I can feel a figurative finger pressing into my skull between my eyes, eyes that feel scratchy and tired and leaky. My body is reclining, because sitting is painful, uncomfortable, something to be avoided as much as possible. For the first time in nearly three months, I can recline and feel only minimal tendrils of pain in my legs. Instead of non-stop electric currents of pain from butt to toes, I am now getting sporadic shards and spasms in my butt, in my calf. This is progress and it makes me happy, but I feel heavily weighed down by restlessness, boredom, and the darkness that swirls within. I have been feeling this way for days.

This morning, while the day was still dismal and grey, I drove to the gym, grumbling under my breath at the idiots on the road and in the parking lot. As is my habit, I parked at the far end of the parking lot and I trudged, lost in my own negative self-talk. Suddenly I heard a voice call out, “Hello, beautiful Angela!” I looked up and towards the road to see a friend waving as she drove past. Outwardly I smiled and waved back, but inwardly I was already thinking about the less than beautiful parts of me: the eyebrows that had been left to grow wild for almost three months and the hair that still carried the scent of dry shampoo. I carried those thoughts into the gym with me, and I am certain they shaded my confidence with more doubt than I should really have felt in the circumstance.

In my grey days I struggle to like myself. The gross fuzzy caterpillar eyebrows had been annoying me for at least a month, but they were well past being rescued by a pair of tweezers. I had intended on washing my hair last night, then there was no point washing it before the gym this morning. Self-care gets dicey on the grey days. It’s a vicious circle; however, in fairness, these grey days are based more on the boredom and restlessness of being on medical leave since early December.

I am trying to chase the clouds away, even if it seems as if I’m using my breath when hurricane strength winds would be more effective. Today I am choosing to accept what belongs to me, even if I need to double check the name on the gift.

take the compliment

do not shy away from

another thing that belongs to you

~rupi kaur

Agree to Disagree?

I have spent a great deal of time searching for and sifting through information about herniated discs since my own herniation at the beginning of November. There is so much information on the internet, and it has been challenging to sift the good information from the bad. So several weeks ago when I stumbled upon an online support group for people with herniated discs, I joined. I’m not sure what I expected from such a group, but I was almost instantly overwhelmed by the broad scope and complexities of this one group. People of all ages from all over the world with all sorts of herniations, treatments, medications, and opinions.

Normally I avoid taking part in online arguments or inflammatory conversations, because such conversations seldom go well and benefit no one. The loudest voices in such conversations tend to come from those with the biggest attitudes, the narrowest minds, and an unwillingness to expand their knowledge. I will never claim to have all the right answers, but I do like to be considerate and thoughtful in my perspective and responses. I’m even willing to agree to disagree! Well…unless you think Star Trek is better than Star Wars! 😉

Yesterday morning there was a conversation regarding a specific home treatment…an inversion table. Although I have yet to try an inversion table, I do own one and have talked to my chiropractor more than once about using it. I shared my thoughts on the table in this discussion, mainly the fact that my chiropractor had discouraged my using the table when my herniation was new and has now said I can try it with care and caution. It wasn’t too long before someone replied directly to my comment by stating that my chiropractor wouldn’t want me to use an inversion table because it would keep me from seeing him and giving him lots of money.

And that’s when I broke my unspoken rule to avoid argumentative online discussions! Kind of anyway. I did manage to keep my response civil and non-threatening. I agreed that there are many chiropractors who are exactly like that, but then I said there are indeed good chiropractors out there and mine is one of them. My chiropractor’s concerns about my using an inversion table had nothing to do with keeping me coming to see him for treatment and everything to do with ensuring I was being treated properly and safely. Since herniating my disc, I’ve seen my chiropractor 3 times. The first was when he initially diagnosed the herniation, and he performed no treatment at all. The second was because my neck was in desperate need of an adjustment, and again no treatment on the back. The last and most recent visit was primarily motivated, on my part, by the need for an adjustment on my neck and concern over my knee/hamstring. He did a bit of treatment and said to come back in a month or so. I know I can be highly skeptical at times, but that doesn’t sound like my chiropractor is looking to keep me coming back like a yo-yo.

I made my post. There was no further response, but I was highly irritated for a few hours after the fact. That took me by surprise, because I don’t even get that upset over bad drivers. My fits of anger or irritation are typically as short-lived as a lit match. I was so upset that I considered blogging about it right then and there, but sanity prevailed enough to use my annoyance for more productive things, like cleaning the bathroom. Today, as I type this blog post, I am no longer angry or irritated, but I think I am dismayed.

I like my chiropractor, and I will always speak highly of his integrity and practice. However, I know from experience that not all chiropractors are the same. I respect my chiropractor and ones like him…not so much the other kind! And yet, I think my irritation stems from something more than just the broad insult directed towards chiropractors. I think the problem is the nature of many online groups, regardless of the reason for their existence.

I joined this support group, because I was looking for support, emotional and informational, from people who knew exactly what I was dealing with. While there was definitely some of that support, there was also a lot of contradictory information and information that wasn’t relevant to my situation. After seeing many people’s stories, I have come to believe that my herniation wasn’t all that bad! Certainly I haven’t been having a sunny picnic these past few months, and my pain and struggles cannot be compared to those of another. But there are people with multiple herniations! People who have been suffering intense pain for years, even decades! People who can’t get out of bed, can’t walk, can’t function on the most basic level. Those aren’t my experiences, and my own feel shallow in comparison.

I have seen posts asking for advice on every topic related to our injuries that you could possibly imagine, and sometimes I wonder why. Why are some of these questions even being asked in an online support group? Shouldn’t you ask your doctor, chiropractor, physiotherapist, surgeon, pharmacist, whatever? Do you not know how to do a google search to find out the side effects of whatever drug you’ve been prescribed? And even if you still want the human perspective on your question, why is it so difficult for people to hear opinions and experiences that differ from their own? Why assume the worst? If Joe says that back extensions really helped with his back pain, then why trash back extensions simply because the exercise wasn’t helpful for you?

I recognize that there is a measure of irony in my complaining about online groups, and putting my thoughts into words is difficult sometimes. I know there can be value to online groups, but I suppose I have little tolerance for scenarios where some ideas are immediately shot down for no other reason than that someone holds a different one. Jane shares a post about eating well to reduce inflammation. A dozen or more posts soon follow which ridicule Jane’s post as being irrelevant and ineffectual. Hey, if you want to eat refined and heavily processed food with nary a vegetable in sight, that’s your choice and you’re welcome to it. But why the stubborn arrogance? Not everyone wants to rush into surgery or pop pills forever to deal with the pain. Some people are willing to consider alternatives. Some people are willing to look at our bodies as complex, inter-connected machines, which will run and heal more efficiently when we treat all its areas properly. Jane’s not demanding that everyone give up their fast food. Jane’s just offering an alternative point of view. Thankfully, some people get it. Unfortunately, the internet is full of people who don’t, and I don’t have time or energy to waste on the negative. Well, I’ve got the time right now, but I am not so inclined to waste it in such a forum. I do have a life to live, and I plan on living it.

Guess that means I’m going to have to leave the group.

Bumpy-wumpy

“Time isn’t a straight line. It’s all…bumpy-wumpy. There’s loads of boring stuff. Like Sundays and Tuesdays and Thursday afternoons. But now and then there are Saturdays.” ~The Doctor, The Impossible Astronaut

Most of my days are heavily laden with boring stuff especially of late. I miss going to work with my amazing co-workers and interacting with our wonderful customers. Being on a medical leave is boring. Almost every day my husband asks me what my day is going to look like. I haven’t had anything overly interesting to say in response, although I suppose I could make something up. My days look almost identical. Drag myself out of bed. In varying order: eat, drink coffee, get dressed. Go to the gym three times a week. Do my rehab exercises at home every day. Eat lunch. Drink water and more coffee. Apply heat to my back. Walk around aimlessly in search of something to do. Perform a few light cleaning tasks or tackle a cluttered spot. Read the news online. Make dinner. More heat to the back. Go to bed and lie awake for 2 hours. Sleep. Wake up once or twice and lie awake some more. Repeat.

The good news is that as the back continues to heal so does my ability to move and engage in somewhat normal tasks for short periods of time. I might not be doing much in the grand scheme of things, but I am making progress. I can do more, but I still need to listen to my body. Yesterday I was finishing up sorting the stuff stored under my bed. All I was really doing was putting a few bins back under the bed after sweeping up all the dust bunnies. It didn’t take long for my back to ache from the forward bending, even though I was on my knees. I’m healing but not finished yet.

This week I have been doing a little bit of light weight bench pressing with my feet up on the bench to keep my back flat. It has been so good to touch a barbell again, something I haven’t done since November 4, 2017 when I herniated my disc. As exciting as it is to be able to do some almost normal bench pressing, I also realize that I still need to be mindful and slow with my progress. As I was benching today, there was one rep where my lower back arched ever so slightly. Seriously, it was barely perceptible, but I immediately felt mild discomfort in my back. I made sure I flattened my back before the next rep and all was okay again.

A couple of weeks ago I tried some goblet squats with maybe 10 pounds and felt discomfort in my back. The goblet was abandoned, but I was able to use that same weight to squat with the weight held with arms straight down. Today I tried the goblet squats again using 15 pounds, and it was all good. A forward step of progress! But I still know that putting a barbell on my back is not going to happen anytime soon.

The left leg continues to be a nuisance. You know, I think that the numbness in my left foot is slowly diminishing, although watch it flare up again now that I’ve made such a bold statement! 😉 A lessening in numbness is progress, no matter how slight the difference. In general, the left leg pain has been slightly less since last Friday, but it was slightly more again last night, waking me up a couple of times. I skipped doing leg curls today, because of the surge of leg pain last night and the way the leg was feeling today. It’s a process and a reminder that healing takes time and that timeline is not straight at all! It’s all bumpy-wumpy.

But tomorrow actually is Saturday and I feel kind of excited about it. No particular reason why and no particular plans for the day yet. There is just something lovely about have a wide-open Saturday.

Breaking Through

Just stop your crying

Have the time of your life

Breaking through the atmosphere

Things are pretty good from here

Remember everything will be alright

~Sign of the Times~Harry Styles

It has been more than 10 weeks since I herniated a disc. In many ways, it feels as if I have been dealing with this injury for a much longer period of time. My memory of those early days is already growing fuzzy around the edges, and yet I am glad that I haven’t experienced that same pain intensity for several weeks now. The pain during those first few weeks was on a level that I have rarely experienced. As resistant to the idea as I was at the time, taking a medical leave of absence from work was a wise decision as it has allowed me time and space to heal. The pain intensity changed once I was no longer going to work, and I gradually began to see some progress in my mobility. But I still had constant numbness in my left leg and nerve pain in both legs every single time I laid down. Despite physiotherapy, rehab exercises, and three prescription drugs, I would still feel that leg pain when lying down, and my sleep suffered because of it. My mood, while mostly positive, would still plummet quickly from sleep deprivation, endless pain, and the frustration of feeling stuck with no end in sight. Then last Friday happened.

I had a physio appointment. There is nothing out of the ordinary about that…I’ve had quite a few physio appointments since herniating a disc. I was put through the usual barrage of physical tests and performed them all better than I had at my previous visit two weeks prior. My physiotherapist said that the disc is healing very well based on how I am moving my body. This was good news for me to hear, as I had been feeling improvements in my ability to move and use my body. It was also a relief to know that the disc actually is well on its way to healing, because the pain in my legs often makes me feel as if healing is such a long ways off.

The disc is doing well, so what’s up with the nerve pain in the legs? My physiotherapist said that it looks as if the nerve is stuck on sending pain signals and needs to be re-trained on how to function normally. Okay. I am not a sciencey, medically knowledgeable person, but the explanation made sense to me. My physiotherapist’s course of action was to continue with the IMS treatment on my back, but then he would leave one needle in my back and place one in the back of my left leg and attach electricity to both. At the same time. Do you know how that feels? It is uncomfortable bordering on intensely painful, depending on the frequency of the electrical current. The muscles with the needles in them twitch to the frequency of the current, and you have absolutely no control over that. With my leg and back muscles twitching at the same time, I literally felt like a fish flopping on the ground. At one point, my physiotherapist asked how I was doing. My “okay” must not have been too convincing, because he then asked if I was sure that I was okay. I don’t know that my “yes” was any more convincing, as I lay there flopping and silently gasping, but I survived the process. After all of that, I was once again asked to perform the same physical tests, and my performance was even better than it had been at the start of my appointment. This was good news and means that I will be similarly tortured again, but the good news doesn’t end there.

I left my appointment Friday morning feeling slightly stiff and sore in the areas where the IMS had been done which is quite normal. During the course of any day, I have periods of activity and periods of laying down. As the day wore on, I noticed that there was a difference in the leg pain when I would recline in the living room. The pain wasn’t completely gone, but there was a definitive difference in a mostly positive way! The left leg, which has always been the worst, felt significantly less pain and the pain I did feel was changing from the norm. I went to bed that night and slept better than I have for a while. I do not know why, but my right hip now hurts more intensely.

It’s now been several days since that physio treatment, but I feel excited and hopeful. A week ago, I couldn’t see an end to this struggle and, while it might be a stretch to say I can see an end now, the truth is that at least now an end actually feels possible. The pain in my legs isn’t gone. I am laying down as I am typing this blog post, and there is pain in my legs; however, it is less than it used to be! The pain that I am feeling is changing in its very nature. My physiotherapist once said that pain concentrating to one area is good, spreading pain is not good. It no longer feels like my pain is spreading. Is it concentrating? Sometimes it feels that way, but even when it doesn’t there is still that sense of the pain being different, in a good way. When I go to bed at night, leg pain isn’t waking me up several times through the night. Leg pain isn’t keeping me awake for hours before falling asleep. Unfortunately, I am still having trouble falling or staying asleep for the first few hours, but I’m just relieved that the leg pain isn’t the cause anymore.

The pain isn’t gone, but I feel hopeful. I am almost excited about my next physio appointment…until I remember the awkward flopping and pain!