In The Moment

When I pull my brain back from tomorrow and my heart from yesterday, I live with joy today.

(I came across that quote somewhere a while back, but I have no idea who originally said or wrote it.)

It’s been a weird week. There was the unexpected follow up appointment with the neurosurgeon and a couple of surprise announcements that are going to take some time to process and accept. After a deload week in my training, I began this week expecting a fresh training week feeling strong and fresh, but that never quite materialized. At the gym on Wednesday, I wanted to throw a kettlebell through a wall, because the back was so achy and uncomfortable, and I cannot always avoid feeling frustrated and stuck. I had no anger or frustration issues at the gym today; however, my mood was drooping and I simply felt tired and weak.

I didn’t sleep well at all last night, probably the worst night in a while now. Sleep has been tricky since the start of this injury, but the past few months has at least allowed me to settle into a reasonable, functional rhythm of lying awake, falling asleep, lots of tossing and position changes, and a few wakeful periods. Last night had plenty of tossing and position changes and lying awake…not so much sleep though. It wasn’t all due to the physical symptoms. The brain was racing for the first hour or two, twisting problems into knots before unraveling them to start over again, but the brain did eventually quiet and settle. Still no sleep. Despite the central air-conditioning and bedroom fan blowing, I felt too hot, too uncomfortable. The lack of sleep probably didn’t help me out at the gym this morning.

Although I stopped taking my prescriptions more than a month ago, I still have them. Lots of them actually because the last refill had been a big one. In all the time that I was on the medications, I never felt like they made a difference in the pain or symptoms, which is why I stopped taking them. I hate taking medication, but there are moments when I pause to consider the vials on my counter. What if I was wrong about the impact they made on the pain I felt? As much as my current pain levels are a far cry from what they used to be, I am still in pain. All of the time. It sucks. It saps energy and life from your body. It eats away at you from the inside and wears you down. Most of the time I can look beyond the pain and discomfort, but there are moments, sometimes days, when that is difficult to do. I think today is one of those days. Perhaps most of the week has been like that, and certainly my body is still re-learning and adjusting to being back at work, even if with limited hours.

I am tired, frustrated, and hurting, yet the day was not all gloom.

I got to go to the gym today! Although this injury has significantly impacted my ability to train as I would like, I am still of the mindset that going to the gym is a positive. My body might not always enjoy working out these days, but I am always glad to be able to do it.

My youngest son came by today. Sure, he was only here to pick up some mail, but that’s two days in a row I got to see my baby boy.

It’s far too easy to allow pain, fatigue, and low mood to throw road blocks in front of any sort of productivity I might have planned, but I managed to get a few things done today.

I laughed. Not the fake laugh one does when being polite but genuine laughter. Mostly at my own expense and that’s okay. It was still the sort of laughter that lessens the weightiness of whatever is sitting on your shoulders. And I didn’t laugh alone, which only increases its’ potency.

I finished off one book and began another. You would think that someone who had been off work and essentially idle for seven months would have read plenty of books, but the pain was too distracting and my head too foggy to focus on written words up until recently.

 

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Trust Your Gut

I received an unexpected phone call late Tuesday afternoon. It was the neurosurgeon’s office asking me to come in on Thursday to go over the results from the CT scan I had done at the end of June. The phone call unsettled me a bit, because I hadn’t been expecting it. The scan was more than two weeks ago, and I honestly didn’t expect it to show anything vastly different than the MRI done last December, which meant I had no reason to expect a follow up appointment. When I had seen the neurosurgeon in May, he told me that my situation was not bad enough to require surgery. He said he would send me for a CT scan to ensure that there wasn’t something else going on since the MRI, but he told me that without anything more I wasn’t a surgical candidate and could only look at a cortisone shot as my best option. Despite my ongoing symptoms and the impact they have on my life, I wholly realize that my situation is far from being on the truly bad end of the scale. I walked out of that initial appointment feeling as if I would never be back there, but here I was asked to come back and I wasn’t sure why that would be.

In my experience, and the experience of many others, doctors generally DO NOT call you back in to go over results unless there is a problem. After my initial consultation with the surgeon, I had no reason to expect anything else. He didn’t indicate that he’d personally see me to explain the results, and both my husband and I walked out with the same understanding that the surgeon would have no further interaction with me unless the CT revealed something unexpected. I was okay with that understanding. It’s the way the medical system tends to operate. So the request to come in was confusing to me. Was there actually something bad enough inside of my spine to require surgery, or was the surgeon going against the norm by calling me in to inform me that the results were the same as before? I couldn’t imagine the waste of time to tell me the same thing, but I also couldn’t imagine there suddenly being enough there to change the surgeon’s mind.

As I drove to my appointment this afternoon, butterflies swirled in my belly as I tried to talk myself out of being stressed out. To be perfectly honest, I expected this to be a waste of my time, because that just seems to be my experience throughout these months of dealing with this injury. And I don’t know why I was nervous anyway. The prospect of surgery wasn’t scary, as I had had plenty of time to process the idea long before I ever first saw the surgeon. Even the thought of not having surgery had been processed and accepted since that initial appointment, so the ultimate outcome of this follow up appointment really wasn’t going to upset me. Surgery? Great. No surgery? Great. Still I was nervous, but I shouldn’t have been. I should have listened to my instincts.

What a complete waste of time that appointment was! Between driving there and back and waiting past my scheduled time, I lost an hour of my time and the cost of paying for parking, only to spend five minutes with the surgeon and being told the exact same thing I had been told in May. My situation is not bad enough to require surgery. My best option is to get my family doctor to send me for a cortisone shot at the pain clinic (I’ve been waiting for an appointment since March.)

I wish I could say that I was surprised. I told my husband, my daughter that I wouldn’t be surprised if he told me the same thing, but they held to the belief that doctors don’t call you in to discuss results that weren’t worthy of pursuing further action. Unfortunately, the actual medical industry seems to be a constant thorn in my side, which sometimes feels worse than the effects of a herniated disc. Not even joking.

So, still no surgery! I guess that leaves me exactly where I was before the unexpected phone call. I’m not completely sure where that is, but at least it isn’t someplace new. When surgery was initially rejected, I had to accept that and focus on continuing on, whatever that looked like. In some ways, I have given up hope of ever returning 100% to normal. While I still hope to see improvement, I suspect that some symptoms will either never go away or will plague me off and on for the rest of my life. Today’s waste of time appointment only reinforces that belief, so I will just need to stay the course.

Sight Lines

I had a vision check-up a couple of weeks ago and was given a sample supply of a different contact lens to try out. My vision will never be 20/20 regardless of what prescription I’m given, but I have been frequently frustrated by how blurry my vision is in many situations. Street signs are not readable until I am fairly close. The faces on the stage at church are blurry blobs. Even watching TV will often find me asking for clarification of the baseball score, because the numbers on the screen are too blurry for me to read. It’s not that I cannot see well enough to drive or go about normal activities, but smaller details or print become problematic at distance. At my check-up, it was suggested that I try some contact lenses for astigmatism, even though I was a borderline case. I took my samples home and had a moment of panic as I discovered that the prescription strength in one eye was less than what I had been wearing in my old contacts. A quick phone call assured me that the prescription numbers on the samples were what the doctor had recorded. I was skeptical but put the new contacts in, and what a difference!

My vision is still not perfect, but I can see things more clearly than I used to. The faces on the church stage actually have eyes, noses, and mouths. I can read the street signs from further away without squinting. I can notice the improvement when watching TV, too. What makes it even more amazing is that my astigmatism numbers (or whatever you call it) are at the smallest amount required for needing astigmatism correction! The doctor wasn’t sure if that small of a correction would make a difference, but it definitely has.

Now all I want is to wear the new contacts every day, but I can’t. Well, I could, but I seldom wear contacts exclusively. My eye glasses prescription didn’t need to be changed, which means one less thing to pay for, and yet, wearing my glasses will mean a return to the blurry distance vision once again. My contact lenses are dailies, so I don’t have to deal with cleaning and such. I have two days left of the sample lenses, but I have a couple weeks worth of my old lenses still. So this morning, I put in a pair of the old lenses and mourn the loss of increased clarity in my day. I drove my daughter to the church this morning (she’s volunteering at this week’s Day Camp), and street signs were again mostly unreadable without excessive squinting, not that I had need to read street signs along this route. But still. There is no joy in wearing these old contacts anymore, yet I don’t want to just waste the ones I have left. I suppose I will find ways to use them by fitting them into my schedule on days where the lack of clarity might be less annoying, if that’s even possible.

There are a few lessons to be found within my contact lenses, I think.

  1. We can get used to being comfortable with good enough. We might know that something isn’t ideal, but we may not believe we can do anything to make the situation better. Sometimes we just need to take the first step and try.
  2. Small changes can have big results. Even when we know that something needs to change in our lives, we often tend to think that we need to go big right off the bat; however, a small change made thoughtfully and consistently will produce bigger, longer lasting results than a major change made emotionally and without longevity.
  3. You need to be surrounded by the right people. I don’t need to see my eye doctor very often, but the only way I can ensure I am seeing the best I can is to visit my eye doctor. I would much rather spend my money on regular appointments with my chiropractor than wasting my time seeing my family doctor. Why? Because I know that my chiropractor actually cares about helping me to be at my best, injured or not. My closest friends are encouraging and supportive and accepting. I changed jobs, so that I could work for a company that valued people.
  4. It’s hard to go back to the past once we’ve had a taste of something better, but that doesn’t mean we can’t or won’t go back! Sometimes this is less of an issue than others. It’s not a big deal for me to use up my old contacts, but slipping into old, destructive eating habits, for example, is not so ideal.
  5. Life is much more enjoyable when you can see the small details.

Not Your Regular Type of Anniversary

Tomorrow is an anniversary of some kind. Although it is most definitely not an anniversary of celebration and could easily be viewed as a reminder of a pain and loss, I feel ambivalent about it. I took some time this afternoon to sit quietly with my journal, something I haven’t done for a long time, and I wrote what came to mind. This pending anniversary has been lurking in the corner of my mind for a couple of days. While my mind does replay that day every now and then, it truly isn’t something that I waste my time or energy dwelling on much. I cannot change what happened, and although the events were hurtful and confusing, I have no interest in trying to rehash, resolve, or return to the past. That’s not my circus, not my monkeys.

As I wrote in my journal, my thoughts swirled around that day, landing only on the final outcome rather than the actual happenings of the day. Most of my focus was actually spread over the past year, the days between July 14, 2017 and tomorrow. I echoed a sentiment I have expressed many times over the course of all of 2017 and thus far in 2018, that it has been quite the year! Tomorrow’s anniversary is only a small blip on the timeline. It might have felt bigger in the moment, but it’s power to hurt me evaporated like morning dew on a hot summer’s day. If nothing else, the months between January 2017 and today have been all about adversity and personal growth. There hasn’t been a whole lot that has gone as planned or expected in this time period, but I’m still standing.

I am being intentionally vague about this anniversary and will continue to skirt around it. A year ago, I felt shame and humiliation although I had no valid reason for either feeling, but that’s not the reason for my vagueness. In a way, I guess I am protecting others by choosing to not speak directly to what happened, and, if I’m going to be completely honest, rubs me the wrong way just a little. It doesn’t seem fair, to not take someone to task for their words and actions, but that is just the way life is sometimes. It’s not always fair. People hurt other people, and sometimes they even feel justified in leaving carnage in their wake. I don’t agree with it. I don’t like it. But I accept that it is what it is and my self-worth is not tied to any person’s opinion of my character. Despite all of the disappointments and challenges of the past year and a half, I have no regrets about anything I have said or done. I know I am strong, inside and out. I know I have only grown stronger through all of the challenges. I have remained true to my character, my nature, and yet managed to grow even more comfortable in my own skin. I think of this time last year with a dispassionate eye, because the events of that day can no longer hurt me. Truth is they haven’t had any power over me for a very long time, but I am a sentimental person who remembers such details as dates and events.

Eeny Meeny Miny Moe

faceofpain

The photos above were taken between November 2017 and June 2018. I could narrow that down even further…one was taken in November, one in December, one in January, and the last one in June. I am not photogenic, seldom step in front of a camera, and even more rarely take a selfie, so I do not have more pictures of myself over the course of the past 8 months. But these four photos are enough to illustrate the point I want to make.

Looking at these photos, would you think that I am in pain? If you didn’t read my previous blog posts and knew nothing about my life over the past months, would you be able to tell if I was hurting in any of these pictures? Could you order the photos according to the level of pain I was feeling in the moment?

I think you would have a difficult time with it. As much as I cringe when looking at myself in pictures, the truth is that I look perfectly normal in each of those pictures. I could post pictures from before my injury that would fit in completely with these. I’m laughing. I’m smiling. I’m proud. And yet, in each of those pictures, I am indeed in pain. Three of the pictures cover the span of sixty days, the first sixty days after herniating a disc. Those were the dark days when pain was excruciating, sleep was non-existent, and depression was thick and dark like molasses. The final picture was from a month ago, when the pain was still disruptive and always present but mostly tolerable. But unless you truly know me or what I’ve been going through, you can’t see that in the pictures.

And that’s my point…that people can carry so much weight within themselves that is almost never seen by others. That weight can be physical or emotional pain. It might be depression or another mental illness. It could be stress caused by finances or relationships or a job or lack of job. We tend to hide these things as best we can, out of shame or embarrassment or the feeling that we should be better than we are. Sometimes, I think we just soldier on because there really isn’t any other option, so we put on a good face and suffer in silence.

Everyone is going through something.

 

Attitude Check

While I am not a risk to snap at anyone in my general vicinity, I am feeling just a bit grumpy today. This isn’t a sudden occurrence, as I have felt a disturbance in the force for the past several days; it just was mild enough to be brushed off. This morning though, as I walked from the change room to the weight room at the gym, my attempt to be positive and upbeat crashed hard. An immediate cause was evident, at least to me, with every step I took. I am quite familiar with the area of permanent numbness in my left foot and toes since herniating a disc, but I was startled by a new area of numbness in the same foot.

I have had numbness in my left foot since herniating my disc more than 8 months ago. For the first month or so, the numbness was quite extensive. For the past 7 months or so, the numbness in my left foot has been limited to my smallest three toes and the ball of my foot directly below those toes. Sometimes the numbness is painfully strong. Other times the numbness is simply numb, but it is always there. What hasn’t been there for 7 months is an odd, numb sensation on the sole of my foot near the heel! Hours later, the sensation is not as strong or noticeable, yet in that moment, I was dismayed.

After being off work for 7 months I am glad to be back, however, my body is not so excited. I was warned about that. Told to expect an increase in pain, that it would be completely normal. I thought I was mentally prepared for it, but reflection on today’s mood has me re-considering that position.

I worked two very short shifts last week and went home in a significant amount of pain. The back was the main culprit, increasing in pain over my time at work until I was reduced to limping once again. Once back home and laying down, the back pain subsided within an hour or so; however, the nerve pain in my legs would only increase. Despite having a couple of days off in-between shifts and since my last shift, I am feeling the effects of being back to work. There is an increased aching in my back. The nerve pains in my legs have most definitely increased compared to what I had been experiencing in the weeks prior to going back to work. It isn’t as bad as it was way back at the beginning. Not even as bad as a few months ago, And yet, it is worse than the best it has been recently, and this should be expected and normal.

But I wasn’t expecting new numbness in my foot. Is that normal? Is that to be expected? Perhaps this new numb sensation will be fleeting. Maybe it is just an anomaly. I don’t know and the not knowing is disturbing. Frustrating.

Frustration is really the name of the game here, I think, and the reason for my grumpiness. Despite knowing that pain would increase, I think I was still half hoping or expecting that returning to work would be okay. Mentally, I am so glad to be back to work. Physically, my body is not so happy. I think my body will eventually adapt, at least in some ways, I hope. Like the back. In my non-professional opinion, the back will eventually get used to being back to work. My back has held up okay the past few weeks, when I’ve been out and about for several hours at a time, so I thought it would be okay at work. Work, I suppose, is more physically demanding than simply standing and walking for hours. The nerve pain increase is exhausting. I had trouble falling asleep last night because of the pain. I nearly burst into tears at one point last night while in the middle of an activity, not from the pain but from the dark tunnel my thoughts randomly entered. When will this be over? When will I be back to normal? Will I even be normal again? My doctor’s mantra is that it takes time, and I get it. Healing takes time, but how much time is considered reasonable? At what point do you consider healing to have reached its maximum potential? Because quite honestly, I’m leaning towards the belief that I will never fully return to my pre-injury state. That numbness in my left foot and toes…I suspect that might be my new normal. The nerve pain in my legs…even if it seems to go away eventually, I suspect it will return now and then, depending on what I’m doing. When I think about the possibility of these symptoms being permanent, I feel my insides shrivel and twist into a hard, ugly lump.

I just want to get back to normal, to resume normal activities again, and to feel normal when I sit or stand or lie down. That’s not too much to ask for, right? I am tired of being asked how I’m doing, how it is to be back to work; I don’t always like to talk about myself or make a big deal out of my problems. I feel like my being back to work should mean something more than what it currently does with my graduated return. With how “well” I was feeling in the month leading up to my return to work, I think I expected an easier transition than I am having, as if that warning I had been given wouldn’t apply to me anymore. Obviously that’s not the way things work with this sort of injury and recovery.

As I went through my workout this morning, moping and frustrated without really understanding why, I managed to put 2 and 2 together to reach 4. Those mild irritations I’d been experiencing for the past few days were flowing out of my frustration with the state of my body after returning to work. The increase in pain was a disappointment and unwelcome. I had thought I was prepared for it, but I guess I still managed to downplay just how significant it could be. Will it get better with time? Maybe. Hopefully. To be honest, I just do not know.

Thankfully, or not, I had an appointment with my doctor this afternoon. If he were at all interested in how I am actually doing, I would have shared some of my thoughts with him; however, he’s not, so I don’t offer much beyond what is physically relevant. My doctor doesn’t seem all that interested in how I actually feel or the toll it is taking on my or my life. He also doesn’t seem overly interested in improving my situation, but maybe that’s just the way most family doctors approach (or don’t approach) such things as herniated discs. I have come to the conclusion that my doctor is merely the gate-keeper (yes, I am thinking of Ghostbusters!). The only way I can access various means and methods of treatment is through the gate-keeper my doctor, but that’s about all that he is useful for. Another source of frustration to be sure! My doctor told me that I wouldn’t be damaged by returning to work. Good to know! He sent off yet another request for an appointment with the pain clinic. I’ve been waiting for an appointment since March. And I can come back in 2 weeks. Lucky me! I get to waste my time every two weeks, so he can get paid to see me and do nothing to actually help or improve my situation.

It’s been almost a week since I officially started back to work, and it has been a painful, uncomfortable week. Maybe my little shift tomorrow will be better? I have my doubts, but I’m hopeful that it will at least be slightly better. I’m desperately hoping to at least last the entire 4 hours this time!

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.