Worlds Delayed Reaction

The International Powerlifting Federation’s World Championships just wrapped up today in Calgary. Before this injury, I held the wild hope of making it there myself. Of course, my hope wasn’t based on anything more substantial than wishful thinking, because I am far from the strongest woman in my age/weight group in Canada. Even if I hadn’t hurt my back and had been able to compete at Nationals, I still wouldn’t have qualified for Worlds and I knew that would be my reality. That’s okay!

I had all the time to watch the Worlds this year, but I honestly didn’t make the effort. I watched several highlight lifts posted on Facebook and Instagram, but I didn’t tune in to watch the livestream. I love competing. I love watching powerlifting and cheering on other competitors, but my heart just wasn’t in it to watch this one and I’m not sure why.

Powerlifting, for me, hasn’t even been on the rear burner this year; it is a pot that won’t be put on the stove for some time yet to come. Yes, I want to get back to powerlifting, and sometimes I feel that itch more strongly than others. Last Friday’s training began with heavier sets of close grip bench press, and I felt like a powerlifter as I carefully wound my wraps around my wrists. Midway through my sets as the hands got sweaty, I put some chalk on my hands. The combination of chalk and wrist wraps and several reps of heavyish weight almost made me forget the fact that my back was flat on the bench, my feet were on the bench instead of the floor, and my grip was close instead of wider. But that feeling of still being a powerlifter didn’t erase the currents of pain that pulsed through my legs as I lay on the bench, nor did it remove the permanent numbness from my left foot. As much as I want to squat, bench, deadlift, and step onto a platform again, my body just isn’t ready. I’m okay with that.

Powerlifting is something that I do and enjoy doing, and I’d like to continue doing it for a long time to come, which means being patient and smart. I’ve been a pretty good patient, doing the right things and making the best decisions to promote healing and recovery. I think part of making those best decisions is being selective with where I focus my attention. Watching Worlds wouldn’t necessarily have been a bad thing…it just might not have been the best thing. I cannot find any other words to explain myself, but even then I think that’s okay.

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A Dangerous Thing Hope Is

A little bit of hope can be a dangerous thing. Just the taste of hope can fill you with expectations which exceed the realities of the present, and the danger is in getting drunk on those expectations.

It’s only been a week since I have begun to see some positive change. My feet are not constantly tingling! This is good news and so exciting, but I need to make it clear that there is still tingling in my feet. I can manipulate my body at night or throughout the day to create moments with little or no tingling in my feet, but I cannot remain in those positions twenty-four hours a day. The tingling-free moments are wonderful, and I do believe that they will become more frequent and last longer as I continue my exercises. And yet, this weekend, and especially today, I have found myself feeling somewhat dismayed and frustrated.

My back has been quite achy and cranky all day long. The moments without tingling in my feet seemed to have been shorter, fewer these past two days, while the tingling throughout my legs has been rather strong. The numbness in my left calf seems stronger and broader, the numbness in my left foot remains the same. When I lie down, the burning, electric currents of pain that run from buttocks to calves are moderately strong. I am still yawning from the time I wake up in the morning until I go to bed at night, and the fatigue and mental fog still weigh heavily upon me. These symptoms have been my constant companions for many months now, so I really shouldn’t be surprised by their continued presence in my life. Those little tingle-free moments in the feet made me believe that healing and a return to normal was just around the corner. I do believe that healing will happen. I will get back to normal. Some day but not today. Not tomorrow. Probably not next week either.

For most of this past week, I had no trouble keeping this small, new success separate from the rest of my symptoms. I would lie in bed in my contorted position, pleased with the brief periods of relief in my feet, while accepting of the fact that tingling, burning, and throbbing was still raging through my legs. This weekend has been different.

There seemed to be a slight increase in feet tingling yesterday, and that caused a ripple of anxiety within me. On Friday, I was given a new exercise to do as part of my rehab, but I was also cautioned about over-doing it. The exercise revolves around creating tension in the nerve, and my margin for error is exceedingly small. I feel confident that I have not pushed further than I should, but doubt has niggled at me every time I feel tingling in my feet.

Today’s cranky back and strong legs pains has had me feeling as if I’d taken a dozen steps backwards, at least until I remembered that today’s symptoms are actually quite typical for me. How quickly I forget! One itsy-bitsy forward step of progress had me thinking that every other symptom should have taken a giant step forward, when the reality is that I’ve been living with these symptoms long enough that they should feel as much a part of me as my very skin. I am incredibly pleased with the fact that I do have tingle-free moments in my feet; this is progress! However, I need to remind myself that this healing business is a series of steps, a process, a journey. Enjoy the small successes and cling to them, but mindful of the long road still ahead.

A New Hope?

I am feeling good and hopeful, although good is not equal to normal or pain-free. It is, however, a sense of progress, of turning a corner to see light at the end of the tunnel.

My back was quite achy when I woke up and through most of the morning, but it feels not so bad now, even after working out and doing some housework. The legs still have electric currents running through them when I lie down, along with tingling feet and toes, and always the numbness. And yet, I think I can safely say that the level of pain and tingling has decreased somewhat. When I do my rehab exercises, they feel smoother and easier than they used to be, although they have always been hit & miss depending on the day. My sleep is still broken up by frequent changes to position, but I am sleeping better. Unfortunately, I’m still waking up far earlier than I would like, but I guess that is to be expected when you’re sleeping better and averaging 9 hours a night!

I’m sure it was only a few days ago, maybe last week, that I commented on the slowness of my walk. Lately I have been noticing my pace improving, and the limping is almost non-existent; however, both my pace and the limp get worse after lengthy periods of standing or sitting or when in a lot of pain. So not normal yet but getting closer.

My energy has been improving. Mostly. I still yawn from morning to night. My medications are likely to blame for most of the fatigue I feel, but my productivity levels are increasing. My motivation is increasing. I can feel hope and excitement bubbling up inside of me.

So, what happened?

My thinking is that the recent treatments by my chiropractor are making a difference. Time could certainly also be a factor…it has been 7 months as of today, but these recent improvements seem to have come about rather suddenly. I am pretty sure that I told my chiropractor last week that I wasn’t feeling much of a difference. Then I had my crazy busy and active weekend and came out of it feeling better than expected. I am not the type of person to say that chiropractic care cures everything (and I still wouldn’t say that), but I do believe that having the right people taking care of you, regardless of their area of practice and expertise, makes all the difference. In years past, I’ve seen other chiropractors and would never walk through their doors again, let alone trust them with my herniated disc. I am ever so thankful to have a chiropractic team who are passionate about what they do and do it well.

I am still waiting for a CT scan and an appointment with the pain clinic. My medical leave comes up for review in a month, and I am hoping that the LOA team will approve my return to work this time around. That will, of course, depend on my doctor and his ideas of what I can or cannot do. But I’m hopeful. Nervous about the possibility of pain pushing back once I return to work…but hopeful.

Days That Blur Together

How is it the middle of May already? Part of me wants to slow time down just enough so my days stop blurring together, and yet, I would really rather prefer time to speed up enough so I could be past this injury and healing process already. I have been waiting as patiently as I can for healing and progress and an appointment with a neurosurgeon. My days are mostly boring and routine, but I struggle to keep track of which day of the week it is today. A piece of good news is that I now have an appointment date with the neurosurgeon for the end of the month, which makes me feel hopeful, as if I have finally taken a step forward after being stuck in one place for so long. Between now and then, my routine remains the same: rehab exercises, gym, doctor appointments, chiro appointments, brief periods of light housework and activity, small grocery shopping trips, dinner prep, periods of reclining, the odd occasion to get out of the house, and less than restful sleep.

The past few days have been quite bad for pain, although I cannot pinpoint any particular activity to have caused the increase in pain, except for sitting to get my hair done yesterday. As I am reclining alone in my living room, I feel like a wounded animal, whimpering and reclusive. Truth be told, I am literally whimpering. From my buttocks to my toes, there is very strong, burning pain and tingling, throbbing and pulsing, micro spasms and stabbing sharp pains. The low back itself feels unstable and supremely achy. When I am standing or walking, there is pain deep in my hips, and my left leg frequently feels as if it will collapse beneath me. The left calf and portions of the left foot and toes are still permanently numb. So much fun!

But all is not sadness and frustration, even though there is a great deal of both. My head is in a pretty good place these days, despite the pain and lack of progress in healing. I smile and laugh, even through the tears that can find reason to spill. With an appointment marked on my calendar, I feel hopeful that something might happen soon. Maybe a recommendation for surgery. Despite surgery not being a welcome outcome originally, I am now at a place where I can see the benefits of going that route and would embrace the opportunity. My heart is light and tender and open. I see things to be thankful for, things big and small, the ordinary and the quirky. It’s really just about placing one foot in front of the other and going forward, even if only inches at a time.

Know Yourself

“Who you were, who you are, and who you will be are three different people.”

~unknown

 

Two recent conversations have left me thinking about who I am in this season of injury. The first conversation was with my husband, and he made a comment about me still looking to find my own identity. The other conversation was with one of my best friends and was about parents wanting more for their kids, while the kids are generally satisfied by enough.

Since herniating my disc six months ago, I have often felt lost and adrift without purpose, usefulness, or potential. Of course, those feelings have never been completely true, and yet, I struggle with the pain and physical limitations I am forced to endure. My life has been turned upside-down and inside-out. The activities I used to enjoy doing, I cannot do. I am on medical leave from work, so I feel the loss of being a part of my work community, and I stress about the loss of income for months on end. After competing in nine competitions since 2014, this will be the first year without a competition. Some of my powerlifting goals were crushed into dust the moment I hurt my back last November…a bitter pill to swallow. Although I have all the time in the world at home while on leave, my ability to do things is still hampered. Housework can only be done in short bursts of time, because standing too long results in lots of pain. My housework abilities are also limited to what is safe for my back. I wash dishes, sweep the floors, tidy the bathroom, fold laundry, make dinner, do grocery shopping in small, manageable trips. The rest of my time is spent going to appointments, going to the gym to do safe exercises and rehab, going to Starbucks for coffee and to soak up a bit of connection with my co-workers, and varying my position between standing and reclining as frequently as necessary. It’s a boring life and frustrating. I feel like I should be doing more and living a real life, not this paper doll existence I am living. With the warmer weather, I want to be outside and active, much more active than my body will agree to, and I fear that I will miss out on spring and summer just as I missed out on winter.

My husband’s comment took me aback a little, because I was confused as to why he would think that I was still in need of an identity of my own. Didn’t I already do that? In my opinion, that’s what I had done between 2010 and 2017. I had hit the bottom and clawed my way back to the top. Hard work, determination, and the right people in my corner allowed me to feel comfortable in my own skin and to be sure of who I was. Through powerlifting, I discovered something within me that I could never have expected, and I loved being strong both physically and mentally. There is no doubt that I had grown substantially over the course of those years, and I learned to weather the storms and grow through them. Who else could I possibly be? What was missing?

The conversation with my friend revolved around parents and kids, but I instantly grasped how the concept of ‘wanting more’ and ‘satisfied with enough’ could apply to me as I mulled over my husband’s statement. From the time I started going to the gym and focused on powerlifting, I have wanted more. This desire for more was focused on my performance and goals within the sport far more than it ever applied to the rest of my life. I’m an easy-going and low-maintenance kind of person. I’m not interested in keeping up with the Joneses. Even when there is something I would like to improve in my home or have as an experience, I am still easily content with what I can realistically have. Enough is perfectly fine for me, unless I’m in the gym and setting goals for future competitions. I don’t need to be the strongest or the best, although I will always strive to win while knowing there are others better than me. Most of the time I succeed at my goals, but not always. The sting of failure hurts for a little while, but I always manage to learn and grow through the experience. That is enough!

But here I sit (figuratively because sitting hurts like hell), not knowing what my future holds, where it will lead me, or when I will reach the next stage of the journey. When I realized the nature of my injury, I fully expected to be back to normal within a few weeks, maybe a couple of months. Six months later, I no longer have a clue when I will be back to normal, if that will even happen. I’ve been stuck in limbo, playing the waiting game with my body, my doctor, and now a neurosurgeon. My doctor has repeatedly said this will take time and that there are proper steps to follow in treating such an injury. Time, I understand, even proper steps, but I chafe at the unnecessary delays created by the medical system when a slightly faster pace could potentially create improved health sooner (and less of a burden on the health care system, my workplace, and employment insurance costs). I feel alone, forgotten, cast aside, and broken.

I believe that I am still me. This injury hasn’t erased the woman I had become in recent years. In many ways, I think this injury will only make me a stronger person. But in the meantime, I feel stripped of so much of what makes me who I am. Is that true though? I am a barista. I am a powerlifter. I am a wife, a mother, a friend. Those are things that I do or titles that apply to me, but they are not who I am. Last year I learned that lesson after a disappointing competition after a disappointing and frustrating several months of training. Powerlifting is what I do, not who I am. So, I know who I am even though I feel lost, but I am beginning to realize that this injury can shake up my assumptions and put them back together as something entirely different than what I had imagined. I don’t know what that means for me yet, but I suspect it will add another layer to claiming my own identity. In the same way, I also believe that the theme of being satisfied with enough will weave through that layer in a most wonderful way. It’s not always easy to sit in these days of uncertainty, but I am excited to see who I am at the end of it.

The Olympics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Quite Yet

I was looking forward to returning to work next week. When I first admitted that a medical leave of absence would be of immense benefit to healing, I honestly had no idea how long I would be off work. The initial leave was two weeks, but I realized that it wasn’t going to be enough and asked my doctor to approve a longer leave. I still had no idea how long, so I was surprised when my doctor told me to take another 8 weeks which would see me back to work after February 12th. After being home for 2.5 months, I was mentally ready to get back to work, and I was hopeful about being physically ready with a few accommodations. At the end of January I submitted the necessary paperwork from my doctor to head office and began preparing for a return to work.

The leave of absence people finally responded to my submission yesterday, and I was informed that they were unable to approve my return to work based on the restrictions noted by my doctor. I could rant about my doctor, but I won’t. While I may not agree with everything my doctor put on the form, I also cannot deny that the majority of the restrictions are reasonable and appropriate. Still, I wasn’t expecting to be denied and it stung. Instead of returning to work next week, I remain on leave until mid-March and will need to see my doctor for an updated abilities form. Once again I feel like I am letting down my co-workers, because I know they were looking forward to having me back as much as I was looking forward to being back.

I didn’t see that lemon being hurtled my way, but I can be quick on my feet sometimes. It’s almost easy to see the benefits of remaining on medical leave for another month…

  • no need to wake up at 4:00 AM
  • I can continue wearing nail polish
  • I can continue wearing yoga pants almost exclusively (because belts and jeans seem to aggravate my back)
  • I can watch as much of the Olympics as I want
  • I no longer need to dial back my training at the gym in anticipation of an increase in pain the first few weeks of being back to work
  • another month off means that I will have another month to focus on healing and regaining strength, flexibility, and mobility
  • winter might be over by the time I get back to work