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.

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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

Stronger Than I’ve Ever Been

I didn’t have an amazing sleep last night, but it was okay…the best it has been all week. That could be due to the fact I took 900mg of Gabapentin last night instead of the 300mg I have been taking lately. I do not like taking medication, so I severely cut back my daily dosage a few weeks ago when we realized that the nerve was stuck sending pain signals. In fact, there has even been the odd day here or there when I haven’t taken any pain medication. I know that skimping on pain medication isn’t always an intelligent decision, but I seldom claim to be smart.

My back was quite sore and achy yesterday, actually all week long, so I had no intention of not taking some pain medication. As I opened the bottle and shook out a single capsule, I remembered that I was allowed to take three capsules at a time, even three times a day, if necessary. As I shook out two more capsules, I wondered why I had been so insistent on limiting myself to one capsule a day. Because I hate taking medication and being dependent on it! But still…if I’m experiencing pain that is consistently impacting my day-to-day life, then why not help myself out? I still chafe against the idea of taking more pills, but I also need to accept that I might need to use them for a while yet. Even if I only take some in the evening in the hopes of experiencing real sleep. Okay, so real sleep won’t magically appear because of my pain medication, otherwise I’d have been sleeping all along, but you get my point. Right?

The back was still quite achy and sore when I woke up. I was also still groggy and slow and tired, but I planned on going to the gym in the morning after eating breakfast and “waking” up. I ate breakfast. When I decided it was time to get dressed and head to the gym, I felt the ache in my back and considered NOT going to the gym. I could go later in the day. I could go tomorrow. I really didn’t feel up to going today. Those thoughts flashed through my mind in the span of a minute, and then I got dressed and went to the gym.

My training session was good, solid, and I felt strong. I maxed out my reps on a number of sets and exercises, and where I didn’t max out I still increased my reps. Even on the arm exercises that are usually tough and weak, which isn’t to say that they weren’t tough today because they still were. Strength was just there today, and so was the mindset that I will get up again.

If you knock me down I get up again I get up again Born unstoppable I get up again Now I’m stronger than I’ve ever been ~ Kaleena Zanders

 

Squeezing Lemons in My Eyes

You know that whole lemon theme thing I have going on this year? Something about making lemonade and learning to appreciate the lemons? About that…

I am tired of being tired. While I am not going to bother attempting to calculate the lost hours of sleep since herniating my disc, I am quite certain I have lost more hours of sleep these past three months than I have over the past few years. Sleep has always been important to me, but weight training made adequate rest all the more valuable. Consistently missing out on sleep will mess you up in multiple ways.

Up until three months ago, sleep and I got along well more often than not. I have sometimes struggled to fall asleep early in the evening in order to get in enough hours of sleep before an early morning start to my day, but I have long made a point of positioning myself for at least 8 hours of sleep a night. There would be many nights where I would get 9 or 10 hours of sleep. Despite years of waking up before the rest of the city, I seldom found myself flagging in the afternoons. I could start work at 5AM, go to the gym at 4PM, and still be energetic and alert into the evening.

When I herniated my disc, everything changed. At first, it was the intense pain and physical discomfort that kept me awake. Those first days were brutal, and I would often end up in the living room for most of the night. The pain was too strong to stay in any one position for more than a few minutes, which meant that sleep was limited to only a few minutes at a time, if I was lucky. Prescription pain medication was supposed to make it easier to sleep but never quite lived up to that promise. As time has passed, the intensity of pain has ebbed and flowed. Once, twice, maybe even three times I have had a solid night’s sleep. Mostly not.

The pain is not gone. It has greatly diminished, but it is still there. The numbness in my left leg has likewise greatly diminished without being completely gone. When I lay down, I feel the most pain. I’m not even certain I can always call it ‘pain’ these days, because most of the time it is something less sinister. Less sinister so long as the description of something crawling or wigging beneath the skin doesn’t bother you! That sensation can be uncomfortable and it varies in its intensity, but it is a far cry from the pain I felt a couple of months ago. There are still occasional bouts of shooting or stabbing pain, mostly in my hip or deep within the buttock. And then there is the back itself. The back, despite being the source of all of my problems, has generally felt the least amount of pain over the course of these three months; however, there are still moments and days where the back does actually hurt. There is one spot in particular that has been feeling achy and sore for the past several days. Just enough to be a nuisance.

Where am I going with this? Sleep. I am not sleeping well. Despite frequently being in bed for anywhere from 8 to more than 10 hours a night, I am not getting adequate rest. Time in bed does not equally translate into time asleep. Like last night. I was in bed for 9 hours and 42 minutes, but I feel as if I barely slept. I laid awake for nearly 3 hours after going to bed, tossing and turning in a futile attempt to find a physically comfortable position. Once I did finally manage to “fall” asleep, I was awake every hour, almost on the hour, which would then result in more tossing and turning before gradually returning to what passed for sleep. I wake up sluggish and tired. I remain sluggish and tired throughout the day. My body tells me it could use afternoon naps, but my body also has this odd inability to nap in the afternoon. An early afternoon cup of coffee can’t stop the yawns at bay. This has been typical for me since moving past the stage of the physical pain keeping me awake.

Most of the time, I have nothing on my mind. No worries or stress. No flurry of thoughts. Sometimes the crawling sensation in my leg is strong enough to keep me awake for a while; sometimes it might be shards of real pain. Lately physical comfort seems to be a major factor. My shoulders are feeling cranky with sleeping on my sides, but any other sleep position presents other feelings of discomfort. I wonder if this is why I have an achy spot in my back lately, because I’ve been propping myself up a bit to keep the shoulders happy, even though it doesn’t necessarily feel the greatest for my back or neck. Taking forever to fall asleep wouldn’t be quite so bad if I was at least able to stay asleep through the rest of the night, but I can’t.

So where is the lemonade in three months of not sleeping?

Well, I wear daily contact lenses and my last purchase should have been used up by mid-December; however, I still have at least a month and a half worth of contacts sitting in my bathroom. With constantly waking up groggy and tired, I have been wearing my glasses almost exclusively. Even if I want to pry open my eyelids to pop contacts in, my eyes are so tired that the contacts irritate my eyes more quickly than normal. So, sleepless nights are saving me money on contact lenses! But I’d still rather sleep.

3 Months Post

Today is an anniversary of sorts. Three months ago, I set a World record and herniated a disc. Whether you think this anniversary is a good or bad thing depends upon a certain point of view, and I admit that my own point of view tends to focus on the injury more often than my outstanding performance. That’s fair, I suppose, because pain can cast a massive and ominous shadow over daily life.

As I am mentally and physically preparing to return to work next week, I appreciate a few statements my physiotherapist made at my last appointment. Firstly, that despite how things might feel from my own perspective of living in my body every day, from his perspective I am improving. I still feel all the nuances of pain and physical discomfort. I still feel the numbness in my left foot and leg. Obviously I can tell that the pain and symptoms are not the same as they were 3 months ago, 2 months ago, even 2 weeks ago; however, sometimes pain is still just pain. I know my body is moving better. I know the pain is less. It is still frustrating to feel stuck in the limbo of waiting to heal completely, so it is good to hear my health care practitioner say that significant progress is indeed taking place.

His other comment related to my return to work, pointing out that experiencing increased pain will be completely normal. I think I kind of knew that already, but a reminder is always beneficial. Pain also has a way of distorting your perceptions, and I can see how I might freak out at an increase in pain while working. Hopefully the reminder will keep that freak out from happening. Even today I am clinging to that statement, because I am experiencing an increase in pain and discomfort and I haven’t even returned to work yet!

Last night I had an enjoyable time hanging out with some girlfriends, but I also spent most of those 3 hours sitting. I knew that sitting wouldn’t be physically comfortable for very long, and it wasn’t. I was squirming and feeling the nagging in my back within the first half hour, but I really didn’t want to stand for hours. Sometimes I simply miss being able to sit for a spell.

So now my back is achy and hurting more than my more recent normal, and there is an increase in the pain and symptoms in my legs. Although I am a bit worse for wear today, this is still a far cry from where I used to be! Today is a reminder both of how far I have come, how far I still have to go, and how variable each day can be. Even when I don’t do something as stupid as sitting for 3 hours!

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.

 

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.