Chaos

“It was her chaos that made her beautiful.” ~Atticus

2017 is rapidly drawing to a close, which turns my thoughts both inward in reflection and outward in anticipation. I like to give myself a theme and a bunch of goals for each year. My theme for 2017 has been Powerfully Beautiful, but I’m afraid that I haven’t felt like this has been applicable for most of the year. The year has been full of various struggles and challenges, many revolving around little injuries and a big one, most recently. It is this recent injury that has the potential to cause the most chaos in my life, and I cannot imagine that chaos being beautiful in any way, shape or form.

Although the pain is generally tolerable now, it still fluctuates quite wildly. I had two good night’s of sleep, then last night happened. I slept well enough, but I also experienced more aches and pains in my back than I had the previous two nights. I went to the gym this morning to do my rehab exercises, but the pain in my back was enough to make me cut some exercises short or out completely. For the most part, I’ve been able to do these exercises without much discomfort in my back, and really these rehab exercises are supposed to easy on my back. Most of my pain or discomfort while exercising has been in getting down on the floor or up off the floor, so today was disheartening. Since I cut the exercises short, I thought I’d spend some time on the treadmill. I could only manage a speed of 2 mph. I tried 2.5 mph but could barely handle it for just over 50 metres. My initial goal was to walk for 10 minutes, but then I changed the goal to completing 2 laps or 800 metres. My hands had a vise grip on the handles for almost the entire walk because of the pain in my back.

My mood feels as fragile as my back these days. Grumpy. Moody. Liable to dissolve into tears. Frustrated. Dejected. Hopeful. Resigned. Weak. Pathetic. Useless. Not powerful. Not beautiful.

For all the progress of the past month, it is still incredibly slow. The ‘surgery’ word has now been uttered, although that does not mean I will require surgery, only that I should get a referral and begin the waiting process in case it is. The physiotherapist made a point of saying that they generally like to see more progress by this point, and I can’t argue that, especially when he re-tests the reflex in my left Achilles tendon and finds none.

I just feel broken. In more ways than one.

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The Green Grass Proverb

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence is an old saying that warns against the folly of thinking others have things better than ourselves. It’s a lesson in making assumptions about appearances which would seem to reveal our faults and short-comings. Despite the popularity of the phrase, it can be easy to fall into the trap of looking at our neighbour as having a better situation than ourselves. Lately I have been twisting that phrase inside out with a different perspective: the grass isn’t always greener on my side of the fence. Or, the grass on the other side of the fence isn’t necessarily more in desperate need of water, sunshine, and TLC than my own!

It has now been 4 weeks since I herniated my disc, and I am still living with numbness and varying degrees of pain. Despite a reduction to the hours in my work week and modifications to my activities and tasks, I am still finding work to be extremely taxing on my body. I came home from work last Thursday night in so much pain that I almost cried myself to sleep. Actually, the tears soaked into my pillow as I wrestled with the physical discomfort and the emotional upheaval born out of dread for another painful work shift the next day and decisions I could make to help myself out. Once or twice in the early days of my injury, my boss had asked if I wanted to take a medical leave, but I demurred. As I laid in bed Thursday night (or early Friday morning), I had to consider the possibility.

When I broached the subject with my boss the next day, I was still somewhat reluctant to take a leave. She asked me what was standing in my way. There are 2 things. Firstly, I don’t like to let people down, and secondly, I don’t like to ask for help. That’s it in a nutshell.

I don’t want to leave my co-workers scrambling to cover my absence. Being a key-holder makes filling that gap a bit trickier. It’s not an insurmountable obstacle, but I really don’t like to let people down.

It’s the asking for help part that is the big one here. Taking a medical leave may not be asking for help in the strictest sense, but it does make me feel weak  and incapable which is tantamount to asking for help. This is where my mind has been turning the ‘grass is always greener’ phrase inside-out.

I don’t feel like I should need to take a leave! I mean take a look at me. Well, I guess you can’t see me through a computer screen, but my point is that, unless you know me well, you wouldn’t necessarily see that there is anything wrong with me. Even those who do know me well would have to look carefully to see cracks in my veneer. Over the course of a day, my ability to walk will vary considerably. One minute I can walk with almost no limp at all, while the next minute will have me hobbling like a 100-year old lady. Mostly I look normal, so I feel guilty for wanting/needing time off work to heal. I am in pain, yes, but less so than I was in the first week or two of the injury. Things are improving…even if not even close to as fast as I would like. There are people much worse off than I am! And that is where I think my grass is greener than on the other side of the fence. Why should I need special care for my injury, when there are so many people suffering and struggling with illness and injury so much worse than mine?

It has been pointed out to me by a few people that I need to take care of myself first, that I am not doing myself any favours by continuing to push myself to go to work when it is causing me such difficulty. As difficult as it is for me to admit to weakness, I do see the wisdom being spoken into me. I need to take care of myself, which includes allowing myself the opportunity to heal properly so I can resume a normal life. Failing to do so will only prolong my suffering and negatively impact all areas of my life. Acknowledging my own injury, pain, and current limitations is not about comparing myself to anyone else. Each person’s suffering is valid and real, even if of no importance to anyone else.

So I have made the decision to seek a medical leave of absence, but first I need to get a doctor to sign off on the paperwork in agreement. Obviously I am not keen on seeing my family doctor after his erroneous dismissal when I first went to him with this injury, so I will return to the walk-in clinic where I received better care along with the referral for physiotherapy. Part of me is so skeptical of the medical system that I am half-afraid of meeting with resistance to the idea of a leave. I can hear the arguments against it in my head. Why not reduce your work hours? Why not just find ways to accommodate your limitations within the workplace? Thankfully I have answers for those questions! I have been working fewer hours for the past 4 weeks. I have made as many modifications to my tasks as I am capable of making. I have already been making my best efforts to avoid doing anything I cannot or should not do with this injury…but it simply isn’t enough! My job isn’t in the same league as someone in construction or some similar type job, but my job consists of so much bending that I cannot avoid it all. There is no value in paying me to stand there for hours each day, but even something as simple as preparing one beverage for a customer requires me to bend and lean and twist in ways that are subtle but take a toll on my body in it’s damaged state. My job cannot be modified any more than it already has. As much as I don’t like the idea, I need some time off work. I love my job, but I do not enjoy how I have dreaded each shift lately, knowing the pain I’d be in through the shift and after. Although I am in much less pain than I was originally, there is a significant increase in the pain when I’ve been working. I need to take care of myself first.

So, while the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side of the fence, please don’t think that you are wrong to put extra care and attention on your own lawn. Especially not when it comes to your health!

The Girl With All The Goals

“When a woman feels her own strength, it’s empowering. She believes in herself and knows she can do more. It changes everything.” ~Kathrine Switzer

“Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, guts. That’s what little girls are made of; the heck with sugar and spice.” ~Bethany Hamilton

It is always a challenge to recap a competition with the experience still fresh and raw in my mind and body. There are so many emotions and thoughts swirling within that I am liable to miss a detail, but waiting too long to put thoughts into written form can also result in missing details.

The day started early. I was mostly awake around 5:00 but managed to stay in bed until 6. The next hour was a flurry of getting dressed, making myself a doppio espresso, making sure I had everything I needed, and gagging down a bit of breakfast. My appetite disappears during a competition, but I know it is important to have fuel in the tank. We left the house around 7:00 and arrived at the venue before 8:00, which left some time to chill (literally because it was cold in the crossfit gym), stretch, change into my singlet, listen to the lifters’ meeting, and get my warm-ups in before lifting started around 9:15.

Yesterday the back felt a little creaky but generally okay. This morning it felt pretty darn good, better than it has felt for a few days. I was feeling good, too. Naturally I was feeling some nervous energy as I warmed up for squats and waited for my first attempt…even for my second attempt. I was mostly confident and optimistic with slivers of fear and uncertainty. My opening squat attempt was 100kg (220.5 lbs), which was the same weight that I re-tweaked my back on at Provincials in June. In recent weeks I have surpassed that weight in the gym, so I knew that I was more than capable but doubt is pernicious and persistent. Feeling nervous prior to the first attempt is completely normal, and it usually settles down once that first squat has been successfully completed. Although it did abate slightly this time, it didn’t completely settle until after my second squat at 110kg (242 lbs). I guess I should mention that my first squat attempt broke both the Provincial and National record!

I had several goals for this competition, big and small. The first of my two biggest goals was my third squat attempt at 115kg (253.5 lbs), because it was an attempt to break a World record. This weight wasn’t a complete stranger to me; it was the same weight that I did for a PR at Western Canadians last year. But this is a different powerlifting federation with different records…and I’ve struggled with back problems all year. As much as I believed I could do it today, I felt nervous and under pressure (self-inflicted). Succeeding on my second squat completely settled the nerves though, and I suddenly knew that I could, would succeed. Besides, I’ve never failed on a squat in competition except for once on a technicality. So how did I do on that final squat? I nailed it!

Excitement coursed through my veins as I walked off the platform into the warm-up area, accepting congratulations from a judge, my coach, my handler, and some fellow competitors. I chatted briefly with my coach and my handler about the lift and how my back was holding up (perfectly fine), then I said I was going to go see my family and friends until it was time to warm-up for the bench. No sooner had those words left my mouth than I was overcome by intense emotions that had me heaving and struggling to choke back tears. The emotion was so strong that I had to actually pause for a minute before resuming my walk to my family, and even then I was practically an emotional mess when I saw the smiles on their faces. It’s no secret that my eyes leak quite easily at the best of times, but I will not apologize for the tears or the emotion. I just broke a freaking World record! I have visualized this moment for a long time, through dark and hazy days filled with back pain and frustration and self-doubt, and today I achieved my goal.

The back was still feeling great at this point in time, and we were on to the bench press. My opening attempt was 55kg (121 lbs). I knew this should be an easy weight for me, since I’ve been smoking 125 pounds in the gym for a while now. It was respectable. My second attempt was 60kg (132.3 lbs), and I wasn’t supremely confident about it. I have been doing well with 130 pounds in the gym lately, so I did know that I could; however, this weight has been the proverbial monkey on my back for more than 2 years now. It was at a competition in October of 2015 that I was first successful in benching 60kg in competition, and that has been my best competition bench ever since, despite a couple of gym PRs at 135 lbs. For whatever reason, I haven’t been able to better 132.3 pounds in competition until today! It might not have been the fastest press, but I made it. Of course, that meant my third attempt was yet another try at a bench press PR, and I had to fight against the doubt and mental block surrounding it.

My final bench attempt was 62.5kg (137.8 lbs). Thankfully, I had the unanticipated occasion to grind out a single rep at 130 pounds last week. I am not accustomed to being successful in grinding out a bench press and, for a moment, I didn’t think I would make that lift, but I stuck it out and made it. I think that grind was beneficial for me, because it gave me the opportunity to experience a tough, slow grind and to realize that I was now capable of pushing through it. It is my opinion that this recent experience was instrumental in my successful final bench press today. It was slow. It was a grind. Some might have doubted my ability to finish the lift, but I don’t recall ever feeling that way in the moment. I knew it was grinding and slow. I could hear the cheers. I could hear my coach’s voice shouting instruction. I just kept going, and once I reached a certain point I knew I had it. The monkey was off my back. Not only did I have a new Provincial record but also a PR!

With the bench press completed, my back felt slightly achy, probably from the arching, but it was still rather mild and normal. There was a bit of a wait until the deadlifts, and I no longer felt any doubts about my abilities. I had been perfect so far, and I knew that I was going to go 9/9.

My first deadlift attempt was 125kg (270 lbs). Once again, I was breaking a Provincial record on my first attempt. It was easy. The second attempt was 132.5kg (292 lbs). I probably used my back a little on this attempt. While it was still relatively easy, my back felt a little more achy immediately following this lift, but it still felt okay enough. My third and final attempt was 138.5kg (305.3 lbs). Although it was a bit tougher, I was successful in my attempt and secured myself another Provincial and National record. Unfortunately, I walked off the platform with a world of hurt in my left lower back and glute. The pain didn’t put a damper on my joy in having reached every single one of my goals for this competition. This was my ninth competition, and I have only ever had a completely perfect 9/9 with 27 white lights once before…two years ago. Today’s competition was perfect, 9 attempts with 9 successful lifts and not a single red light in the bunch. I achieved 8 records today: 4 Provincial, 3 National, and 1 World. (My total also broke Provincial and National records!) About the only thing that didn’t go as hoped for was hurting myself again!

Thankfully my chiropractor’s office was onsite to provide treatment to the athletes. Although there weren’t any chiropractors available by the time I finished competing, I was able to get some massage treatment which helped to reduce some of the pain. I will need to see my chiropractor though, which will be on Tuesday. (Gosh, I love being able to book an appointment online during non-office hours!) In the meantime, the RMT gave me some things to do at home. I also have other exercises at my disposal and Ibuprofen. But you know, I’m not overly frustrated by this unexpected twist. It’s slightly familiar but slightly different. The RMT said it was a disc, SI joint and piriformis issue. She could help a bit with the piriformis, but she can’t do any adjustments…hence my need to see my chiropractor. Although I did have some strong pain in my pelvis immediately after, right now, hours later, the most pain is in my left butt. It’s not ideal, but it could be worse. And I’m still riding the wave of euphoria of a successful competition, so I have no regrets. Okay, I have no regrets at all! While I may have only had two personal bests today (my bench and my total), I would say that this was my best competition to date.

I also have to mention just how much I love the sport of powerlifting. Since my first competition in 2014 and 8 more competitions including today’s, I have never had a bad experience beyond my own disappointment in a personal result. I have competed in two different federations, and each one feels like family. I only compete in 100% RAW once a year when they have a somewhat local meet. There is always a couple of people who make the trip from Calgary to here to bring equipment and act as organizers and judges, and they never fail to remember my name and welcome me as part of the family. Most of my competitive focus is within the realm of the British Columbia Powerlifting Assocation in great part for the simple fact that there are more opportunities to compete. RAW was where I did my very first competition. It was where I fell in love with powerlifting and competing. RAW is primarily based in Alberta, which is why I only compete once a year with them, but I love my RAW family. I liken the two federations to the Canadian Football League and the National Football League. They are the same sport with slight differences in rules, their own records and championships, and a vast difference in scope on the international stage.

Despite the pain, which likely came from using too much back on that final deadlift, today was a grand success. I wouldn’t change a single thing about the day. I achieved every goal that I set for myself, even the ones that I was hesitant to say out loud. After what has been a most problematic and frustrating year so far, today felt highly redemptive. I didn’t hit personal bests across the board, but this showing was the essence of what I had hoped to achieve at Provincials earlier this year. It’s been a long, tough year, but now I can celebrate my success. And heal again. Then start back at the beginning, gearing up for the next competition in February at Nationals.

5 Days!

Competition is in five days, yet it sometimes feels still so far away. I am so excited and nervous and aware of every little ache and pain and twinge in my body. As long as those aches remain minor annoyances…this is normal at this point in time. The biggest area of concern is my back, especially since last Friday’s day of pain for no apparent reason. Since then the back has been okay, and I say that tentatively. While the pain is gone it leaves a palpable presence lingering in the shadows, which has me figuratively holding my breath, waiting for the back to explode and destroy my hopes and goals for this competition. So far, so okay.

Today’s training session was relatively easy, although not nearly as easy as Wednesday’s will be! The hard training work has been done. This morning I did all three lifts, working up to my openers or thereabouts. I worked up to a 225 pound squat, a 120 pound bench, and a 270 pound deadlift. Generally I think everything moved fairly well. My back is still intact with no explosions or implosions yet. The other achy body parts just have to be accepted as part of the family for now.

6

I slept for nearly 11 hours last night. Wow! Sleep is precious to me. I know it is important for overall health, so I typically get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep on any given night; however, it is rare to get as much sleep as I did last night. Can’t say that I mind it though!

Upon waking the back feels much the same as yesterday. Not in pain but with the sense that it is lurking not too far away. I’ll take it! After coffee and breakfast, I did my foam rolling, stretching, and various exercises for rehabbing my disc, my SI joints, my knees, my shoulders. It’s less than a week before competition…I’ve got all sorts of minor aches and pains!

As is my habit prior to a competition, I stepped on my scale this morning. 166.4 pounds. I need to be 165.3 or lower, but there is no need to worry or panic. My scale is not completely accurate, although I no longer remember just how much it is off. I do know that it is heavier by at least a pound, so I should be fine by the time of weigh-in on Friday. Still, I’m sticking to no wine, no processed sugars, no flours.

Excitement is building and visualization is along for the ride. I cannot control when either hits me. It simply does. Images of my squats popped into my head as I was washing my face this morning sending surges of adrenaline through my bloodstream. Inhale. Exhale. Breathe.

one week

I went to bed last night hoping that the pain in my back or pelvis (whatever it was) would be gone by the time I woke. This morning I woke up and went tentatively on with my day…without any pain in my back. It wasn’t normal. I can still feel the discomfort lurking in the wings, waiting to strike at any moment, but I know what I can do to fight this battle. Whether or not I will win remains to be seen. One week! I just need my body to hold together for one week.

Today’s training was again short and sweet, more or less. A bit of benching and a bit of squatting.

1. bench press

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 6, 85 x 5, 100 x 4, 110 x 2

main event: 120 lbs x 1, 130 x 1

With yesterday’s back pain, I played it safe on the bench by having no arch or leg drive for the first three warm up sets. My pressing was rolling along smoothly until the final single at 130 pounds. Although my husband was at the gym with me today, he was busy elsewhere and I thought I’d try to unrack 130 pounds by myself. After all, it was only one rep, one set, and I had benched 125 pounds without assistance a week or so ago. I unracked the weight without too much difficulty and settled into position, bringing the bar to my chest. Since competition requires holding that position until the judge says you can press it, I might have held my pause a bit long. It’s better to be able to hold a longer pause than to not wait for the proper command. I’ve done 130 a few times recently, so I wasn’t overly concerned about today’s single…but it turned out to be more of a grind than I was expecting. At one point I honestly didn’t think I’d make it and imagined having the bar resting on my chest in need of assistance. When it comes to grinding out a bench press, I’m not exactly well known for my success. When I’ve failed a bench press in competition, I grind as much as I can and get stuck. It’s like I hit a ceiling that I cannot push through. For a moment today I thought I’d hit that ceiling again, but I managed to grind it out and finish the rep. The back held up okay, too.

2. squats

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 95 x 5, 135 x 3

main event: 165 lbs x 1, 165 x 1

Squats felt good and easy. No back issues.

 

Argh!

Eight days out and today was not the day I had hoped thought it would be. I slept fitfully between midnight and my 4:45 AM alarm, but I woke up feeling fine. I went to the bathroom to get ready for work. A spot on my pelvis began to hurt shortly after turning my body enough to reach the lever to flush the toilet. It wasn’t too bad, so I thought maybe I had just stretched a muscle. However, the pain persisted throughout the day and even got crankier. I’m not exactly sure what is going on or why, but it is annoying and frustrating and not what I want to feel right now. Is it the SI joint? Maybe. That’s what I fear, I think, so I made sure to add SI joint friendly stretches into my daily routine. Mostly I am trying not to panic. Not yet. I could wake up tomorrow feeling perfectly fine, and I hope I do. If not, then I continue with the rehab stuff and take it a day at a time.