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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The Wall

For as long as I have been on medical leave from work and barring conflicts with medical appointments, my habit has been to do my work outs first thing in the morning. In the handful of years that I have been training, my regular schedule has seen me working out as consistently as possible through the inevitable changes in my work and life schedules. I have never grown accustomed to training only at one time of day and would usually have both morning and late afternoon training times each week. Since being off work for an extended period, my schedule has only been hampered by the ongoing medical appointments and my own mental or physical state. With the odd exception, I have been training in the mornings since being on leave.

Over these past months, my definition of “first thing in the morning” has generally seen me arrive at the gym between 8:00 and 9:30. These days I seem to be waking up by at least 6:00, but I am really not mentally prepared to hit the gym before 8. A few months ago, I had trouble dragging myself out of bed at 8:00. I am not certain which scenario I like better. I am generally more of a night owl than an early bird; however, my work schedule over the years has enabled (or forced) me to adapt to being functional by 5:00 AM. But these months of pain, lack of sleep, and medication have left me dragging my butt around as much as I am wide awake. I go to the gym in the morning, because I know I need some sort of routine and because morning is still better than later in the day when I will have definitely crashed.

Over the past few days, or has it been almost a week already now, I have begun to feel more hopeful that positive things are happening in my body. My chiropractor seems to have nailed down a plan of attack that is making a difference in how I’ve been feeling these recent days. There is still burning, electric current-like pains down the backs of my legs from buttocks to calves. There is still numbness in my left foot and small toes. The back still feels achy at times. However, I am now actually experiencing moments without tingling in my feet, which is a huge thing! My doctor gave me the okay to stop taking my medications, since I have never felt that they were actually helping. I might still have a ways to go before I am normal, at least it seems like we’re finally making progress.

At the gym this morning, I started off my training program with some bench press. It wasn’t a maximal weight, and the rep range wasn’t crazy. Aside from some shoulder issues which have been lingering for a while now, my bench press felt good today. I’ve been doing seated machine rows for quite a while now, at least when it doesn’t bother my back, and those felt decent this morning as well. The remaining workout was a struggle, even though I’ve been doing the same exercises for weeks and had been having solid results recently. The shoulder issues affected the band pull-aparts, so that I had to return to a thinner band than what I used last week and spread the total reps out a bit more evenly. Dumbbell curls and prone incline dumbbell shrugs both sucked. I hit the wall!

I am used to training “tired” these past seven months. It isn’t uncommon for me to yawn frequently through my workout, despite having a cup of coffee prior to heading out to the gym. But hitting the wall this morning was something different entirely. It wasn’t merely a case of being physically or mentally tired; I literally had nothing in me. I managed to get a few reps done each set, but I was well short of what was called for. I don’t like leaving reps on the table, but I also haven’t figured out how to magically make reps appear out of nowhere! I might be able to grind out a tough rep once in a while, but when the first rep of the first set is almost too much, there’s something else going on.

So what’s going on? I don’t know. Probably nothing! Apparently it can take quite some time to flush out the medications I’ve been on, which can account for the usual fatigue I feel all of the time. I haven’t been sleeping well for the past couple of nights, in part because of the shoulder issue and one aspect of the new treatment focus. The past week or so has also been kind of busy for me, at least in terms of what I am physically used to. Maybe all of those factor in and maybe none of them do. Who knows,  and does it matter?

Shadowlands

Wasn’t it just the other day that I was commenting on the gift of struggle? So why am I currently mired in my struggles and feeling defeated? Why? The answer at its most basic level is that I am human. There are limits on what my own strength and determination can do to keep doubts, insecurities, and low mood from striking, and being a person of faith doesn’t insulate me from all of those negatives either. I think my faith allows me to recognize the gift of struggle and to maintain a hopeful perspective through the darkest hours, but sometimes you still need to walk through the shadows.

There might be some blue sky outside my window today, but I’ve been on the cusp of grumpiness all week. As I laid awake in bed last night, I realized that I was carrying a lot of tension in my body. In my efforts to find a comfortable position in which to (hopefully) fall asleep, I had to force myself to relax my muscles on several occasions. Lying awake in the darkness of my bedroom often releases my brain to trip its way down rabbit holes and hallways it seldom has access to in the light of day. Such thoughts are seldom productive or beneficial. Some thoughts are more benign but still pointless.

  • What if my return to work is denied again?
  • When will I be able to lie down without pain/discomfort/the sensation of things moving in my legs?
  • There have been so many changes at work since I was last there. How am I going to adapt?
  • In that situation that occurred months ago, I should have said this. I should have done that.

I am beginning to wake up a bit earlier these days, which perhaps sounds better than the reality of the situation. With little on my schedule over the past several months and great difficulties with sleeping, I have been waking up without an alarm most days with anywhere between 7:30 and 8:30 being the time my body would begin to stir enough to suggest waking up. Waking up though has still been a struggle. So, lately I have begun to wake up between 7:00 and 7:30…not a great difference but enough for now. Unfortunately, when you’re not sleeping well, waking up earlier doesn’t help you get enough restful sleep!

This morning I woke up, stayed snuggled in my warm cocoon, silently debating the merits of getting up until I was at least sufficiently awake enough for the task. I ate breakfast. I dressed. I left for the gym. Once in the car, I felt the internal resistance and wondered why. I like going to the gym, but the act of leaving the house to go there has often been more of a struggle over these recent months. The herniated disc, of course. It’s not that I no longer enjoy going to the gym…it is the fact that I am injured, healing, feeling pain, lacking sleep, off work, off-kilter, and out-of-sorts.

I acknowledged the source of that struggle and arrived at the gym believing that the training session would be okay, all things considered. It would be a bit much to say that the training session was horrible, but it definitely felt tough. Physically and mentally. The first thing on my agenda was bench press, and I was barely into it before realizing that I wasn’t feeling it at all today. The left shoulder continues to be a problem, and it felt pinched through every rep. The right wrist sometimes didn’t feel seated well under the bar. An ankle randomly felt out of place…go figure! The back. The weight felt easy enough, but everything that goes into moving the weight seemed determined to make it feel heavy. My head wasn’t there, or rather it was but in all the wrong ways.

  • I know it’s going to take time to heal, but seriously how much?
  • When will the numbness in my foot and calf go away?
  • When will I stop feeling as if my legs are infested with living, squirming things?
  • Why do some of these little exercises never seem to get any easier?

I’m not feeling the gift today, but I’ve been reminded that my experience is not unique nor insurmountable. Even if it doesn’t chase away the shadows, it is a reminder that there is still light to be found and enjoyed. For today, I accept the shadows. Tomorrow is a new day, and I have determined that I shall go for a long walk, barring extreme cold or snowfall. I’ve walked on a treadmill or indoors during my recovery, but I haven’t done any walking outside and that is a much more delightful prospect than a treadmill or the mall. Of course, I wholly expect to encounter resistance by the time tomorrow rolls around, but maybe I can use a cup of coffee as a carrot on a stick.

Nationals, Fallen Records & Pain

Yesterday, instead of competing at my first Nationals, I watched my fellow competitors from the comfort of my zero-grav chair in my living room. I wasn’t sure what I would actually feel in the watching, but I think I made it through the hours in a good mental space. My heart sank a little when I saw the opening attempts put up by my group, because I knew that all of my BCPA Provincial records were about to be smashed to pieces. And they were. Every single one of them!

I am competitive. I don’t like to lose, but I am gracious in losing. The woman who broke my records is very strong, and she made her attempts look easy. Congratulations to her! I’ve always known that there were stronger women than me, and I knew that my records wouldn’t last forever. It is hard to be disappointed in the loss, when you can see the bigger picture. There is almost always someone better than you. Had I been able to take part in Nationals as I had hoped, I expect that I would have placed either 4th or 5th out of 5 competitors. The four women who were actually there ARE strong!

Even if I didn’t have a realistic chance of winning Nationals, I really wish I could have been healthy enough to compete just to have the experience of not winning. I have never been in a competition with that many direct competitors, so that would have been an amazing learning opportunity. Of course, I’d love to challenge for those records again, but that might not be realistic for me for a long time, if ever. She set the bar high! Without this injury, I’d be hard pressed to reach those heights. With this injury so much is in doubt. I don’t know when I’ll be able to squat with a bar or deadlift. I don’t know when I’ll be able to compete, but I am about 95% certain that it won’t be this year. I am still healing. Will I even be able to get back to where I was? I don’t know. So yeah, I am a competitor who wants to strive for new goals, but right now I need to just focus on being cleared to return to work.

Last night was not a good one for sleep. Maybe 3 hours and finally out of bed at 2:30. Thank goodness the Olympics are on TV at that time of the morning these days! Leg pain was the culprit that kept me awake most of the night. I almost put off going to the gym until tomorrow, but I changed my mind and went early in the afternoon. It wasn’t super great. The back seems to be handling the return to having legs down and an arch for my benching sets, and the shoulders are loving being in a proper position once again; however, almost everything else was less than stellar.

The shoulders, despite feeling fine on the bench press, are still sore and feel unstable. As much as I’m not a fan of laterals, I shouldn’t feel like I need to scrap the second and third sets. The left shoulder felt especially unstable throughout several exercises, like dumbbell curls and dumbbell floor press. The back felt fine all morning and through the bench press sets, but it did not like the single arm triceps pushdowns. The left hamstrings are still feeling the effects of IMS treatment from Monday, but the bigger leg problem today (and last night) has been throbbing and shooting pain down both legs between the hips and knees. This pain is quite familiar…I’ve only lived with it in varying degrees of severity since herniating my disc, but the level of pain in the legs had settled down substantially over the past few weeks.

I’m not thrilled with the way my body seems to be fighting me on multiple fronts right now, but I need to respect the fact that healing isn’t always a straight line. It’s often bumpy, especially with some types of injuries. Here now at the end of the day, the back is feeling okayish again. The shoulders aren’t throbbing, but I can feel the instability depending on how I move my arms. Honestly, the shoulders are the least of my worries, because I know they are just over-used and annoyed. They will get better. What feels the worst right now are my legs. I’m still experiencing throbbing and shooting pain in both legs, and there isn’t much I can do about it. I can increase my pain medication dose tonight, and I will, even though the medication has never erased the pain. But, if I’m really, really lucky, maybe it will help me sleep tonight.

 

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.

Bumpy-wumpy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rise of the Machines

Being injured is not my idea of a fun time. If I had broken an arm, I would quite likely be having a cast removed any day now and on my way to regaining strength, but a herniated disc doesn’t necessarily have a predictable and tidy healing schedule. I’d rather have a broken bone or a pulled muscle, a sprain or stitches, or a week long flu. This is not fun.

I feel like two different people. One is the optimist who knows how to dream big and work to achieve it. The other isn’t quite defeated yet but is broken, frustrated, and despairing. I am both people, flipping back and forth sometimes as frequently as a heartbeat.

My training routine since the injury has been little more than rehab exercises. Everything has been careful and slow and simple. I’ve not been allowed to touch a barbell or perform certain movements. While I appreciate the necessity of the rehab and the restrictions, I miss moving some weight and training more like an athlete than an injured person. I might have a World record squat, but these days my prowess is pretty much limited to bird dogs and body-weight glute bridges.

With my training playlist blaring in my ears, I go through my rehab motions fighting an internal battle between determination and despair. It’s an ugly battle of hand-to-hand combat, trenches, and no man’s land. One day a song might bolster my spirits and fan the flames of positivity and determination, while the same song the next day might shoot down my hope in a fiery hail of bullets. The ongoing numbness in my left leg weighs heavily on me. It’s bad enough that I can feel the weakness in that leg and the tentativeness that comes with diminished physical sensations, but the thought of potential long-term nerve damage is rather frightening. Having resigned myself to missing out on Nationals, I have also accepted that there is no specific timeline for stepping back onto a powerlifting platform. Although I have seen some improvements over the past five weeks, my physiotherapist has pointed out that ideally there should be more. My worth and sense of self are not dependent upon being or training like a powerlifter; however, I do still greatly miss doing those things that I enjoy doing in the gym.

I smiled last night when I opened up this week’s training program from my coach. Not only did he put in a reference to the new Star Wars movie opening later this week, but he also changed up my program to incorporate a bunch of machines! This is both exciting and out of my comfort zone. It’s exciting, because machines means I get to use some weight, even if I’m still starting out low and slow. This is potentially uncomfortable and scary, because I’ve never really used machines before! I’ve seen them in the gym, but I’ve always looked at them as strange, wild animals that you look at but don’t touch. I have no idea what they are or how to use them, so I quite literally need to google each exercise/machine before going to the gym. I need to know what machine I am looking for and how to use it properly. That’s the easy part. Then I need to find those machines at my gym. My gym has two floors with machines on both levels. Some are labelled, some are not. But I think I found all of the machines I need for now.

I’m still a long way from deadlifting, bench pressing, or squatting with a barbell, but it was so good to use some muscles that haven’t been used since the injury. The weights I’m using must start off low. I need to take each rep slowly and carefully, but I was able to work biceps and triceps, pecs and delts, quads and hamstrings. It’s been a long time since I’ve had so many muscles quivering from exertion. I felt the effects of a lack of strength training and the ongoing left leg nerve impingement. Standing body weight calf raises…the left calf is weaker and lagging. The same is true of the left hamstring when doing leg curls. Even though my left quad is unaffected by the herniated disc, when doing leg extensions I can still feel a lack of involvement in my left foot, or at least the numb half of my foot. As I’m extending both legs, my right foot feels engaged and active, while the left foot isn’t engaged and feels as if it is merely hanging out for the ride. <sigh> Small weights. Small steps. Turtle’s pace.