Sifting Knowledge

The art of knowing is knowing what to ignore. ~Rumi

I like to know things. I want answers to the questions why, how, when, where, and who. There is a thirst for knowledge that sends me searching for answers, for wisdom, for a broader perspective. And yet, I recognize that not all of the knowledge I seek is of value or for long-term storage. This is why I love history but would struggle to rattle off specific dates. The dates aren’t nearly as important to me as the actual events and themes. As a teenager, my knowledge of professional wrestlers was amazing. I could tell you a wrestler’s real name and all sorts of interesting tidbits. That information is no longer relevant to me, so most of that data has long been lost or erased. Without even being aware of what I was doing, I have been practicing the art of knowing for a long time, but lately I have been struggling in knowing what to ignore.

Since herniating a disc last November, I have heard and read all sorts of information on such injuries and how to treat them. To say that there is conflicting information out there would be an understatement, and it is enough to make my head spin.

  • do not squat with a barbell
  • do not deadlift
  • do not stop squatting or deadlifting
  • get traction
  • traction is an out-dated treatment
  • take this medication for pain
  • do not take that medication
  • you will never be able to do weight training again
  • you will be able to do weight training again
  • hang upside-down by your knees
  • use an inversion table
  • don’t use an inversion table
  • walk
  • swim
  • see this physiotherapist, sports trainer, chiropractor, massage therapist, etc.
  • don’t see that physiotherapist, sports trainer, chiropractor, etc.
  • take these supplements
  • eat these foods
  • don’t eat those foods
  • do back extensions
  • don’t do back extensions
  • don’t sit
  • don’t stand
  • don’t lie in bed all the time

The list is long and continues to grow. Some contradictions actually do make some sense. Back extensions are a common rehab exercise for disc issues, so it makes sense that they are recommended and prescribed. I was told to stop doing them, when it became apparent that the extensions were being more harmful than helpful in my situation.

Other contradictions make sense on the surface but not always practically. The don’t sit, stand or lie down theories are such an example. If I sit, I hurt. If I stand, I hurt. If I lie down, I hurt. What does that leave me with? I avoid sitting as much as possible, but not sitting requires that I either stand or lie down. So, what’s a girl in constant pain to do?

Then there are the contradictions which leave me confused and unsure of what I should do. Things like don’t deadlift versus keep deadlifting or get traction versus traction is out-dated and ineffective. My brain has been chewing on these things, hoping to find discernment and clarity where there is none. I’ve been scouring the internet, reading articles and opinions, listening to the voices of those I trust, those I do not trust, and those I do not know well enough to as yet determine their trustworthiness. Despite all my searching for information and wisdom, I honestly feel no closer to what is best and true for me and my situation.

It seems as if everyone has an opinion on what to do for herniated discs, whether through their own experience, their medical expertise, or the ego of being an expert on everything. I am usually quick to recognize the ones speaking from their egos, and their advice is swiftly sifted and the chaff discarded. Personal experience can be a great teacher, so long as you remember that each person and body is unique and one approach won’t necessarily work for everyone. I am eager to hear about the experiences of others with a similar injury, because there is comfort in knowing others have traveled a similar path and perhaps you can learn something new. But when another’s personal experience runs counter to what the professionals have told you to do or not do, how do you reconcile that? Ignore your health care team? Discard the personal experience? That decision is made more difficult when the personal experience or contradictory directions comes from someone who also has professional knowledge.

As the days inch towards the 6 month mark, I feel like I have learned a great deal about disc herniations. Causes, symptoms, rehab exercises, treatments, surgical procedures…I have read all about them over and over again. But I still feel lost. Sometimes I even feel caught between invisible opposing forces. On one side is the force of out-dated and old-fashioned thoughts and practices, the attitude of reacting rather than being proactive, and a system that places proper steps and protocols over proper care. The other side is completely opposite. Modern techniques, forward thinking, constant learning and adaptation, proactive and holistic care. I lean heavily towards the modern ways, but I am forced to endure the plodding steps of the old-fashioned side of medical care, which then results in being pulled in two different directions at the same time. It’s hard to listen to both, but the way our medical system works I have little choice. It’s confusing and frustrating, and it leaves me feeling as if I’m little more than a guinea pig at times. Wouldn’t it be nice if an injury was exactly the same for everybody with a one-size fits all band-aid solution?

 

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Power Restored

“When you can’t control what’s happening, challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what’s happening. That’s where your power is.” ~unknown

Two weeks ago when my doctor told me I cannot return to work for another three months, I was initially devastated. Three more months on top of the four months I’ve already been off work is an awfully long time, and I would desperately like to reclaim some semblance of normalcy in my life once more. But the feeling of devastation didn’t last too long. In fact, I think I actually felt relief in knowing that I’d be home for three more months, because the lengthy extension means I no longer need to jump through the hoops of filling out forms every four weeks and anxiously waiting to hear whether or not I’d be allowed to return to work this time. Yes, I’d rather be back at work; however, the three month leave-extension has reduced my stress-load.

Back in December when both my chiropractor and physiotherapist were recommending I ask my doctor for a surgical referral, the very idea that my injury might require surgery was stressful. Despite my reaction to that idea, I was willing to ask my doctor, understanding the pros and cons and state of my body, and so, I was frustrated and disappointed when my doctor refused to refer me to a neurosurgeon. The fact that my doctor held all the power in this situation involving my health and well-being only fueled my frustration. Now that my doctor has finally decided a surgical referral is warranted, the frustration continues. He could have started this ball rolling months ago. Instead, I am still waiting. Still suffering. Once this ordeal is finally over, I will seek out a new doctor. In the meantime, I am choosing to be thankful that I do have a referral now. The projected timeline for an appointment is sometime in May, but I have asked to be put on the cancellation list and will check in (code for nagging) as often as I can work up the courage to pretend I’m that type of person. Mostly, I just feel relieved that something proactive is now on the table.

With the exception of a few days and weeks here and there, I have managed to continue going to the gym since my injury, and that has also been a source of frustration as I haven’t been able to do the type of training that I enjoy. I have had to let go of any goals or hopes of competing this year and for as long as it takes to heal. It’s been disappointing and hard to watch some of those goals crumble into dust, knowing how hard and long I have worked to reach them. Although I aim to workout at the gym three times a week, I usually do so in varying degrees of pain and discomfort. I do safe and essentially simple exercises that won’t inflict more harm on my back. For a long time, my limitations chafed. Okay, so they still do, but I also hurt enough and for long enough now to know that this is all that I can do right now. At least I can still do something! I never used to have a tough time getting myself to the gym, not until this injury, and there are days where I have to skip an exercise that is causing more pain. I’m listening to my body. I’m staying as active as I can with pain in my back and both legs and numbness in a foot and calf. Pre-injury, when I’d do heavy squats, the adrenaline would create little tremors in my hands. Now, it’s not adrenaline, and it’s not little tremors. My hands, my arms, my legs…they shake and sometimes violently, because of the pain and effort of holding myself together. But I’m not so frustrated in the gym anymore. I’ve known from the beginning that healing would take time, and now I have fully come to term with just how long that could be, even if there is no end in sight.

In the early days of injury, I thought I’d be better in a few weeks. A month after the injury when I finally agreed to take a medical leave, I thought I’d be back to work in 2-4 weeks. Late December I settled on my theme for 2018, choosing to make lemonade out of this lemon given to me. Since then I have gone through the gamut of emotions. Up, down. Angry, sad, relieved, even happy. I’ve been twisted inside-out, been hung out to dry, wallowed in misery, and broken fingernails clawing my way back out. It’s one thing to make a statement of making lemonade, but the practice of doing it isn’t always so simple or easy. But it isn’t impossible. I think I am finally, or mostly, at a place of peace and acceptance with what has happened these past five months and what is yet to come. This is probably the first time since the injury that I actually feel in control, not of what has happened or will happen, but in how I respond.

Grey Skies with a Ray of Sunshine?

I am done for the day, mentally and physically. The day felt long and fuller than it was looking when I woke up almost twelve hours ago. Being on an extended medical leave of absence means that I have more time than I know what to do with. Going to the gym and my medical appointments gives me something of an anchor in time and space, but my days still tend to blur together. Today I had nothing on my agenda except two appointments. One with my doctor and the other with my chiropractor. Physically, I am hurting, because I hurt all the time and then I was poked and prodded and made to do uncomfortable things. And my head hurts. Is it just a headache, or is it connected to the mental fatigue? I don’t know. Maybe it is both.

I went to my doctor’s appointment expecting another revolving door with a comment about healing taking time. Lately, I’ve listened to my doctor hearing much the same senseless babble that Charlie Brown hears from his teacher. My doctor has made it quite obvious that he doesn’t truly listen to what I say nor does he actually pay attention to what he reads in my chart or test results. Each follow-up appointment feels like a waste of my time, but I have to continue to follow-up for this injury.

My doctor walked in and asked how I was. The same. Still pain in both legs and my back. He focused on “both legs” and expressed some surprise, as if this was the first time he’s heard this and not the seventh. “That’s a central disc!” he said before asking me what my MRI results had said. He is the one with my MRI results in my file on the laptop he carried into the exam room. But I am not a confrontational person, so I bite my tongue and let him continue. If falling over wouldn’t cause me more pain, I would have done just that when my doctor proceeded to say he was going to refer me to a neurosurgeon. Wow! All the way back in December, both my chiropractor and physiotherapist recommended asking my doctor for such a referral, and his answer was a solid not going to happen. He also gave me a medical note saying I need to be off work for another 3 months.

I walked out of my doctor’s office as one shell-shocked and numb. This was not what I had expected to come from this visit. The referral was appreciated, although there was bitterness in the needless delay. The additional three months off work was not expected. Next week I was expected to submit an updated functional abilities form to the leave of absence team, so that they could determine if I could be allowed to return to work safely. I guess it’s safe to say that my doctor’s note trumps the need for the functional abilities form now. While I didn’t know with any certainty that the leave of absence team would have given me the okay to come back to work, but at least I had a wisp of hope and that has been snuffed out. For three more months.

I got in my car and started for home. Somewhere along the way I let out a loud and long scream born out of frustration and despair. It felt good in the moment, to let the angst out so violently, but it didn’t feel so great on the throat for a while after. For the rest of the drive, I choked back tears.

At home, while waiting for my next appointment, I tried to return an important phone call I missed while with my doctor, a phone call about my application for short-term disability, which I now need more than ever. I scanned and emailed my doctor’s note to the leave of absence team.

My next appointment was a long one full of information and physical testing. It was painful and uncomfortable at times, but overall, I left feeling like it was productive and positive. And yet, I still feel as if I was hit by a large truck. It’s been a day.

On my way home from that last appointment, I stopped at the neighbourhood grocery store for sandwich fixings, since I hadn’t been home to make dinner and hadn’t thought to plan ahead. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized I forgot to get buns or bread for sandwiches, which speaks to the current state of my head.

 

Still No

I was optimistic this time around and believed that head office would give me the okay to return to work next week. Still I waited with baited breath for the email confirmation. This morning upon waking I checked my email from the comfort of my bed and discovered within my inbox the email from head office. The news within the email was not what I had expected, so I read the message again and again as my hope was reduced to a pile of ashes. They are keeping me on medical leave for another month.

While I might have been a little scared about returning to work while still very much in the healing process, I was also eager to get back to a semblance of normalcy and feeling connected and of worth. I might be getting better at squeezing lemons, but sipping lemonade is becoming rather old. My husband jokes about all the time I have to do his paperwork, but even if I knew how to do it for him, that really is not what I want to be doing with my time. I want to go do my job and know that on payday I will actually be getting paid. I want to be able to sit without pain, lie down without pain, stand for hours without pain, and bend forward as often as I want without pain. I’d like to stop making regular appointments with my doctor and physiotherapist. I’d like to resume training like a powerlifter and plan for future competitions. I would love it if my left leg and foot would return to feeling normal again. There are a lot of things I’d like to be doing instead of being stuck on a medical leave, but here I am.

Perspective is important all of the time but especially during seasons of struggle. The struggle itself doesn’t matter a whole lot; it is merely a catalyst for change or growth. Another month off work allows me another month to heal. It gives me more time to strengthen my back and core to be able to tolerate hours on my feet again. I am extremely disappointed and frustrated with another month off work ahead of me, but I can see past those dark clouds to catch glimpses of the clear skies ahead. And that’s the thing about all of this struggle…there is sunshine and clear skies ahead. I just don’t know how long it will take me to reach them!

Today, in real life, the sun is shining and the sky is a beautiful shade of blue. It feels like spring, and I am hopeful that spring is indeed coming soon. However, for me today, I feel socked in by a thick layer of grungy, grey clouds. My heart feels heavy and my head hurts. The head might be hurting from this morning’s chiropractic adjustment, but it fits the mood within.

Agree to Disagree?

I have spent a great deal of time searching for and sifting through information about herniated discs since my own herniation at the beginning of November. There is so much information on the internet, and it has been challenging to sift the good information from the bad. So several weeks ago when I stumbled upon an online support group for people with herniated discs, I joined. I’m not sure what I expected from such a group, but I was almost instantly overwhelmed by the broad scope and complexities of this one group. People of all ages from all over the world with all sorts of herniations, treatments, medications, and opinions.

Normally I avoid taking part in online arguments or inflammatory conversations, because such conversations seldom go well and benefit no one. The loudest voices in such conversations tend to come from those with the biggest attitudes, the narrowest minds, and an unwillingness to expand their knowledge. I will never claim to have all the right answers, but I do like to be considerate and thoughtful in my perspective and responses. I’m even willing to agree to disagree! Well…unless you think Star Trek is better than Star Wars! 😉

Yesterday morning there was a conversation regarding a specific home treatment…an inversion table. Although I have yet to try an inversion table, I do own one and have talked to my chiropractor more than once about using it. I shared my thoughts on the table in this discussion, mainly the fact that my chiropractor had discouraged my using the table when my herniation was new and has now said I can try it with care and caution. It wasn’t too long before someone replied directly to my comment by stating that my chiropractor wouldn’t want me to use an inversion table because it would keep me from seeing him and giving him lots of money.

And that’s when I broke my unspoken rule to avoid argumentative online discussions! Kind of anyway. I did manage to keep my response civil and non-threatening. I agreed that there are many chiropractors who are exactly like that, but then I said there are indeed good chiropractors out there and mine is one of them. My chiropractor’s concerns about my using an inversion table had nothing to do with keeping me coming to see him for treatment and everything to do with ensuring I was being treated properly and safely. Since herniating my disc, I’ve seen my chiropractor 3 times. The first was when he initially diagnosed the herniation, and he performed no treatment at all. The second was because my neck was in desperate need of an adjustment, and again no treatment on the back. The last and most recent visit was primarily motivated, on my part, by the need for an adjustment on my neck and concern over my knee/hamstring. He did a bit of treatment and said to come back in a month or so. I know I can be highly skeptical at times, but that doesn’t sound like my chiropractor is looking to keep me coming back like a yo-yo.

I made my post. There was no further response, but I was highly irritated for a few hours after the fact. That took me by surprise, because I don’t even get that upset over bad drivers. My fits of anger or irritation are typically as short-lived as a lit match. I was so upset that I considered blogging about it right then and there, but sanity prevailed enough to use my annoyance for more productive things, like cleaning the bathroom. Today, as I type this blog post, I am no longer angry or irritated, but I think I am dismayed.

I like my chiropractor, and I will always speak highly of his integrity and practice. However, I know from experience that not all chiropractors are the same. I respect my chiropractor and ones like him…not so much the other kind! And yet, I think my irritation stems from something more than just the broad insult directed towards chiropractors. I think the problem is the nature of many online groups, regardless of the reason for their existence.

I joined this support group, because I was looking for support, emotional and informational, from people who knew exactly what I was dealing with. While there was definitely some of that support, there was also a lot of contradictory information and information that wasn’t relevant to my situation. After seeing many people’s stories, I have come to believe that my herniation wasn’t all that bad! Certainly I haven’t been having a sunny picnic these past few months, and my pain and struggles cannot be compared to those of another. But there are people with multiple herniations! People who have been suffering intense pain for years, even decades! People who can’t get out of bed, can’t walk, can’t function on the most basic level. Those aren’t my experiences, and my own feel shallow in comparison.

I have seen posts asking for advice on every topic related to our injuries that you could possibly imagine, and sometimes I wonder why. Why are some of these questions even being asked in an online support group? Shouldn’t you ask your doctor, chiropractor, physiotherapist, surgeon, pharmacist, whatever? Do you not know how to do a google search to find out the side effects of whatever drug you’ve been prescribed? And even if you still want the human perspective on your question, why is it so difficult for people to hear opinions and experiences that differ from their own? Why assume the worst? If Joe says that back extensions really helped with his back pain, then why trash back extensions simply because the exercise wasn’t helpful for you?

I recognize that there is a measure of irony in my complaining about online groups, and putting my thoughts into words is difficult sometimes. I know there can be value to online groups, but I suppose I have little tolerance for scenarios where some ideas are immediately shot down for no other reason than that someone holds a different one. Jane shares a post about eating well to reduce inflammation. A dozen or more posts soon follow which ridicule Jane’s post as being irrelevant and ineffectual. Hey, if you want to eat refined and heavily processed food with nary a vegetable in sight, that’s your choice and you’re welcome to it. But why the stubborn arrogance? Not everyone wants to rush into surgery or pop pills forever to deal with the pain. Some people are willing to consider alternatives. Some people are willing to look at our bodies as complex, inter-connected machines, which will run and heal more efficiently when we treat all its areas properly. Jane’s not demanding that everyone give up their fast food. Jane’s just offering an alternative point of view. Thankfully, some people get it. Unfortunately, the internet is full of people who don’t, and I don’t have time or energy to waste on the negative. Well, I’ve got the time right now, but I am not so inclined to waste it in such a forum. I do have a life to live, and I plan on living it.

Guess that means I’m going to have to leave the group.

Gratitude

The third question on the list for ending your year intentionally is:

What or who is the one thing or person you’re grateful for?

Regardless of what my year has looked like or how I feel about it, I am always grateful for the people in my life and I have long been in the habit of expressing gratitude for things, big and small, on a daily basis. Thankfulness is part of who I am, and I could go on for days expressing all that I am grateful for over the course of the year.

To choose one thing or person is a difficult task, so I am going to approach it as a group result. Have you ever watched a boxing match? When the bell rings to signal the end of a round, the boxers go to their corners where they are tended to, coached, supported and encouraged. Cuts are tended. Sweat is wiped away. Water is provided. The boxer has people in his corner. I am not a boxer, but I know what it is like to have that kind of support and I am grateful for all of it.

1. My husband! He lets me do all these crazy things and willingly spends countless hours at my competition, most of which is just waiting for my turn to lift. He cheers me on, encourages me, and takes video for me. He has been at 8 of my 9 competitions, missing out on one only because he was still recovering from hip replacement surgery. It was odd not having him at Provincials this year, and I know that I felt the loss of emotional support when that competition didn’t go as well as I had hoped. I am glad that he was there at my most recent competition. When I broke the World record for my squat and emotion was bursting out of me, being wrapped in his arms was a wonderful feeling. Now that I am injured, he is still supportive. He encourages me when I feel troubled by worry and despair. He has my back. He loves me.

2. My chiropractor! I visit my chiropractor with some regularity as I put my body through a lot. He helps keep my body functioning as well as it possibly can, but he doesn’t just twist and crunch me. He seldom fixes me up without also giving me practical skills and advice to help keep my body working well. On occasion, I am also blessed to receive words of wisdom or encouragement that nourish my spirit and soul. In my eyes, my chiropractor is more than just a health care professional…he’s also a friend.

3. My coach! Perhaps coach should really be coaches, since I have had two different coaches this year. My previous coach got me started in powerlifting and played a big role in my journey. Even though he is no longer my coach, I cannot discount his part in my story.

My current coach and I are still in the learning each other stage, I think, but I have already experienced good things under his programming. Although I no longer have the direct, real-time contact with a coach while training, I still feel supported, encouraged, and challenged by my new coach. When I started with him this summer, I was recovering from another problem with my back or SI joints and hadn’t been in powerlifter mode for several weeks. I had the November competition on the horizon, and my coach took me through training on a level I had never done before…and it worked. I could hear his encouraging comments as I was on the platform. My injury has changed the nature of my training again, but I know my coach has my back!

4. My friend Sienna! For my competition in November, I needed a handler. This was only the second time that I have needed to find someone to help me out at a competition, because that role was usually covered by my coach. My daughter was my handler at Westerns last year, and my friend was my handler this time. She was probably quite nervous, uncertain as to what to do to support me, but I think she did a great job. I have competed enough that I know what I need to do and when to do it, but it is always nice to have someone there to chalk the back, offer encouragement, and remind you what you’re capable of.

5. My physiotherapist! This is a recent addition to my support crew thanks to my injury, but I feel confident in his abilities and treatment. I tend to be highly cynical when it comes to doctors and many aspects of “health care”, so I am always grateful to find medical professionals who are not stuck on out-dated methods and systems.

6. My friends, co-workers, and family! These people have cheered me on every step of the way, through thick and thin, weight cuts and water loads, disappointments and frustrations, sore muscles and all my back struggles. When I’ve had success, they’ve celebrated with me.

 

Not a Victim

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” ~Nora Ephron

You can say that you’re sorry this happened to me, I guess. Herniating a disc does suck. It sucks to be in pain and to not be limited in your regular activities. It royally sucks to watch goals and plans evaporate before your eyes. But I am not a victim.

I herniated a disc. It could have happened at any time and anywhere. The fact that it happened at the end of a powerlifting competition doesn’t make my sport hazardous or something I need to give up permanently. People herniate discs all the time. Even people who don’t do powerlifting!

I will heal. I will overcome these temporary difficulties that I am experiencing as the result of a herniated disc. Why? Because I am stubborn and determined and I want to return to the platform. I don’t want to be a victim but a heroine. Life is an adventure, and I want to enjoy the journey. I do not want to curl up and give up because of an unexpected derailing and delay. Why wait for the train when I can continue the journey on my own two feet? Sure, I might be hobbling for a while, but I’ll get there eventually!

A couple of days ago I sat down with my owner’s manual and made a plan of attack, because I am all about my lists. I have my rehab exercises to do, and I am doing them faithfully. My diet basically tanked over the past couple of weeks, so I need to rein that back in since a good diet will help reduce inflammation and improve overall health. I need to ensure I’m getting adequate sleep, since rest is important for healing and overall health. While I cannot always control how well I sleep, I can do what I can to set myself up for enough sleep. The good news is that I have generally been sleeping better lately. I need to make sure I am more consistent with taking my beneficial supplements, like Omega 3 and vitamin E. DO NOT SIT! I am so conditioned to avoiding sitting as much as possible…have been doing that for well over a year already. Listen to my chiropractor. Listen to my physiotherapist. Listen to my coach. Listen to my body. Ask for help when necessary, even when I think it isn’t necessary but it really is. Just because I know I should be capable doesn’t mean doing so is a good idea. Nourish my soul. Be thankful. Be happy, because having the right attitude is so important!