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! šŸ˜‰

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 respectĀ 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 peopleĀ 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.

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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! PerhapsĀ coach should really beĀ 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 myĀ 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 IĀ 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!

Stages of Injury Grief

After yesterday morning’s physio appointment, I noticed that my pain level had dropped a fair bit for most of the day. Good news! However, the pain came roaring back around 1:00 this morning and roused me from my comfortable bed to the living room floor. I did manage to sleep somewhat decently on the floor, although I did need to change my position a few times in an effort to keep the pain low enough to allow for slumber. Just like yesterday morning, the pain was fierce this morning once I woke up for good. The short drive to the gym was pure torture, but I made it.

My gym has two floors of weights and machines. I am used to mostly sticking to the main floor where the squat racks, benches, and deadlift platforms are located, but I won’t be using those things for a while. So, as I hobbled up the stairs to find a piece of floor to do my rehab exercises, I bumped into a regular customer from work.

Customer: How was your competition?

Me: Oh, it was really good! Four Provincial records, 3 National records, 1 World Record, and I herniated a disc.

Customer: Really?!

Me: Yeah! I did very well.

There was a bit more to the conversation, but I find myself amused by this segment of the conversation even now a couple of hours later. Speaking to someone who is familiar yet essentially a stranger (even though I know his name, his wife’s name, and what they both drink at Starbucks), I could lump a herniated disc in with my accomplishments without batting an eyelash. It was just so matter-of-fact. So casual.

And yet yesterday during my physio appointment, I was almost blindsided by tears when I discovered that my left leg doesn’t have enough strength to raise my heel up off the floor. This revelation took me by surprise. How could this be?! Well, it is because I herniated a disc. Yet, it freaks me out, because I am not used to there being a disconnect between my brain and a body part. When I tell my brain that I need to get from point A to point B, my legs walk me to where I need to go. Likewise my arms can move, my hands can type or pick up an object. But when I stand on just my left foot and tell my brain to do a calf raise…there is no response but the smell of smoke from my brain working super hard to send the signal. My left leg betrays me, and that freaks me out.

I am sure that a google search could probably show me a list of the stages of dealing with an injury, but I am not inclined to do such a search at this time. Oh, who am I kidding!

I looked and easily found a list of 5 stages of injury grief!

  1. denial
  2. anger
  3. bargaining
  4. depression
  5. acceptance

Obviously the best stage to be in is the fifth stage of acceptance. Accepting the injury means less stress and physical tension that can delay healing. I think acceptance will result in more progress, and I believe that reaching the acceptance stage will come easier and more quickly should another injury occur.

So where am I on this list of stages? Good question, Angela, but do you have an answer.

Denial? I don’t think I was ever truly in this stage but rather skipped it completely. From the moment I let go of the barbell on my final deadlift, I knew that something was wrong in my body. I felt the pain as I walked off the platform. While I didn’t know what the problem was, I did know that there was an injury of some sort. I hoped it was something simple and minor, but I never doubted the truth once I did get a proper diagnosis.

Anger? Again, I don’t think I lingered in this stage at all. I am not angry that this happened, even though I wish it had never happened. I can feel that way, right? Although this injury seems to have occurred during that final deadlift, the truth is that the competition isn’t to blame. It’s not like I did something wrong and the injury was the result of my error or sloppiness. It just happened. It could have happened the next day while I was getting out of bed or a month from now while lifting a box at work. How can I be angry about a silently ticking time bomb? I had an amazing competition, and I am so proud of myself that I just don’t have room to let anger in. Well, I might feel anger towards my family doctor for being such a jerk.

Bargaining? If ever there was a stage that I’d get stuck in this would likely be it. Back in the days when I still considered myself a runner, I tried bargaining when pain and injury threatened my ability to run. Eventually I had to stop running, but I still tried to bargain my way back to it. I failed in my attempts, and running is no longer a part of my life. I have also tried to bargain my way through other minor injuries with mixed results. I’d like to say that I’ve learned my lesson and will never resort to bargaining again. But I do want to compete at Nationals in February, and this disc herniation could mess that goal up really quickly. I can’t guarantee that I won’t cave in to the desire to bargain down the road, but for now I think I have managed to avoid this stage. I respect the professionals in my corner who want to see me get better, and I am willing to do what it takes to get there.

Depression. This stage is familiar to me, and I know how easily I can slip into its darkness. Pain that doesn’t go away chews away at your peace and happiness until all that is left is more pain but the kind that lurks within. The lack of sleep that often comes from endless physical pain will suck the life right out of you until you are nothing more than a hollow shell. I know this, and I think that I can safely navigate my way through the maze of depression. My sleep has definitely been impacted, and I do have unending pain. When the physiotherapist asked me to describe the pain, I said it was like touching a live wire. I have never touched a live wire, but I’m pretty sure it is an accurate description for what I feel in my butt. Am I in the depression stage? I cannot entirely say no or yes. Maybe? Partly? It depends on the moment?

Acceptance. This is where I think I am. Mostly. Even if my family doctor doesn’t agree, I know that I have herniated my L5 S1. I realize that the road to recovery is going to be long and tedious, but I am willing to do whatever it takes to get through this. I can joke about it, because now I can legitimately say that I have a pain in my ass. My chiropractor has instructed me to ask for help and to avoid bending and lifting. Although it is somewhat humiliating to ask for help at work (because I should be capable of picking up a box), at home I now have a valid reason to motivate my kids to be my slaves. See that? More humour!

While I might be mostly in the acceptance stage in this moment, I do have to acknowledge that grief is not bound by stages or rules or laws. Grief, in all its forms, tends to cycle through stages at random. I might be accepting today, but next week I could be angry or depressed. I could be reduced to bargaining in a month before returning to a state of acceptance. If grief is anything at all, it is unpredictable.

Raising Cattle & Other Stories

My son is laughing at me, although he tells me that he is truly laughing with me. I am laughing, he reasons, so he can only be laughing with me. He isn’t completely wrong. I was laughing, but it was laughter born out of a sense of futility and an effort to keep panic from exploding out of my pores.

I had my first physio appointment this morning, and it went rather well…for an appointment necessitated by an injury. He asked me a bunch of questions and put me through a series of tests. One of his questions asked if I had noticed any weakness in my left leg. I said no. There is numbness in my left leg, but I didn’t think there was any weakness. Apparently I was wrong.

One of the tests required that I do 5 calf raises per leg, starting with my good right leg. Without any trouble at all, I did 5 calf raises using my right leg. Then I switched to the left leg…and nothing. I stood there, hands on the edge of the exam bed, balanced on my left foot, mentally willing my foot to rise up off the floor, but nothing happened. I could notĀ  do a single calf raise with my left leg.

I don’t even know the best words to describe how I felt in that moment. I had to scrape together enough emotional strength not to dissolve into tears right then and there. The realization that there is a disconnect between your brain and another part of your body is disconcerting. Eerie. Troubling. It freaks me out, and I am not so easily freaked out by most things.

As disturbing as this revelation is to me, it also makes me feel slightly angry towards my family doctor and his lackadaisical approach to my health care. With this injury, I have now seen 4 different health care practitioners: 1 chiropractor, 2 medical doctors, and 1 physiotherapist. Of those 4 practitioners, only 1 doesn’t believe that I have a disc issue. That oddball is my family doctor. My family doctor is, rather unfortunately, the one I must go through to get proper imaging or whatever treatment is even an option. How can it be that 3 separate practitioners can reach the same conclusion, yet my doctor disagrees? It makes me mad. My doctor tested my reflexes, so he surely must have noticed that I have no reflex in my left leg (every other practitioner realized it). Why didn’t he test me further? Why didn’t he ask me to do some calf raises? My chiropractor never asked me to do calf raises, because he could tell from the way I was walking that I wouldn’t be able to do it.

Yes, I am bitter towards my family doctor, and this isn’t the first time I’ve been whisked in and out of his office with a patronizing deflection of my problems. If doctors weren’t in such short supply I would look for a new one. I do not run to the doctor with every sniffle, sneeze, bump, or bruise. I will only go to the doctor when absolutely necessary, which means that whatever the issue is it is worth more than 5 minutes of brushing aside my concerns. When I am in so much pain that I have not slept for entire nights and my entire leg is numb and I come to you on the recommendation of my chiropractor who says I have herniated a disc, don’t you dare brush my concerns off and tell me that it’s just a muscle thing and not a herniated disc. Don’t you dare! But he did.

So yeah. This emotional cesspool that I’m swimming in just gets deeper and murkier, but the physio appointment did go well, despite my inability to raise my leg. I got to experience the joys of IMS (intramuscular stimulation), and I was given a bunch of exercises to rehab that little disc problem of mine.

Choice or Compromise

“If you limit your choice only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is compromise.” ~Robert Fritz

Nationals are 14 weeks away, and I have been striving and working towards my goal of competing there in February. I have all the prerequisites necessary to take part in the National competition. I have a qualifying total within the 24 months prior to Nationals. I competed at Westerns last year. The only thing I don’t currently have is a healthy body, and that is something that could wipe out my Nationals goal.

Although it is highly suspected that I have herniated my L5-S1 disc, there is still so much yet to be determined with this injury. Physiotherapy and X-rays are looming in my future. I wish the X-ray appointment was sooner than it is, because I really do want to get this injury figured out and dealt with. Even if Nationals weren’t on my agenda, I’d still want to hurry this process along. I do not like taking medication, but doing so now is paramount to my sanity. The medication is helping me to get some sleep, even if it is still in short segments. I do not enjoy the pain I am still experiencing…the pain that rudely wakes me from my slumber and cannot be ignored. I do not enjoy the permanent state of numbness that ranges from the tips of my toes all the way up to my buttock on my left leg. At work yesterday, there were many instances where I had to squat or kneel. Doing so felt incredibly weird on my numb left leg. It made my leg feel like a sausage bursting out of it’s casing, fat and swollen. My leg isn’t actually swollen, but the numbness is driving me crazy. I limp when I walk, because one leg is numb and the numbness in my calf makes walking that much harder. I want to feel normal again.

With all the uncertainty surrounding my injury, I have to consider the impact it may have on my goal of competing at Nationals in February. Part of me would be devastated if I had to pass on it, but that is a reality that I need to acknowledge. My health is ultimately more important than a competition. I think the fact that I am silently acknowledging the possibility of not going to Nationals is an important step. Call it maturity or sanity or wisdom or whatever. Nationals may not be possible or reasonable this time, but I am not prepared to give up on my dream quite yet. It’s too soon to say it won’t happen, so I will listen to my body, my coach, my chiropractor, my physiotherapist and see how things progress. However, I do also need to make room in my attitude for the worst case scenarios.

I apologize if this post seems disjointed. Even as I am laying down while typing, I am squirming in pain, unsuccessful in finding a comfortable position. My morning dose of medications is finally making me drowsy, which means I might manage to get a nap in before I go to work. I thought I knew where I was going with this blog post, but the more I type the more I realize I don’t have a clue. Except for this…I recognize that this is my most significant injury in my short powerlifting “career”. I don’t yet know what that will mean for my powerlifting “career” or my goals. After months and months of struggling with injury and rehab, the process continues. 2017 has turned out to be the year of struggle and pain, but I’ve walked through the fire before and come out stronger. That’s my ultimate goal right now.

 

Cold Water Crazy

My chiropractor friend has taken up the habit of immersing himself in the lake. It is November, and he is still doing it and inviting others to join him.

I had a shower the other day and decided to turn off the hot water once I was finished washing my hair. The shock of cold water hitting my back was intense and had me gasping for air like a fish out of water. I don’t know exactly how long I lasted under the icy spray, but it was likely no more than 30 seconds. How could anyone willingly walk far enough into a lake to submerge themselves in November?!

When I told my husband about the cold water immersion and the subtle encouragement to try it, he offered to drive me to the lake. Ha! How crazy am I to have even considered taking him up on that offer?

But I didn’t. Instead, I filled my bathtub with cold water. Just cold water. The thermometer registered about 10 degreees Celsius. Holding my breath out of dread, I put one foot in. ItĀ was cold but surprisingly tolerable. Before I allowed myself the luxury of quitting, I put the rest of my body in the tub and in the water, at least as much of my body as I could without aggravating my back too much. So my entire lower half was submerged in the water, and I never once gasped for air like a fish out of water. That fact surprised me a bit. The water was definitely cold, but I was okay. I stayed in the water for 5 minutes and only got out because sitting is painful and something I am supposed to avoid.

You know what that means, right? Now I’m going to have to go into the lake…