A Theme to Build a Dream On

I haven’t exactly been living out my theme for 2017 these past few months. Instead of feeling and being ‘Powerfully Beautiful’, I fear I have been more weak, pathetic, and ugly. It shouldn’t be this way, but pain tends to have that effect and such has been my life since the end of January. I haven’t always handled the pain, the frustration, or my limitations well. Although I tend to try to put on a good face in public, sometimes the mask slips. My emotions have risen and fallen like a roller-coaster, but the dips felt steeper and longer than the upwards climbs.

In the downward spirals, I struggle with mild depression. Taking care of myself becomes a chore, and I’m more likely to do the bare minimum of self-care. Although I will always make the time and effort to spend time with my good friends, I definitely ‘turtle’ more when my mood is low. I will do my job serving the public with a smile on my face. I will go to the gym. I will go to my chiropractic appointments. But I have to drag myself out the door for just about anything else. I haven’t been to church for several weeks, because I cannot sit without pain and kneeling for the duration of a sermon is not my idea of fun or comfort. My attempts to plan a week’s worth of meals have sputtered, because it requires too much effort. That and my interest in food and eating well has fallen with my mood. When I am down, I procrastinate more. I take less interest in what’s going on around me, except for grumbling at idiot drivers. All these signs and symptoms are probably quite typical of mild depression or someone suffering with pain. It is understandable, but it not a pretty thing to behold. And it certainly doesn’t make me feel very strong.

This week is different. I was cautiously optimistic on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Yesterday, I carried that optimism carefully into the gym with me, and I left the gym excited with hope flying high as a kite. Today, I am feeling the DOMS in my quads from yesterday’s squats, and I couldn’t be happier about that kind of pain. The back still isn’t pain-free, but the back has stayed consistently better all week. Yesterday I finally felt as if I had reached the turning point. Of course, I’m not 100% yet. I still don’t know when I will be, but I actually feel and believe that the worst is behind me now. Feeling and believing this is making the engines of motivation and drive rev.

And I feel the change in my attitude towards myself. Self-care becomes more important. I’m singing out loud in the car again, and not just grumbling at idiot drivers. I actually skimmed through the local newspaper yesterday before tossing it in the recycling bin. I wrote a card to a friend. I made a decent dinner tonight. I prepped my lunch for tomorrow. But I still grumbled internally when my husband got up and spoke to me super early this morning before I went to work. I will always prefer silence until I get to work when I start work early in the morning. He thought he was being funny by saying, “Don’t worry! I’m not going to say good morning to you.” So, I didn’t think it was funny, but that’s my non-morning person mode rather than my depressed mode.

The first third of the year might have been a fail in terms of living my theme, but there is still plenty of time left to get it right.

Unsinkable Hope

Remember my post on Sunday when I was cautiously optimistic, because I felt a noticeable difference in my level of pain and mobility in my back? Turns out it wasn’t a fluke! The lessening of pain and the slow increase to my mobility has continued, although I have kept a tight grip on my emotions. This morning I had an appointment with my chiropractor, and I was greatly surprised to find that I was able to arch my back in a cat pose. Last week when he asked me to do that same movement, it was difficult and uncomfortable. And I am now able to go full cobra when doing my back extensions homework! Then this evening I had a training session after having 4 days off. It was the best training session I’ve had in about 2 months. I am so excited! The back isn’t pain-free. I can still feel restrictions in some movements, but nothing I did in the gym tonight hurt. The only restriction I felt was at the bottom of the squat if I tried to push my depth, but I generally only went as deep as was comfortable.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6 or 7, 115 x 6, 135 x 5

with belt: 155 x 5, 165 x 5, 165 x 5, 165 x 5

Speed was good for all the sets. The weight wasn’t maximal and felt comfortable. With competition being roughly 7 weeks away, I’ve got some work to do, but we didn’t want to push too much on this first good feeling training day.

1b. bench press-competition grip

43 lbs x 10, 63 x 6, 85 x 6, 105 x 5, 105 x 5, 105 x 5, 105 x 5

I chose to keep my feet on the bench rather than have them on the floor with my full back arch…didn’t want to push my luck with the back. There was a small arch though, and the back still felt decent. The final rep of each set was paused.

2a. close grip bench press, touch and go keeping constant tension

75 lbs x 12, 75 x 12, 85 x 8

2b. back extensions-without shoes

body weight x 20, 20 lbs x 20, 20 lbs x 17

2c. seal rows

75 lbs x 15, 95 x 12, 95 x 10

It was so nice to have a mostly normal feeling training session! Even the act of putting my knee sleeves on and taking them off was incredibly easier than it has been for weeks. Wonder what Friday’s training session will bring?

A New Hope

It would be extremely premature to get excited, but today my back has felt better than it has felt for a couple of weeks. By better I do not mean without pain. However, I do mean less pain and greater ease in some simple movements. Of course, I have not had to do much today that might be too much for my back, which is why I am keeping my excitement under control.

The last few weeks have been more bad than good. Two days ago was a very bad day for my back. In the gym on Friday, Michael asked me to do some dead bugs, and tears stung my eyes from the pain and effort just to lift my legs into the air and hold them there. Today I did dead bugs without any pain or difficulty. On Thursday, my chiropractor had me do some back extensions similar to the yoga cobra pose. My range of motion that day was limited and the movement wasn’t overly comfortable. Today those extensions were easier, less uncomfortable and with greater range. Even yesterday the basic act of walking often resulted in pain, while today I have been able to stand and walk without experiencing shooting pain. This is the improvement I have been desperately waiting for and not seeing.

There has been improvement today, yes; however, it is far too early to throw caution to the wind and return to normal activities. There is still pain and the feeling of restriction to some movements. But maybe, just maybe the nerves are starting to settle down. Wouldn’t that be nice! That thought makes me feel hopeful. Cautiously optimistic.

Discs & Disappointment

Normally I prefer to blog about my training session as soon after training as possible, because I don’t want my impressions and thoughts to fade from memory before I am able to put them into writing. Even though I trained at 8 this morning, I was rather intentional about not blogging as soon as I got home. It is now 1:30 in the afternoon, and I think I have delayed long enough. My training session was not what I had hoped it would be. In fact, it was mostly an exercise in frustration and pain. The back wasn’t too bad yesterday, but today is an entirely different story.

Yesterday I left my chiropractor’s clinic feeling more optimistic than I have felt for several weeks. There was a measure of relief in knowing that the SI is fine and that this is all disc-related. I’ve been through the disc thing before, although there was no pain in my back then and it didn’t really affect my training. This round of disc issue is different from the pain in my back to the way it affects my training and daily life. I like to think I am fairly independent and self-sufficient. I don’t always like to ask for help, especially not for something I feel should be easy enough for me to do on my own, but even the most simple of tasks presents significant challenge and pain lately. I’m weary of it all.

1a. front squats

43 lbs x 8, 93 x 5, with belt 113 x 5

The front squats didn’t feel very good from the start, although the later reps in each set were somewhat easier than the first couple. Just not good enough to continue.

1b. dips

with small green band x 8

unassisted: x 6, x 5, x 5

It’s been a while since I’ve done dips, so I wasn’t very confident in my ability to do any unassisted. I’m always glad to be wrong when it comes to self-doubts. These didn’t hurt the back really, but there was some mild unpleasant sensations in having my lower half hanging.

1c. seated cable rows

70 lbs x 12, 80 lbs x 12, 80 x 4, 80 x 12, 100 x 10

I’m not sure what happened during the second set at 80 pounds, except to say that the back hurt enough that I just stopped.

2a. front foot elevated split squats

x 12 each

with 10kg kettlebell x 12 each

These actually felt kind of good. No stress on my back which was already in a ton of pain.

2b. double kettlebell curls

8kg x 7, 8kg x 12

That’s quite a discrepancy between the first and second set, and I cannot explain why the second was so much better. Sometimes my second sets just are better, because I needed to prime the movement or simply remember how much effort I need to exert.

2c. standing triceps extensions

10kg kettlebell x 15, 12kg x 12

My chiropractor says it is important for me to continue training, and I would be miserable if I had to give it up. But I’m desperately looking forward to the day I can train without pain once again.

Everything Changes

“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

I just about burst into tears when I came across this quote yesterday. I absolutely adore this quote. Although I had never heard or seen it until yesterday, the truth within these words has resonated within my heart and soul for more than 3 years now. The journey from recreational runner to working with a personal trainer to powerlifter has provided me with the opportunity to feel my own strength, and that has most certainly been empowering. I have learned to believe in myself, to know that I can do more. My life has changed. In fact, everything has changed.

With this empowering comes incredible joy…and sometimes frustration. Once you know who you are and what you are capable of, then the appearance of setbacks and obstacles can at times weigh heavily on the emotions, the psyche, the self-confidence. The bigger the setback the greater the toll it takes.

I am no stranger to setbacks and obstacles over the course of this journey. I’ve had a stitch put in my finger a couple of weeks prior to my first powerlifting competition. I dropped a box on my neck three weeks before my first competition of 2016. I’ve had a disc issue which put an end to my goal of running a marathon and running at all. There have been little tweaks and aches from my shoulders all the way down to my toes. As much as those situations provided frustration, I think I handled them all with a decent measure of grace and positive attitude that I would get past them. I even felt the same way with this current back problem…back in February when it was still fresh and new.

But now it is almost mid-April and my back, in many ways, feels just as bad as it did back then. I am trying to maintain a positive attitude. I am doing everything that I am told to do by my chiropractor. There are bad days, not so bad days, and okay days. Just when I have a run of mostly okay days, the bad rears its ugly head and leaves me feeling like one floundering at sea. On the dark days my thoughts wander down dim rabbit holes of self-doubt and despair. Even though I know my strength and character, I must fight an internal battle against myself to believe it these days.

It’s easy enough to put a smile on my face and to say that I’m doing alright. The truth is that most people truly don’t want to know all that goes on within a person, and in many circumstances that is okay. There are instances when I don’t actually want to be honest about how I’m feeling, too. I don’t always want to be honest with my coach, when he asks about my back and how it is feeling and impacting my performance, but I also can’t actually hide the truth from him. Doing so would not help me in the long run, and he would see through me awfully quick. Still, he believes that I will overcome this, because I always do! If tears weren’t already tracking down my cheeks, my coach’s belief in me would unravel my fragile emotions.

The Yo-Yo

You would think that I would be used to the ups and downs after more than two months of dealing with this back issue, but here I am still capable of being blind-sided by pain, frustration, and despair. After a couple nights of less than wonderful sleep due to discomfort in the back and the hip, today has been an exceptionally odd day. I’ve had a piercing headache on one side of my head most of the day. One eyelid has been twitching off and on throughout the day. Despite chiropractic treatment this morning that actually felt kind of good, the back grew progressively crankier as the day wore on and exploded into all sorts of pain and discomfort while at the gym tonight. The icing on the cake is a cough that settled into my chest over the weekend, which sends ripples of pain through my back with every cough. Or maybe the real topper was the bit of smoke seeping out from the hood of my car when I arrived at the gym!

1a. squats: low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 5

95 x 5, 95 x 5 with pauses

After the first set at 95 pounds, Michael asked if I wanted another warm-up set or if I wanted to go up. It’s rather unlike me to want more warm-ups, but I said I’d like another one. The second set with the slight pauses seemed to feel a bit better.

115 x 5, 135 x 6

with belt: 155 x 6 better

165 x 0

The walk-out felt okay, but the back wasn’t feeling too comfortable even as I just stood there. I began to squat but only made it not even a quarter of the way down before deciding the back didn’t feel good at all and calling it quits on that set.

135 x 5

This set was better than the “failed” set, even if Michael said it wasn’t a failed set at all, but it still didn’t feel as good as the set at 155.

It’s hard to say exactly why squats were troublesome today, when I’ve been having forward progress with them for the past few weeks. There is the possibility that alternating my squat sets with bench had a negative impact, especially as I was arching for my bench pressing today. I’m hoping that is the ultimate reason. We shall stop working both lifts at the same time for the next while to see if that makes a difference.

1b. bench press: competition grip, with arch and feet

43 lbs x 10, 73 x 6, 90 x 6 last rep paused, 105 x 6, 110 x 6 last rep paused

My pressing was going well, I think. Of course, as soon as the squats hurt too much, we also stopped benching.

2. back extensions

x 0

I was slow getting into position, and there was a fair bit of discomfort in bending forward. In a way, I’m not really surprised as forward hinging tends to be problematic these days; however, I’ve done back extensions within the past couple of weeks without the pain and restriction I felt today.

Taking off my shoes, socks, and knee sleeves was a slow and painful process. Actually the sleeves were the worst, and the left sleeve was the more difficult to remove. I’m not sure which was worse though: putting all of that on or taking it all off. Driving home was torture, but at least the car didn’t smoke. A cough might rip my back apart, but I’m now able to sneeze without needing to remove shrapnel from my back. This is me, trying to keep my chin up, even as tears well up in my eyes. I will not cry. At least not until I am somewhere alone. Mostly I’m just weary of the up and down, the bad days and the less than bad ones.

Becoming Mrs. Clean

It was going to happen sooner or later, but now that I really should begin I want to drag my feet. What am I talking about? Cleaning up my diet. I knew I’d eventually have to do it to make weight for competition, but I wasn’t expecting to start now. The reason for cleaning up my diet now has nothing to do with making weight and everything to do with reducing inflammation. My chiropractor suggested this due to the inflammation in my lower back. Although I have eaten super clean for periods of time and for specific reasons in the past, right now I feel stubbornly opposed.

I don’t want to give up a glass or two of wine on my weekend. I don’t want to make the extra effort required to prep food for work that doesn’t include flour, sugar, or processed items.

How interesting! Here I have been making small efforts over the past several months to re-focus my eating habits. I’ve been focusing on eating more vegetables again, on planning meals in advance, on eating less processed stuff, so this suggestion to clean my diet even more shouldn’t be as onerous as it feels. I think I just feel unprepared.

Although I have done well with meal planning for the past few weeks, I will admit that I really have nothing planned for this week. I did plan for yesterday’s dinner, but I could only come up with blanks for the rest of the week. My schedule is such that I won’t be home to prep or eat dinner with the rest of the family almost every day of the week, and that scenario tends to be where I struggle with meal planning the most. Unfortunately, when you are trying to eliminate sugars, flours and processed foods, many quick and easy meal solutions are suddenly problematic. A sandwich? Nope. Cereal? No. Forget about treats like muffins or brownies or ice cream. Dairy should probably go, too.

I am working a close shift tonight, which means I need a snack and something closely resembling dinner to eat on my breaks. In cleaning up the kitchen last night, my husband tossed the rest of the rice which I had thought I would bring with some of the chicken and vegetable stew I made for dinner yesterday. The stew without the extra carbs just wouldn’t be enough. This is where the stubborn streak began to tug at my emotions, telling me that I didn’t need to do this. But I do. I am weary of this back pain and the limitations that come with it. I want the problem to resolve, go away and never come back. I want to be able to squat to proper depth without feeling as if my back is stuck. I want to be able to set up for a bench press without wincing and holding my breath. I want to be able to deadlift again. Heck, I’d like to just sneeze without feeling like a bomb went off in my lower back. Or sit! I haven’t done a lot of sitting for well more than a year, but I’d love to just sit for a while without pain. I want to get better, which is why I do the drills my chiropractor tells me to do. I want to get better, which is why I listen to my coach’s advice on when to push and when to play it safe. I want to get better, so I am going to clean up my eating habits…it just might not be perfect immediately.

I already know that I will be starving by the time I get home from work tonight, but I made the effort to prepare some food to take to work with me. Raw veggies to enjoy with some guacamole. A salad of mixed greens, veggies, seeds and nuts, and some roasted chicken I set aside when making yesterday’s stew…and a simple olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. My meal break will be around 5pm and I work until 9:30. I bet I’ll be starving by 7:30.