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!

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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 not  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. It 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…

Out of Control

“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

“Mental toughness is finding fuel on an empty tank.” ~Kent Morris

As I slowly and gingerly got myself up from the floor where I had been napping, one of my son’s asked if this was worth it. He was referring to my competition, to the records I broke that day, and the injury that I left the competition with. It would be easy for me to answer with a yes or a no, and I could justify both responses; however, for some people, the only plausible answer would be a resounding no. Most people would say that an injury negates the value of the achievement or the drive in pursuing one’s goals. I get that, I really do. I can look at skydiving and say that I have no desire to do something where a mistake could be life-threatening. In my few experiences with downhill skiing, I have come to the conclusion that I am more suited to sipping hot chocolate in the lodge than potentially risking injury hurtling down the slopes. So I can understand why a person might look at me hobbling about in excruciating pain and question my sanity in striving to lift heavy weights.

I doubt that anyone could have predicted that I would herniate a disc during my competition. Sure, I had concerns about my back going into competition, but those thoughts revolved around other issues. My chiropractor told me that the competition was not to blame, that this sort of thing doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye. If that is indeed the case, then this herniation could have occurred at any point in time or space. It could have been at the gym, at work, at home, while shopping, skydiving or downhill skiing. The fact that it did occur during my competition shouldn’t negate what I was able to achieve that day. I can feel proud of what I accomplished without regret or asking myself “what if”. I had no control over what happened inside my body, and I have very little control over what is happening inside my body right now as a result. And yet, I can control my attitude and the way that I respond to this injury.

I can be stubborn at times, and I do not like to ask for help. Self-sufficiency has always been something I take pride in. Asking for help is like admitting a weakness, and I do not like that one bit. I have been told to leave my ego out of the picture and to ask for help when it comes to bending and picking things up. Do you know how difficult it was for me to keep my mouth shut when I heard that command? I wanted to roll my eyes. I wanted to make some comment about how that is a big part of what I do at home and at work, but I kept my mouth closed. Then later, I told my co-workers and my family that I would need some help. I cannot erase the fact that I am injured. I can barely control the pain. But I can ask for help when it is needed.

Mental toughness is a tricky one. Some people simply do not have it or have a terrible time scraping enough of it together to get past their problems. It could be ego speaking, but I like to think that I do have mental toughness, even when the going is rough and I feel utterly ill-equipped and unprepared. Still I have my moments of doubt, of fear, self-pity. I left my chiropractor’s office with the diagnosis of a herniated disc and tears welling in my eyes. In the wee hours of the morning as I’ve writhed in pain and unable to sleep, I have questioned my sanity and my ability to overcome this injury. During the day I feel restless in my inability to do much of anything, and I am dreading the potentially endless appointments to come. My emotional tank feels rather empty, but I have the mental strength to carry on and to overcome. I can’t control a great deal of things in life, but I get to choose how I respond to them. Even when my response is childish or less than ideal, I am not stuck with that initial response. There is freedom to grow into a better response, to change how I think and behave in a difficult situation. Strength training and powerlifting have taught me that much. Things aren’t always going to be easy, but hard work and determination and the right attitude will pay off in the end.

I don’t know what the future holds for me. I don’t know how long it will take to heal this injury. I don’t even know if it will interfere with my plans and goals. It could and it might, and that would be devastating; however, I am not defined by what I do or where I go or how I perform on the platform. My goals are goals and deadlines are seldom applicable. Some things cannot be rushed, and healing is one of those things. So I need to take this part of the journey one step at a time, as if there were any other way!

 

Plot Twists

There was a meme a couple of weeks ago that caught my eye with the words, “May the last two months of 2017 be the plot twist you’ve been waiting for.” With the year that I have had, I was more than ready to have a plot twist to finish 2017. Well, I got my plot twist alright, but it wasn’t quite what I had in mind. Or maybe it was just a plot twist with another plot twist tacked on at the end.

I got the good competition I was hoping for: 9 for 9, 27 white lights, a couple of PRs, a whole bunch of records, and a World record. The only blemish was the secondary plot twist of herniating a disc. What will that mean for me in these final weeks of the year? I don’t really know. Undoubtedly there will be lots of appointments! I have a physio appointment next week and an x-ray appointment in two weeks and likely follow-ups to one or both. I’m taking this week off from training, and training will look rather different next week when I do return to the gym. Rehab is the name of the game.

The pain medication I’m now taking allowed me to have a 2.5 hour nap this afternoon…in my bed! Ha! I have barely managed to stay in my bed for 2 hours each night since the competition. However, the pain medication has barely taken the edge off the pain, at least not consistently yet, but it should be more effective in a few days. Standing and walking offer me at least some relief, because sitting or laying down brings nothing but pain. With the exception of using the toilet or travelling in the car, I can generally avoid sitting, but I cannot sleep standing up. Yes, I’ve tried!

The year isn’t quite over yet, which leaves time and space for more plot twists. I still have goals. I still hope to compete at Nationals in February, but I also know that I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me in order to be healthy enough to compete. It’s a good thing I’m not afraid of hard work, and I’ve got skilled and knowledgeable people in my life who will help me get there.