When You Fail

These are interesting days, and I’m sure my mind is working overtime trying to make sense of the snarl of thought threads spinning inside my head. This post is likely going to be nothing more than a mind dump.

Good news is that the stiffness and achiness in the low back has settled down from yesterday’s injection, as I figured it would. While it is still too early to discern the effectiveness of the injection, I have not noticed a difference in my pains yet. It’s only been one day though.

This morning’s training session was not what I was expecting or hoping for. I was supposed to do one bench rep at 135 pounds, which would have been a PR of sorts. I haven’t benched that much weight since herniating my disc, and I’ve never benched that weight using a close grip or without an arch in my back and feet on the ground. Last week, I benched two singles at 130 pounds, so I went into this morning’s session knowing that a five pound increase was within my capabilities. But I failed. I walked around and tried to psych myself up for one more attempt. I failed again.

As much as I have enough experience to know that every training session is not going to be strong and glorious, these two failures were disheartening and frustrating. As I was going through my warm up sets, I could tell the goal was going to be tough to achieve. The same weights I had done with ease last week felt heavy and slow. My last two warm up singles at 115 and 125 pounds were both slow and almost grindy. I’m pretty sure that the 125 pounds was slower than last week’s 130. My husband came with me this morning, because I wanted a spotter and that alone was probably an indicator that I wasn’t feeling up to the task. Right before I set up for my first attempt, I instructed my husband to be aware that the bar might move slowly, because I expected it to be grindy. The weight felt reasonable as I slowly brought the bar to my chest, but there was nothing there when I went to push it back up. He told me to walk it off and try again. The end result was the same. Over the past year, I have learned how to grind through a tough bench rep, but I couldn’t even press the bar high enough to be able to grind through it.

My thoughts and emotions are playing tug-of- war over this failure. It has been a very long time since I have failed anything at the gym so significantly. Sure, I’ve had to drop reps or weights or sets because of my injury and the ongoing symptoms associated with it, but that isn’t quite the same as attempting a heavy weight on a main lift and falling short. Every athlete experiences failure, loss, and difficult training sessions; it is a fact of life and part of the journey. I understand it. I accept it. It still sucks to fail, especially when you know that you are completely capable. However, I cannot get sucked into dwelling on the failure for too long. It happened, and there are likely many reasons why: fatigue and the extremely smoky skies and poor air quality being big ones. The fact it happened doesn’t take away from the progress I have made, nor does it indicate an inability to progress further.

While still feeling disheartened with my failure, my husband and I walked around the Farmers Market, picking up fresh local produce and kombucha. I chatted briefly with a fellow powerlifter there and found my perspective changing through our conversation. It wasn’t earth-shattering conversation, but it revolved around competing, taking time to heal or build up, and being determined. Volunteering at last week’s powerlifting competition really stirred up my desire to get back on the platform, but I am committed to taking the time I need to heal and build up before stepping on a platform again. And perhaps that is a factor in my disappointment over today’s bench misses! While I still have pain, tingling, and numbness in my legs, my ability to move and function has improved significantly over the past couple of months and that has me feeling hopeful and excited. My chiropractor’s excitement over my progress and allowing me to re-introduce some exercises into my training also has me feeling excited and hopeful. It’s like I can see light at the end of the tunnel now, even if I still do not have a timeline for healing. So, I think I should be getting stronger. I feel like I should be more capable. I think I am becoming unstoppable. Then I miss a heavy bench rep and momentarily doubt myself.

Sometimes you attempt to lift a weight that you really have no business trying to lift. Well, I don’t think I ever do that, because I have a good coach and listen to what he tells me to do. However, there are ego lifters out there who think they need to ‘go big’ regardless of their capabilities. That is not what happened to me this morning. Bench pressing 135 pounds may not be something I do often, but I have done it a few times over the past two years. I know it is within my ability to achieve. Today was just an off day, and I was reminded of just how insidious the smoke blanketing our province is. Since I work indoors and have limited my time outdoors lately, I didn’t think that I was being affected by the smoke, but maybe I am wrong in that assumption. Maybe that has contributed to the fatigue I have been feeling this week, and that fatigue could very well have sapped my strength today. I haven’t lost my strength, and my physical progress hasn’t gone backwards. That’s good news!

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There’s Only One Captain America

Today has been, and still is, an uncomfortable and painful day. I am so thankful to be on days off right now, because I have also been incredibly tired. Earlier this week, Wednesday maybe, I attempted an afternoon nap, which was only moderately successful for at most ten minutes. This morning I laid down for a nap around 11:00 and slept, actually slept for an hour! I do not nap under normal circumstances, and, even during the worst days of this injury when night time sleep was minimal, I seldom had naps during the day. But I have felt exhausted a lot lately, especially the past two weeks as my schedule has been full. Yesterday was the final of five consecutive work days, which was a first for me since returning to work. Although the shifts were still short, they took a toll, especially with all of the appointments, later nights and early mornings.

I was unable to sleep in this morning, since I had an 8:30 appointment at the pain clinic for my caudal epidural steroid injection. That’s a mouthful! The appointment went well, I guess, although I don’t have anything against which to compare it. The pain doctor taking care of me is a female, but she has only done this procedure once or twice before, which meant a more experienced doctor (a male) was present to instruct and supervise. Baring my derriere is not something I am particularly comfortable doing; however, when one is heavily involved with medical care, you kind of get used to being uncomfortable. As I laid on face-down on the table, I got to listen to the conversation between new and experienced doctors.

“I know everyone has their own solution mix. What do you like to use?”

“With a spinal injection we want to be extra careful. Swab before the freezing. Swab again after. Use the ultrasound to guide the needle, but don’t let the gel get on the injection site.”

“Down a little more. No. Stop!”

The conversation was both interesting and disturbing. It was bad enough that I had been forewarned of the doctor’s inexperience with the procedure, but I really didn’t need the frequent verbal reminders and had to focus on making myself relax. I’m not afraid of needles and I couldn’t see the actual needle, but this wasn’t quite the same as withdrawing blood or getting a tetanus shot. I relaxed as best I could, and then the actual injection took place and I felt an uncomfortable pressure right above my tailbone. While it seemed to last a long time, it really didn’t. All told, from the moment I was ushered into the treatment room until I walked back out was only about fifteen minutes. I was given a pain diary of sorts to use until my follow up appointment in a month or two. My youngest son had the day off and drove me to and from my appointment, as it was mandatory to be driven home following treatment. And I’ve been taking it easy at home ever since.

Taking it easy, yes, but uncomfortable and hurting. My very low back area has been feeling stiff and sore all day, which I am assuming is from the actual injection. I am really hoping that this discomfort dissipates by morning, because it does not feel pleasant at all. So far there has been no change in the ever-present pains and symptoms in my legs, although it can apparently take several days before seeing results. The doctor also reiterated that this injection will not do anything for the permanent numbness in my left foot. That’s mildly disappointing, but I suppose I’d rather get rid of the actual pain. The numbness is a nuisance, for sure, but I can probably also live with it more easily.

As if the “normal” pains and the injection pain aren’t enough, I am also dealing with post-chiro pains today! Well, the more appropriate name for it is DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness, but my chiropractor instigated this situation.

I had a chiro appointment yesterday morning and was pleasantly surprised when he said he was going to put me through some exercises. Now this wasn’t anything too far out of the norm for my chiropractor, but this was the first time he has had me do these specific exercises since herniating my disc. The idea was to see what could be added to my training program and what was still not safe. He tested me on Bulgarian split squats, single leg deadlifts, step ups, rack pulls, and banded pull-throughs. The only thing that was scratched off the list were the pull-throughs, because they made the tingling in my feet worse. Everything else was given a green light, and I am super excited about seeing these added to my training program soon. Of course, I need to be careful and mindful of positioning and breathing and other important considerations for someone coming off of a back injury, but this feels like progress. My chiro even let me work up to 95 pounds on the rack pulls! He might have made a comment about that being a decently heavy weight, which is likely true for someone who hasn’t picked up a bar for anything remotely resembling a deadlift in more than nine months, but it really is a weight where I would begin my deadlift warm-ups. Sometimes it is difficult to reconcile what I used to be capable of with where I am at now, and this is why I have DOMS today!

It isn’t that my chiropractor pushed me too hard or with heavy weights; it’s simply that those leg muscles have not be used in such a way for a very long time. At one point when I complained about the burning and gelatinous nature of my leg muscles, my chiropractor reminded me that this was what I wanted. So true! I do. Not the DOMS really, but I do want to get back to lifting heavy things. This isn’t going to happen overnight. My coach pointed out that he would incorporate these new exercises into my programming slowly. And I appreciate that, too. Despite the DOMS, it would be easy in my excitement to jump in headfirst and worry about the depth of the water after the fact, especially if today’s injection brings about the positive pain relief we’re hoping for.

Today would normally have seen me at the gym, but part of the injection protocol was to avoid rigorous activity for 24 hours. So, I am heading to the gym first thing tomorrow morning, where the goal is to hit yet another post-herniated disc, legs up, flat back, close grip bench press PR. Thankfully, tomorrow’s training is upper body focused, which means I don’t have to worry too much about the DOMS impacting my workout.

And unfortunately, there is no such thing as the Captain Rogers special serum, so I won’t wake up looking like Captain America. I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing, even if the enhanced speed, strength, and healing factors would be appreciated!

One Year!

It is Monday morning, and I am not going to the gym. While I certainly have the flexibility to train when I want to, I generally keep to a regular pattern. Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays. The decision to switch it up this week was thoughtfully made due to my work schedule. For the first time since returning to work, I am working three days in a row, last night along with midday shifts today and tomorrow. Although I had time to train this morning or after work, I am extending grace to my body. In this moment, my body is thankful for it.

My training program for the week included a little celebratory message, because I have now been working with my coach for a year. My coaching is done online which is something that I had never done before, but it has been a better experience than I ever could have imagined. Before my injury, I was pushed outside of my comfort zone and that was a powerful thing. The focus of training has changed significantly since the injury, and yet I still feel supported, encouraged, and protected. Of course, I hadn’t planned on getting hurt and watching my powerlifting plans and goals derail. A great part of the past year has been spent recovering and dealing with this injury instead of gaining new strength and lifting heavier things, but I know I have an excellent coach to help me get to the other side of this.

Since it is the one year anniversary of working with my online coach, it is also the one year anniversary of going to a commercial gym! There have been many times over the past year, when I have mentally groaned and rolled my eyes or wondered what the heck. There are likely always going to be people at gyms doing weird stuff, using horrible technique, using too much or too little weight, excessively grunting or strutting, watching the mirrors, and chatting more than moving. I notice these things, because I tend to notice and people watch; however, at the gym, I also tend to focus more on doing my own thing. So I notice. My internal sarcasm meter rises a bit and I move on. For all the flaws of a commercial gym, the past year hasn’t been too bad. Some of the staff have made an effort to know my name and I theirs, and sometimes we chat. Most of the equipment is not new, but I generally am able to use what I need when I need it and it works. It is close to home and meets my needs.

So happy anniversary to me, my coach, my gym! It’s been an interesting year. May the next one be even more interesting!

Lemons in Shades of Grey

With the year being still fresh and new, I have seen quite a few social media posts announcing the start of new goals and/or the first workout of the year. Such posts are equally encouraging and depressing to me. It is good to see people pursuing fitness goals or striving to improve their health, and I applaud those efforts and encourage them. But for me, in this current season of dealing with a herniated disc, it can be a struggle to keep my grip on positivity from slipping. Sometimes I simply feel frustrated. Frustrated with my limitations. Frustrated with the slowness of recovery. Frustrated with being unable to do…normal. My normal. I’m not just talking about at the gym. I am bored and restless. I have oodles of time on my hands, but there are limits to what I can do.

Although I was given a program for last week, I told my coach that I wasn’t going to do all of it. In fact, I didn’t go to the gym at all last week. There was Christmas. We got a lot of snow. My car is on the brink of death. And I just had a rather painful week. I did my rehab exercises at home and that was it. I enjoy going to the gym, but it was a mental struggle to get myself there today for my first “workout” of 2018. I went through the motions, occasionally feeling some rust from the week off, but mostly I was acutely aware of the numbness in my foot, the weakness in my calf, and the currents of pain down my legs. It’s not that my activities were doing harm, at least I don’t think they were, but then again, I don’t honestly know.

Not knowing seems to be what I do best these days. Every time someone asks me how I’m doing, I don’t know what to say or how to answer the question. Am I doing better? Yes. I think so. In some ways. In many ways I am moving better. I feel like I could do a lot of things that I probably shouldn’t actually do yet. But there is still so much that isn’t right and good and normal. The numbness. The lack of reflex in my Achilles tendon. The pain. No one can see those things, but I feel them. I walk with the sensation that three of my toes are swollen and twisted because of the numbness. I lie down and immediately have ripples of pain and muscle spasms radiating from my butt all the way down both legs. Sure, I can tolerate the pain now, but it is unrelenting. I go to bed with the pain. I wake up with the pain.  I want to be better, but I don’t know when that will happen. The pain in my legs feels a bit stronger today. The numbness has felt a bit worse for the past couple of days. I have to call my doctor, but I am dragging my feet, knowing the futility of such a task.

If you’ve never had such a back injury, can you fully understand what a person is going through or feeling? I don’t have an answer for that, although I can say that I can now admit that I would never have completely understood prior to my own injury. I look normal and whole, so why shouldn’t I be able to pick up a heavy bag of garbage, shovel snow, or even sneeze without bracing and fear. I’ve been living in yoga pants, because somehow wearing jeans bothers my back. I am in danger of being mistaken for a sasquatch, because I haven’t shaved my legs for 8 weeks. That’s not from winter laziness; it’s too painful to sit in tub or to kneel/bend over in the shower. Sigh.

Today is just a gloomy day or a day full of lemons, and I don’t particularly want to make lemonade today. The lemons will still be here tomorrow…

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.

 

Enjoyment

Continuing the end of year reflection theme from No Side Bar that I began in yesterday’s blog post …

2. What did you enjoy doing this year?

2017 has been a difficult year for me in so many ways. What did I enjoy doing this year? That’s a question that requires grinding mental gears and peering deeply into the dark corners of my memories.

Yesterday I mentioned celebrating my 25th anniversary with my husband, and our little celebratory holiday was definitely something I enjoyed doing.

My most recent powerlifting competition was also highly enjoyable.

This summer when I changed my gym and my coach, I stepped out of my comfort zone into unfamiliar and potentially scary territory. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if I would thrive or even like what I was doing. As an introvert, it is not easy for me to dive into the unfamiliar or place my trust in someone I don’t know and doesn’t know me. At the time of the coaching change, I had already been through months of struggles with my SI joints and low back and a disappointing competition. My confidence in my ability to overcome those struggles and regain strength was a little shaky. Despite my struggles, doubts, and nerves, I can honestly say that I have enjoyed the change and the process.

It wasn’t easy to step into the unknown like that, but a small part of me was glad for the challenge. My doubts and fears resurfaced every week as I would receive my new program, yet a part of my spirit soared at the prospect of squashing those doubts. In the gym as I put in the work, the load sometimes felt heavy and hard, but I did it and I took joy in the results. Those months of uncertainty and challenge were enjoyable! It sounds odd to say that, but it is true. I enjoyed it, because I grew through the challenges instead of being destroyed by them.

This year I have also found enjoyment in the company of family and friends. Celebrating birthdays. Family holiday gatherings. Graduation. Escape room success. Celebrating successes. Cards. Texts. Notes. Christmas bake day with girlfriends. Grey Cup party. Homemade gelato. An impromptu dinner out with friends. Musical theatre. A heart-to-heart over wine with a best friend. Many of these instances are of little consequence in the grand scheme of a year. As a lover of words and authentic relationships, these small instances add up to a whole lot of love and affirmation.

When Small Equals Huge

I can be patient about a great many things, but sometimes I just want to know the nitty, gritty details and I want to know them now. Right now I keep reminding myself that healing a herniated disc is going to take some time, and there is just no way that I can be given a timeline. The only thing I can know for sure is that it will take time, which is why I have “Trust” as the current message on my water bottle. I have to trust the process.

I had absolutely no sleep last night. I laid in my own bed until about 1:30 AM, went to the living room for about half an hour, then tried the empty bed in my son’s room (he’s currently in Thailand) until roughly 3:30, at which point I figured sleep just wasn’t going to happen. So, I made myself a cup of coffee and stood at the dining room table working on my candy cane puzzle while everyone else was asleep. I made myself another cup of coffee and then another. I made significant progress on the puzzle. I also decided to test out my lame left calf muscle.

Since the disc herniation and resulting left leg numbness, I have been unable to do a calf raise with my left leg. I can lift my left heel off of the floor only if I do both heels at the same time. With both heels elevated, the left heel has dropped instantly the moment I would attempt to remove the support of my right foot. It’s been a source of frustration for me, and it is something that will easily show my progress or lack thereof. In the wee hours of the morning, I discovered that I can lift that left heel off the floor by the smallest of fractions. I also discovered that, although the left heel still drops instantly without the support of the right foot, the drop is slower and I can almost control it and hold my heel just off of the floor. It’s not much, but it is something. As my coach put it, “Small improvements are huge improvements right now.”

He’s right, and what a good way to look at it. It’s highly unlikely that I will wake up tomorrow to find my back and leg completely healed and back to normal. Sure would be nice though, wouldn’t it! Nope. Not gonna happen that way. It’s most likely going to be that 1 step forward, 2 steps back kind of progress. It’s going to take time and patience. Progress will be measured by degrees or the little milestones. Every little improvement is progress, and progress is worth a lot right now.