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!

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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.

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!

They Told Me to Go to Rehab

This morning I went to the gym. It was my first time back in the gym since my competition ten days ago. My husband started to question my sanity when he found out I was planning on going to the gym today until I explained what I would be doing. No squats. No deadlifts. I wouldn’t even be looking at a barbell. Instead, my coach has programmed some rehab exercises: 90/90 breathing drill, bird dogs, standing lunges, hip hinges, one arm dumbbell floor presses, and standing cable facepulls. Hardly the stuff of a powerlifter’s dreams!

Yesterday a friend asked if I might be up for a bit of a day road trip on Saturday, and I optimistically said that I could handle it. Then I left my house this morning to go to the gym. I hadn’t even backed my car out of my driveway before I was in agonizing pain. My drive to the gym barely takes 5 minutes, but it felt much longer today. By the time I got to the gym, I had to peel my hands off of the steering wheel, and I’m surprised that the steering wheel was still in one piece. Sitting is pure torture. I had to text my friend to say that there was no way I could go with her on Saturday.

So, I was in a lot of pain by the time I got to the gym. Putting on my gym shoes resulted in more pain. I feel like my husband did prior to his hip replacement surgery…unable to put on a sock or a shoe or trim my toenails without great difficulty and pain.

The exercises my coach programmed for me this week are not overly difficult, but the purpose isn’t really to challenge me physically. As easy and basic as the exercises were, I did experience some pain from the positioning of my left leg, even when the leg wasn’t doing any work. It seems that just having that leg passively bent is enough to cause pain to flare up, which is something I have noticed at home already. The left leg also fatigued quite quickly during the standing lunges when it was doing the work. I should point out that pretty much all of the exercises were to be done quite slowly and methodically for a small number of reps. The lunges were 3 reps per side with a 5 second descent, 3 second hold, and 5 second ascent. The right leg had no trouble at all doing the work, but that left leg was burning by the second rep. My only other struggle was getting in and out of position for some of the exercises, like the breathing drill and the floor presses. Getting down onto the floor and back up off of the floor were tricky to do without sending shards of pain through my left hip and butt.

Waves of self-pity are battering against the shoreline of my confidence and self-control. I have no regrets and wouldn’t change anything about my performance at the competition. I had no reason to suspect that this might happen, and chances are that it would have happened sooner or later even if I was doing something seemingly innocuous. My other back issues had been doing very well leading up to competition, and my training had also been going well. No, I do not regret a single thing about the competition, at least not the things that I could control. It would have been nice not to have herniated a disc, but that wasn’t exactly in my control.

But seriously, who enjoys being in constant pain? I know I don’t. Pain clouds your judgement and colours your perception. It wears you down physically and emotionally, and it can paralyze you. This is true of any type of pain.

“Pain has a way of clipping our wings and keeping us from being able to fly. And if left unresolved for very long, you can almost forget that you were ever created to fly in the first place.” ~William P. Young, The Shack 

I was at the gym for an hour doing my rehab exercises. For the first half hour, I struggled. My body felt a bit shaky and weak, as if the 10 days of idleness had stolen all of my strength and flexibility, and my thoughts, as few as they were, castigated me for struggling. The work wasn’t difficult, but 10 days ago I was breaking all the records and now I couldn’t even get myself onto the floor without whimpering.  I had tucked myself into a corner to do my exercises, out of the way and out of anyone’s notice, as if I should be ashamed or embarrassed. My attitude wasn’t much improved by the time I finished my exercises, although I wasn’t even aware of having an attitude until now.

But there is an attitude. It is an attitude of frustration, of despair, and maybe even resignation. I feel stuck. It’s been 10 days of intense pain and a leg almost entirely numb from butt to toes. I am not having fun. I cannot even see fun on the horizon. But despite all the negatives, I am still determined to hold my head up (because I can’t imagine that drowning would be very pleasant) and rise above this injury (because I don’t think I can sink any lower).

There is one positive for today. I slept quite well last night. In fact, it was the best sleep I’ve had since before the competition. It was also the first night I spent the entire night in my own bed since the competition! Of course, I still woke several times with pain raging, but at least I got some sleep.