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.

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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.

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.

 

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.

The Girl With All The Goals

“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

“Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, guts. That’s what little girls are made of; the heck with sugar and spice.” ~Bethany Hamilton

It is always a challenge to recap a competition with the experience still fresh and raw in my mind and body. There are so many emotions and thoughts swirling within that I am liable to miss a detail, but waiting too long to put thoughts into written form can also result in missing details.

The day started early. I was mostly awake around 5:00 but managed to stay in bed until 6. The next hour was a flurry of getting dressed, making myself a doppio espresso, making sure I had everything I needed, and gagging down a bit of breakfast. My appetite disappears during a competition, but I know it is important to have fuel in the tank. We left the house around 7:00 and arrived at the venue before 8:00, which left some time to chill (literally because it was cold in the crossfit gym), stretch, change into my singlet, listen to the lifters’ meeting, and get my warm-ups in before lifting started around 9:15.

Yesterday the back felt a little creaky but generally okay. This morning it felt pretty darn good, better than it has felt for a few days. I was feeling good, too. Naturally I was feeling some nervous energy as I warmed up for squats and waited for my first attempt…even for my second attempt. I was mostly confident and optimistic with slivers of fear and uncertainty. My opening squat attempt was 100kg (220.5 lbs), which was the same weight that I re-tweaked my back on at Provincials in June. In recent weeks I have surpassed that weight in the gym, so I knew that I was more than capable but doubt is pernicious and persistent. Feeling nervous prior to the first attempt is completely normal, and it usually settles down once that first squat has been successfully completed. Although it did abate slightly this time, it didn’t completely settle until after my second squat at 110kg (242 lbs). I guess I should mention that my first squat attempt broke both the Provincial and National record!

I had several goals for this competition, big and small. The first of my two biggest goals was my third squat attempt at 115kg (253.5 lbs), because it was an attempt to break a World record. This weight wasn’t a complete stranger to me; it was the same weight that I did for a PR at Western Canadians last year. But this is a different powerlifting federation with different records…and I’ve struggled with back problems all year. As much as I believed I could do it today, I felt nervous and under pressure (self-inflicted). Succeeding on my second squat completely settled the nerves though, and I suddenly knew that I could, would succeed. Besides, I’ve never failed on a squat in competition except for once on a technicality. So how did I do on that final squat? I nailed it!

Excitement coursed through my veins as I walked off the platform into the warm-up area, accepting congratulations from a judge, my coach, my handler, and some fellow competitors. I chatted briefly with my coach and my handler about the lift and how my back was holding up (perfectly fine), then I said I was going to go see my family and friends until it was time to warm-up for the bench. No sooner had those words left my mouth than I was overcome by intense emotions that had me heaving and struggling to choke back tears. The emotion was so strong that I had to actually pause for a minute before resuming my walk to my family, and even then I was practically an emotional mess when I saw the smiles on their faces. It’s no secret that my eyes leak quite easily at the best of times, but I will not apologize for the tears or the emotion. I just broke a freaking World record! I have visualized this moment for a long time, through dark and hazy days filled with back pain and frustration and self-doubt, and today I achieved my goal.

The back was still feeling great at this point in time, and we were on to the bench press. My opening attempt was 55kg (121 lbs). I knew this should be an easy weight for me, since I’ve been smoking 125 pounds in the gym for a while now. It was respectable. My second attempt was 60kg (132.3 lbs), and I wasn’t supremely confident about it. I have been doing well with 130 pounds in the gym lately, so I did know that I could; however, this weight has been the proverbial monkey on my back for more than 2 years now. It was at a competition in October of 2015 that I was first successful in benching 60kg in competition, and that has been my best competition bench ever since, despite a couple of gym PRs at 135 lbs. For whatever reason, I haven’t been able to better 132.3 pounds in competition until today! It might not have been the fastest press, but I made it. Of course, that meant my third attempt was yet another try at a bench press PR, and I had to fight against the doubt and mental block surrounding it.

My final bench attempt was 62.5kg (137.8 lbs). Thankfully, I had the unanticipated occasion to grind out a single rep at 130 pounds last week. I am not accustomed to being successful in grinding out a bench press and, for a moment, I didn’t think I would make that lift, but I stuck it out and made it. I think that grind was beneficial for me, because it gave me the opportunity to experience a tough, slow grind and to realize that I was now capable of pushing through it. It is my opinion that this recent experience was instrumental in my successful final bench press today. It was slow. It was a grind. Some might have doubted my ability to finish the lift, but I don’t recall ever feeling that way in the moment. I knew it was grinding and slow. I could hear the cheers. I could hear my coach’s voice shouting instruction. I just kept going, and once I reached a certain point I knew I had it. The monkey was off my back. Not only did I have a new Provincial record but also a PR!

With the bench press completed, my back felt slightly achy, probably from the arching, but it was still rather mild and normal. There was a bit of a wait until the deadlifts, and I no longer felt any doubts about my abilities. I had been perfect so far, and I knew that I was going to go 9/9.

My first deadlift attempt was 125kg (270 lbs). Once again, I was breaking a Provincial record on my first attempt. It was easy. The second attempt was 132.5kg (292 lbs). I probably used my back a little on this attempt. While it was still relatively easy, my back felt a little more achy immediately following this lift, but it still felt okay enough. My third and final attempt was 138.5kg (305.3 lbs). Although it was a bit tougher, I was successful in my attempt and secured myself another Provincial and National record. Unfortunately, I walked off the platform with a world of hurt in my left lower back and glute. The pain didn’t put a damper on my joy in having reached every single one of my goals for this competition. This was my ninth competition, and I have only ever had a completely perfect 9/9 with 27 white lights once before…two years ago. Today’s competition was perfect, 9 attempts with 9 successful lifts and not a single red light in the bunch. I achieved 8 records today: 4 Provincial, 3 National, and 1 World. (My total also broke Provincial and National records!) About the only thing that didn’t go as hoped for was hurting myself again!

Thankfully my chiropractor’s office was onsite to provide treatment to the athletes. Although there weren’t any chiropractors available by the time I finished competing, I was able to get some massage treatment which helped to reduce some of the pain. I will need to see my chiropractor though, which will be on Tuesday. (Gosh, I love being able to book an appointment online during non-office hours!) In the meantime, the RMT gave me some things to do at home. I also have other exercises at my disposal and Ibuprofen. But you know, I’m not overly frustrated by this unexpected twist. It’s slightly familiar but slightly different. The RMT said it was a disc, SI joint and piriformis issue. She could help a bit with the piriformis, but she can’t do any adjustments…hence my need to see my chiropractor. Although I did have some strong pain in my pelvis immediately after, right now, hours later, the most pain is in my left butt. It’s not ideal, but it could be worse. And I’m still riding the wave of euphoria of a successful competition, so I have no regrets. Okay, I have no regrets at all! While I may have only had two personal bests today (my bench and my total), I would say that this was my best competition to date.

I also have to mention just how much I love the sport of powerlifting. Since my first competition in 2014 and 8 more competitions including today’s, I have never had a bad experience beyond my own disappointment in a personal result. I have competed in two different federations, and each one feels like family. I only compete in 100% RAW once a year when they have a somewhat local meet. There is always a couple of people who make the trip from Calgary to here to bring equipment and act as organizers and judges, and they never fail to remember my name and welcome me as part of the family. Most of my competitive focus is within the realm of the British Columbia Powerlifting Assocation in great part for the simple fact that there are more opportunities to compete. RAW was where I did my very first competition. It was where I fell in love with powerlifting and competing. RAW is primarily based in Alberta, which is why I only compete once a year with them, but I love my RAW family. I liken the two federations to the Canadian Football League and the National Football League. They are the same sport with slight differences in rules, their own records and championships, and a vast difference in scope on the international stage.

Despite the pain, which likely came from using too much back on that final deadlift, today was a grand success. I wouldn’t change a single thing about the day. I achieved every goal that I set for myself, even the ones that I was hesitant to say out loud. After what has been a most problematic and frustrating year so far, today felt highly redemptive. I didn’t hit personal bests across the board, but this showing was the essence of what I had hoped to achieve at Provincials earlier this year. It’s been a long, tough year, but now I can celebrate my success. And heal again. Then start back at the beginning, gearing up for the next competition in February at Nationals.

It’s All Coming Back to Me Now

This morning’s training session was short and sweet. Deadlifts were the only thing on the agenda and only two working singles. I had warmed up and completed my pulls within 25 minutes. I’m not sure that I even broke a sweat, but I was stoked by how solid and easy the deadlifts felt. My heaviest pull today was 285 pounds for a single rep, and it felt much easier than last week’s singles at 275. Gym PRs don’t really count for much, but I have never pulled 285 pounds in the gym before. Of course, I’ve pulled more than that in competition…but never in training. Not ever. I am used to having heavyish deadlifts feel almost impossibly difficult in training, which is one reason why I was rarely asked to do them. Oh my goodness! So many of my preconceived notions about my abilities have been shattered these past few weeks, and I find it all exciting and scary at the same time.

With the success of today’s training session added to Tuesday’s, my emotions are being pulled in a dozen different directions. The countdown is on…9 days! I am more excited than words could ever convey. This will be my 9th competition, but the thrill of competing never gets old. I feel poised on the brink of something good. After months and months of pain and struggle and frustration, I am finally feeling good and ready. My body isn’t in a 100% perfect state, but I do think I am in a physically better place than I was going into Provincials, even though I had been feeling pretty good then. Training has been going well. Weights and volume were more than I’ve done before, but my body held up and the weights moved. One of my biggest goals is within reach. I have no reason to think that this competition will be anything but good.

With the dawning confidence comes surges of fear and trepidation. I’m not afraid of failing so much, although I certainly don’t like it when failure happens. But in the moments that I feel the most excited and hopeful, I also feel the most nervous. Some of the fear comes from the fact that I’ve been injured most of the year. Some is simply the natural byproduct of competition and the desire to succeed. I think a big part of the fear is the thought of disappointment. Not my own disappointment, although that is a real possibility, but rather the thought that I might fail and thus disappoint everyone who has been cheering me on. It’s not exactly a rational kind of fear, I know, but it is present and I must acknowledge it.

My coach shared his thoughts with me as to the numbers that he is thinking of for me at this competition. His target is a small increase in my overall best total, and I am good with the numbers that he showed me. They are realistic, reasonable, and still challenging in one way or another. Seeing those numbers allowed me to exhale all the breath I wasn’t even aware I was holding inside. With a new coach, an online coach who is still learning me, I didn’t know what numbers he might pull out of his hat. I’ve been so focused on simply getting and staying healthy and my one big goal that I haven’t thought much about too much else. Yet somehow, now I am relieved to know that my coach isn’t projecting a huge jump between my previous best and what I will do in 9 days. My husband likes to joke that he won’t be satisfied unless I deadlift 350 pounds. While that may be possible one day, I am glad that my coach isn’t looking for me to add 40+ pounds to my best lifts after the year that I’ve had. It settles the nerves a bit to know, although the sense of expectation is still high.

This is a roller-coaster of emotions that I have ridden before. I’ve got this.