Yesterdays

Yesterday was just another typical day, but it was also of some small importance to me. There was something bittersweet, reflective, and thoughtful about the day, and yet I pushed back against them. I had thought I’d be ready to open that door when the day arrived, but I had nearly forgotten about a different door that was opening yesterday for others but not me. That sounds kind of ominous or something, but it really isn’t so terrible as that. Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of a powerlifting competition that was more disappointing than I had anticipated, and yesterday was also when registration opened for a local powerlifting competition this coming August. Yesterday could have been an emotional mess of a day, but it wasn’t.

Last year’s competition was Provincials and my eighth competition. Up until that point, my experiences in competition had been generally positive and good. While I didn’t always have direct competition, I had never lost when I did. I was only completely perfect once before, but I had always managed to achieve new personal records. Aside from minor bumps and bruises, I had managed to stay healthy and whole, but that changed last year. From early in 2017 onward, I had issues with my sacroiliac joints, which affected my training and shook up my confidence. Going into Provincials, I was finally feeling pretty decent physically but knew that my performance still wasn’t going to be my best ever. We were going to play it safe.

We did play it safe at Provincials, but things still didn’t go as planned. Something in my SI joint or back tweaked during my second squat, so our conservative numbers quickly became even more conservative. Even though I had mentally prepared for a less than competition, I was still blind-sided by the unexpected and it shook me up for a day or two. Then I remembered who I am and what I am not, and all was right inside my world once again. At least as far as my attitude and confidence!

As I look back at that Provincials competition, I sort of see it as both a beginning and an end. To me, it feels like a turning point in my training and confidence. Explaining all the ins and outs of why I feel that way would require more time and words than I have to give at this point. I was frustrated and disappointed. I had an internal meltdown. I found my footing and myself. And I thought that was the end! Now I see that it was actually a new beginning, although I didn’t know it at the time. It was a small taste of the challenges to come. A milestone marker of where I had been and how far I had come since then. I don’t look back at last year’s Provincials with the same eyes or attitude. I might not say the memory is sweet, but I wouldn’t call it bitter either.

Not being able to enter a local competition is disappointing but not crushing. I love competing, and I am definitely missing the feeling of doing the big lifts; however, I am okay with missing out. Mostly…at least 95% okay! This year will not see me competing. Recovery and healing are of much greater importance.

Now that I’ve typed it all out, I am not sure why I wasn’t keen on thinking about it yesterday. It’s not so bad, but I think I was distracted by the brain fog and tingling in the legs.

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Who Do You Want Me To Be?

XM radio has a free trial going on right now, so I’ve been listening to the 80’s station whenever I’m in the car. Twice in the past couple of days I have heard the same song, which isn’t surprising because the repetition of music is standard for any radio station; however, a portion of the lyrics caught my attention. The music catchy, but the theme was disturbing.

Who do you want me to be to make you sleep with me?   

“Obsession” by Animotion

This song may be from the 1980’s, but I suspect these words would easily fit into society today, and how sad is that. Why do we think that we aren’t enough the way we are? And it isn’t just about finding someone to sleep with. This insanity has woven its way through every aspect of our daily lives. Who do you want me to be to make you like me? Who do you want me to be to get a job or a promotion? Who do I have to be to fit in? What is wrong with being ourselves?

Just stop! I know it is easier for me to say that than it is to do it. I’ve been there, and I still fall into that trap on occasion. If your friends don’t like you the way you are, then they aren’t your friends. Do the things you enjoy and that make you happy. Who cares what others think! I’m 46 years old, and I freak out over Star Wars and Wonder Woman and powerlifting. Some people might not understand why, but it shouldn’t matter. It’s my life. It’s part of who I am, and I’m not going to change to make someone else happy.

If you want to lose weight or get in shape, do it but for the right reasons. Don’t fall for the lies that fitting into a certain size or lifting a certain weight will make you happy or define you. Definitely don’t do it to make someone else happy!

If you have a passion for sci-fi or reading or the outdoors or cooking or professional Tiddlywinks, enjoy it without worrying what others think about what you enjoy. This isn’t something you need to keep secret. If you were here with me in my living room, you would see Star Wars and Wonder Woman figures on my bookshelves, along with my grown up books and knickknacks. A new Star Wars movie comes out in a few days, and I am super stoked to go see it. I am just as excited about doing a wine tour with a friend at some point in the near future.

If you love bright colours and expressing yourself, then have at ‘er! I love to see people walking around with their hair dyed in vivid colours. While I am content to simply colour my hair to hide the greys, I love the fact that others feel confidence in themselves enough to be bold with their hair.

Are you an introvert? Ever been told you need to change or to be more outgoing? Ha! I’m sure almost every introvert has been told that more than once. Extroverts don’t always understand introverts, and vice-versa. Extroverts think there’s something wrong with us introverts, and the result is often misery for the introverts, who feel they need to become something they are not. If you’re an introvert (or an extrovert), there is nothing wrong with you the way you are! Stop trying to be the opposite of what you are and embrace yourself.

There are so many ways to be yourself without compromise; I couldn’t even possibly begin to list them all. But think about it. Stop and really think. What do you do to make someone react or respond to you in a favourable way that requires you to conform to someone else’s ideals? 

Of course, being true to ourselves doesn’t mean being obnoxious about who we are or what we do. It is about being comfortable with who we are and how we are wired. There might be things we do need to change within ourselves; growth is not the enemy. This is about removing the masks we put on to make ourselves look more appealing, to fit in with the crowd.

I love music from the 80’s, so here is a portion of a song with lyrics that are much better than the one I shared earlier!

You with the sad eyes
don’t be discouraged, though I realize it’s hard to
take courage in a world, full of people
you can lose sight of it
And the darkness inside you
will make you feel so small
But I see your true colors, shining through
I see your true colors, and that’s why I love you

“True Colors” ~ Cyndi Lauper

 

Tipping Scales

One lesson that I have learned over the past 4.5 years of weight training is that the numbers on the scale are not the most important thing to focus on. Before I began weight training, at my heaviest I was 180 pounds. Through the years of training and powerlifting, my weight has ranged from 145 to 174 pounds. The fluctuations came with cycles of hoping to increase strength and fit into a reasonable weight class for competition. Through most of those weight fluctuations, I still wore the same clothes in the same sizes, and that is where the lesson hit home the most. Losing or gaining weight in the process of eating reasonably well and lifting heavy weight changed body composition, and scale changes were of no great importance.

I am trying to remember that lesson these days, but I admit it isn’t always easy. Like this morning when I was getting dressed and searching for shorts or capris to wear that weren’t intended for the gym. I have one pair of denim capris (which I’ve owned for a couple of years now). While I could put them on and do them up, I was dismayed by the muffin top oozing over the waistband. I chose not to wear them, in part due to the muffin top, but also because of the strain the waistband puts on my back. The number of times I have worn jeans or pants since herniating my disc last November can be counted on one hand; the waistband hurts my back, so I’ve been living in leggings. With the warm, sunny weather, I am wanting to wear tank tops and shorts or capris, but I feel limited by the physical discomfort and my current struggles with too much belly jiggle.

The weight gain bothers me a bit, because I am the heaviest I’ve been since I started training. The weight gain isn’t muscle, and it seems to settle in my belly. It’s not surprising though. After all, for four years I was a lot more active and lifting a lot more weight than I have since the injury. Most of the time I am still eating reasonably well, but I haven’t paid any attention to calories or portioning. Less activity+uncontrolled eating=weight gain. To top it all off, I am on at least one medication which can have the side effect of weight gain.

Even though I have gained weight over the past few months, I am really only about 10 pounds heavier than where I maintained for quite a long time. That maintenance weight was within easy reach of my competition weight and allowed me to build strength. Getting back to that weight shouldn’t present much of a problem once I am off medication and able to resume more physical activity and weights in the gym. Of course, I can still turn my attention towards what I am eating and drinking, even if I do not want to count calories. My toolbox is well-stocked…I just need to use it. This means eating more vegetables and fruit and less treats. I don’t need to go crazy, just keep it simple.

Is it odd that I am freaked out over my physical appearance rather than what I actually weigh? I seldom step on a scale and only use the numbers when I’m preparing for a competition. But I am not happy with the jiggles and extra baggage. Does it bother me because I know this injury plays a big part of that outcome? Is it just part of the frustration of being hurt, of always hurting, and being limited? As much as I know that I will never have the body of a fitness model, I am human with moments of vanity and self-conscious thoughts.

Know Yourself

“Who you were, who you are, and who you will be are three different people.”

~unknown

 

Two recent conversations have left me thinking about who I am in this season of injury. The first conversation was with my husband, and he made a comment about me still looking to find my own identity. The other conversation was with one of my best friends and was about parents wanting more for their kids, while the kids are generally satisfied by enough.

Since herniating my disc six months ago, I have often felt lost and adrift without purpose, usefulness, or potential. Of course, those feelings have never been completely true, and yet, I struggle with the pain and physical limitations I am forced to endure. My life has been turned upside-down and inside-out. The activities I used to enjoy doing, I cannot do. I am on medical leave from work, so I feel the loss of being a part of my work community, and I stress about the loss of income for months on end. After competing in nine competitions since 2014, this will be the first year without a competition. Some of my powerlifting goals were crushed into dust the moment I hurt my back last November…a bitter pill to swallow. Although I have all the time in the world at home while on leave, my ability to do things is still hampered. Housework can only be done in short bursts of time, because standing too long results in lots of pain. My housework abilities are also limited to what is safe for my back. I wash dishes, sweep the floors, tidy the bathroom, fold laundry, make dinner, do grocery shopping in small, manageable trips. The rest of my time is spent going to appointments, going to the gym to do safe exercises and rehab, going to Starbucks for coffee and to soak up a bit of connection with my co-workers, and varying my position between standing and reclining as frequently as necessary. It’s a boring life and frustrating. I feel like I should be doing more and living a real life, not this paper doll existence I am living. With the warmer weather, I want to be outside and active, much more active than my body will agree to, and I fear that I will miss out on spring and summer just as I missed out on winter.

My husband’s comment took me aback a little, because I was confused as to why he would think that I was still in need of an identity of my own. Didn’t I already do that? In my opinion, that’s what I had done between 2010 and 2017. I had hit the bottom and clawed my way back to the top. Hard work, determination, and the right people in my corner allowed me to feel comfortable in my own skin and to be sure of who I was. Through powerlifting, I discovered something within me that I could never have expected, and I loved being strong both physically and mentally. There is no doubt that I had grown substantially over the course of those years, and I learned to weather the storms and grow through them. Who else could I possibly be? What was missing?

The conversation with my friend revolved around parents and kids, but I instantly grasped how the concept of ‘wanting more’ and ‘satisfied with enough’ could apply to me as I mulled over my husband’s statement. From the time I started going to the gym and focused on powerlifting, I have wanted more. This desire for more was focused on my performance and goals within the sport far more than it ever applied to the rest of my life. I’m an easy-going and low-maintenance kind of person. I’m not interested in keeping up with the Joneses. Even when there is something I would like to improve in my home or have as an experience, I am still easily content with what I can realistically have. Enough is perfectly fine for me, unless I’m in the gym and setting goals for future competitions. I don’t need to be the strongest or the best, although I will always strive to win while knowing there are others better than me. Most of the time I succeed at my goals, but not always. The sting of failure hurts for a little while, but I always manage to learn and grow through the experience. That is enough!

But here I sit (figuratively because sitting hurts like hell), not knowing what my future holds, where it will lead me, or when I will reach the next stage of the journey. When I realized the nature of my injury, I fully expected to be back to normal within a few weeks, maybe a couple of months. Six months later, I no longer have a clue when I will be back to normal, if that will even happen. I’ve been stuck in limbo, playing the waiting game with my body, my doctor, and now a neurosurgeon. My doctor has repeatedly said this will take time and that there are proper steps to follow in treating such an injury. Time, I understand, even proper steps, but I chafe at the unnecessary delays created by the medical system when a slightly faster pace could potentially create improved health sooner (and less of a burden on the health care system, my workplace, and employment insurance costs). I feel alone, forgotten, cast aside, and broken.

I believe that I am still me. This injury hasn’t erased the woman I had become in recent years. In many ways, I think this injury will only make me a stronger person. But in the meantime, I feel stripped of so much of what makes me who I am. Is that true though? I am a barista. I am a powerlifter. I am a wife, a mother, a friend. Those are things that I do or titles that apply to me, but they are not who I am. Last year I learned that lesson after a disappointing competition after a disappointing and frustrating several months of training. Powerlifting is what I do, not who I am. So, I know who I am even though I feel lost, but I am beginning to realize that this injury can shake up my assumptions and put them back together as something entirely different than what I had imagined. I don’t know what that means for me yet, but I suspect it will add another layer to claiming my own identity. In the same way, I also believe that the theme of being satisfied with enough will weave through that layer in a most wonderful way. It’s not always easy to sit in these days of uncertainty, but I am excited to see who I am at the end of it.

Singling Out Shame

As I laid awake in bed last night, my mind randomly flashed back to a situation I found myself in about a month or so ago. It was the kind of situation that would be quite easy to ignore or glide over, but in chewing it over in my mind last night I was able to talk myself through the awkwardness and the negative emotions which threatened me in that situation. Of course, all of my best thoughts and words were probably used up in the dark of night, but let me try to spit it out now in the light of day.

I don’t know what day it was exactly, not that it matters at all, but we were at Costco, my husband and I. We had wandered the aisles and thrown a few items into our cart before planting ourselves in one of the long lines to checkout. As we were waiting and talking, I noticed a woman in a line next to ours, and I immediately recognized her face. That’s my super power…recognizing faces. It might take me a month to remember where I know a face from, but I remember faces. Anyway, I recognized this person as a friend of a former friend. I don’t know if she recognized me (we had met once or twice before), but I was instantly flooded with anxiety and shame. Our items were scanned and paid for, and we walked out of Costco, while I shoved those feelings into a mental closet and locked the door.

I know why I felt anxious and ashamed when I saw this person, but I didn’t want to spend any time thinking about it. Sometimes we think that shutting painful emotions off is the same as dealing with them, but that’s not how it works. It was easy enough to ignore how I felt in Costco all those days ago, and I could probably continue to ignore that for a long time yet. Until the next time I see someone with a connection to a former friend.

The anxiety comes from the fear of being disliked or treated with disdain, while the shame flows out of the fear of what the former friend may or may not have said about me. The end of our relationship was surprising and odd. The last conversation was confusing and one-sided, as if designed to create shame within me. In some ways, it felt like I was being gas-lighted. As confusing and hurtful as that was to experience, I was able to see the smoke and mirrors, even if I can only guess at the motivation behind them. It was surprisingly easy to move on, but maybe not so surprising given the growth in my self-confidence over the years. Seeing someone connected to the former friend rattles that confidence. Negative thoughts whisper in my ear, questioning what gossip or lies about my character might have been passed on. In actuality, I feel no shame about what happened with the former friend, because I know I did nothing wrong. But I feel shame in thinking that someone might have been told misinformation. Why? Why should I feel shame about that? Why should I feel anxious simply because I recognize a face in a crowd?

I have absolutely no idea if the former friend has ever said anything about me or the end of our relationship to anyone. No idea whatsoever! Quite honestly, I think it is more likely that this person hasn’t mentioned my name at all. Or maybe my name gets mentioned like a piece of trivia or a historical tidbit of information without emotion or explanation. I have no way of knowing, and I don’t want to care about it one way or the other. What is of greater concern to me is the way that I respond emotionally to a situation that I cannot control and is likely not even a situation to speak of, like seeing someone at Costco.

The feelings of shame that I felt in Costco that day were nothing more than lies designed to imprison me. To the best of my ability and with the grace of God, I have peace within myself in the end of that relationship, so there is no need for me to feel ashamed at the possibility of being recognized as someone’s former friend. I don’t need to stress out over what may or may not have been said about me, when I know my own actions and words and attitudes and have examined them most carefully. If some random person has a problem with me because of misinformation…well, he/she can have a conversation with me about it or not. As for me, I don’t have a desire to waste my time fretting over what ifs, and I do not want to be weighed down by misplaced guilt or shame. There may be moments or days when my confidence is battered and shaky, but I know who I am and I know my worth.

And now that I’ve got that off my chest, perhaps the only thing that will keep me awake tonight is the ever-present pain in my legs!

This is Me

A big, bad ass powerlifter shared a bit of his story on social media yesterday. Although I do follow his account, as is often the case of social media, I didn’t see the post until my coach tagged me in the comments. The reason he tagged me was immediately apparent. This big name, successful Canadian powerlifter had shared a small glimpse into his “broken back” experience in 2010. He mentioned the long, hard road back to the platform, the pain, the unsatisfactory workouts, and the permeating doubts about ever being able to compete again. Then he went on to talk about his first two competitions back and how much he loves the sport of powerlifting. He even dared to say that his injury was the best thing that ever happened to him and that he came back better than ever in every way possible.

I read his words last night as I was reclining in my living room, feeling self-pity along with the pain coursing through my legs, and the tears ran down my face. Of course, it didn’t help that I was watching This Is Us. For the record, that is not a good show to watch when you are already feeling down and emotional! But, despite the tears, I did feel hopeful and encouraged.

It is easy for me to put on the happy face during the day. Even though I am bored and restless, I can putter about the house or walk in the mall or go to the gym to do my unsatisfactory workouts. My left leg and foot are still numb, but walking and moving are generally beneficial. I can easily feel it in my back when I need to take a break and get off my feet. It’s easy to feel hopeful and positive when I’m upright and mobile.

It is in the “getting off my feet” that the shine fades and darkness moves in, because laying down brings instant pain to my legs. This pain varies in intensity, sometimes mild and other times intense, but is constant. It is as if the act of laying down plugs my body into an electrical outlet which then sends currents of electricity throughout my legs. My daytime lay down sessions are uncomfortable enough, but somehow the setting of the sun only elevates my sense of frustration, self-pity, and despair. In the safety of my home and the silence of the night, I am at my lowest. That is when I am most vulnerable.

As is frequently the case, I slept horribly last night and struggled to pull myself out of bed. But I had to get to the gym. Given my current situation of volatile emotions, little sleep, pain, and unsatisfactory workouts, there are many days where I simply do not feel like going to the gym; however, I am thankful that going to the gym has been an activity that I enjoy and have faithfully scheduled into my life from the beginning more than 4 years ago. I might not feel like going some days, but the gym is an appointment with myself that I rarely miss.

I went to the gym this morning, feeling tired and reluctant and not so excited. Today’s program had an awful lot of upper body/arm work, like the kind of arm work that I am not good at and makes me feel weak. I started off with my physio exercises to warm up, then I hit the incline chest press machine. I suck at incline pressing at the best of times, and the weight I’m using is hardly worth mentioning it is so low. But in the midst of my sets, a song came on my playlist that shifted the direction of my attitude to North. The song was Invincible by Sia. I love this song, but this morning I felt the words sink into my skin like water on parched soil. As I soaked in the words, I found myself pushing just a little bit further than I thought I could go. Over the course of my workout, some of my rep numbers weren’t fantastic, but I still mostly managed to push that little bit more. Except for the leg curls. There is something going on with my left hamstring/knee that isn’t feeling super great on the curls and a few other movements. It could be related to the nerve and numbness issues in that leg, or it could be something else. I don’t know but will point it out to my physiotherapist again on Friday and my chiropractor next week.

What am I trying to say here? I am not sure.

Injuries can be debilitating beyond the physical aspects. An injury can be just as traumatizing on the emotions as it is on the body. Just as my pain levels fluctuate, so do my emotions. It’s bad enough to be in pain, to have physical limitations, and to have emotions run amok, but then there is the sense of isolation to make one feel truly lost. Although I am so not a social butterfly, I do enjoy the social connections of my job. Being off work, I am missing out on those connections. I feel disconnected from my job in so many ways beyond just going to work each day. Not being able to sit without pain means I need to be extremely choosy about going out for dinner or a movie. The inability to sit with the inability to remain standing for hours on end means being extremely selective about my involvement in many other social opportunities, like going to church or a gathering with friends.

There is the pain, the emotional upheaval, the isolation, the loss of previously enjoyed activities, and then there is the mental haze of medication. I am taking three different medications to help with the pain and supposedly to let me sleep. Well, sleep is still problematic and the pain seems largely unchanged on the drugs compared to when I was not on them, but I do have the wonderful side effect of feeling permanently tired and often in a mental fog.

Each day is unique. There is much that seems unchanged from day to day…the numbness, the pain, the lack of sleep. What does change each day is my attitude, my emotions, my perspective and outlook, my fears and doubts, my confidence. Yesterday was a gloomy day. Today is brighter. This journey through injury is not one I wanted to ever travel, but here I am. Today I feel some hope that I will get through this to be better and stronger than before. Today I feel hopeful that I will look back at this time and say that it was the best thing that ever happened. I might not feel the same way tomorrow, but I am going to grab hold of today’s hopefulness and drag it along with me through each new day like a toddler’s favourite blanket. I can focus on the good, the small steps forward, and wrap myself up in that blanket of hope on the days when nothing seems right in my world.

Hindsight

10. If you could go back to last January 1, what suggestions would you give your past self?

There is a saying about hindsight being 20/20, and it is usually true. Looking back we can more easily discern the wisdom (or lack of) in our decisions and actions. We can see more clearly the hazards that laid in wait for us, and we can quickly see the alternate routes that we should have taken in our quest to get ahead in this game of life. There are occasions though when our ability to look into the past is hampered by the limitations of memory. Maybe we don’t want to remember or perhaps the occasion was not sufficient to cement itself at the forefront of our memories. Such things are seldom lost forever, but they take a fair bit of time and patient coaxing to draw them out of the depths where they reside. As I prepare to answer the question that leads off this blog post, I know that forgotten memories will rise to the surface at random moments after I have finished this post. No matter how much time I spend on reflection, my memories will always shift and shimmer in unpredictable patterns.

So, if I could go back to January 1, 2017, what advice would I give myself?

  • Do not hang out in a body weight squat for 5 minutes! Probably not even for 2 minutes!
  • Take more time off than just a long weekend for our anniversary vacation.
  • You’re going to lose some friends. It won’t make sense and it will hurt, but you will be okay.
  • Yeah, losing some friends is going to cause a bunch of insecurities to bubble to the surface, but don’t let those insecurities change the shape of your character. You know who you are and who you are not. You also have people in your life who also know who you are and who you are not; trust them.
  • You might have a disappointing competition experience. This would be unfamiliar to you, but it is a normal part of being an athlete or competitor. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes you win but still have a sub-par performance or injuries. It’s okay to be frustrated and disappointed, but you are strong enough to pick yourself up and move on.
  • You know how you want to try stand up paddleboarding? Just do it!
  • When you see the really good deal on Christmas tree lights, don’t be afraid of buying too many! You know that the ones you have are old and in need of replacing. Buy more than you think you will need, because you don’t want to have to mix a couple strands of newer cool white lights with strands of older yellowish white lights!
  • When you herniate your disc and your boss asks if you want to take a leave of absence, do it. Forget about your pride and propensity for people pleasing. Do not think that gritting your teeth, digging fingernails into palms, and choking back tears are satisfactory means of surviving a shift at work!
  • Get a zero gravity chair! It beats sprawling on the living room floor when sitting is too painful. Trust me…you’ll need it a lot this year!
  • Wear the bikini. Spend more time in the backyard pool.
  • Regardless of what comes at you remember this…you are brave, you are strong, you are thoughtful, you are kind, you are loving, you are trustworthy, you are enough!