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!

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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!

 

Changed

8. What’s one thing that changed about yourself?

The fact that we can change is wonderful. There’s freedom in knowing we’re not obligated to be who we always were. We can explore our limits and live in new ways when we want to.

Change is something that I am reasonably familiar with and often embrace. My entire journey has been about change…changing attitudes, self-perception, confidence, habits. Becoming Angela is about change. So, what is one thing that has changed about myself this year? All of the above.

I’d like to think that I became stronger this year.

Gains in physical strength may be questionable. My ability to adequately train was hampered for most of the first half of the year. My results at my last competition would indicate that I had at least regained my strength to the same level as it had been at the end of last year.

The real change, I think, has been in personal, inner strength. I’ve had a few challenges this year, although the weight of them is measured only by my own scale. My response hasn’t always been great, but I always manage to regain my bearings and grow through the struggle.

Worry

6. What did you worry about most and how did it turn out?

Worry is an odd thing for me. I tend to carry a lot of figurative weight around on a day-to-day basis, things like worry and stress; however, the weight of such things isn’t always heavy. For example, as a mom I had worries for my son when he traveled to Thailand recently. This was his first time undertaking such a lengthy and distant trip and without the presence of family or a large group. I am not naive about things that can happen when traveling (or at home). Although I did worry for my son’s safety, the worry was not heavy or consuming. I went about life without dread or fear. While I appreciated the bits of contact that my son made with me during his absence, I was not dependent on them to have peace of mind. I held worry in my hands but was at peace with the situation. This is how I respond to stress and worry over many details of life. I can feel the inner disturbance yet quickly regain solid footing. My natural inclination is not chaotic or dramatic but calm and rational. Mostly.

As for worry that weighed heavily upon me, I suppose I can pinpoint two situations.

1. A friendship ended this year. At the time and still to this day, I don’t really understand what happened there. The type of worry that eats away at you only lasted a brief period of time before I reclaimed my peace and solid footing. That short period of anxiety and doubt and worry was horrible, not so much for how it made me feel but for the sense of impending loss. I am often slow to open up to new people and cautious about who I allow into the deeper levels of relationship; however, once someone has been granted access and makes the choice to accept me, I invest in the relationship and value it greatly. When a treasured relationship ends, it hurts. There is confusion and uncertainty. Worry…about so many things! What did I do wrong? What did I say? What didn’t I do right? What didn’t I say? Those questions and doubts can attack with brutality, leaving you bruised, battered, wounded, and forever scarred.

Thankfully, my confidence and knowledge of self has grown stronger over recent years, and I was able to discern truth from fiction and weigh my worries accordingly. The friendship was gone, but I was not destroyed. I think I’m stronger now.

2. The other big worry for 2017 has been and continues to be my back. My back has been through a lot this year. This current disc herniation makes my earlier SI joint problems look like a walk in the park. Tomorrow will be 7 weeks since I herniated my disc. There has been improvements. I even think there continues to be improvements, but they are slow in the coming and not always consistent from day to day or even hour to hour. I am not in screaming, agonizing pain on a scale of 100 out of 10…thank goodness! But there is still pain. Too much standing/walking and the numbness in my left leg/foot increases, pain shoots down both legs, and the back hurts/aches/throbs. When I lie down I can feel the shock of electric currents traveling down both legs. There are moments when I feel almost normal, except for the permanent numbness, but such moments are brief and sporadic. I am so weary of this injury.

In the early stages of the injury, my worry was mild. In my ignorance of what was actually wrong with me, I was still optimistic that I’d be back to normal soon. When I was made aware that I had actually herniated a disc, that little blob of worry transformed into a giant black hole that sucked all the joy, peace, and hope out of me. I was worried, and this worry was heavy. As the days and weeks progressed and my recovery progressed so slowly, that worry began to crush my soul. Knowing that discs will eventually heal wasn’t enough to allay the worry. The lessening of the pain wasn’t enough either. The continued presence of numbness and the later addition of pain and numbness in the other leg only fed the worry I held inside. I’ve cried a lot of tears. The worry has been all encompassing. I’ve been worried about how my injury impacts my ability to do my job to the level that I am accustomed and that I desire to attain. I’ve been worried about how my injury impacts my co-workers who have had to cover my short-comings and my absence. I’ve been worried about my limitations in doing basic, every day stuff around the house. Worried about the limitations in my ability to train at the gym the way that I enjoy most. Worried about my future in powerlifting. Worried about the financial impact of this injury. Stress over the process of applying for a medical leave and employment insurance. The worry about my short-term and long-term health has been heavy. Even the process of seeking medical care is riddled with worry and stress. This worry has taken a heavy toll on me.

I am still dealing with this injury, tripping my way through recovery and medical care, and slogging through the muck of emotional distress. I am still worried, and I do not yet have resolution to this problem. I am still injured. Recovery is still in progress and hazy. There will still be a financial impact for months to come. There is no sneak peek into the future. Uncertainty remains. So does worry.

But the worry is less consuming now and I feel more hopeful than I did a week or two ago. I am far from where I want to be, but I do know how to put one foot in front of the other in order to take a step forward. I know how to work hard to reach my goals. I know what it feels like to struggle, to feel challenged in a task, and to succeed. I know failure, too, but I also know how to pick myself up again. Worry isn’t done with me and my disc and I don’t know how it will turn out yet, but I know I will be okay.

 

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.

Unforgettable

I stumbled upon an article this morning which immediately caught my interest enough to click on the title to read the entire thing, and I liked what I read. It is about ending your year intentionally by asking yourself some questions. The words line up with the way that I usually look at the end of each year and the start of a new year, so I think I am going to answer those questions on my blog over the remaining days of the 2017. Or at least as many of them as I can, because I feel like some of the questions can easily overlap.

  1. What makes this year unforgettable?

There are two things that immediately come to mind when I look at this question, and it isn’t surprising that both things are recent (or current) events. Undoubtedly I had many experiences and interactions over the course of the year which are memorable in their own ways. It is also easy to lose sight of those unforgettable people and events for no other reason than the passage of time.

1.Unforgettable number one was my powerlifting competition on November 4th. This was the competition that I had been working for and hoping to have for a long time. I’m not even certain that words could ever adequately describe just how much this competition meant to me on various levels. I’ve tried to blog and talk about it, but I fear that the resulting injury has overshadowed everything that was good and positive and empowering about that competition on that day.

I broke all the Provincial records and almost all of the National records (not the bench press). I broke a World record! I achieved every goal I had going into that day, and success is sweet. I am competition. I am driven to reach my goals, but my performance was so much more than just the records. So much more! My performance was the culmination of many months of hard work, sweat, tears, pain, stepping outside of my comfort zone, changes, uncertainty & doubt, and scratching my way back. Stepping onto the platform and walking off with white lights was empowering, reaffirming, redemptive, and peaceful. On the platform that day, I felt powerful and confident and competent. As I completed each lift, it was as if a heavy layer of debris was being shed from my body. Even walking off the platform in pain after my final lift, I still felt whole, clean, and powerful. I’m sure that sounds weird, but I have no better words to describe how I felt and still feel, despite the other unforgettable thing.

2. The second most unforgettable event of 2017 is my herniated disc. How can I forget something that has caused me so much pain and anguish and is still a major factor in my life? Although the competition is not entirely to blame for the injury, the two will forever be tied together. In the eyes of some, the injury casts my competition in a negative light, but I cannot see it that way. This is something that happened at a particular time, but it could have happened at any time or any place.

It’s slightly more than 6 weeks now since the herniation occurred, and I am still reeling. My left leg is still numb from butt to toes with pain radiating down from butt to ankle. The back sometimes feels okay and other times has solid pain, radiating pain, or spasms. About a week or so ago, the right leg began experiencing radiating pain from butt to knee and sporadic tingling and numbness in the foot. The new pain is not good. Heck, the old pain isn’t good either!

I had an appointment with my doctor this morning, and he is still an ass. However, he did give me two prescriptions for the pain, although I am fairly certain that he tried to lump me in the same category as opiate addicts. This is in spite of the fact that I haven’t been on an opiate and really have no desire to be on an opiate. I’d much prefer to not take medication at all. I’ve had the same doctor for close to 20 years and we used to attend the same small church…you’d think he’d know me better than he obviously does. Of course, he also essentially criticized me for going to a walk-in clinic previously, even though my reason for doing so was for a second opinion after he said I hadn’t herniated my disc! He treated me like a child, explaining the proper steps and procedures for getting the care I need. Hmmm…if only he had taken my pain, symptoms, and concerns seriously when I first saw him 6 weeks ago! Despite receiving an email from my physiotherapist recommending a surgical consult, my doctor will not initiate the referral until he sees the results from the CT scan, which would take months to get an appointment. Thankfully, my husband said that he was willing to pay to get an MRI done at a private clinic, which means I’m having the MRI on Wednesday, as in 2 days from now instead of months! The sooner we know what is actually going on inside of my back, then the sooner I can get adequate treatment, even if my doctor thinks it is perfectly acceptable to suffer for months, even a year before seeking further treatment. <insert colourful adjective here>

My one other request from my doctor was a bit more time off of work. I went in asking for 2 weeks, but he gave me 8 weeks off work. I am surprised by that, to be honest, and I don’t know how I feel about it. Torn and conflicted. Just as I was about my initial two weeks off work. I appreciate the time to heal and take it easy on my body, but I miss my job and feel like I’m letting everyone down. Also, the extended leave means that I need to apply for Employment Insurance, because that’s a long time to be without income.

3. I almost forgot about one other unforgettable thing! In August, my husband and I celebrated 25 years of marriage. We were able to get away for a long weekend at Harrison Hot Springs. That was probably the first no-kids, no sports event weekend away just the two of us, and it was amazing. We had no agenda, and Harrison is a small, relatively quiet tourist spot. We ate delicious food, drank some wine, did a lot of walking and talking. I love my husband, and 25 years has not diminished that love one bit. He is my biggest fan and supporter. He is everything that I am not, which means that we mesh fairly well, most of the time.