Too Wet To Go Out

As much as I enjoy rain, I am finding our current weather to be too cold, too wet, too damp, too dreary. I kind of feel like this:

The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house all that cold, cold, wet day. I sat there with Sally. We sat there, we two. And I said, “How I wish we had something to do!” Too wet to go out and too cold to play ball. So we sat in the house. We did nothing at all. So all we could do was to sit! Sit! Sit! Sit! And we did not like it. Not one little bit.

~Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat

Okay, so there is more to my sense of solitary confinement than just the weather. This injury, the constant pain, being on medical leave from work…these are the shackles that bind me. I feel stuck. Purposeless. Useless. Forgotten.

Every month, I’d cling to the hope that my return to work would be approved by the powers that be, and every month I’d be disappointed. Despite my constant pain, I was still stunned when my doctor told me earlier this week that I need to stay off work for another three months. The earliest I can return to work is the 4th of July, which means I will be off work for 7 months. SEVEN MONTHS! By the time I get back to work I won’t know anything. No one will know me.

I really do love rain, but these days I need the sun and the warmth it brings. The cold has seeped into my bones until it feels like I won’t ever warm up. I look forward to each evening when I allow myself to enjoy the warmth and comfort of my electric heating pad on my back. For the past couple of weeks, I have limited myself to using the heating pad only once a day, because the skin on my back has become mottled and rather disgusting looking from overuse. It is just too soothing to give it up entirely. But sunshine! Warm weather! I could drag myself outside more if the weather were nicer. Maybe I wouldn’t feel quite so closed in.

This morning I had coffee with a good friend. We sat in her car, parked with a view of the lake through the rain-streaked windshield. A walk would have been lovely, but my back was in too much pain to tolerate the exertion, and the rain eliminated the possibility of sitting on a park bench. Actually, sitting in the car for that length of time wasn’t comfortable, but it was still so good to connect with my friend and catch up.

The rest of my day was unproductive, even less than usual for me these days. It’s hardly surprising that my productivity (ha!) drops significantly when my pain level is high. I didn’t sleep well last night due to the pain in my back. I am so weary of hurting all the time, no matter what I do or don’t do, and I just want to reach the end of these dark days. Pain is grinding me down. On the inside, I feel like a twisted and deformed shadow of myself, and it isn’t pretty.

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Mental Check

When last I saw my doctor at the beginning of this month, he whisked me in and out within five minutes and told me to see him again in two weeks. I left feeling highly doubtful that I would in fact make another follow-up appointment. After all, I’m not exactly happy with my doctor’s interpretation of appropriate diagnosis and care, and I was hopeful that I’d be returning to work, thus reducing my need for continuing the medical paper trail. The best laid plans of Angela fell apart though, when my return to work was denied, especially when I realized that my medical employment insurance coverage is about to come to an end and I might be able to apply for short-term disability through my benefits coverage. Because applying for short-term disability requires more paperwork, including paperwork from my doctor. I wasn’t happy about the need to book a follow-up appointment after all, but it would be better to receive some money over the next few weeks rather than none at all. So I booked an appointment for this afternoon.

As I anxiously waited in an exam room, I was surprised when a stranger walked in the door. It seemed that my doctor currently has a medical student doctor working in his clinic, and she was going to be taking care of me today. And wow! What a difference! Instead of an appointment less than five minutes in length, this doctor spent at least 15-20 minutes with me, and she asked pertinent, probing questions. My doctor only asks how my back is doing without actually hearing what I’m saying, and then he tells me that these things take time. This doctor asked me a lot of questions and listened to my answers. Perhaps the biggest and most important question was, “How is your mental state?”

Now I realize that a med student is generally going to be more thorough in examining or diagnosing a patient, but experiencing it in action today was like a breath of fresh air and I walked out of my appointment with a new prescription, a referral to the chronic pain clinic, my paperwork filled out, and another follow-up appointment. Somehow I’m okay with yet another appointment, which will more than likely be just like most of my appointments. I think I’m okay with it, because this appointment actually felt worth my time and productive.

Back to the question about my mental state…

It was the kind of question that I didn’t want to hear yet also was relieved to be asked. Mentally, I have a lot of really good days, but there are also more than a few tough ones. I knew that I was struggling with low mood, but I’m always reluctant to admit it. Part of that reluctance might be the stigma that often comes with mental illness, while a large part of it is the fact that my struggles are mild to moderate, a far cry from the debilitating depression so many others face. But refusing to acknowledge my own struggle won’t make it go away. I also know that the combination of depression and months of not sleeping well can have a negative impact on healing and how the body deals with pain. And so, I left my appointment with a prescription for a low dose antidepressant that can help my mood and supposedly help me sleep. As much as I dislike taking medication, for the short term it sounds like a ‘win-win’ situation to me.

 

Future Focus

Yesterday I had another physio appointment, and the disappointment and frustration continues. Every appointment he tests my Achilles reflex, and every time there is no response from my left Achilles. I told him about the increase of pain in my back and down my left leg and the sporadic appearance of pain, numbness and tingling in my good leg. He said the concentrating of pain is good and acceptable, but the spreading of pain is not. It is important for me to get to the next step of having an appointment with a neurosurgeon.

On Monday I have an appointment with my family doctor, which I am both eager and dreading. I loathe wasting my time with a visit to my GP in any situation, since he almost never takes my concerns seriously. Shortly after my injury, my doctor declared that I hadn’t herniated a disc. I highly doubt that he’s changed his opinion; however, my physiotherapist said that he would send an email to my doctor to update him on where I am at and give his recommendations. Hopefully that helps! I’m still bringing my husband with me though, since the family doctor has always listened to my husband’s concerns.

It’s now 6 weeks since I herniated my disc. I get asked quite frequently how I’m doing. To be completely honest, I don’t know how to answer that question. As I am typing I am wincing and groaning through pain radiating from my back and down my leg. I was woken up at least three times last night by pain shooting down my leg. I joined my husband on a short trip to Costco this morning. Less than an hour of walking, shards of pain in every step. I’ve been off of prescription pain meds for two weeks, but I’m ready to ask my doctor to give me a new prescription.

Physically I feel broken. Emotionally…I feel broken. There have been a lot of tears over the past week. Physical healing seems to be coming so slowly, too slowly. The future is cloudy and uncertain, and I am stuck in limbo. I feel like I should be better, like I should be able to do more…

This is the time of year when I reflect on the past eleven months and imagine the year soon to come. Normally I would be sifting through thoughts and refining a new theme for the new year and creating some goals. This injury has weighed on me heavily, and I have not been able to turn my gaze towards the new year at all, until last night. As I lay awake and in pain last night, inspiration struck and I have found my theme for the new year. It still requires some refining before I’m ready to blog about it, but it flowed out of a comment made by a friend yesterday. Somehow the simple act of settling upon my theme has created a spark of excitement that I haven’t felt for many weeks.

Scars to Your Beautiful

I will never grace the cover of a fashion magazine, nor will I ever be a cover girl. I couldn’t even be a hand model. My body seems to be in a perpetual state of wounds and bruises and scars. There are the little reminders of the summer I had chicken pox. The scars on the inside of my upper lip remind me of a toboggan accident. There is the large scar on my elbow from stitches when I was young enough to not remember. A faint scar on my right wrist goes back to a scratch from a swing set. There are stretch marks from bearing children. A mysterious triangle of a scar at the base of a finger that has been there for as long as I can remember. These scars are memories of a sort, even if I have no recollection of the event. They are part of the history of my body.

Bruises come and go. Sometimes I know where they came from, while at other times I have no recollection of having done anything to merit the mark. At this moment, I have small bruises on each biceps. One is from the flap of a box at work, but I’m not sure where the other came from. There is a yellow-tinged discolouration the size of my fist lingering around one ankle from bumping an iron chair leg against my own leg more than a week ago. A small scrape of skin on the opposite shin, most likely also a workplace casualty. Lifting weights has put calluses on my hands and resulted in many of my bruises and scrapes. I don’t mind them, because they are reminders that I am using my body.

As I sat in the tub this morning, feeling like the effort to bathe was too much and not worth it, I noticed all my bruises and scars and considered the invisible scars and bruises that no one else sees. It is the internal wounds that have the deepest impact. Even when the wounds are not so fresh, even when the wounds have seemingly healed and scarred over, even still the pain can be felt when a pointing finger pokes into just the right spot. And it does not even matter if the cause of the wound is truth or fiction…the pain feels the same.

Wouldn’t it be nice if our body would simply send some more platelets to clot our emotional wounds? Sadly it doesn’t work that way. Perhaps everyone reacts and responds in uniquely personal ways. I cannot speak for anyone else, only myself, and I feel numb, unmotivated, one minute irritable and one minute fine. I have no problem going to work. I have no problem going to my training sessions. I have been able to go to the grocery store or to an appointment or to the library, but mostly I have no motivation to go anywhere or do anything. I did a single load of laundry yesterday. I read half of a book yesterday and finished the other half today. I made dinner last night and will force myself to make dinner tonight. I forced myself to shave my legs this morning. But really, my weekend is drawing to an end and I’ve accomplished so very little except to wear a hole on the living room floor where I spend most of my time. My head feels as if it is filled with static, sort of a headache but more like background noise that you can’t quite block out. This sort of “headache” was a constant presence several years ago when I was originally diagnosed as mildly depressed. <sigh>

I’d gladly take the physical bruises over the internal ones. The physical bruises heal fast and then they’re gone and forgotten. Physical scars might remain, but they hold no pain once they’ve healed.

Dazed & Confused

It’s been a long week. As much as is possible, while still going to work and the gym, I have been playing the role of a hermit. I am numb, confused, and hurting. There is so much that cannot be said about the situation, and I honestly don’t even understand what has happened. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I feel as if I have lost a friendship.

I have cried an ocean of tears. Food has lost appeal and flavour. I’ve had one completely sleepless night, followed by nights with sufficient hours of sleep but far from restful. On a couple of occasions, I have been literally trembling as nervous adrenaline has coursed through my veins…adrenaline born out of the fear of confrontation and rejection. My smile feels artificial. Laughter only skims the surface. How is it that a heart can be both heavy and shattered at the same time?

I’ve been going through the motions and not even doing those too well. Going to work has been mostly a distraction. I may be an introvert, but I am quite capable of giving good customer service with a smile, even when I’m raining on the inside. But sooner or later I will need to pick myself up from the floor, do some housework, plan some healthy meals, wipe away the tears that seem to be perpetually ready to spill, and feel the sunshine rather than focusing on the gloomy skies overhead. Depression is messy. My struggles with depression have always been mild to moderate, yet every downward spiral leaves me feeling as if I’m scrabbling up a rocky mountain. It is exhausting, and I am left bloodied, bruised, and worn. My confidence takes a massive hit, and I retreat within myself. This is where I feel safe, or at least safer. This is where I feel ugly and unlovable and unworthy. Somehow it always feels appropriate.

 

A Theme to Build a Dream On

I haven’t exactly been living out my theme for 2017 these past few months. Instead of feeling and being ‘Powerfully Beautiful’, I fear I have been more weak, pathetic, and ugly. It shouldn’t be this way, but pain tends to have that effect and such has been my life since the end of January. I haven’t always handled the pain, the frustration, or my limitations well. Although I tend to try to put on a good face in public, sometimes the mask slips. My emotions have risen and fallen like a roller-coaster, but the dips felt steeper and longer than the upwards climbs.

In the downward spirals, I struggle with mild depression. Taking care of myself becomes a chore, and I’m more likely to do the bare minimum of self-care. Although I will always make the time and effort to spend time with my good friends, I definitely ‘turtle’ more when my mood is low. I will do my job serving the public with a smile on my face. I will go to the gym. I will go to my chiropractic appointments. But I have to drag myself out the door for just about anything else. I haven’t been to church for several weeks, because I cannot sit without pain and kneeling for the duration of a sermon is not my idea of fun or comfort. My attempts to plan a week’s worth of meals have sputtered, because it requires too much effort. That and my interest in food and eating well has fallen with my mood. When I am down, I procrastinate more. I take less interest in what’s going on around me, except for grumbling at idiot drivers. All these signs and symptoms are probably quite typical of mild depression or someone suffering with pain. It is understandable, but it not a pretty thing to behold. And it certainly doesn’t make me feel very strong.

This week is different. I was cautiously optimistic on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Yesterday, I carried that optimism carefully into the gym with me, and I left the gym excited with hope flying high as a kite. Today, I am feeling the DOMS in my quads from yesterday’s squats, and I couldn’t be happier about that kind of pain. The back still isn’t pain-free, but the back has stayed consistently better all week. Yesterday I finally felt as if I had reached the turning point. Of course, I’m not 100% yet. I still don’t know when I will be, but I actually feel and believe that the worst is behind me now. Feeling and believing this is making the engines of motivation and drive rev.

And I feel the change in my attitude towards myself. Self-care becomes more important. I’m singing out loud in the car again, and not just grumbling at idiot drivers. I actually skimmed through the local newspaper yesterday before tossing it in the recycling bin. I wrote a card to a friend. I made a decent dinner tonight. I prepped my lunch for tomorrow. But I still grumbled internally when my husband got up and spoke to me super early this morning before I went to work. I will always prefer silence until I get to work when I start work early in the morning. He thought he was being funny by saying, “Don’t worry! I’m not going to say good morning to you.” So, I didn’t think it was funny, but that’s my non-morning person mode rather than my depressed mode.

The first third of the year might have been a fail in terms of living my theme, but there is still plenty of time left to get it right.

Connection

There must be something in the air today, because I have been feeling rather unexpectedly emotional. It began as I sat at the end of the bar while on my break this morning, when I was approached by three customers within a few minutes of each other. Sincere and warm greetings along with conversation that skimmed just below the surface. Connections. As I sat there eating my lunch, the warmth of the connections that I am making here made me think about the differences between my current and former jobs. Tears threatened. Happy tears that I choked back lest I look foolish or upset about something not there.

Since I worked an early shift this morning and I have a closing shift tomorrow, I stopped back at work this afternoon for my second cup of coffee and had a couple more encounters with regular customers, even though I wasn’t behind the counter. Have I ever mentioned how much I love my new job?

I guess know that I feel things deeply. I think I always have, but there were quite a few years where my ability to feel and care and connect were crippled by depression, insecurities, and emotional wounds. Three years ago the thought of changing jobs would never have seemed possible. While I was capable of being amiable, internally I was reluctant to get involved, to open up, to care too much about others or even myself. I was a different person then, but I am not that person anymore. I am so glad to feel again, to care again, even if deeply. I may not always jump into connection with two feet, but I no longer desire to shy away from it.

Just as a leopard cannot change its spots, an introvert cannot become a permanent extrovert. This is who I am. I am an introvert, but I take great joy in using my gifts and strengths in ways that compliment my personality and nature. I am enjoying the opportunity to be a part of my customers daily routine, and I am thrilled that I am being accepted as part of that routine, and welcomed like a part of a family.

So much has happened in my life over the past three years. I have been changed in some pretty radical ways and couldn’t be happier about it. I almost wouldn’t recognize the me of three years ago, and I suspect not many would. I’ve been on an amazing journey, and I’m far from reaching my final destination.