Challenges Into Lemonade

It seems like November started just yesterday, and here we are now on the cusp on December. With one more day to go, I have been (so far) successful in my little National Blog Posting Month challenge. It has been wonderful to have had something to challenge me, even if there were days that felt more challenging than others, but I am also looking forward to being finished. Blogging every single day is hard. It can be time consuming, and I can have nothing to say. 

But a challenge should make us uncomfortable and push us closer to those limits we think exist around us. We grow through adversity and find strength we might not have realized we possessed. Sure, we can pass through a season of challenge and struggle and come out the other side seemingly unchanged; however, I think we also have the opportunity to come out of such struggles having gained new insights and qualities. When we open ourselves to the difficulties and embrace the lessons being shown to us, then we grow and transform into someone stronger, more resilient, more beautiful and gracious. 

Of course, a blogging challenge isn’t exactly high on almost everyone’s list of challenges or struggles in life! It isn’t a challenge that my husband would undertake and that’s okay. But for me, blogging every day for a month is a fun way to push myself a little without over-reaching. A blogging challenge might be easier for me, but it is also a gentle nudge or reminder that I can put my mind to a task and see it through. The past year has been difficult in different ways, and I am still in a place of feeling as if I am struggling against and within myself. As much as I know that I have the ability to reclaim certain aspects that feel out of control, I also doubt myself, because so much feels out of my control. Does that make any sense? 

Successfully blogging for a month isn’t that big of a deal, but it reminds me that I can be consistent and focused in my efforts. Tackling my 1000-piece candy cane puzzle feels like an exercise in frustration, but it reminds me that I can be patient and persistent. I allowed those qualities to get lost in the back of my closet, but a simple challenge like NaBloPoMo has me pulling them out and dusting them off once more. 

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Three Little Words

fridgeinspiration

Many years ago now, I was given these words as part of my journey of becoming, and they have been on my fridge ever since. They are there in plain sight. Not a day goes by without my standing before the fridge. I see the words every single day, but I don’t always allow them to penetrate the surface of my busyness and state of mind. It is far too easy to see without seeing, without believing, without action. Inspiration has impact only when we allow the idea access beyond the surface.

As I was reheating leftover beef barley soup for tonight’s supper, my gaze settled upon these words once again and lingered there. I paused and mentally chewed my cud. Determination is something I have a firm grip on, I think. I know how to focus on a task and how to strive towards a goal. Quitting is a concept I seldom acknowledge. Now that I am at the 9 week mark with my disc herniation, I am firmly determined to do whatever it takes to heal and regain normalcy in my life once again. It’s the other two qualities that I sometimes struggle with.

Well almost. Peace is fairly easy for me to feel, although it can also be easily disrupted for a brief period of time. I’m like a still pond most of the time, calm and peaceful. A pebble tossed into the pond will send out little ripples that eventually settle back into nothing but calm waters. That’s me.

But I don’t exactly feel empowered all of the time. Especially not lately. There is nothing quite like an injury to make you feel insignificant, powerless, weak, and incapable. When something as simple as shaving your legs becomes a major physical challenge, you do not feel empowered. Or at least I don’t. When you used to stick to the section of the gym with the squat racks, deadlift platforms, and free weights, but you’ve been stuck in the other section of the gym with stretches and machines…you feel more frustrated than strong and capable. As I lay down and feel pain coursing through my legs, I want to cry. Maybe cry is a strong response, and yet it is also entirely appropriate at any given moment. This is not how empowerment is supposed to feel.

I’m talking as I think, which could be a dangerous thing or not, but I think my three words work best as a group rather than individuals. I cannot just pull empowerment out of a closet and put it on like an article of clothing. Determination, peace, empowerment…they are meant to be an outfit. They compliment each other, build upon each other and build each other up. I cannot determine to feel empowered all of the time, but I can feel peace in those moments when empowerment is hard to find. Empowerment doesn’t actually leave me; it just lurks in the haze of whatever trouble I’m in the midst of. My determination to continue and rise to a challenge coaxes empowerment to step out of the shadows; peace allows me to endure my struggles until that happens.

Isn’t it crazy the thoughts one can have while staring at the fridge door!

The Polar Bear

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ~Lao Tzu

For the past few weeks I had given thought to taking part in a polar bear dip to kick off the new year. There was something intangibly appealing about entering the frigid lake water, but I wasn’t without apprehension. My determination wavered last week with the arrival of a foot or more of snow and colder temperatures. I may be a Canadian girl, even a prairie raised one, but my seasonal preference is for something slightly warmer. When I took up running several years ago, I found a way to enjoy being out in the snow and cold, but since I no longer run, I no longer enjoy winter quite as much.

Still, it wasn’t terribly difficult for me to find enough courage to pursue my course of action. I knew I could do it. I knew I would do it. My biggest dilemma was in the execution. Should I take part in the official dip with dozens or hundreds of people running in and out of the water in a mad frenzy, or should I go it alone without all the supportive hoopla? There were good and not-so-good aspects to both options, but I ultimately chose to enjoy a simpler solo experience. Most of the time now I can walk quite well, numb left leg and all, but I cannot help but feel protective of my herniated disc. I had no intention of running in and out of the lake with it’s unpredictably bumpy bottom, and I did not want to be accidentally jostled or knocked about by the frantically flailing arms of a human swarm.

So, I did it. My husband and I drove to one of the local beaches. I peeled off my outer layers of clothing, and then we trudged through a path in the snow until we got to the shore. Despite being -10 Celsius outside, I didn’t feel very cold until we got to the shore. Although the distance between our vehicle and the shore wasn’t really very far, the wind was distinctly more noticeable at the shore. With the new chill in the air, I felt a reluctance to remove the towel wrapped around my shoulders. I paused and soaked in the stillness and the view before me in all of its shades of grey. Then I passed the towel to my husband and walked into the water without pause.  My steps were steady and measured, eager to reach an adequate depth of water but mindful of the softness of the soil and the rapidly freezing state of my toes. It felt as if I walked for a long time, and in a way I did. Okanagan Lake has many beach access areas where one can walk out quite far before ever getting deep. My body could have kept going, but my toes were in pain, so I found the “deepest” spot and knelt down to submerge as much of my body as I could. I would have liked to have submerged more deeply, but the depth of the water coupled with my own injury-related physical limitations meant that I got decently wet but not higher than mid-waist. Then I walked back to shore, wrapped my towel around my body, and trudged back through the snow to the vehicle and dry clothes.

polarbeardip

“No man steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” ~Heraclitus

A new year has begun, and it is full of possibility and adventure. One of my goals for the year is to try new things and live on the wild side now and then. I think today’s dip in the lake was a good beginning.

Rise of the Machines

Being injured is not my idea of a fun time. If I had broken an arm, I would quite likely be having a cast removed any day now and on my way to regaining strength, but a herniated disc doesn’t necessarily have a predictable and tidy healing schedule. I’d rather have a broken bone or a pulled muscle, a sprain or stitches, or a week long flu. This is not fun.

I feel like two different people. One is the optimist who knows how to dream big and work to achieve it. The other isn’t quite defeated yet but is broken, frustrated, and despairing. I am both people, flipping back and forth sometimes as frequently as a heartbeat.

My training routine since the injury has been little more than rehab exercises. Everything has been careful and slow and simple. I’ve not been allowed to touch a barbell or perform certain movements. While I appreciate the necessity of the rehab and the restrictions, I miss moving some weight and training more like an athlete than an injured person. I might have a World record squat, but these days my prowess is pretty much limited to bird dogs and body-weight glute bridges.

With my training playlist blaring in my ears, I go through my rehab motions fighting an internal battle between determination and despair. It’s an ugly battle of hand-to-hand combat, trenches, and no man’s land. One day a song might bolster my spirits and fan the flames of positivity and determination, while the same song the next day might shoot down my hope in a fiery hail of bullets. The ongoing numbness in my left leg weighs heavily on me. It’s bad enough that I can feel the weakness in that leg and the tentativeness that comes with diminished physical sensations, but the thought of potential long-term nerve damage is rather frightening. Having resigned myself to missing out on Nationals, I have also accepted that there is no specific timeline for stepping back onto a powerlifting platform. Although I have seen some improvements over the past five weeks, my physiotherapist has pointed out that ideally there should be more. My worth and sense of self are not dependent upon being or training like a powerlifter; however, I do still greatly miss doing those things that I enjoy doing in the gym.

I smiled last night when I opened up this week’s training program from my coach. Not only did he put in a reference to the new Star Wars movie opening later this week, but he also changed up my program to incorporate a bunch of machines! This is both exciting and out of my comfort zone. It’s exciting, because machines means I get to use some weight, even if I’m still starting out low and slow. This is potentially uncomfortable and scary, because I’ve never really used machines before! I’ve seen them in the gym, but I’ve always looked at them as strange, wild animals that you look at but don’t touch. I have no idea what they are or how to use them, so I quite literally need to google each exercise/machine before going to the gym. I need to know what machine I am looking for and how to use it properly. That’s the easy part. Then I need to find those machines at my gym. My gym has two floors with machines on both levels. Some are labelled, some are not. But I think I found all of the machines I need for now.

I’m still a long way from deadlifting, bench pressing, or squatting with a barbell, but it was so good to use some muscles that haven’t been used since the injury. The weights I’m using must start off low. I need to take each rep slowly and carefully, but I was able to work biceps and triceps, pecs and delts, quads and hamstrings. It’s been a long time since I’ve had so many muscles quivering from exertion. I felt the effects of a lack of strength training and the ongoing left leg nerve impingement. Standing body weight calf raises…the left calf is weaker and lagging. The same is true of the left hamstring when doing leg curls. Even though my left quad is unaffected by the herniated disc, when doing leg extensions I can still feel a lack of involvement in my left foot, or at least the numb half of my foot. As I’m extending both legs, my right foot feels engaged and active, while the left foot isn’t engaged and feels as if it is merely hanging out for the ride. <sigh> Small weights. Small steps. Turtle’s pace.

An Exercise in Frustration

About two weeks ago I pulled out the diabolical candy cane puzzle that I received as a gift from my eldest son a few years ago. I say it is diabolical, because it is. This puzzle is 1000 pieces and the most difficult puzzle I have ever done. Now I have done hundreds of puzzles over the years and even the toughest ones seldom take me more than 2-4 days to complete. This puzzle easily takes me a month. I took the photo below this afternoon, and yes! This is two weeks worth of progress.

candycanepuzzle

For most puzzles, I have my own little system that works for me. This puzzle takes my system and throws it out the window. Solving this puzzles is an exercise in frustration and patience. It requires an eye for the smallest details which connect two pieces together, even if you cannot connect those two pieces to anything else. What you see on my board is a hodgepodge of randomly connected pieces and an assortment of pieces with just the sort of details that might be helpful at some point. Ever so slowly I manage to put the scattered bits into small groupings, and eventually I can connect those groupings to the edges. I cannot work on the puzzle for large periods of time; this is partly due to the fact that I need to stand and partly due to the fact that I have other things to do with my time. This is not something that can be rushed.

As I was working on my puzzle today, my thoughts bounced back and forth between the frustration that is my candy cane puzzle and the frustration that is my herniated disc. I see a lot of similarities between the two. Healing the herniation will take time; it cannot be rushed. There will be tedious exercises and small victories that won’t appear to connect to much of anything. Patience will be required, and frustration will undoubtedly be felt on many occasions. Progress might not always look like much, but little steps of progress will gradually reveal the bigger picture that I’m looking for. It would be easy to give up and quit, but determination and perseverance will bring results. The results might trickle in slowly at first, but at some point they will come more quickly. And just like I can feel pride in finishing the puzzle, I can take pride in weathering the storm of injury and coming back stronger.

About the only difference between this puzzle and my injury is that I will finish the puzzle before the end of the year. My physical recovery might take longer than that!

Die Another Day

I have been dreaming, planning, and working for more than two years to get myself to the CPU Nationals this coming February in Calgary and hopeful that I could perhaps earn myself a spot at the IPF Worlds also in Calgary in the summer. There is a definite process involved in getting to Nationals, and I had checked off the final box on the list this past June when I competed at Provincials.

  • achieve a qualifying total within 24 months of Nationals (achieved at Westerns August 2016)
  • compete at a Regional championship (achieved at Westerns August 2016)
  • compete or volunteer at Provincials (achieved June 2017)

The only thing left for me to do was to fill out the registration form when it opened up and hand over my money. To qualify for Worlds, I would need to have an epic performance at Nationals. I knew my odds of qualifying for Worlds would be slim, but I at least wanted the opportunity to try for it.

The 100% RAW competition that I took part in a couple of weeks ago was supposed to be a stepping stone for Nationals. With only two competitions planned for 2017 and the way most of the year ended up being hampered by injury, I was really looking forward to having a good performance in the RAW meet and going into Nationals strong and healthy. The thing about plans is that they don’t always go the way we imagine.

It hasn’t been a secret that I had the amazing competition I was hoping for with RAW and that I walked away having herniated my L5-S1 disc. (Unless you’re my family doctor who doesn’t think I did that kind of damage to myself.) My optimism about competing at Nationals stayed strong for the first day or two after the injury…before I actually knew what the injury was. Once I was told that I had herniated a disc, I had to entertain the thought that Nationals might not be in the cards for me. The fact that my left leg is numb from my butt to the tips of my toes made the severity of my injury quite clear. The fact that I experienced the most excruciating pain for days on end without relief made the severity of my injury quite clear. I can be stubborn at times and I’m not claiming to be super smart, but I am smart enough to see the writing on the wall that my head is banging against. Deep in my heart I knew that Nationals wasn’t going to happen for me this time, but suspecting the truth doesn’t negate the devastating impact of hearing that same truth from someone with the medical knowledge and wisdom to make that call.

And that is what happened this afternoon when I was at my physio appointment. I laid there, face down on the table while the physiotherapist made a pincushion out of my back, wiggling and jiggling the needles to release the muscles. After a bunch of small talk, I began asking the questions that have been burning inside of me. What is the typical recovery timeline for this? Will I be able to compete in February?

The timeline for recovery isn’t much of a timeline at all. There are too many variables. Instead of focusing on a timeline, I need to look for milestones. There are a bunch of steps that I need to make in the process of recovering, like eliminating the leg numbness, being able to do a calf raise, being able to bend forward and touch my toes, being able to raise my leg past a certain point and certainly equal to the other leg, and so on. All that makes sense, even though it would be so much simpler to have a definitive timeline of X number of weeks until I was back to normal. <sigh>

As for competing…highly doubtful. It will be some time before I am even allowed to do weight-bearing exercises. I’m not even allowed to do anything requiring intra-abdominal pressure, which means no squats, and I already knew that deadlifts were out of the question. My gym life has basically been reduced to simple, easy rehab exercises for the lower back. Oh! And I am allowed to walk on the treadmill or elliptical. My dislike for the elliptical machine is intense, but I suppose I can hobble along on the treadmill.

As the physiotherapist gently pointed out (not that I actually needed to be persuaded), the best course of action is not to rush recovery. Rushing could lead to chronic disc problems, and I’d really rather avoid that if possible. As much as I love powerlifting and competing, I also want to live a long and healthy life where I can continue to enjoy doing what I love. I had already guessed that I wouldn’t be able to compete at Nationals, but here it was in the harsh glare of reality. The physiotherapist did say that there could be a small chance, that we’d know better in a couple of months; however, I refuse to even accept that exceedingly slim possibility. A couple of months from now would most likely be after the deadline for registering, and there is no point in registering just to throw that non-refundable money away. Even were I given the green light to compete, with weeks of easy, rehab, body weight exercises, I would be a far cry from ready to compete and certainly not where I would want to be physically. So, there it is…I won’t be going to Nationals in February.

I can accept that this is the right decision, but the rightness of it doesn’t make it sting any less. As the physiotherapist’s words sunk into my heart, I was thankful that I was face-down on the table and could choke back silent tears without the added embarrassment of having them witnessed. I kept the tears at bay for the remainder of my treatment, but I couldn’t keep them from choking me later. It still hurts to let go of a dream, even if it is the right decision to make. Instead of gearing up for Nationals in a few months, I have weeks and months of rehab to look forward to. I have little milestones to achieve rather than PRs on the platform. There can be other Nationals in my future, although I will need to jump through all the hoops all over again to quality. It’s cold comfort in this moment, but it will be fuel to keep me going in the days to come. Taking the time to take care of this injury properly now will only be beneficial to my overall health and well-being. Of course, I’m going to wallow in my self-pity for tonight but only tonight. Tomorrow it is time to get back on track with everything.

 

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.