Raising Cattle & Other Stories

My son is laughing at me, although he tells me that he is truly laughing with me. I am laughing, he reasons, so he can only be laughing with me. He isn’t completely wrong. I was laughing, but it was laughter born out of a sense of futility and an effort to keep panic from exploding out of my pores.

I had my first physio appointment this morning, and it went rather well…for an appointment necessitated by an injury. He asked me a bunch of questions and put me through a series of tests. One of his questions asked if I had noticed any weakness in my left leg. I said no. There is numbness in my left leg, but I didn’t think there was any weakness. Apparently I was wrong.

One of the tests required that I do 5 calf raises per leg, starting with my good right leg. Without any trouble at all, I did 5 calf raises using my right leg. Then I switched to the left leg…and nothing. I stood there, hands on the edge of the exam bed, balanced on my left foot, mentally willing my foot to rise up off the floor, but nothing happened. I could not  do a single calf raise with my left leg.

I don’t even know the best words to describe how I felt in that moment. I had to scrape together enough emotional strength not to dissolve into tears right then and there. The realization that there is a disconnect between your brain and another part of your body is disconcerting. Eerie. Troubling. It freaks me out, and I am not so easily freaked out by most things.

As disturbing as this revelation is to me, it also makes me feel slightly angry towards my family doctor and his lackadaisical approach to my health care. With this injury, I have now seen 4 different health care practitioners: 1 chiropractor, 2 medical doctors, and 1 physiotherapist. Of those 4 practitioners, only 1 doesn’t believe that I have a disc issue. That oddball is my family doctor. My family doctor is, rather unfortunately, the one I must go through to get proper imaging or whatever treatment is even an option. How can it be that 3 separate practitioners can reach the same conclusion, yet my doctor disagrees? It makes me mad. My doctor tested my reflexes, so he surely must have noticed that I have no reflex in my left leg (every other practitioner realized it). Why didn’t he test me further? Why didn’t he ask me to do some calf raises? My chiropractor never asked me to do calf raises, because he could tell from the way I was walking that I wouldn’t be able to do it.

Yes, I am bitter towards my family doctor, and this isn’t the first time I’ve been whisked in and out of his office with a patronizing deflection of my problems. If doctors weren’t in such short supply I would look for a new one. I do not run to the doctor with every sniffle, sneeze, bump, or bruise. I will only go to the doctor when absolutely necessary, which means that whatever the issue is it is worth more than 5 minutes of brushing aside my concerns. When I am in so much pain that I have not slept for entire nights and my entire leg is numb and I come to you on the recommendation of my chiropractor who says I have herniated a disc, don’t you dare brush my concerns off and tell me that it’s just a muscle thing and not a herniated disc. Don’t you dare! But he did.

So yeah. This emotional cesspool that I’m swimming in just gets deeper and murkier, but the physio appointment did go well, despite my inability to raise my leg. I got to experience the joys of IMS (intramuscular stimulation), and I was given a bunch of exercises to rehab that little disc problem of mine.

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Out of Control

“When you can’t control what’s happening, challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what’s happening. That’s where your power is.” ~unknown

“Mental toughness is finding fuel on an empty tank.” ~Kent Morris

As I slowly and gingerly got myself up from the floor where I had been napping, one of my son’s asked if this was worth it. He was referring to my competition, to the records I broke that day, and the injury that I left the competition with. It would be easy for me to answer with a yes or a no, and I could justify both responses; however, for some people, the only plausible answer would be a resounding no. Most people would say that an injury negates the value of the achievement or the drive in pursuing one’s goals. I get that, I really do. I can look at skydiving and say that I have no desire to do something where a mistake could be life-threatening. In my few experiences with downhill skiing, I have come to the conclusion that I am more suited to sipping hot chocolate in the lodge than potentially risking injury hurtling down the slopes. So I can understand why a person might look at me hobbling about in excruciating pain and question my sanity in striving to lift heavy weights.

I doubt that anyone could have predicted that I would herniate a disc during my competition. Sure, I had concerns about my back going into competition, but those thoughts revolved around other issues. My chiropractor told me that the competition was not to blame, that this sort of thing doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye. If that is indeed the case, then this herniation could have occurred at any point in time or space. It could have been at the gym, at work, at home, while shopping, skydiving or downhill skiing. The fact that it did occur during my competition shouldn’t negate what I was able to achieve that day. I can feel proud of what I accomplished without regret or asking myself “what if”. I had no control over what happened inside my body, and I have very little control over what is happening inside my body right now as a result. And yet, I can control my attitude and the way that I respond to this injury.

I can be stubborn at times, and I do not like to ask for help. Self-sufficiency has always been something I take pride in. Asking for help is like admitting a weakness, and I do not like that one bit. I have been told to leave my ego out of the picture and to ask for help when it comes to bending and picking things up. Do you know how difficult it was for me to keep my mouth shut when I heard that command? I wanted to roll my eyes. I wanted to make some comment about how that is a big part of what I do at home and at work, but I kept my mouth closed. Then later, I told my co-workers and my family that I would need some help. I cannot erase the fact that I am injured. I can barely control the pain. But I can ask for help when it is needed.

Mental toughness is a tricky one. Some people simply do not have it or have a terrible time scraping enough of it together to get past their problems. It could be ego speaking, but I like to think that I do have mental toughness, even when the going is rough and I feel utterly ill-equipped and unprepared. Still I have my moments of doubt, of fear, self-pity. I left my chiropractor’s office with the diagnosis of a herniated disc and tears welling in my eyes. In the wee hours of the morning as I’ve writhed in pain and unable to sleep, I have questioned my sanity and my ability to overcome this injury. During the day I feel restless in my inability to do much of anything, and I am dreading the potentially endless appointments to come. My emotional tank feels rather empty, but I have the mental strength to carry on and to overcome. I can’t control a great deal of things in life, but I get to choose how I respond to them. Even when my response is childish or less than ideal, I am not stuck with that initial response. There is freedom to grow into a better response, to change how I think and behave in a difficult situation. Strength training and powerlifting have taught me that much. Things aren’t always going to be easy, but hard work and determination and the right attitude will pay off in the end.

I don’t know what the future holds for me. I don’t know how long it will take to heal this injury. I don’t even know if it will interfere with my plans and goals. It could and it might, and that would be devastating; however, I am not defined by what I do or where I go or how I perform on the platform. My goals are goals and deadlines are seldom applicable. Some things cannot be rushed, and healing is one of those things. So I need to take this part of the journey one step at a time, as if there were any other way!

 

Of All the Nerve

I am still in a world of hurt and the pain continues to negatively impact my ability to sleep. I spent a good portion of today seeking medical treatment, and a good portion of my endeavors were frustrating.

My chiropractor believes that I have herniated a disc.

My family doctor disagrees and thinks this is a muscle issue. He is sending me for x-rays but told me to take Ibuprofen and use ice to relieve the pain. I guess he didn’t hear the part where I said that I was taking Ibuprofen and using ice without any effect. The x-rays probably won’t be super beneficial, but that’s the only imaging I was able to get approval for. He also gave me a prescription for an anti-inflammatory. I left his office pissed off and ranting. There is a reason why I avoid seeing my doctor unless absolutely necessary! In less than 5 minutes of interaction with me, my doctor reached his decision, in complete disagreement with everything my chiropractor said.

Unhappy with my doctor’s diagnosis and care, I went to a walk-in clinic for a second opinion. This doctor also didn’t take very long examining me, but he did agree that the problem was a disc issue. Still no more imaging, because that’s only done when surgery is going to be required. However, he did prescribe me a muscle relaxant and a pain reliever and some physiotherapy.

I am off work until Sunday now…thanks to the care of my co-workers. The two more appropriate prescriptions have been picked up and may help me sleep…I hope! The eyelids are beginning to feel heavy, but the pain is still quite strong. Tomorrow I guess I will look into making a physio appointment.

You know what really sucks about the nature of this injury…as much as I appreciate having the extra days off work this week to rest and heal, I cannot sit or lie down without pain. Heck, it even hurts to stand and walk!

The “Big” Sleep

I slept last night! It wasn’t exactly well or pretty, pain-free or enough, but there was actual sleep.

I fell asleep quickly sometime around midnight and was able to sleep on my side without immediate pain. Around 5:00 the pain woke me up and changing positions only resulted in more pain, so I got out of bed and moved to the living room. I tried reclining with an ice pack, but the pain was too intense to stay in that position. Standing would bring about an immediate decrease in pain; however, there is a significant amount of numbness in my left foot. The intensity of the numbness fluctuates but is always present, which makes standing and walking feel weird even though my butt feels better for it.

Some pain relief was achieved by laying on the floor with my left leg pretzeled over the right leg again, and this time I was also able to sleep in that position until roughly 7:00, with a couple of brief standing breaks when my legs needed a change. At 7, after a bit more standing and walking, I crawled back into my bed with the hope that I could maybe get a bit more sleep. I laid on my side and felt the stirrings of pain, but it stayed moderate enough to allow me another hour of sleep before going full blown again.

As I type I am reclining with an ice pack under my butt…and I’m squirming more than a toddler in church. My ability to lie down in any position comes with an unpredictable time limit. When the buzzer goes, the pain flashes into white hot flames until I stand up. I need to stand up. Right now!

The Morning After

I did not sleep last night. Well, I might have had a grand total of an hour of sleep, but the rest of the night was basically torture. Over the years I have had my share of pain, from running, from the disc issue, the SI joints, shoulders, neck, knees, muscles, gallstones, childbirth, stitches, burns, boxes falling on my head. All of those things hurt in varying degrees, but I have never lost an entire night’s sleep to any of those things. Until now.

Although the disc and SI joint are likely abettors in this case, I would say, in my complete lack of medical knowledge, that the actual culprit is the sciatic nerve running down my left leg. Aside from a bit of stiffness and mild ache, my back actually feels pretty good considering the weights that I pulled yesterday. I am used to having a throbbing back for a day or two after a competition, but I’m not feeling that at all this time. No, all of the pain is centered deep in my left butt cheek and radiates down the leg a ways. Sitting is absolutely out of the question except for those situations in which sitting is my only option, like using a toilet or driving in the car. To sit is to feel instant and intense pain. And as I discovered last night, laying down is also problematic! There is not a single position in which I can sleep without intense, throbbing pain that I couldn’t sleep through if I tried. I tried. All night long.

I left my bed shortly after 1:00 AM, because it hurt too much to remain there and I didn’t want to disturb my husband’s sleep. In the living room, I tried everything. My anti-grav recliner. The floor. Ice. Heat. More Ibuprofen. A lacrosse ball. Stretching. Standing for a while. Every possible position on the floor. The only position that provided a small stretch of quasi-relief was to be flat on my back with my right knee bent, so that I could open up my left hip and rest my left foot across my right thigh. Apparently that’s a great stretch for the piriformis, which could also be a contributing factor. The position lessened the pain enough that I could almost fall asleep…until one of my legs would suddenly realize how long it had been in such an uncomfortable position and would require movement. Unfortunately, returning the left leg to the floor resulted in an instant flare of intense pain. For the entire night, I had two options, the piriformis stretch pose or standing, and neither option afforded the ability to actually sleep.

Honestly, I don’t know what I will do if I cannot sleep tonight. I do have to work tomorrow night, and I’ve essentially been awake since 5:00 yesterday morning. A nap would be wonderful right about now, but I suspect that the pain will make that impossible.

The Girl With All The Goals

“When a woman feels her own strength, it’s empowering. She believes in herself and knows she can do more. It changes everything.” ~Kathrine Switzer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6

I slept for nearly 11 hours last night. Wow! Sleep is precious to me. I know it is important for overall health, so I typically get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep on any given night; however, it is rare to get as much sleep as I did last night. Can’t say that I mind it though!

Upon waking the back feels much the same as yesterday. Not in pain but with the sense that it is lurking not too far away. I’ll take it! After coffee and breakfast, I did my foam rolling, stretching, and various exercises for rehabbing my disc, my SI joints, my knees, my shoulders. It’s less than a week before competition…I’ve got all sorts of minor aches and pains!

As is my habit prior to a competition, I stepped on my scale this morning. 166.4 pounds. I need to be 165.3 or lower, but there is no need to worry or panic. My scale is not completely accurate, although I no longer remember just how much it is off. I do know that it is heavier by at least a pound, so I should be fine by the time of weigh-in on Friday. Still, I’m sticking to no wine, no processed sugars, no flours.

Excitement is building and visualization is along for the ride. I cannot control when either hits me. It simply does. Images of my squats popped into my head as I was washing my face this morning sending surges of adrenaline through my bloodstream. Inhale. Exhale. Breathe.