Saturday Self-care

Healing can often require a degree of selfishness, or so it seems to me based on my experiences over the past four months. I have had to come to terms with the limitations placed upon me by my injury and ensuing pain and recovery process. Some days I think I am doing very well. My attitude is upbeat and positive. I’m dealing well with the slowness of my progress and the weeks of boredom as I’ve been off work. Most of the time I am doing pretty good, but there are still so many days where I am not doing nearly as well as I think I am.

This week has been a mostly low series of days with no real rhyme or reason, except that I am bored, frustrated, impatient, and a little afraid.

I had another appointment with my doctor yesterday, which was fine but still frustrating. My medical leave is supposed to end on Monday, so I had to get my doctor to sign off on an updated abilities form for my return to work. Every visit with him feels like a waste of my time and taxpayers money. He doesn’t put any effort or care into “treating” me, but wants me to see him again in two weeks. At this point, I’m not so inclined to book another follow-up appointment. What for? So he can tell me again that healing will take time? It’s not like he actually examines me or tests my progress or capabilities. No, unless there is an absolute need, I won’t be seeing my doctor in two weeks.

I know that healing will take time. I have read and heard this same thing over and over and over again since herniating my disc. I get it. I even accept it, but that doesn’t mean I can’t feel impatient now and then. Great strides have been made in my progress since the injury; however, it seems as if I’ve settled into a stagnant stage. From my perspective, there hasn’t been much, if any, change in the past month or so. Still the same numbness in the left leg/foot. Still the same currents and crawlies in both legs when I lay down. Still the same achiness in the back. Still not sleeping well. Still exhausted doing nothing at all. Last month, my physiotherapist had said that there was improvement from his perspective, even if I didn’t see it. That’s reassuring on many levels, but it doesn’t make my body hurt any less. Sometimes I just want to know how long!

With my updated abilities form now submitted in the hopes of being cleared to return to work soon, I am both excited and afraid. I haven’t worked since December 1, 2017, so I am desperate to get back to it. While I won’t verbalize it to most, the prospect of going back to work is also scary on two fronts. One being the nature of missing out on 3.5 months of changes and updates and interacting with regular customers. I know I’ll get back in the swing of things quickly, but the scope of my need to catch-up is also overwhelming. Secondly, I cannot help but wonder if I am physically ready. Talking with my husband this morning about my doctor’s comments and frustrating lack of care in filling out my abilities form, my husband asked with concern if I was certain that I should go back to work yet. To be honest, I don’t know how to answer that question. I just don’t know! I want to get back to work. I probably need to get back to work. But I also fear that I am going to hurt at work for a long time still. How can I not when I still hurt in general?

So, I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, and it has been oppressively heavy. Self-care has been hard, which is often the case when I run into a low mood phase. I go through the motions with as little effort as possible until I get so disgusted with myself that I can scrape up enough motivation to do something about it. Today was that day. Early this afternoon, I forced myself to take a real bath and not just the ‘quick as I can’ type. I added lavender oil to the water and filled the tub deeper than usual. I treated myself to a face mask. Dry brushed my skin. I even endured the torture of shaving my legs…something I’ve only done 3 times now since herniating the disc. After the bath, I rubbed extra emollient skin cream into my heels, which have been suffering from neglect due to the torture of bending that far. Coconut body butter was rubbed into the rest of my dry skin. It’s amazing how something so simple as a bath and shaving legs can make me feel so much better! It’s too bad that both actions are too painful to perform more frequently.

Advertisements

Nationals

Many athletes dream of making it to the Olympics, and there is no shortage of struggle, sacrifice, and hard work in the pursuit of the dream. For every athlete who earns the privilege of competing on the world stage, there are undoubtedly even more who will never quite get there. As a Canadian powerlifter, I suppose my Olympic games would be the IPF World Championships, with the Canadian Powerlifting Union’s National Championships being the ultimate qualifier for earning a spot at our “Olympics.”

Tomorrow marks the start of the CPU’s National Championships, which makes this week bittersweet for me. All of my striving since October 2015 has been to get me to the National platform in Calgary this week, or more specifically, this Tuesday. It seems so long ago when I laid on the physio table and asked about the likelihood of being able to compete at Nationals…roughly 3 months ago. The answer stung even if it was what I expected to hear. I knew the answer a week or so before I even posed the question to my physiotherapist. In my heart, I knew the truth a day or two after hurting my back, before I even realized that I had herniated a disc. Knowing the reality of my situation didn’t make the bitterness any easier to swallow, but I had to make a decision. I could wallow in my disappointment and feel sorry for myself, or I could feel my disappointment, accept the situation, and focus on healing before looking too far ahead.

Ultimately I decided to accept the situation for what it is, but that doesn’t mean I never feel disappointment or frustration in where I am in this moment compared to where I wanted to be. It’s human nature. I should be making my way to Calgary right now, excited about competing on a national level against very strong women. Instead I will be going to another physio appointment tomorrow and will watch live stream coverage of Nationals from the comfort of my zero grav chair. (Even on a much smaller scale, I am still experiencing disappointment and frustration in that I should be back to work now, but instead I am still on medical leave for three weeks.) Since I can cry over even the silliest of things, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if I shed a few tears while watching Nationals, but that’s okay. It’s okay to feel the disappointment, to wonder what could have been if only…

The tears won’t last too long, and they aren’t filled with bitterness. I don’t think. My journey to Nationals will need to start all over from the beginning…once I am well and fully healed, of course.

Nationals Deadline

Registration for Nationals closes in just a few hours. My name will not be on the list of competitors, but that isn’t exactly surprising. I’ve known that I wouldn’t be competing for almost as long as I have been suffering from this herniated disc. Way back to my second physiotherapy appointment, I had asked about the likelihood of competing at Nationals in February, and the physiotherapist hadn’t completely ruled it out but had said it was unlikely. That had been disappointing news to swallow, but I had to accept it as the right decision. As I’ve seen the Facebook posts about the event and impending deadline, I have felt both resignation and frustration. This was not how I had planned things, but it is my reality.

Nationals begins in 6 weeks. Instead of competing, I hope to be back at work. My current medical leave ends the week prior. I feel hopeful about that date, because I am incredibly bored and restless. However, on a day like today, I wonder and doubt. I slept horribly last night, despite this additional drug which is supposed to help allow me to sleep. My back hurt. My legs hurt. I’ve been in a good deal of pain all day long. As I was out on errands with my husband, I couldn’t even bend forward in my seat to reach my coffee in the cup holder low between the seats.

I feel stuck in a season of frustration and limitation, and I don’t particularly enjoy it. I’m trying to embrace the suck, to make lemonade with all of these lemons, but it isn’t always easy to do. The medications make me feel tired and fill my brain with haze, yet make no noticeable difference to the level of pain I feel every day. Some days are better than others, but some days are not so good at all. Today was one of those not so good days. Still, I managed to go through my drawers of clothing and pull out a garbage bag’s worth of rarely worn clothing to donate. I also picked through a bookshelf and purged dusty, long since read books. This is what I am doing with some of my time these days…purging. It needs to be done in short bursts of motivation, and I need to remind myself not to overdo things. As much as I know that I should be able to pick up that heavy box of books, I also know that I shouldn’t and so I won’t. But I will make a dozen trips from the living room to my bedroom, bringing a few books at a time from the bookshelf to the box in my room. I putter and purge in small bursts of energy, and then I find I need to lay down, give my back a break and hope the reclined position will alleviate some of the numbness in my foot. Purging, cleaning, and organizing are things that I am tackling in bits and pieces. At least it allows me to feel like I am doing something with my time.

I’m skipping one of my drugs tonight. I take three different medications now. I take Naproxen when I wake up and again after dinner. I take Gabapentin three times a day, and my doctor just recently instructed me to double up my dosage. My doctor also recently added Dilaudid which I am to take before bed. The theory is that the Dilaudid will allow me to sleep, but my experience with it thus far has proven that theory to be false. While I slept very well the first night I took the opiate, the next few nights have not been so restful. Since alcohol doesn’t mix well with at least two of these drugs, I haven’t had any wine for a while. I have had some wine while on the Gabapentin before, but I am not willing to indulge while taking Dilaudid as well. So, I have opted to not take my Dilaudid tonight, so that I can have a glass or two of wine. The wine will be about as effective at reducing my pain as my prescriptions, but at least I can enjoy it more.

Lemons in Shades of Grey

With the year being still fresh and new, I have seen quite a few social media posts announcing the start of new goals and/or the first workout of the year. Such posts are equally encouraging and depressing to me. It is good to see people pursuing fitness goals or striving to improve their health, and I applaud those efforts and encourage them. But for me, in this current season of dealing with a herniated disc, it can be a struggle to keep my grip on positivity from slipping. Sometimes I simply feel frustrated. Frustrated with my limitations. Frustrated with the slowness of recovery. Frustrated with being unable to do…normal. My normal. I’m not just talking about at the gym. I am bored and restless. I have oodles of time on my hands, but there are limits to what I can do.

Although I was given a program for last week, I told my coach that I wasn’t going to do all of it. In fact, I didn’t go to the gym at all last week. There was Christmas. We got a lot of snow. My car is on the brink of death. And I just had a rather painful week. I did my rehab exercises at home and that was it. I enjoy going to the gym, but it was a mental struggle to get myself there today for my first “workout” of 2018. I went through the motions, occasionally feeling some rust from the week off, but mostly I was acutely aware of the numbness in my foot, the weakness in my calf, and the currents of pain down my legs. It’s not that my activities were doing harm, at least I don’t think they were, but then again, I don’t honestly know.

Not knowing seems to be what I do best these days. Every time someone asks me how I’m doing, I don’t know what to say or how to answer the question. Am I doing better? Yes. I think so. In some ways. In many ways I am moving better. I feel like I could do a lot of things that I probably shouldn’t actually do yet. But there is still so much that isn’t right and good and normal. The numbness. The lack of reflex in my Achilles tendon. The pain. No one can see those things, but I feel them. I walk with the sensation that three of my toes are swollen and twisted because of the numbness. I lie down and immediately have ripples of pain and muscle spasms radiating from my butt all the way down both legs. Sure, I can tolerate the pain now, but it is unrelenting. I go to bed with the pain. I wake up with the pain.  I want to be better, but I don’t know when that will happen. The pain in my legs feels a bit stronger today. The numbness has felt a bit worse for the past couple of days. I have to call my doctor, but I am dragging my feet, knowing the futility of such a task.

If you’ve never had such a back injury, can you fully understand what a person is going through or feeling? I don’t have an answer for that, although I can say that I can now admit that I would never have completely understood prior to my own injury. I look normal and whole, so why shouldn’t I be able to pick up a heavy bag of garbage, shovel snow, or even sneeze without bracing and fear. I’ve been living in yoga pants, because somehow wearing jeans bothers my back. I am in danger of being mistaken for a sasquatch, because I haven’t shaved my legs for 8 weeks. That’s not from winter laziness; it’s too painful to sit in tub or to kneel/bend over in the shower. Sigh.

Today is just a gloomy day or a day full of lemons, and I don’t particularly want to make lemonade today. The lemons will still be here tomorrow…

Gratitude

The third question on the list for ending your year intentionally is:

What or who is the one thing or person you’re grateful for?

Regardless of what my year has looked like or how I feel about it, I am always grateful for the people in my life and I have long been in the habit of expressing gratitude for things, big and small, on a daily basis. Thankfulness is part of who I am, and I could go on for days expressing all that I am grateful for over the course of the year.

To choose one thing or person is a difficult task, so I am going to approach it as a group result. Have you ever watched a boxing match? When the bell rings to signal the end of a round, the boxers go to their corners where they are tended to, coached, supported and encouraged. Cuts are tended. Sweat is wiped away. Water is provided. The boxer has people in his corner. I am not a boxer, but I know what it is like to have that kind of support and I am grateful for all of it.

1. My husband! He lets me do all these crazy things and willingly spends countless hours at my competition, most of which is just waiting for my turn to lift. He cheers me on, encourages me, and takes video for me. He has been at 8 of my 9 competitions, missing out on one only because he was still recovering from hip replacement surgery. It was odd not having him at Provincials this year, and I know that I felt the loss of emotional support when that competition didn’t go as well as I had hoped. I am glad that he was there at my most recent competition. When I broke the World record for my squat and emotion was bursting out of me, being wrapped in his arms was a wonderful feeling. Now that I am injured, he is still supportive. He encourages me when I feel troubled by worry and despair. He has my back. He loves me.

2. My chiropractor! I visit my chiropractor with some regularity as I put my body through a lot. He helps keep my body functioning as well as it possibly can, but he doesn’t just twist and crunch me. He seldom fixes me up without also giving me practical skills and advice to help keep my body working well. On occasion, I am also blessed to receive words of wisdom or encouragement that nourish my spirit and soul. In my eyes, my chiropractor is more than just a health care professional…he’s also a friend.

3. My coach! Perhaps coach should really be coaches, since I have had two different coaches this year. My previous coach got me started in powerlifting and played a big role in my journey. Even though he is no longer my coach, I cannot discount his part in my story.

My current coach and I are still in the learning each other stage, I think, but I have already experienced good things under his programming. Although I no longer have the direct, real-time contact with a coach while training, I still feel supported, encouraged, and challenged by my new coach. When I started with him this summer, I was recovering from another problem with my back or SI joints and hadn’t been in powerlifter mode for several weeks. I had the November competition on the horizon, and my coach took me through training on a level I had never done before…and it worked. I could hear his encouraging comments as I was on the platform. My injury has changed the nature of my training again, but I know my coach has my back!

4. My friend Sienna! For my competition in November, I needed a handler. This was only the second time that I have needed to find someone to help me out at a competition, because that role was usually covered by my coach. My daughter was my handler at Westerns last year, and my friend was my handler this time. She was probably quite nervous, uncertain as to what to do to support me, but I think she did a great job. I have competed enough that I know what I need to do and when to do it, but it is always nice to have someone there to chalk the back, offer encouragement, and remind you what you’re capable of.

5. My physiotherapist! This is a recent addition to my support crew thanks to my injury, but I feel confident in his abilities and treatment. I tend to be highly cynical when it comes to doctors and many aspects of “health care”, so I am always grateful to find medical professionals who are not stuck on out-dated methods and systems.

6. My friends, co-workers, and family! These people have cheered me on every step of the way, through thick and thin, weight cuts and water loads, disappointments and frustrations, sore muscles and all my back struggles. When I’ve had success, they’ve celebrated with me.

 

Song Sung Blue

It’s been a day…easy and simple enough because that’s about all I do these days, but also an emotionally up and down kind of day. Mostly down though.

My daughter talked me into playing some Star Wars Lego on the Wii this afternoon. She laughed and called me a vicious savage every time I’d take my lightsaber or blaster to “slaughter” friendlies. To be honest, I’d do it even if I wasn’t frustrated, fearful, blue, or teary; it’s just part of the fun of playing a Lego game.

Tonight I cried and shared my fears and frustrations with my husband. He reassured and comforted me. It helps. A little. For tonight. I’m going to enjoy a glass of wine, some pizza, and watch a ‘shut your brain off’ movie with my husband and one of our boys.

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.