Mid-June

Although I have felt stuck in limbo for months already, these June days feel even more tenuous. It’s likely melodramatic to say that the next couple of weeks are pivotal, and yet, I cannot help but feel as if they are exactly that. This month started with small positive steps forward. My ability to walk without limping had improved quickly and with reasonable consistency. I also had begun to experience periods of relief from the almost constant tingling in my feet. My body is nowhere near normal yet, but I felt hopeful and excited. I still feel that way; however, the past few days have seen an increase in pain and physical discomfort once again, and though I know there will be ups and downs, they cloud my vision of the next couple of weeks.

My current medical leave ends at the beginning of July, which means I am soon to go through the process of having my ability to return to work re-assessed and judged. My short-term disability coverage is set to expire about a week before my current leave ends, and any extension will require more medical information being shared between my doctor and insurance company. I really do want to return to work! I really want to be ready and capable of returning to work, but I can only control that to a certain degree. I can be honest with my doctor about what I think I can do, he will make his own decisions as to what I can or should not do, and then, the leave of absence team will make their own decision as to whether or not I can be permitted to return to work. My desire to return to work is great; my power to control the situation is small.

As mentioned, the past few days have been on the rough side of the scale. It feels difficult to explain how I feel at any given moment, because most people simply don’t have a frame of reference to understand. While my pain levels may have decreased significantly since last November, I still have pain, on some level, all of the time. My left calf and an important portion of my left foot and toes have been numb from the beginning. I can tolerate my pain and symptoms most of the time these days. In fact, I stopped taking my pain medications as they were ineffective anyway. But I cannot sit or lie down without pain and uncomfortable symptoms of tingling and numbness. I think I could still return to work, but I know it would come with further discomfort and pain. The recent increase in my pain and symptoms, however, isn’t really a cause for concern. At least I don’t think so, and it is likely due to pushing a little too hard on a new series of rehab exercises, which have now been dialed back.

The new rehab exercises were exciting to me, because they were something fresh and new and they felt like real exercises. I was not so thrilled with the unexpected resurgence of pain, not so much because it happened but because of the strength of it. Although my pain levels vary from moment to moment, day to day, I have grown comfortable with them being within a reasonable range of late, and these recent days have surpassed that reasonable range for the first time in several weeks. Wednesday was a really rough day. Yesterday was not quite so bad but not great. Today started out not too bad but is finishing similar to yesterday. I was asked today how I’m feeling…how close to ‘good enough’ do I need to be?

I’ve been living these first two weeks of June with the expectation that I will be returning to work in July, but I suspect I will live these next two weeks on tenterhooks, wondering if I will given the okay.

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Yesterdays

Yesterday was just another typical day, but it was also of some small importance to me. There was something bittersweet, reflective, and thoughtful about the day, and yet I pushed back against them. I had thought I’d be ready to open that door when the day arrived, but I had nearly forgotten about a different door that was opening yesterday for others but not me. That sounds kind of ominous or something, but it really isn’t so terrible as that. Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of a powerlifting competition that was more disappointing than I had anticipated, and yesterday was also when registration opened for a local powerlifting competition this coming August. Yesterday could have been an emotional mess of a day, but it wasn’t.

Last year’s competition was Provincials and my eighth competition. Up until that point, my experiences in competition had been generally positive and good. While I didn’t always have direct competition, I had never lost when I did. I was only completely perfect once before, but I had always managed to achieve new personal records. Aside from minor bumps and bruises, I had managed to stay healthy and whole, but that changed last year. From early in 2017 onward, I had issues with my sacroiliac joints, which affected my training and shook up my confidence. Going into Provincials, I was finally feeling pretty decent physically but knew that my performance still wasn’t going to be my best ever. We were going to play it safe.

We did play it safe at Provincials, but things still didn’t go as planned. Something in my SI joint or back tweaked during my second squat, so our conservative numbers quickly became even more conservative. Even though I had mentally prepared for a less than competition, I was still blind-sided by the unexpected and it shook me up for a day or two. Then I remembered who I am and what I am not, and all was right inside my world once again. At least as far as my attitude and confidence!

As I look back at that Provincials competition, I sort of see it as both a beginning and an end. To me, it feels like a turning point in my training and confidence. Explaining all the ins and outs of why I feel that way would require more time and words than I have to give at this point. I was frustrated and disappointed. I had an internal meltdown. I found my footing and myself. And I thought that was the end! Now I see that it was actually a new beginning, although I didn’t know it at the time. It was a small taste of the challenges to come. A milestone marker of where I had been and how far I had come since then. I don’t look back at last year’s Provincials with the same eyes or attitude. I might not say the memory is sweet, but I wouldn’t call it bitter either.

Not being able to enter a local competition is disappointing but not crushing. I love competing, and I am definitely missing the feeling of doing the big lifts; however, I am okay with missing out. Mostly…at least 95% okay! This year will not see me competing. Recovery and healing are of much greater importance.

Now that I’ve typed it all out, I am not sure why I wasn’t keen on thinking about it yesterday. It’s not so bad, but I think I was distracted by the brain fog and tingling in the legs.

Days That Blur Together

How is it the middle of May already? Part of me wants to slow time down just enough so my days stop blurring together, and yet, I would really rather prefer time to speed up enough so I could be past this injury and healing process already. I have been waiting as patiently as I can for healing and progress and an appointment with a neurosurgeon. My days are mostly boring and routine, but I struggle to keep track of which day of the week it is today. A piece of good news is that I now have an appointment date with the neurosurgeon for the end of the month, which makes me feel hopeful, as if I have finally taken a step forward after being stuck in one place for so long. Between now and then, my routine remains the same: rehab exercises, gym, doctor appointments, chiro appointments, brief periods of light housework and activity, small grocery shopping trips, dinner prep, periods of reclining, the odd occasion to get out of the house, and less than restful sleep.

The past few days have been quite bad for pain, although I cannot pinpoint any particular activity to have caused the increase in pain, except for sitting to get my hair done yesterday. As I am reclining alone in my living room, I feel like a wounded animal, whimpering and reclusive. Truth be told, I am literally whimpering. From my buttocks to my toes, there is very strong, burning pain and tingling, throbbing and pulsing, micro spasms and stabbing sharp pains. The low back itself feels unstable and supremely achy. When I am standing or walking, there is pain deep in my hips, and my left leg frequently feels as if it will collapse beneath me. The left calf and portions of the left foot and toes are still permanently numb. So much fun!

But all is not sadness and frustration, even though there is a great deal of both. My head is in a pretty good place these days, despite the pain and lack of progress in healing. I smile and laugh, even through the tears that can find reason to spill. With an appointment marked on my calendar, I feel hopeful that something might happen soon. Maybe a recommendation for surgery. Despite surgery not being a welcome outcome originally, I am now at a place where I can see the benefits of going that route and would embrace the opportunity. My heart is light and tender and open. I see things to be thankful for, things big and small, the ordinary and the quirky. It’s really just about placing one foot in front of the other and going forward, even if only inches at a time.

Know Yourself

“Who you were, who you are, and who you will be are three different people.”

~unknown

 

Two recent conversations have left me thinking about who I am in this season of injury. The first conversation was with my husband, and he made a comment about me still looking to find my own identity. The other conversation was with one of my best friends and was about parents wanting more for their kids, while the kids are generally satisfied by enough.

Since herniating my disc six months ago, I have often felt lost and adrift without purpose, usefulness, or potential. Of course, those feelings have never been completely true, and yet, I struggle with the pain and physical limitations I am forced to endure. My life has been turned upside-down and inside-out. The activities I used to enjoy doing, I cannot do. I am on medical leave from work, so I feel the loss of being a part of my work community, and I stress about the loss of income for months on end. After competing in nine competitions since 2014, this will be the first year without a competition. Some of my powerlifting goals were crushed into dust the moment I hurt my back last November…a bitter pill to swallow. Although I have all the time in the world at home while on leave, my ability to do things is still hampered. Housework can only be done in short bursts of time, because standing too long results in lots of pain. My housework abilities are also limited to what is safe for my back. I wash dishes, sweep the floors, tidy the bathroom, fold laundry, make dinner, do grocery shopping in small, manageable trips. The rest of my time is spent going to appointments, going to the gym to do safe exercises and rehab, going to Starbucks for coffee and to soak up a bit of connection with my co-workers, and varying my position between standing and reclining as frequently as necessary. It’s a boring life and frustrating. I feel like I should be doing more and living a real life, not this paper doll existence I am living. With the warmer weather, I want to be outside and active, much more active than my body will agree to, and I fear that I will miss out on spring and summer just as I missed out on winter.

My husband’s comment took me aback a little, because I was confused as to why he would think that I was still in need of an identity of my own. Didn’t I already do that? In my opinion, that’s what I had done between 2010 and 2017. I had hit the bottom and clawed my way back to the top. Hard work, determination, and the right people in my corner allowed me to feel comfortable in my own skin and to be sure of who I was. Through powerlifting, I discovered something within me that I could never have expected, and I loved being strong both physically and mentally. There is no doubt that I had grown substantially over the course of those years, and I learned to weather the storms and grow through them. Who else could I possibly be? What was missing?

The conversation with my friend revolved around parents and kids, but I instantly grasped how the concept of ‘wanting more’ and ‘satisfied with enough’ could apply to me as I mulled over my husband’s statement. From the time I started going to the gym and focused on powerlifting, I have wanted more. This desire for more was focused on my performance and goals within the sport far more than it ever applied to the rest of my life. I’m an easy-going and low-maintenance kind of person. I’m not interested in keeping up with the Joneses. Even when there is something I would like to improve in my home or have as an experience, I am still easily content with what I can realistically have. Enough is perfectly fine for me, unless I’m in the gym and setting goals for future competitions. I don’t need to be the strongest or the best, although I will always strive to win while knowing there are others better than me. Most of the time I succeed at my goals, but not always. The sting of failure hurts for a little while, but I always manage to learn and grow through the experience. That is enough!

But here I sit (figuratively because sitting hurts like hell), not knowing what my future holds, where it will lead me, or when I will reach the next stage of the journey. When I realized the nature of my injury, I fully expected to be back to normal within a few weeks, maybe a couple of months. Six months later, I no longer have a clue when I will be back to normal, if that will even happen. I’ve been stuck in limbo, playing the waiting game with my body, my doctor, and now a neurosurgeon. My doctor has repeatedly said this will take time and that there are proper steps to follow in treating such an injury. Time, I understand, even proper steps, but I chafe at the unnecessary delays created by the medical system when a slightly faster pace could potentially create improved health sooner (and less of a burden on the health care system, my workplace, and employment insurance costs). I feel alone, forgotten, cast aside, and broken.

I believe that I am still me. This injury hasn’t erased the woman I had become in recent years. In many ways, I think this injury will only make me a stronger person. But in the meantime, I feel stripped of so much of what makes me who I am. Is that true though? I am a barista. I am a powerlifter. I am a wife, a mother, a friend. Those are things that I do or titles that apply to me, but they are not who I am. Last year I learned that lesson after a disappointing competition after a disappointing and frustrating several months of training. Powerlifting is what I do, not who I am. So, I know who I am even though I feel lost, but I am beginning to realize that this injury can shake up my assumptions and put them back together as something entirely different than what I had imagined. I don’t know what that means for me yet, but I suspect it will add another layer to claiming my own identity. In the same way, I also believe that the theme of being satisfied with enough will weave through that layer in a most wonderful way. It’s not always easy to sit in these days of uncertainty, but I am excited to see who I am at the end of it.

Playlist

At the gym this morning, between sets and trying to avoid making eye contact with the creepy old man grinning at me, I listened to my music and allowed the words to soak deep into my soul. Although I have several playlists on my Iphone, I tend to stick to one or two playlists when I am working out (and even then those two lists have a lot of overlap), so I hear the same songs every time I go to the gym. This is intentional. Music speaks to me in varying ways. The music I choose for training tends to be inspirational, motivational, or simply fun.

Over the past six months of working out through this injury, my music has continued to play, but it has produced mixed feelings within me. There have been training sessions where my music leaves me feeling frustrated and in despair. In other sessions, the music leaves me choking back emotions and tears, both of sadness and hope. Occasionally, the music fills me with confidence, determination, and hope. Of course, how I am feeling physically often plays a significant role in how the music affects me.

Today’s training session started out feeling generally okay but finished off with a small tweak in the back with bigger consequences. Still, I am happy with today’s session. I got my reps in with fewer grimaces of pain than usual. I am still so far away from where I used to be, where I want to be in my training, but I know that this injury requires time and patience. Today the music helped me catch a glimpse of where I can be one day, one day when this injury is a thing of the past.

My playlist might not be the loud, heavy, and intense list out there, but it works for me. Here it is:

  • Believer by Imagine Dragons
  • The Climb by Miley Cyrus
  • Demons by Imagine Dragons
  • Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys
  • Radioactive by Imagine Dragons
  • Sign of the Times by Harry Styles
  • Titanium by David Guetta & Sia
  • Unstoppable by Sia
  • We are the Champions by Queen
  • Stronger Than I’ve Ever Been by Kaleena Zanders
  • This is Me by Keala Settle
  • The Impossible Dream by The Temptations
  • Gloria by Laura Branigan

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.

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.