5th Month Anniversary

Happy herniated disc anniversary to me?!

Five months ago today, I competed in my ninth powerlifting competition, and I had a fantastic performance. Practically perfect, except for the injury. My medal is hanging on the wall beside three photos of my lifts. I see them every day. I have a plaque commemorating my World record squat which is still waiting to be hung on the wall, because I don’t have immediate access to the proper tool and parts needed to hang it and I haven’t nagged my husband about doing it for me. Despite being in pain upon finishing my final lift of the competition, I had no reason to think that the pain was anything serious. Certainly, I thought, I’d be back to normal in a couple of weeks and ready to focus on preparing for Nationals.

My bubble of hope was popped a few days later with a proper diagnosis and realization that recovering could take some time, but I held onto a sliver of hope that recovery would happen quickly. Five months later and I’m no closer to being better. Well, sort of closer, because the first month was absolutely brutal. There was some progress for a little while, but I have felt stuck for a couple of months now. In some ways, I actually feel worse than I did two months ago at the peak of my progress. With another three months of medical leave ahead of me, my sense of being stuck is only increasing. I am exhausted and worn down. I am weary of the paper trails I have had to navigate and must keep slogging my way through: employment insurance, functional abilities forms, short-term disability. My life consists of appointments, follow-ups, forms and phone calls, waiting, and always pain. It’s not much of a life, but it is draining.

Sometimes I wonder if my moment of glory was worth all of this suffering. For all my pondering, I still don’t have an answer. What I do know is that I wouldn’t change a thing about that day. My training and preparation had gone well, and I was healthy and ready. My attempts were smartly selected and all within my capability. Everything went according to plan, except for the surge of pain I felt as I lowered the bar to the floor after successfully completing my last deadlift. There was no way to predict that such an injury would happen, and I cannot imagine going through life avoiding anything that could potentially result in any kind of injury. That’s not the way to live. I do not want to live that way. Be smart, play safe…absolutely! But you can herniate a disc while doing a “safe”, routine task.

Five months ago, I never could have anticipated being off work for four months already with at least three more to go. I never would have thought I’d be experiencing such pain every minute of every day or that I would get a surgical referral. I was hopeful back then, but hope is a funny thing. It is easily crushed and bruised, and yet, it is difficult to snuff it out completely. There are so many dark and stormy days in the process of dealing with an injury. Finding hope requires digging deep, and there are times when all you hit is rock bottom. But hope is still there. Somewhere.

I hold onto the hope that all of this will pass into mere memory one day, that I will recover and return to living my life. My hope is often as shaky as my body after I’ve been standing for a while, but shaky hope is still hope. One day…I will get there.

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The Invisible Woman

I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they only see my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.  ~Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man, 1952)

Someone at church this morning made a comment about seeing me in the flesh. I can laugh at that statement and accept that there is some truth within the joke. Since injuring my back last November, I have withdrawn, pulled back, skipped out or avoided situations and sometimes people. Although I know that I am the one responsible for withdrawing, there are many moments and days where I simply feel invisible.

Going to church has been one of my biggest challenges through all of this. A church service involves periods of standing and sitting, and both activities cause me pain and physical discomfort. I cannot merely sit through the entire service, as prolonged sitting will inflict tremendous pain well beyond the completion of the service. Standing through the entire service is typically quite painful at the time, but a period of reclining at home after the service will usually succeed in reducing the stress on my back. Reclining brings leg pain, and that is often more tolerable than the back pain of standing or sitting. Alas, there are no recliners at church. So, despite my enjoyment in attending church, I often need to weigh the reward against the pain. After all, it is difficult to focus on a sermon, while pain is rising to the level that causes your body to shake, desperate for relief. In the past five months, I have missed a lot of church, and so I can understand the comment about seeing me in the flesh.

Yet somehow, even when I go to church and suffer in silence, I feel invisible. Sure, there might be the odd interaction with other people, a brief exchange of pleasantries, but mostly I enter and leave as one unseen. And mostly I’m okay with that. After an hour or so of standing, I am desperate to get home to put myself into a reclined position, to exchange one source of pain for another. Although it often seems as if I don the cloak of invisibility willingly, there is still deep within me a longing to be known, and, in the isolation of injury, I cannot help but feel like that circus sideshow head without a body. I might be seen, but the image seen is a far cry from the real me.

I pop into my workplace on a regular basis, welcomed by my co-workers, and frequently talked to by regular customers, and yet, I feel disconnected, out of the loop, and alone. My life revolves around so very little these days, weeks, months. I go to appointments with doctor, chiropractor, and physiotherapist. I go to the gym three times a week and do what I can do. I do grocery shopping in small, manageable bits, and housework falls into the same category. Sometimes I go for a walk, but mostly I alternate between short periods of standing/walking and reclining. It is a routine that chafes and feels more like a prison than a vacation. Or more like solitary confinement.

This will not be forever. I cling to that truth, for these many days of feeling stuck have the power of a black hole to snuff out light and life. Invisible I may be at times, and sometimes I prefer it that way.

 

Breaking Through

Just stop your crying

Have the time of your life

Breaking through the atmosphere

Things are pretty good from here

Remember everything will be alright

~Sign of the Times~Harry Styles

It has been more than 10 weeks since I herniated a disc. In many ways, it feels as if I have been dealing with this injury for a much longer period of time. My memory of those early days is already growing fuzzy around the edges, and yet I am glad that I haven’t experienced that same pain intensity for several weeks now. The pain during those first few weeks was on a level that I have rarely experienced. As resistant to the idea as I was at the time, taking a medical leave of absence from work was a wise decision as it has allowed me time and space to heal. The pain intensity changed once I was no longer going to work, and I gradually began to see some progress in my mobility. But I still had constant numbness in my left leg and nerve pain in both legs every single time I laid down. Despite physiotherapy, rehab exercises, and three prescription drugs, I would still feel that leg pain when lying down, and my sleep suffered because of it. My mood, while mostly positive, would still plummet quickly from sleep deprivation, endless pain, and the frustration of feeling stuck with no end in sight. Then last Friday happened.

I had a physio appointment. There is nothing out of the ordinary about that…I’ve had quite a few physio appointments since herniating a disc. I was put through the usual barrage of physical tests and performed them all better than I had at my previous visit two weeks prior. My physiotherapist said that the disc is healing very well based on how I am moving my body. This was good news for me to hear, as I had been feeling improvements in my ability to move and use my body. It was also a relief to know that the disc actually is well on its way to healing, because the pain in my legs often makes me feel as if healing is such a long ways off.

The disc is doing well, so what’s up with the nerve pain in the legs? My physiotherapist said that it looks as if the nerve is stuck on sending pain signals and needs to be re-trained on how to function normally. Okay. I am not a sciencey, medically knowledgeable person, but the explanation made sense to me. My physiotherapist’s course of action was to continue with the IMS treatment on my back, but then he would leave one needle in my back and place one in the back of my left leg and attach electricity to both. At the same time. Do you know how that feels? It is uncomfortable bordering on intensely painful, depending on the frequency of the electrical current. The muscles with the needles in them twitch to the frequency of the current, and you have absolutely no control over that. With my leg and back muscles twitching at the same time, I literally felt like a fish flopping on the ground. At one point, my physiotherapist asked how I was doing. My “okay” must not have been too convincing, because he then asked if I was sure that I was okay. I don’t know that my “yes” was any more convincing, as I lay there flopping and silently gasping, but I survived the process. After all of that, I was once again asked to perform the same physical tests, and my performance was even better than it had been at the start of my appointment. This was good news and means that I will be similarly tortured again, but the good news doesn’t end there.

I left my appointment Friday morning feeling slightly stiff and sore in the areas where the IMS had been done which is quite normal. During the course of any day, I have periods of activity and periods of laying down. As the day wore on, I noticed that there was a difference in the leg pain when I would recline in the living room. The pain wasn’t completely gone, but there was a definitive difference in a mostly positive way! The left leg, which has always been the worst, felt significantly less pain and the pain I did feel was changing from the norm. I went to bed that night and slept better than I have for a while. I do not know why, but my right hip now hurts more intensely.

It’s now been several days since that physio treatment, but I feel excited and hopeful. A week ago, I couldn’t see an end to this struggle and, while it might be a stretch to say I can see an end now, the truth is that at least now an end actually feels possible. The pain in my legs isn’t gone. I am laying down as I am typing this blog post, and there is pain in my legs; however, it is less than it used to be! The pain that I am feeling is changing in its very nature. My physiotherapist once said that pain concentrating to one area is good, spreading pain is not good. It no longer feels like my pain is spreading. Is it concentrating? Sometimes it feels that way, but even when it doesn’t there is still that sense of the pain being different, in a good way. When I go to bed at night, leg pain isn’t waking me up several times through the night. Leg pain isn’t keeping me awake for hours before falling asleep. Unfortunately, I am still having trouble falling or staying asleep for the first few hours, but I’m just relieved that the leg pain isn’t the cause anymore.

The pain isn’t gone, but I feel hopeful. I am almost excited about my next physio appointment…until I remember the awkward flopping and pain!

The 2 Week Plan

“Optimism isn’t a life plan, but it is a great tailwind to have at your back.” ~Indra Nooyi

My Provincials competition is two, yes 2, weeks away! A murky soup of emotions is beginning to simmer within me. How does Shakespeare put it…bubble, bubble, boil and trouble? With the hope that I am mostly through with trouble, I feel like the contents of that cauldron. I am excited to compete again. I am nervous about training this coming week without my coach, although I’ve done it before and survived. I am keeping my expectations in check, because I know it is extremely unlikely that I will be in a position to better my last competition results across the board. And yet, I can’t keep optimism from seeping through the cracks. Sure, I am wholly aware that I am NOT going to have my best performance, but there is a feeling stirring inside of me that I cannot squash. I can’t help feeling that I just might come out of Provincials having surprised myself.

I am reluctant to give voice to any goals or targets for Provincials, mostly because I honestly have no idea what I am capable of at this point in time. Between my SI joints and a disc, I’ve had nothing but lower back pain and problems since the end of January, which means absolutely nothing about my training has been normal these past several months. I have not been able to do a proper peak. My back is still not 100%, but it is greatly improved and still improving. I have barely done any deadlifting since January and nothing heavier than 225 pounds for a few singles. While I do have the expectation that I will beat my previous bench press record, I feel a sliver of doubt. My squat is finally starting to come back, and my coach thinks I could be close to my previous best. Still, I want to be cautious in my optimism, because hope can be a dangerous thing.

My imagination is strong and vivid. I can picture everything that might go wrong, but I can also see everything that might go right, even better than right. I can see both extremes on the spectrum, and yet I will always cling to hope. I am an optimistic realist. I prepare for the worst case scenario, but I’m always expecting sunshine, rainbows, and good things. As much as I know that Provincials will not be the best showcase of my abilities, I still have hope that my results will be better than I anticipate. By that I mean that I hope to be pleasantly surprised. Not blown away. Not breaking all my Provincial records and having personal bests in every lift. Not my best performance ever but not as horrible as I expect it to be. Does that make sense?

My coach jokingly made a comment the other day asking if I’d have a deadlift heavier than my squat at Provincials. I know he was just teasing, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t entertained thoughts of that not happening. I might not better my best squat on that day, but at least I know that I can squat. With my last heavy pre-comp deadlift being 225 pounds, I’m not so certain that I’ll even be able to better the result from my very first competition! But I am hoping that the emotion and adrenaline of competition will help me do more than I think I am capable of. Unfortunately, I think, when a deadlift doesn’t feel good, I am pretty good at shutting it down rather than attempting to pull despite how it feels.

As optimistic as I am, I realize that reality is conspiring against me. I cannot get through Provincials, let alone the next two weeks, on optimism alone. It isn’t a life plan; however, I can let optimism push me along, like a gentle breeze. I can soar on that breeze for a spell, if I like, and let it guide me. It is the hope that fuels my fire and keeps me going.

Unsinkable Hope

Remember my post on Sunday when I was cautiously optimistic, because I felt a noticeable difference in my level of pain and mobility in my back? Turns out it wasn’t a fluke! The lessening of pain and the slow increase to my mobility has continued, although I have kept a tight grip on my emotions. This morning I had an appointment with my chiropractor, and I was greatly surprised to find that I was able to arch my back in a cat pose. Last week when he asked me to do that same movement, it was difficult and uncomfortable. And I am now able to go full cobra when doing my back extensions homework! Then this evening I had a training session after having 4 days off. It was the best training session I’ve had in about 2 months. I am so excited! The back isn’t pain-free. I can still feel restrictions in some movements, but nothing I did in the gym tonight hurt. The only restriction I felt was at the bottom of the squat if I tried to push my depth, but I generally only went as deep as was comfortable.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6 or 7, 115 x 6, 135 x 5

with belt: 155 x 5, 165 x 5, 165 x 5, 165 x 5

Speed was good for all the sets. The weight wasn’t maximal and felt comfortable. With competition being roughly 7 weeks away, I’ve got some work to do, but we didn’t want to push too much on this first good feeling training day.

1b. bench press-competition grip

43 lbs x 10, 63 x 6, 85 x 6, 105 x 5, 105 x 5, 105 x 5, 105 x 5

I chose to keep my feet on the bench rather than have them on the floor with my full back arch…didn’t want to push my luck with the back. There was a small arch though, and the back still felt decent. The final rep of each set was paused.

2a. close grip bench press, touch and go keeping constant tension

75 lbs x 12, 75 x 12, 85 x 8

2b. back extensions-without shoes

body weight x 20, 20 lbs x 20, 20 lbs x 17

2c. seal rows

75 lbs x 15, 95 x 12, 95 x 10

It was so nice to have a mostly normal feeling training session! Even the act of putting my knee sleeves on and taking them off was incredibly easier than it has been for weeks. Wonder what Friday’s training session will bring?

A New Hope

It would be extremely premature to get excited, but today my back has felt better than it has felt for a couple of weeks. By better I do not mean without pain. However, I do mean less pain and greater ease in some simple movements. Of course, I have not had to do much today that might be too much for my back, which is why I am keeping my excitement under control.

The last few weeks have been more bad than good. Two days ago was a very bad day for my back. In the gym on Friday, Michael asked me to do some dead bugs, and tears stung my eyes from the pain and effort just to lift my legs into the air and hold them there. Today I did dead bugs without any pain or difficulty. On Thursday, my chiropractor had me do some back extensions similar to the yoga cobra pose. My range of motion that day was limited and the movement wasn’t overly comfortable. Today those extensions were easier, less uncomfortable and with greater range. Even yesterday the basic act of walking often resulted in pain, while today I have been able to stand and walk without experiencing shooting pain. This is the improvement I have been desperately waiting for and not seeing.

There has been improvement today, yes; however, it is far too early to throw caution to the wind and return to normal activities. There is still pain and the feeling of restriction to some movements. But maybe, just maybe the nerves are starting to settle down. Wouldn’t that be nice! That thought makes me feel hopeful. Cautiously optimistic.

Provincials, Problems & Hope

Provincials registration opened today, and I am officially registered to compete in June. The biggest question now is how long it will be before I am able to deadlift again.

Last week my chiropractor told me that I couldn’t pick anything up from the floor until I could bend over and touch the floor. I’m not sure just how well I could touch my toes prior to this SI joint issue, but I’m determined that I will touch the floor with ease. Sooner rather than later, I hope.

I have goals for Provincials. Despite having reasonably modest goals, I wholly expect that I will come back home in June having exceeded my expectations. When push comes to shove, my focus is unparalleled, and I am narrowing my focus on Provincials. I am hungry for competition. My singlet has been sitting in the drawer since last August, and I am oddly eager to put it on again, even though there is nothing at all attractive about a singlet! My little visual collage is posted on the wall directly in my line of sight from my usual spot on the living room floor. I lay on the floor, because I can’t sit on the furniture due to the SI thing. And I am determined to put in the hard work between now and Provincials, even if I am limited in some ways.

I see my chiropractor tomorrow afternoon, an appointment for which I am equally eager for and yet apprehensive. My back is not nearly as painful as it was the last time I saw him, when I had an emotional meltdown; however, there is still a fair bit of pain and discomfort, especially with even the slightest bit of sitting, like in the car or the tub or putting on shoes. The reason I am apprehensive has to do with a couple of symptoms which I began to notice over the weekend, symptoms which flash me back to the disc issue I had…a bit of numbness in my right toe and a pinched feeling in my right hip.

The toe tingling numbness is still quite mild compared to what I have experienced in the past, but it has been enough to cause me some mental anguish. The sensation is mostly felt when I am laying down, usually when I go to bed and that is where the anguish kicks in, because my mind cannot help but wander down the rabbit holes of what ifs. Then on Saturday I noticed the pinched feeling in my hip. It’s not a terrible feeling yet, rather it feels as if the hip joint needs to pop but won’t. I hoped both feelings were one-offs, but I’ve had toe tingling since Friday night and a bit of hip pinch today. I really don’t want to tell my chiropractor about this latest development, but I will.

This afternoon I did my homework with the foam roller and lacrosse ball. No big deal. I’ve been doing it for more than a week now, and it is mostly enjoyable actually. The most uncomfortable aspect is when I must rearrange my body and jostle my back in a way that it doesn’t like much. Anyway…I did my rolling and I did my stretching, then I had a hot bath. The bath itself was most uncomfortable and not because of the water temperature. The back was quite cranky about sitting in the tub. I can’t explain why I thought it might be a good idea; however, as I was combing my hair after my bath, I thought I would bend over and see how far I could reach. Honestly, I didn’t expect to bend too far, but I was actually able to bend far enough to touch the floor with the tips of my fingers…with relative ease! It seems like a simple thing, but I was super stoked and couldn’t help but sing little ditties to myself.

There is no guarantee that I will still be able to touch the floor tomorrow. I have no guarantee that my chiropractor won’t give me bad news after learning about my recent symptoms. I have no idea when I will be able to deadlift again. But I touched the floor while bent over at the waist! Despite a back that has been cranky. The rolling and hot bath might have helped a lot, but I choose to see this as progress. What other option do I have?