Every Mountain has a Valley

A blogger I follow posed a question the other about favourite stories from the Bible. There are so many good ones to choose from, and I think my choice varies depending on where I am and what I am going through at any given time. For that reason, it would be easy to choose the story of Job, because it would be easy to view my current circumstances through the lens of the unfair and undeserved. It’s a good story, difficult to grasp at times, but not the one I would choose right now.

One of my all-time favourite Bible stories is Elijah on Mount Carmel…and what happens after. (You can find the story in 1 Kings, chapters 18 and 19.) In a nutshell, the land is in its third year of drought. King Ahab and his queen, Jezebel did evil in the sight of the Lord and worshiped Baal. A spiritual battle took place on Mount Carmel, between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. I’m going to skip the details of that battle (please feel free to read it for yourself), because the important point of this for me isn’t in those details but in the victory Elijah experienced. It was a victory that was incredible, powerful, and it was God’s victory. Without a doubt, Elijah would have been on top of the world with having seen his enemies vanquished in such a fashion. He was on the mountaintop. Literally and figuratively. But he didn’t stay there.

Jezebel was furious in defeat and threatened Elijah’s life. You would think that someone who had just witnessed God’s power would not be intimidated by the evil queen’s threat, but he was. He was afraid for his life, so he ran away. He went alone into the wilderness and wanted to die. From the emotional mountaintop, Elijah had crashed into the valley of despair and depression. He felt alone and hopeless. How is that possible? To sink so low after being so high? I know a little something about that, and I reckon you do, too. Although the story is of a spiritual nature, the cycle of up and down is not limited to spiritual matters. I think it is a part of human nature.

We triumph. What that looks like will vary from person to person. It could be a job promotion, a new relationship, a fresh start in a new city, beating cancer, or reaching a goal. For me most recently, my mountaintop experience was my powerlifting competition on November 4, 2017. I had slogged through a physically and emotionally tough year to put in the work. Every big and little goal I had for myself was achieved. My performance was perfect, and I had a World record. I was on top of the world with excitement over what I had done and what I looked forward to doing at my next competition. I thought I could ride the crest of that excitement all the way to Nationals in February, but I was wrong.

We fall. The mountaintop is a lovely place to be, but we are seldom able to linger there for very long. Why are addicts always looking for another hit? Because the high doesn’t last forever. The same is true for emotional (or spiritual) highs. For me, herniating my disc pushed me off the edge of the cliff before I even had a chance to fully savour my high. I might be in a good head space now, but that hasn’t always been the case over the past five months. I haven’t wished to die like Elijah did nor had reason to fear for my life, but I understand how he felt alone, hopeless, and in despair.

The story doesn’t end there though. While Elijah was hiding, God took care of his basic needs. Elijah slept. An angel provided him with food to eat and water to drink. That’s not all. God himself met with Elijah, listened to Elijah’s complaint and despair, and revealed himself to Elijah in a gentle whisper. God let Elijah know that he wasn’t alone, and He provided Elijah with a helper. Sometimes, much of the time, it feels as if I’m alone in my suffering, forgotten and passed by. I feel useless and without purpose. I physically hurt all the time, and that chips away at my sense of hope and confidence. I feel fear that this situation will never get better, never end, that I will hurt forever. When you are walking in the shadows at valley bottom, it can be difficult to see all that you have going for you.

I have supportive family and friends. I have the luxury of time to heal at home rather than struggling to work through the pain. My income might be non-existent, but my husband has lots of work. Much of the medical system might be slow and frustrating, but I have at least one health care professional who listens, cares, and is proactive rather than reactive. I have a coach who also listens, is proactive, and has my well-being as a priority. It’s taken longer than necessary, but I have finally been referred to a neurosurgeon. I didn’t make it to Nationals in February. I won’t be competing at all this year (or longer), but taking the time to heal is more important than rushing back to the platform. Although I don’t think I was ever a super crazy go-go type person, this injury has forced me to slow down…like to a screeching halt. I have no doubt that I will discover even more positives through this situation as the days and weeks and months go by. Sometimes God speaks and moves in ways we don’t understand or recognize immediately, especially when we’re in the valley, but I know He is with me through the highs and lows.

Advertisements

Nationals, Fallen Records & Pain

Yesterday, instead of competing at my first Nationals, I watched my fellow competitors from the comfort of my zero-grav chair in my living room. I wasn’t sure what I would actually feel in the watching, but I think I made it through the hours in a good mental space. My heart sank a little when I saw the opening attempts put up by my group, because I knew that all of my BCPA Provincial records were about to be smashed to pieces. And they were. Every single one of them!

I am competitive. I don’t like to lose, but I am gracious in losing. The woman who broke my records is very strong, and she made her attempts look easy. Congratulations to her! I’ve always known that there were stronger women than me, and I knew that my records wouldn’t last forever. It is hard to be disappointed in the loss, when you can see the bigger picture. There is almost always someone better than you. Had I been able to take part in Nationals as I had hoped, I expect that I would have placed either 4th or 5th out of 5 competitors. The four women who were actually there ARE strong!

Even if I didn’t have a realistic chance of winning Nationals, I really wish I could have been healthy enough to compete just to have the experience of not winning. I have never been in a competition with that many direct competitors, so that would have been an amazing learning opportunity. Of course, I’d love to challenge for those records again, but that might not be realistic for me for a long time, if ever. She set the bar high! Without this injury, I’d be hard pressed to reach those heights. With this injury so much is in doubt. I don’t know when I’ll be able to squat with a bar or deadlift. I don’t know when I’ll be able to compete, but I am about 95% certain that it won’t be this year. I am still healing. Will I even be able to get back to where I was? I don’t know. So yeah, I am a competitor who wants to strive for new goals, but right now I need to just focus on being cleared to return to work.

Last night was not a good one for sleep. Maybe 3 hours and finally out of bed at 2:30. Thank goodness the Olympics are on TV at that time of the morning these days! Leg pain was the culprit that kept me awake most of the night. I almost put off going to the gym until tomorrow, but I changed my mind and went early in the afternoon. It wasn’t super great. The back seems to be handling the return to having legs down and an arch for my benching sets, and the shoulders are loving being in a proper position once again; however, almost everything else was less than stellar.

The shoulders, despite feeling fine on the bench press, are still sore and feel unstable. As much as I’m not a fan of laterals, I shouldn’t feel like I need to scrap the second and third sets. The left shoulder felt especially unstable throughout several exercises, like dumbbell curls and dumbbell floor press. The back felt fine all morning and through the bench press sets, but it did not like the single arm triceps pushdowns. The left hamstrings are still feeling the effects of IMS treatment from Monday, but the bigger leg problem today (and last night) has been throbbing and shooting pain down both legs between the hips and knees. This pain is quite familiar…I’ve only lived with it in varying degrees of severity since herniating my disc, but the level of pain in the legs had settled down substantially over the past few weeks.

I’m not thrilled with the way my body seems to be fighting me on multiple fronts right now, but I need to respect the fact that healing isn’t always a straight line. It’s often bumpy, especially with some types of injuries. Here now at the end of the day, the back is feeling okayish again. The shoulders aren’t throbbing, but I can feel the instability depending on how I move my arms. Honestly, the shoulders are the least of my worries, because I know they are just over-used and annoyed. They will get better. What feels the worst right now are my legs. I’m still experiencing throbbing and shooting pain in both legs, and there isn’t much I can do about it. I can increase my pain medication dose tonight, and I will, even though the medication has never erased the pain. But, if I’m really, really lucky, maybe it will help me sleep tonight.

 

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.

The Olympics

I was in the midst of making dinner when Olympic TV coverage began afresh for the day. Before today’s events began, the TV station began with replaying events that Canadians might have missed while sleeping last night. Even though I already knew the results, I often found myself dashing from the kitchen to the living room to watch the action. I cheered on Ted-Jan Bloemen as he set an Olympic record on his way to winning gold in the 10K speed skating race, and I cried. I watched our luge athletes win a silver medal in the team relay, choking back emotion with every run and breaking into tears as I watched their reaction to the speed of their final run. Olympic season is a weepy one for me. I told my daughter that there should be certain restrictions to what can be shown on the television during the Olympics:

  1. The only commercials allowed should be boring and completely product focused, like for feminine hygiene products or dish soap.
  2. No features on athletes. No mention of their families. No mention of the injuries or hardships overcome to get to the Games.
  3. No camera shots of coaches or teammates reacting to a performance or finish.

If you eliminated all those things from the Olympic coverage, then I wouldn’t be a puddle of tears and choked up emotion all the time. Of course, I absolutely love all of those aspects of the Olympic and would not truly want to see them disappear. Listening to the athlete stories though is inspiring and motivating at any time but especially during a season of injury and struggle. My situation is not even close to being on the same level as that of a world-class athlete; I know it and would never presume otherwise.

Still, there are themes and stories worth listening to, sifting through the choreographed emotional tugs to find the little golden nuggets that you can use to change your own fortunes. I won’t ever win an Olympic medal. I might never set another World record. While I am hopeful to compete again someday, I don’t know when that will be or even if it will be. The past 3.5 months have been an entirely new and unexpected experience for me, and the fact that healing has no clear time frame chafes against my yearnings to get out and do something. I have improved so much since herniating my disc, but that doesn’t mean things are perfect or where I’d like them to be. Some days are frustrating. Some are painful and achy. My ability to sleep well has been severely impaired for 3.5 months. Emotions have been down, up, and everywhere in-between. This injury has created disappointment in being unable to compete at Nationals which begin next week. I’m not an Olympic athlete, but I am still someone with hopes, goals, and dreams.

Healing is a day by day thing rather than an overnight occurrence. Healing well requires patience, determination, hard work, and slogging through the rough, dark patches. It would be easy and simply to say that this injury will define me forever, that I will never compete again or even enjoy ordinary activities again. I’d like to believe that I am not that sort of person, but that doesn’t mean I won’t have mental and emotional struggles through the journey.

The good news is that the truly stormy days seem to be well in the past now. I feel as if, figuratively, my broken pieces are being crazy glued together, piece by piece. Oddly enough, I am finding some enjoyment in my rehab focused training, and I am encouraged at every little weight increase or extra rep performed. Tomorrow I am looking forward to trying a bit of an arch on my bench press with a change in foot position…and a little nervous. Nervous because I’ve not benched with an arch since hurting my back. I haven’t benched using my legs since hurting my back. Nervous because I still have varying degrees of aches and pain in my back and legs. Good days. Bad days. Okayish days. Head games and a sometimes uncooperative body. Fun times!

I am not an Olympic athlete, but I have the ability to write my own story and I want to make it a good one. I can set my sights on the future and strive to come back to the platform. It won’t be easy. Hard work will be required. There will most likely be more ups and downs and things that go completely sideways, but all I have to do is continue to pick myself back up and refocus. Goals and destinations sometimes need to change, but sometimes the journey (and the attitude along the way) is of more importance than actually reaching a goal. The Olympics are an emotional catalyst to dig deep, to keep going, and to push a little bit harder to get a little bit further.

Smashing Lemons

I spent some time this afternoon writing in my paper journal, catching up on the past 2 months or so since I last wrote in its pages. Part of catching up involved casting my glance 3 weeks from now to the Canadian Powerlifting Union’s National Championships in Calgary. I had intended on being there to compete. This had been my goal since 2015, and I worked hard to check off the prerequisites necessary to get me there. Herniating my disc changed the course of this part of my journey. Instead of heading to Calgary in a few weeks, I will be freshly back to work after a 2.5 month medical leave of absence. I made peace with not being able to take part in Nationals a long time ago, because there wasn’t really any other choice. There is no way that I could have been physically healthy enough to compete, and so I also had to accept that I cannot foresee when I will be able to compete again.

Knowing the reality of my situation and the unpredictability of recovery, I can only look at future competitions with a dispassionate eye. However, as I was writing this afternoon, I found myself revisiting my ultimate goal of competing at Nationals. Not for this year…obviously! But not making it this year will place me nearly all the way back at square one. Those prerequisites I checked off over the past two years will need to be checked off again.

  1. compete at BCPA event and obtain a qualifying Wilks total for Provincials
  2. compete at Provincials and obtain a qualifying Wilks total for Westerns
  3. compete at Westerns and obtain a qualifying Wilks total for Nationals

Qualifying totals must be achieved within 24 months of a Championship event, which means that the total that qualified me for Nationals will “expire” in August of this year. While I think my last BCPA total might be good enough to qualify me for Westerns this year, I would still need to compete at Provincials in June. It would be lovely to compete in June; however, I do not know if that will even be physically possible. No matter how much I want to return to powerlifting, I am not in a rush to do so at the sake of my health. So if I don’t compete at Provincials, then there will definitely not be a trip to Westerns this year, which also means that there will not be a trip to Nationals in 2019. As I wrote, I realized that the earliest I could possibly get to Nationals will be 2020…two full years from now!

Seeing all the steps and timeline laid out is rather depressing. I understand why the prerequisites exist and have no issues there; it is just frustrating to see all my hard work evaporate in an instant and to see how long it can take to get back to where I was. It is in that knowledge where the sourness of the lemon puckers and stings. I’m not sure there is enough sugar to make that lemonade drinkable. It sucks and I’d much rather throw that lemon into a brick wall with as much force as I could muster.

 

 

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.

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.