Information Overload

Have you ever realized just how much information is available on the internet? So. So. Much. Maybe too much.

Since herniated a disc five weeks ago, guess what has been on my mind a lot. If you said herniated discs, you’d be correct! For being so smart you get nothing more than a pat on the back and a glance into the chaos that is within me.

I like knowledge and knowing and understanding and learning. I herniated a disc, so what exactly is that? How does it happen? What are the symptoms? How do you treat it and manage the symptoms? The list of questions is nearly endless. For all the information on the internet though, sometimes clear answers are hard to come by. Sometimes too much information muddies the waters and makes things more confusing. Clinical answers to medical questions aren’t always easily understood by someone without a medical background. The answers aren’t always black & white, and yet finding answers to the questions living in the shades of grey isn’t always easy either. It is confusing. It can be frightening to read about worst-case scenarios or the problems encountered by others in a similar situation. Finding a few answers might alleviate fears or inflame them or both. Or create more confusion.

Five weeks into my herniated disc and I feel more fear now than I did at the onset. Even though I have more knowledge and answers now, there is still so much that is unknown, so much to work through and fight for, especially in terms of persuading my family doctor that I need to pursue next steps. Should I be successful in my quest that will create new sources of anguish and frustration, because waiting is part of the medical system around here and I don’t want to wait anymore. I want to heal. Like yesterday.

 

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Chaos

“It was her chaos that made her beautiful.” ~Atticus

2017 is rapidly drawing to a close, which turns my thoughts both inward in reflection and outward in anticipation. I like to give myself a theme and a bunch of goals for each year. My theme for 2017 has been Powerfully Beautiful, but I’m afraid that I haven’t felt like this has been applicable for most of the year. The year has been full of various struggles and challenges, many revolving around little injuries and a big one, most recently. It is this recent injury that has the potential to cause the most chaos in my life, and I cannot imagine that chaos being beautiful in any way, shape or form.

Although the pain is generally tolerable now, it still fluctuates quite wildly. I had two good night’s of sleep, then last night happened. I slept well enough, but I also experienced more aches and pains in my back than I had the previous two nights. I went to the gym this morning to do my rehab exercises, but the pain in my back was enough to make me cut some exercises short or out completely. For the most part, I’ve been able to do these exercises without much discomfort in my back, and really these rehab exercises are supposed to easy on my back. Most of my pain or discomfort while exercising has been in getting down on the floor or up off the floor, so today was disheartening. Since I cut the exercises short, I thought I’d spend some time on the treadmill. I could only manage a speed of 2 mph. I tried 2.5 mph but could barely handle it for just over 50 metres. My initial goal was to walk for 10 minutes, but then I changed the goal to completing 2 laps or 800 metres. My hands had a vise grip on the handles for almost the entire walk because of the pain in my back.

My mood feels as fragile as my back these days. Grumpy. Moody. Liable to dissolve into tears. Frustrated. Dejected. Hopeful. Resigned. Weak. Pathetic. Useless. Not powerful. Not beautiful.

For all the progress of the past month, it is still incredibly slow. The ‘surgery’ word has now been uttered, although that does not mean I will require surgery, only that I should get a referral and begin the waiting process in case it is. The physiotherapist made a point of saying that they generally like to see more progress by this point, and I can’t argue that, especially when he re-tests the reflex in my left Achilles tendon and finds none.

I just feel broken. In more ways than one.

Slipping

I had a small slip this morning, and I think I’ve been slipping ever since.

I left the house this morning to give my daughter a ride to the mall. My plan was to try to get some Christmas shopping done before my back was tired and sore from the walking and upright position. Then I was going to drop some paperwork off at work, return home, spend some time in a reclined position with a heating pad, do my rehab exercises, then make some soda cracker cookies, recline some more, get supper started, recline. That was my plan, and it pretty much worked out the way all the best laid plans do.

My daughter and I walked out of the house and down the three steps to the driveway. As I walked towards the driver’s door, my left foot slipped off of a small lip of a curb between the driveway and the berm. It wasn’t very far, not as big of a drop as a typical curb, but it still resulted in a horrible jostle of my entire spine. Pain had grabbed hold of the base of my skull by the time I had pulled the car out of the driveway, while the back was a bit slower to react. I still made one trip around the mall, but the back was not at all happy by the time I got back home. The back hasn’t been very happy with standing at all today, and my skull is still in a vise. I managed dinner with some help from my kids. I skipped the cookies and laundry and any semblance of productivity, with the exception of my rehab exercises. For the most part I’ve been okay since running out of Gabapentin last Friday. There has still been pain that fluctuates throughout the day, but it is still a huge improvement from a couple of weeks ago. Today I was wishing I had something stronger than Ibuprofen.

Registration for Nationals opened today. The decision to not compete at Nationals is a no-brainer, but I cannot help but feel…something. Disappointed. Frustrated. Numb. Dejected. Slipping…

The Green Grass Proverb

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence is an old saying that warns against the folly of thinking others have things better than ourselves. It’s a lesson in making assumptions about appearances which would seem to reveal our faults and short-comings. Despite the popularity of the phrase, it can be easy to fall into the trap of looking at our neighbour as having a better situation than ourselves. Lately I have been twisting that phrase inside out with a different perspective: the grass isn’t always greener on my side of the fence. Or, the grass on the other side of the fence isn’t necessarily more in desperate need of water, sunshine, and TLC than my own!

It has now been 4 weeks since I herniated my disc, and I am still living with numbness and varying degrees of pain. Despite a reduction to the hours in my work week and modifications to my activities and tasks, I am still finding work to be extremely taxing on my body. I came home from work last Thursday night in so much pain that I almost cried myself to sleep. Actually, the tears soaked into my pillow as I wrestled with the physical discomfort and the emotional upheaval born out of dread for another painful work shift the next day and decisions I could make to help myself out. Once or twice in the early days of my injury, my boss had asked if I wanted to take a medical leave, but I demurred. As I laid in bed Thursday night (or early Friday morning), I had to consider the possibility.

When I broached the subject with my boss the next day, I was still somewhat reluctant to take a leave. She asked me what was standing in my way. There are 2 things. Firstly, I don’t like to let people down, and secondly, I don’t like to ask for help. That’s it in a nutshell.

I don’t want to leave my co-workers scrambling to cover my absence. Being a key-holder makes filling that gap a bit trickier. It’s not an insurmountable obstacle, but I really don’t like to let people down.

It’s the asking for help part that is the big one here. Taking a medical leave may not be asking for help in the strictest sense, but it does make me feel weak  and incapable which is tantamount to asking for help. This is where my mind has been turning the ‘grass is always greener’ phrase inside-out.

I don’t feel like I should need to take a leave! I mean take a look at me. Well, I guess you can’t see me through a computer screen, but my point is that, unless you know me well, you wouldn’t necessarily see that there is anything wrong with me. Even those who do know me well would have to look carefully to see cracks in my veneer. Over the course of a day, my ability to walk will vary considerably. One minute I can walk with almost no limp at all, while the next minute will have me hobbling like a 100-year old lady. Mostly I look normal, so I feel guilty for wanting/needing time off work to heal. I am in pain, yes, but less so than I was in the first week or two of the injury. Things are improving…even if not even close to as fast as I would like. There are people much worse off than I am! And that is where I think my grass is greener than on the other side of the fence. Why should I need special care for my injury, when there are so many people suffering and struggling with illness and injury so much worse than mine?

It has been pointed out to me by a few people that I need to take care of myself first, that I am not doing myself any favours by continuing to push myself to go to work when it is causing me such difficulty. As difficult as it is for me to admit to weakness, I do see the wisdom being spoken into me. I need to take care of myself, which includes allowing myself the opportunity to heal properly so I can resume a normal life. Failing to do so will only prolong my suffering and negatively impact all areas of my life. Acknowledging my own injury, pain, and current limitations is not about comparing myself to anyone else. Each person’s suffering is valid and real, even if of no importance to anyone else.

So I have made the decision to seek a medical leave of absence, but first I need to get a doctor to sign off on the paperwork in agreement. Obviously I am not keen on seeing my family doctor after his erroneous dismissal when I first went to him with this injury, so I will return to the walk-in clinic where I received better care along with the referral for physiotherapy. Part of me is so skeptical of the medical system that I am half-afraid of meeting with resistance to the idea of a leave. I can hear the arguments against it in my head. Why not reduce your work hours? Why not just find ways to accommodate your limitations within the workplace? Thankfully I have answers for those questions! I have been working fewer hours for the past 4 weeks. I have made as many modifications to my tasks as I am capable of making. I have already been making my best efforts to avoid doing anything I cannot or should not do with this injury…but it simply isn’t enough! My job isn’t in the same league as someone in construction or some similar type job, but my job consists of so much bending that I cannot avoid it all. There is no value in paying me to stand there for hours each day, but even something as simple as preparing one beverage for a customer requires me to bend and lean and twist in ways that are subtle but take a toll on my body in it’s damaged state. My job cannot be modified any more than it already has. As much as I don’t like the idea, I need some time off work. I love my job, but I do not enjoy how I have dreaded each shift lately, knowing the pain I’d be in through the shift and after. Although I am in much less pain than I was originally, there is a significant increase in the pain when I’ve been working. I need to take care of myself first.

So, while the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side of the fence, please don’t think that you are wrong to put extra care and attention on your own lawn. Especially not when it comes to your health!

Loaded

“It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.” ~Lena Horne

That quote was added to my little notebook of quotes quite some time ago, but it has never been quite as applicable as this current season of my life. There are so many ways to take that quote. It applies perfectly to the simple act of picking up a box as it does to a sport like powerlifting. There are also applications to the mental and emotional loads we carry.

There are some who are quick to point to my herniated disc as a reason why lifting weights or powerlifting are not good things to do. My response to such comments depends on the person uttering them. I might make an attempt to defend powerlifting, or I might just politely smile while seething on the inside.

My technique when lifting may not always be perfect, but I was taught well. Did lifting weights contribute to this injury? Possibly. But you can herniate a disc doing seemingly safe and ordinary things, too. Now that I am rehabbing an injury, I am even more aware of body positioning and load carrying. I get in and out of bed differently. Getting down to the floor to do my exercises and back up again after requires more consideration as to how best to accomplish the movement. Some of my effort is to minimize an outburst of pain from my still upset sciatic nerve, while the rest is just mindfulness of the fact that I have a herniated disc that I want to heal. For the most part when at the gym, I am quite mindful of how my body is moving or carrying load. It is outside of the gym where I tend to forget.

My job involves a lot of bending and lifting and movement. I take it for granted until such movement results in pain. Putting away boxes of stock? I’ve always been pretty good about lifting boxes properly, but it’s so easy to twist at the waist and lean over to fill a cup with water rather than to turn the entire body to the task. Grabbing a jug of milk from the bar fridge…open the door, bend forward and heave the jug out and up. Or take the extra second to squat or kneel down to remove the jug.

Outside of work and gym is not much better. Twisting and bending to get in or out of bed. Poor posture. Lots of sitting (although this hasn’t applied to me for a long time!) Picking up, carrying things awkwardly. Twisting to reach something. There are just so many ways that we put unnecessary stress and strain on our bodies, day after day. That’s the way to break yourself.

So I am trying to remember to use my body properly. Of course, I also kind of have to because of the injury thing. I am not supposed to pick things up off the floor, regardless of perfect technique. I am not supposed to bend forward. I am not supposed to do things that involve twisty, swaying motions like mopping a floor or vigorous sweeping. I am not supposed to sit. There are a lot of “not supposed to’s”. Sometimes I feel constricted by all that I cannot or should not do, yet I know that the purpose is to heal. Not being able to do the things I enjoy doing in the gym is a heavy load in its own way. So is the internal feelings of guilt that I cannot do many aspects of my job right now. But it isn’t the load that breaks you down…

Dignity in the Shadows

“Who would ever know the greater graces of comfort and perseverance, mercy and forgiveness, patience and courage, if no shadows ever fell over a life?” ~Ann Voskamp

I think it is safe to say that being injured feels quite like having heavy shadows blanketing one’s life. There is a distinct chill in the air as you lose the warmth of taking part in the normal routines of life, and it doesn’t take long to feel as if darkness is closing in, suffocating and impenetrable and permanent. You stumble about in the darkness, lost and afraid and alone. Or so it can seem.

I had someone tell me today that I am handling my situation…the injury with all of its disruptions to my plans and the limitations to my everyday life…with more dignity than most. If my name had not been used I would have wondered who was being referred to, because I don’t know that I would have come up with “dignity” as pertaining to me in this situation. It’s not like I’m wailing and gnashing my teeth, but I suppose I do generally have a positive and relaxed attitude about it all. Even when I do have an emotional meltdown, I am usually quick to return to my more typical calm and rational self.

Where I struggle the most is with feelings of guilt and obligation. My house is a mess. My husband washes the dishes and works long, hard hours with one of my sons. The other son is on the other side of the world until just before Christmas, and my daughter is in the midst of midterms, assignments, preparing for exams and juggling her work and volunteer schedules. They help around in the house in varying degrees, but there is still so much that has been neglected. And here’s another scenario…today is a day off work, so I am home to make dinner. A new recipe has caught my interest and I intend to make it tonight. It sounds simple enough yet potentially delicious, but there is one little problem. The oven is required. A baking dish is required. Bending to put the baking dish in the oven is required. This is something I am not supposed to do in my current state, even if I feel no pain in the act. Thankfully my daughter is already home and can help me out tonight, but that isn’t always the case. I needed to do some laundry today and had my daughter carry the hamper downstairs for me before she left for class. I might have carried one clean load back up the stairs, but I did leave the last load for someone else to bring up. I popped into a grocery store for just a few items this morning, and the cashier put them all in one bag. Normally that would be perfectly fine. I wasn’t even halfway to my car before I realized that I was feeling some slight discomfort in my back and probably shouldn’t be carrying a bag of groceries as heavy as that. Oh how all this chafes against my sense of self-sufficiency!

And then there is my job. Sweeping, mopping, lifting large trays of dishes down into the sanitizer, bending down to lift those same trays out of the sanitizer, bending forward to take jugs of milk out of bar fridges, lifting boxes from the floor or from far overhead…all that and more a regular part of my job and I am not supposed to do it. Even though I can do some of those things without pain. Even though I think I should be able to. On the one hand, I want this injury to heal and to heal properly, while the other hand doesn’t want to be a burden or handicap to the lovely people I work with. They have all been incredibly supportive and helpful, but I still feel guilty and useless.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, as uncomfortable and miserable as the shadows may be, I am striving to allow my experiences, good and bad, be a source of joy and blessing in my life. As uncomfortable as I am permitting myself to be seen as weak, my weakness allows me the opportunity to feel grace and mercy, to experience love and kindness, to learn humility and patience. If choosing to accept my struggles makes me dignified in the eyes of others, I will just shrug my shoulders and carry on as best I can.

The Brain Game

In a way it seems odd to think about the fact that November is almost over. I mean, wasn’t it just yesterday that I had the best powerlifting competition of my life?! Well actually that was on November 4, slightly more than 3 weeks ago now. What happened to all that time in-between?

One positive of rapidly inching towards December is that NaBloPoMo is almost finished, and so far I have been successful in the challenge of blogging every day in November. Some years this is a real struggle, whether for a lack of blogging material or an inability to remember to blog. This year hasn’t felt nearly as challenging, although I guess it helps that I have an injury and subsequent rehab to chronicle. Still, thinking of something to blog about on a daily basis is downright taxing.

My mind feels like it is going at full speed these days. This isn’t too far from normal for me, but it seems to be more of a nuisance these past few weeks. I’m not sure if this is merely the result of having more time on my hands than usual, but it is entirely possible. The injury has resulted in a reduction to my work hours for a bit, and I am unable to do a whole lot with all this unexpected free time. Housework is falling by the wayside, and my physical activity level is sorely hampered. Over the past few weeks I have had two completely sleepless nights. The first was due entirely to pain and the inability in the freshness of the injury to find comfort in any possible sleeping position. The second occurrence was just last week and had nothing at all to do with pain or comfort; it was all an inability for my brain to shut off long enough to fall asleep.

Ironically, on that second sleepless night, I was aware that my brain wasn’t shutting off; however, for the most part, I wasn’t actively thinking of anything. Of course, the conundrum of lying in bed wide awake is that eventually your mind will meander down rabbit holes for lack of anything else to do and you can seldom control which holes it dives into. My thoughts that night, or early morning, briefly settled onto a subject that is quite a few months old and water under the proverbial bridge, and yet, I felt anger as I laid there that night. My mind rehashed situations and conversations, and I felt quiet anger at the injustice and all that was wrong about that situation. I allowed myself to feel the anger, let the emotion swirl within and focus my thoughts but only for a short time. Sleep is important to me and especially right now as I am healing, so I know the futility of allowing such negative thoughts to run amok in the night. I entertained them then closed them up tight inside a box, but I still could not sleep. My thoughts did not return to those negative rabbit holes, but the brain was still actively churning, looking for something to grab hold of instead of succumbing to slumber.

Last night I lost a couple of hours of sleep to the brain once again churning and active without any traction. No thoughts to speak of. No emotions to drag about. Just a wide awake brain wanting something to do that wasn’t sleep. Thankfully I did fall asleep, even if much later than I had planned. Even during my non-busy moments of the day, I will often find my brain racing ahead, fracturing into a dozen or more pathways at the same time. It’s rather messy and problematic, and it makes me a little more emotional than I might like. That’s just the way it is right now. But all those thoughts cannot be blogged about. I’m looking forward to December 1st.