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.

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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…

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…

Not a Victim

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” ~Nora Ephron

You can say that you’re sorry this happened to me, I guess. Herniating a disc does suck. It sucks to be in pain and to not be limited in your regular activities. It royally sucks to watch goals and plans evaporate before your eyes. But I am not a victim.

I herniated a disc. It could have happened at any time and anywhere. The fact that it happened at the end of a powerlifting competition doesn’t make my sport hazardous or something I need to give up permanently. People herniate discs all the time. Even people who don’t do powerlifting!

I will heal. I will overcome these temporary difficulties that I am experiencing as the result of a herniated disc. Why? Because I am stubborn and determined and I want to return to the platform. I don’t want to be a victim but a heroine. Life is an adventure, and I want to enjoy the journey. I do not want to curl up and give up because of an unexpected derailing and delay. Why wait for the train when I can continue the journey on my own two feet? Sure, I might be hobbling for a while, but I’ll get there eventually!

A couple of days ago I sat down with my owner’s manual and made a plan of attack, because I am all about my lists. I have my rehab exercises to do, and I am doing them faithfully. My diet basically tanked over the past couple of weeks, so I need to rein that back in since a good diet will help reduce inflammation and improve overall health. I need to ensure I’m getting adequate sleep, since rest is important for healing and overall health. While I cannot always control how well I sleep, I can do what I can to set myself up for enough sleep. The good news is that I have generally been sleeping better lately. I need to make sure I am more consistent with taking my beneficial supplements, like Omega 3 and vitamin E. DO NOT SIT! I am so conditioned to avoiding sitting as much as possible…have been doing that for well over a year already. Listen to my chiropractor. Listen to my physiotherapist. Listen to my coach. Listen to my body. Ask for help when necessary, even when I think it isn’t necessary but it really is. Just because I know I should be capable doesn’t mean doing so is a good idea. Nourish my soul. Be thankful. Be happy, because having the right attitude is so important!

Die Another Day

I have been dreaming, planning, and working for more than two years to get myself to the CPU Nationals this coming February in Calgary and hopeful that I could perhaps earn myself a spot at the IPF Worlds also in Calgary in the summer. There is a definite process involved in getting to Nationals, and I had checked off the final box on the list this past June when I competed at Provincials.

  • achieve a qualifying total within 24 months of Nationals (achieved at Westerns August 2016)
  • compete at a Regional championship (achieved at Westerns August 2016)
  • compete or volunteer at Provincials (achieved June 2017)

The only thing left for me to do was to fill out the registration form when it opened up and hand over my money. To qualify for Worlds, I would need to have an epic performance at Nationals. I knew my odds of qualifying for Worlds would be slim, but I at least wanted the opportunity to try for it.

The 100% RAW competition that I took part in a couple of weeks ago was supposed to be a stepping stone for Nationals. With only two competitions planned for 2017 and the way most of the year ended up being hampered by injury, I was really looking forward to having a good performance in the RAW meet and going into Nationals strong and healthy. The thing about plans is that they don’t always go the way we imagine.

It hasn’t been a secret that I had the amazing competition I was hoping for with RAW and that I walked away having herniated my L5-S1 disc. (Unless you’re my family doctor who doesn’t think I did that kind of damage to myself.) My optimism about competing at Nationals stayed strong for the first day or two after the injury…before I actually knew what the injury was. Once I was told that I had herniated a disc, I had to entertain the thought that Nationals might not be in the cards for me. The fact that my left leg is numb from my butt to the tips of my toes made the severity of my injury quite clear. The fact that I experienced the most excruciating pain for days on end without relief made the severity of my injury quite clear. I can be stubborn at times and I’m not claiming to be super smart, but I am smart enough to see the writing on the wall that my head is banging against. Deep in my heart I knew that Nationals wasn’t going to happen for me this time, but suspecting the truth doesn’t negate the devastating impact of hearing that same truth from someone with the medical knowledge and wisdom to make that call.

And that is what happened this afternoon when I was at my physio appointment. I laid there, face down on the table while the physiotherapist made a pincushion out of my back, wiggling and jiggling the needles to release the muscles. After a bunch of small talk, I began asking the questions that have been burning inside of me. What is the typical recovery timeline for this? Will I be able to compete in February?

The timeline for recovery isn’t much of a timeline at all. There are too many variables. Instead of focusing on a timeline, I need to look for milestones. There are a bunch of steps that I need to make in the process of recovering, like eliminating the leg numbness, being able to do a calf raise, being able to bend forward and touch my toes, being able to raise my leg past a certain point and certainly equal to the other leg, and so on. All that makes sense, even though it would be so much simpler to have a definitive timeline of X number of weeks until I was back to normal. <sigh>

As for competing…highly doubtful. It will be some time before I am even allowed to do weight-bearing exercises. I’m not even allowed to do anything requiring intra-abdominal pressure, which means no squats, and I already knew that deadlifts were out of the question. My gym life has basically been reduced to simple, easy rehab exercises for the lower back. Oh! And I am allowed to walk on the treadmill or elliptical. My dislike for the elliptical machine is intense, but I suppose I can hobble along on the treadmill.

As the physiotherapist gently pointed out (not that I actually needed to be persuaded), the best course of action is not to rush recovery. Rushing could lead to chronic disc problems, and I’d really rather avoid that if possible. As much as I love powerlifting and competing, I also want to live a long and healthy life where I can continue to enjoy doing what I love. I had already guessed that I wouldn’t be able to compete at Nationals, but here it was in the harsh glare of reality. The physiotherapist did say that there could be a small chance, that we’d know better in a couple of months; however, I refuse to even accept that exceedingly slim possibility. A couple of months from now would most likely be after the deadline for registering, and there is no point in registering just to throw that non-refundable money away. Even were I given the green light to compete, with weeks of easy, rehab, body weight exercises, I would be a far cry from ready to compete and certainly not where I would want to be physically. So, there it is…I won’t be going to Nationals in February.

I can accept that this is the right decision, but the rightness of it doesn’t make it sting any less. As the physiotherapist’s words sunk into my heart, I was thankful that I was face-down on the table and could choke back silent tears without the added embarrassment of having them witnessed. I kept the tears at bay for the remainder of my treatment, but I couldn’t keep them from choking me later. It still hurts to let go of a dream, even if it is the right decision to make. Instead of gearing up for Nationals in a few months, I have weeks and months of rehab to look forward to. I have little milestones to achieve rather than PRs on the platform. There can be other Nationals in my future, although I will need to jump through all the hoops all over again to quality. It’s cold comfort in this moment, but it will be fuel to keep me going in the days to come. Taking the time to take care of this injury properly now will only be beneficial to my overall health and well-being. Of course, I’m going to wallow in my self-pity for tonight but only tonight. Tomorrow it is time to get back on track with everything.

 

In Full Bloom

“Why should I be unhappy? Every parcel of my being is in full bloom.” ~Rumi

More than once over the course of the past two weeks I have had someone express sympathy for me and my herniated disc. I appreciate the care and concern for my well-being, but I don’t know what to say when someone tells me that they are sorry for what I’m going through. Why should someone feel sorry for me having herniated a disc? It’s not like it is anyone’s fault and certainly not the fault of the one saying sorry. Yes, it sucks that I herniated a disc. It sucks that I am in pain, that I am limping because I’m experiencing numbness and weakness in my leg. It sucks that my ability to perform ordinary activities has been hampered. This sucks in all of these ways and more. This is true; however, I really do not feel sorry for myself, so why should anyone else.

I know I am a far cry from a world class athlete, but humour me here for a moment. How many world class (Olympic, NHL, NFL, etc) athletes experience an injury at some point in their quest to be one of the best? When they experience an injury, I wonder how they feel about it. Do they feel sorry for themselves? Or do they accept it as part of the journey, another hurdle to jump in the pursuit of their goals? I don’t have the answer to those questions, but I wonder. Of course, some injuries are career-finishing for an athlete; however, most serious athletes experience injuries with some regularity over the course of their athletic career.

While there may be moments, like excruciating pain in the middle of the night moments where I sort of feel sorry for myself, quite honestly, I just don’t. How can I? Why should I? As the quote above says, every parcel of my being is in full bloom! In my short powerlifting life, I have had many positive experiences and a few not so positive ones. Actually, I’d say the positive experiences have heavily outweighed the negative. Ironically enough, my “worst” experience was earlier this year at Provincials, and that only makes this most recent competition all the better in my eyes.

This last competition was one of my best. Actually, I think I can say that it was my best competition, even though I didn’t set new personal bests in every lift. I had so many goals going into this competition, big ones and small ones. There were goals that I was vocal about and those that I kept close to my chest, and I achieved them all. I wanted those records (and I got them), but those were just gravy. I’ve had a tough year plagued with injuries, so being able to put together a perfect performance to reach all of my goals was simply amazing. I am proud of what I accomplished. Not only did I have to come back from the previous injuries, but I also had to push through my own mental blocks. I worked hard these past few months and it showed on the platform. I am proud of myself, and there is no room for regret or self-pity.

So don’t feel sorry for me! There is no need to apologize for something you didn’t cause and cannot alter. This wasn’t part of my plan or something I expected or wanted to happen, but it did and I can’t change that now. And yet, the fact that I did herniate my disc cannot change the fact that I broke a World record or that I had such an awesome competition. Feeling sorry for myself won’t get me anywhere, so I choose to remain proud of my accomplishments. As for the herniation…well, I am just going to attack that challenge like every other challenge, one day at a time and with as much grace and strength of character as I can muster.

Choice or Compromise

“If you limit your choice only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is compromise.” ~Robert Fritz

Nationals are 14 weeks away, and I have been striving and working towards my goal of competing there in February. I have all the prerequisites necessary to take part in the National competition. I have a qualifying total within the 24 months prior to Nationals. I competed at Westerns last year. The only thing I don’t currently have is a healthy body, and that is something that could wipe out my Nationals goal.

Although it is highly suspected that I have herniated my L5-S1 disc, there is still so much yet to be determined with this injury. Physiotherapy and X-rays are looming in my future. I wish the X-ray appointment was sooner than it is, because I really do want to get this injury figured out and dealt with. Even if Nationals weren’t on my agenda, I’d still want to hurry this process along. I do not like taking medication, but doing so now is paramount to my sanity. The medication is helping me to get some sleep, even if it is still in short segments. I do not enjoy the pain I am still experiencing…the pain that rudely wakes me from my slumber and cannot be ignored. I do not enjoy the permanent state of numbness that ranges from the tips of my toes all the way up to my buttock on my left leg. At work yesterday, there were many instances where I had to squat or kneel. Doing so felt incredibly weird on my numb left leg. It made my leg feel like a sausage bursting out of it’s casing, fat and swollen. My leg isn’t actually swollen, but the numbness is driving me crazy. I limp when I walk, because one leg is numb and the numbness in my calf makes walking that much harder. I want to feel normal again.

With all the uncertainty surrounding my injury, I have to consider the impact it may have on my goal of competing at Nationals in February. Part of me would be devastated if I had to pass on it, but that is a reality that I need to acknowledge. My health is ultimately more important than a competition. I think the fact that I am silently acknowledging the possibility of not going to Nationals is an important step. Call it maturity or sanity or wisdom or whatever. Nationals may not be possible or reasonable this time, but I am not prepared to give up on my dream quite yet. It’s too soon to say it won’t happen, so I will listen to my body, my coach, my chiropractor, my physiotherapist and see how things progress. However, I do also need to make room in my attitude for the worst case scenarios.

I apologize if this post seems disjointed. Even as I am laying down while typing, I am squirming in pain, unsuccessful in finding a comfortable position. My morning dose of medications is finally making me drowsy, which means I might manage to get a nap in before I go to work. I thought I knew where I was going with this blog post, but the more I type the more I realize I don’t have a clue. Except for this…I recognize that this is my most significant injury in my short powerlifting “career”. I don’t yet know what that will mean for my powerlifting “career” or my goals. After months and months of struggling with injury and rehab, the process continues. 2017 has turned out to be the year of struggle and pain, but I’ve walked through the fire before and come out stronger. That’s my ultimate goal right now.