Reflections of Lemonade

As I was reflecting on a few things early this morning, I found myself scanning through some old notes and blog posts. In doing so, I realized that we are more than halfway through 2018, which made me pause to consider my theme and goals for the year. It is common for me to perform a little check up around the middle of each year, but it almost got lost in the shuffle of a year in disarray. My theme for this year is Making Lemonade, which is all about accepting the struggles and challenges placed in my path and making something positive out of them.

Over the years, my goals have been a combination of relational, physical, spiritual, and mental. Some of them have had specific numbers, like dates or weights, while other goals have been more open-ended. A few goals carry over from year to year, because not every goal can or needs to be achieved by December 31. And yet for all the fluidity in the way I set goals for myself, I found it a challenge to create goals for this year due to my state of injury and the massive cloud of uncertainty hovering over me as a result, but I managed to come up with a few. If you want to see the list in its’ entirety, you can read it here; otherwise, here is a quick recap:

  1. Use lemons to my advantage.
  2. Heal my disc.
  3. Get back on the powerlifting platform.
  4. Walk on the wild side.
  5. Simplify.
  6. Expand.

Looking at that list in all its brevity could be completely nonsensical. What kind of goals are those? I guess that’s why it is a good thing to review the first half of the year and see where I’m at! So how am I doing with my challenges?

  1. Using lemons to my advantage is intentionally vague and broad, because you cannot always plan out how you will respond or react to a lemon in your life. Life’s lemons take us by surprise, and I think it is okay to be surprised, to feel upset or angry or confused or whatever emotion the situation evokes in us. What is of greater importance is how we deal with those emotions and the situation after that initial response. I have been embracing lemons as often as I think about them. I’ve enjoyed some really delicious lemon treats, and the bright yellow of a lemon will always catch my eye now. In terms of the more symbolic lemons in my life, I think I’m doing okay. Maybe not perfectly or to the same degree another might in my situation, yet I am looking at life with different eyes and finding reasons to be filled with joy and thankfulness.
  2. Healing my disc. Hmmm. I don’t know how to qualify that goal. I was quickly shown the CT scan of my disc earlier this week, so I know that the disc is still bulging and looking quite similar to how it looked in the MRI from last December. The image would suggest it isn’t healing. The ongoing pain and numbness would suggest it isn’t healing. And yet, I am not in the same place that I was at the end of last year, and that would indicate to me that healing is taking place. After a seven month leave of absence, I am now back to work. Unless I’ve been on my feet for an extended time, I can walk without limping once again. Although I still have constant pain and numbness, the intensity of it is not always as strong as it used to be. This is a goal that is not entirely within my control, because I cannot just do this or that for X number of days and all will be well again. I can control a great deal of things by doing my rehab and exercises and being mindful of my restrictions/limitations, but even my 100% compliance will not guarantee a healed disc in a specific timeline.
  3. Powerlifting! Oh, how I miss thee! But I am at peace with leaving that goal up on a shelf until the time is right to pull it down and dust it off. I won’t be competing this year at all. At this point in time, I’m not even looking ahead to next year.
  4. Walking on the wild side has been one goal that I have not thought of much over the past number of months, at least not purposefully. It’s a goal about being open to trying new things and stepping out of my comfort zone. I did my own little Polar Bear Dip to start the year. I tried tempeh for the first time and purchased three packages, which have been in my freezer for a couple of weeks now, waiting for me to have the courage to do something with. To be honest, I cannot recall if I’ve done much stepping out of the comfort zone, because I barely stepped out of the house for much of the first half of the year!
  5. Simplifying is something I strive for on a regular basis, and I successfully removed a ton of stuff from the house in the early months of the year. Due to my injury and symptoms, my life has been rather simple by necessity more than choice. I have been able to enjoy cooking more, because the demands on my time and energy have been less. I enjoyed simple activities and a simple schedule. I have been simplifying by making smarter environmental choices, like remembering to use my cloth shopping bags and reusable straws and cups.
  6. Expanding is a complicated goal that might not make sense to anyone but me. It is also, in many ways, an invisible and silent goal that may not be seen in the moment and is easily overlooked in retrospect. I’m not certain I have done much with this one yet, but there is still plenty of time. And with the brain fog gone and the pain/symptoms being mostly tolerable, I have been opening myself up like a slow blooming flower.

Now that I’ve examined the past seven months, I think I’m doing okay, although I really wish I could do something more #2!

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Self Worth Project

I am having a love/hate relationship with summer this year, or more appropriately perhaps, my issue is related to my body more than the weather. Although my favourite season is Fall, I really do enjoy Spring and Summer, when warmer weather means bare feet, shorts, and tank tops instead of fuzzy socks, jeans and heavy sweaters. But I have been feeling dismay and disgust increasing along with the temperature outside, and my feelings are firmly rooted in my physical appearance. I know better than to focus on the scale, a size, or the image reflected in my mirror. I have fought that battle before and come out victorious, yet here I am again. Still.

Hurting my back has impacted my life in many ways and for much longer than I ever thought possible, so I also understand and accept that I will be in a state of “recovery” for quite some time and in many ways. My activity level has been severely hampered for months. Not only have I been unable to train for powerlifting or with significant weight or intensity, but my every day activities of work and life were wiped out. When you add months of medication with a weight-gain side effect, it really shouldn’t be surprising that I’ve gained some weight and look like a potato.

Now that the hot weather is here, I am finding it difficult to ignore the weight gain. I cannot easily hide under layers of loose clothing anymore, but finding cooler, comfortable clothing that doesn’t make me feel like a potato is almost impossible. After nearly eight months of wearing leggings and yoga pants almost exclusively, one of my biggest moments of panic about the possibility of returning to work soon is wondering how I am going to fit into work-suitable clothing again. Although I am a long way from being pain and symptom-free, every bit of progress and improvement makes me feel excited and hopeful that I will be back to normal again soon. Perhaps I get too excited in my expectations of being back to normal, thinking that it should have happened last week even though today might have been the first “good” day in a month. Sigh.

I also know that the only one who is actually critical of how I look is me. Even if someone were to mock my body, my confidence in myself is solid enough to see through the bluster and discard the garbage, but it isn’t so easy to stop insulting myself. Isn’t that the way it usually goes…being our own worst critic?

As I continue to heal, I know that I will return to work. I will regain strength and conditioning, and my weight and body composition will change. I know this to be true. In the here and now though, between the moment of injury and the day I am completely normal again, my confidence in the truth is often shaky. This isn’t where I thought I would be. This being less than isn’t who I want to be. In all honesty, I think this frustration of not being who I was is the ultimate source of my disgust with myself now.

Worlds Delayed Reaction

The International Powerlifting Federation’s World Championships just wrapped up today in Calgary. Before this injury, I held the wild hope of making it there myself. Of course, my hope wasn’t based on anything more substantial than wishful thinking, because I am far from the strongest woman in my age/weight group in Canada. Even if I hadn’t hurt my back and had been able to compete at Nationals, I still wouldn’t have qualified for Worlds and I knew that would be my reality. That’s okay!

I had all the time to watch the Worlds this year, but I honestly didn’t make the effort. I watched several highlight lifts posted on Facebook and Instagram, but I didn’t tune in to watch the livestream. I love competing. I love watching powerlifting and cheering on other competitors, but my heart just wasn’t in it to watch this one and I’m not sure why.

Powerlifting, for me, hasn’t even been on the rear burner this year; it is a pot that won’t be put on the stove for some time yet to come. Yes, I want to get back to powerlifting, and sometimes I feel that itch more strongly than others. Last Friday’s training began with heavier sets of close grip bench press, and I felt like a powerlifter as I carefully wound my wraps around my wrists. Midway through my sets as the hands got sweaty, I put some chalk on my hands. The combination of chalk and wrist wraps and several reps of heavyish weight almost made me forget the fact that my back was flat on the bench, my feet were on the bench instead of the floor, and my grip was close instead of wider. But that feeling of still being a powerlifter didn’t erase the currents of pain that pulsed through my legs as I lay on the bench, nor did it remove the permanent numbness from my left foot. As much as I want to squat, bench, deadlift, and step onto a platform again, my body just isn’t ready. I’m okay with that.

Powerlifting is something that I do and enjoy doing, and I’d like to continue doing it for a long time to come, which means being patient and smart. I’ve been a pretty good patient, doing the right things and making the best decisions to promote healing and recovery. I think part of making those best decisions is being selective with where I focus my attention. Watching Worlds wouldn’t necessarily have been a bad thing…it just might not have been the best thing. I cannot find any other words to explain myself, but even then I think that’s okay.

Yesterdays

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tipping Scales

One lesson that I have learned over the past 4.5 years of weight training is that the numbers on the scale are not the most important thing to focus on. Before I began weight training, at my heaviest I was 180 pounds. Through the years of training and powerlifting, my weight has ranged from 145 to 174 pounds. The fluctuations came with cycles of hoping to increase strength and fit into a reasonable weight class for competition. Through most of those weight fluctuations, I still wore the same clothes in the same sizes, and that is where the lesson hit home the most. Losing or gaining weight in the process of eating reasonably well and lifting heavy weight changed body composition, and scale changes were of no great importance.

I am trying to remember that lesson these days, but I admit it isn’t always easy. Like this morning when I was getting dressed and searching for shorts or capris to wear that weren’t intended for the gym. I have one pair of denim capris (which I’ve owned for a couple of years now). While I could put them on and do them up, I was dismayed by the muffin top oozing over the waistband. I chose not to wear them, in part due to the muffin top, but also because of the strain the waistband puts on my back. The number of times I have worn jeans or pants since herniating my disc last November can be counted on one hand; the waistband hurts my back, so I’ve been living in leggings. With the warm, sunny weather, I am wanting to wear tank tops and shorts or capris, but I feel limited by the physical discomfort and my current struggles with too much belly jiggle.

The weight gain bothers me a bit, because I am the heaviest I’ve been since I started training. The weight gain isn’t muscle, and it seems to settle in my belly. It’s not surprising though. After all, for four years I was a lot more active and lifting a lot more weight than I have since the injury. Most of the time I am still eating reasonably well, but I haven’t paid any attention to calories or portioning. Less activity+uncontrolled eating=weight gain. To top it all off, I am on at least one medication which can have the side effect of weight gain.

Even though I have gained weight over the past few months, I am really only about 10 pounds heavier than where I maintained for quite a long time. That maintenance weight was within easy reach of my competition weight and allowed me to build strength. Getting back to that weight shouldn’t present much of a problem once I am off medication and able to resume more physical activity and weights in the gym. Of course, I can still turn my attention towards what I am eating and drinking, even if I do not want to count calories. My toolbox is well-stocked…I just need to use it. This means eating more vegetables and fruit and less treats. I don’t need to go crazy, just keep it simple.

Is it odd that I am freaked out over my physical appearance rather than what I actually weigh? I seldom step on a scale and only use the numbers when I’m preparing for a competition. But I am not happy with the jiggles and extra baggage. Does it bother me because I know this injury plays a big part of that outcome? Is it just part of the frustration of being hurt, of always hurting, and being limited? As much as I know that I will never have the body of a fitness model, I am human with moments of vanity and self-conscious thoughts.

Staying Alive

I haven’t blogged much about my training since herniating my disc six months ago, because there hasn’t really been much to blog about. My workouts consist of exercises that are safe for my back, as well as whatever exercises I can do to work the rest of my body. It’s a far cry from what I was doing when preparing for a powerlifting competition, and some days that chafes more than others. I know I am capable of so much more, but I also know that healing takes time and pushing too hard won’t help me get better.

As I was resting between sets today, my thoughts flashed back to a conversation I had with someone a few weeks ago about dealing with injuries. This fellow told me that he had to stop going to the gym for two years because of a shoulder injury. I probably found that odd at the time, but I didn’t think about it too much until today. As much as I am not satisfied with the rehab-type training I have been doing for six months, I cannot imagine not going to the gym. This guy had a shoulder problem, but surely he could have continued working out in some capacity while healing the shoulder! Then I considered many of the individuals working out around me.

Everyone has different reasons and purposes for going to the gym. Still, it isn’t all that uncommon to see men focus their attention mainly on their chest and arms. A lot of women focus on their butt or cardio. With a focus on developing one body part or area, there is often little exercise done for other body parts. I guess this is why a shoulder injury would keep someone from the gym for two years. Rather than doing shoulder rehab exercises at the gym and working legs or cardio, the better option seemed to be to do nothing. I don’t understand that concept. Maybe I would have before going to the gym became a regular part of my routine, but now I can’t fathom staying away from the gym because something hurts.

My back and legs hurt 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and that has been the case for more than 6 months now. With the exception of the first week post-injury and the odd extra rest day, I have continued to go to the gym three times a week. I am not deadlifting. I am not squatting with a barbell on my back. I didn’t even resume bench presses until a few months ago, and the weight I’m using is far less than my pre-injury max. Some days my workout barely makes me sweat. We’ve tried different exercises, keeping ones that are okay and removing ones that cause more pain. If something is making my back hurt more, I am supposed to stop. It’s not what I used to be able to do, but at least I am doing something!

I am not a doctor or physiotherapist or personal trainer, but I’m pretty sure that movement is an integral part of regaining and maintaining health in most situations. What that movement looks like will vary depending on the situation, but keep moving! There are moments in my day (or entire days) where my body just wants to be immobile. For me, laying down doesn’t alleviate the pain…it just reduces the back pain and increases the leg pain. I need to change my position frequently, so I make a point of moving, even when I don’t really want to. I walk. I do some light housework. I recline to take the strain off my back. I go to the gym. I do my physio exercises. I do my chiro exercises.

My progress with healing feels stuck and has felt that way for months, but my mobility has improved greatly. My ability to bend, twist, lift my legs has all improved, even if not always the same from day to day. The pain hasn’t changed too much for the better, but I am glad that I can move better. Part of that is likely just the nature of healing, but I have a feeling that staying as active as I can has also played a vital role. So my advice to you is to keep moving! Do what you can do and do it regularly.

Know Yourself

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

~unknown

 

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

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

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

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

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

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