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…

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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.

Book Deals

“The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.” ~Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

I bought this book this afternoon, along with Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my all-time favourite novels, so I have been wanting to read the loooong awaited sequel. As much as I am a bookworm, I seldom rush out to buy new books in hardcover, which is one of the reasons why I haven’t read Watchman yet. Today I scored a brand new hardcover copy for $9, and I cannot wait to immerse myself back in the world of Jean Louise Finch.

Since I do love books and browsing through the bookstore, I clutched my book and roamed the aisles. I came across The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and was immediately intrigued. A quick read of the synopsis furthered my interest, and the 50% off deal was too good to pass up. A couple of pages into the first chapter has me thinking that this will be a very interesting read. It also has me itching for my highlighter, which means that I will soon be marking up the pages, always a sign of a good book. If the title didn’t give it away, there is some language, but I’m not offended by language.

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!

Leaving on a Jet Plane

“Fear is a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.”

~Donald Miller

My youngest son is going to Thailand with a friend. They are leaving tomorrow and won’t return until December 20th.

Naturally, my son is excited about his trip and eager to leave. He has been teasing me about my tears ever since he bought his flight tickets, even though I have worked very hard to keep those tears locked up tight. I am excited for and proud of Casey for his ability to step outside of the safety and comfort of home to explore a country on the other side of the world, and yet, I am also fearful, nervous and worried.

I can imagine all of the things that could go wrong during my son’s trip. I can imagine all of the nasty, horrible things that could happen to my son during his stay in Thailand. Despite my fears and worries, I tend to avoid dwelling on them. Instead I trust that my son has a good head on his shoulders. I trust that my God is bigger than my fears. I can only trust and let go, but that doesn’t mean I won’t shed some tears at the airport tomorrow. Or when he returns.

Casey means brave. Sometimes I think Casey means reckless or one who blindly races headfirst into trouble. I wish that Casey felt a bit more fear about his trip, or would at least acknowledge the potential problems he may experience. But he’s stretching his wings out, eager to soar on his own, and who am I to stop him. As a parent, I want my children to succeed in their pursuits, to experience life, and to be their own persons. I do not want them to be paralyzed by fear. But I am still going to cry when he leaves.

Small Things Great Love

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” ~Mother Teresa

My husband likes to watch the news on television. Although I prefer to get my news from the internet, I can’t help catching some of the local news when my husband is watching. Just now there was a story of a young boy dying of cancer and his wish to receive Christmas cards. As if that wasn’t enough of a tear-jerker story, it got better. An Oscar winning set designer is sending this young boy an autographed lightsaber, because the boy is a big Star Wars fan. My eyes leaked.

Not everyone could send this dying child something as valuable and precious as a lightsaber, but thousands upon thousands of complete strangers took the time to mail this child a Christmas card. For the price of a card and postage, people did a small thing with great love. For someone they will never meet.

Small acts of kindness can have an amazingly big and lasting impact, and you may never see the end results. We don’t need to worry about our inability to make grand gestures, so long as we act out of love. Speak love. Show love. Give love. It’s really quite simple.

  • Smile. Say hello. Ask how someone is doing. Actively listen to the response.
  • Thinking of a friend? Give them a call, send them a text, or send them a card or letter in the mail. Yes, snail mail! Who doesn’t like getting something other than a bill and flyers in the mail?
  • Buy someone a coffee. Waiting in line for your coffee? Pay for the person behind you.
  • Drop off some baking or a home-cooked meal to a friend who is struggling, overwhelmed, or just really busy. When I had surgery 4 years ago, I greatly appreciated all of the meals that were dropped off.
  • Hold the door open for someone.
  • Stop taking the people around you for granted. Your barista, the bank teller, the grocery store cashier, the retail worker…they are all people. Say thank-you. Don’t be rude, ignorant, or condescending. Put your garbage where it belongs. They are there to serve you, but they shouldn’t be treated as your slave.
  • Donate to the food bank, a shelter. A can of soup. A pair of warm socks in the winter. A few dollars. Your time.
  • Stop for pedestrians wanting to cross the road. Let someone merge.
  • Be patient with someone who is struggling or slow.
  • Speak words of encouragement. Build up instead of tearing down.
  • Hug.
  • Give praise for a job well done.
  • Stop to help a stranded motorist.

I could be here all night making a list of ways to do small things, but I doubt that I could ever finish such a list. A list of small things that can make a big difference is completely unique to each person. My list won’t look the same as yours, and that is part of the beauty of doing small acts of kindness. A list simply cannot cover all the bases. You need to do these things with humility and love. They need to be genuine rather than manufactured. People tend to be able to sniff out falseness and find it off-putting. I know I do. Be real. Be yourself. Don’t worry if your actions feel stiff and wooden at the beginning…the more you do them, the more genuine they will become!

We all cannot be Mother Teresa, but we can all be like her by simply living and giving out of love.

Out of Control

“When you can’t control what’s happening, challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what’s happening. That’s where your power is.” ~unknown

“Mental toughness is finding fuel on an empty tank.” ~Kent Morris

As I slowly and gingerly got myself up from the floor where I had been napping, one of my son’s asked if this was worth it. He was referring to my competition, to the records I broke that day, and the injury that I left the competition with. It would be easy for me to answer with a yes or a no, and I could justify both responses; however, for some people, the only plausible answer would be a resounding no. Most people would say that an injury negates the value of the achievement or the drive in pursuing one’s goals. I get that, I really do. I can look at skydiving and say that I have no desire to do something where a mistake could be life-threatening. In my few experiences with downhill skiing, I have come to the conclusion that I am more suited to sipping hot chocolate in the lodge than potentially risking injury hurtling down the slopes. So I can understand why a person might look at me hobbling about in excruciating pain and question my sanity in striving to lift heavy weights.

I doubt that anyone could have predicted that I would herniate a disc during my competition. Sure, I had concerns about my back going into competition, but those thoughts revolved around other issues. My chiropractor told me that the competition was not to blame, that this sort of thing doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye. If that is indeed the case, then this herniation could have occurred at any point in time or space. It could have been at the gym, at work, at home, while shopping, skydiving or downhill skiing. The fact that it did occur during my competition shouldn’t negate what I was able to achieve that day. I can feel proud of what I accomplished without regret or asking myself “what if”. I had no control over what happened inside my body, and I have very little control over what is happening inside my body right now as a result. And yet, I can control my attitude and the way that I respond to this injury.

I can be stubborn at times, and I do not like to ask for help. Self-sufficiency has always been something I take pride in. Asking for help is like admitting a weakness, and I do not like that one bit. I have been told to leave my ego out of the picture and to ask for help when it comes to bending and picking things up. Do you know how difficult it was for me to keep my mouth shut when I heard that command? I wanted to roll my eyes. I wanted to make some comment about how that is a big part of what I do at home and at work, but I kept my mouth closed. Then later, I told my co-workers and my family that I would need some help. I cannot erase the fact that I am injured. I can barely control the pain. But I can ask for help when it is needed.

Mental toughness is a tricky one. Some people simply do not have it or have a terrible time scraping enough of it together to get past their problems. It could be ego speaking, but I like to think that I do have mental toughness, even when the going is rough and I feel utterly ill-equipped and unprepared. Still I have my moments of doubt, of fear, self-pity. I left my chiropractor’s office with the diagnosis of a herniated disc and tears welling in my eyes. In the wee hours of the morning as I’ve writhed in pain and unable to sleep, I have questioned my sanity and my ability to overcome this injury. During the day I feel restless in my inability to do much of anything, and I am dreading the potentially endless appointments to come. My emotional tank feels rather empty, but I have the mental strength to carry on and to overcome. I can’t control a great deal of things in life, but I get to choose how I respond to them. Even when my response is childish or less than ideal, I am not stuck with that initial response. There is freedom to grow into a better response, to change how I think and behave in a difficult situation. Strength training and powerlifting have taught me that much. Things aren’t always going to be easy, but hard work and determination and the right attitude will pay off in the end.

I don’t know what the future holds for me. I don’t know how long it will take to heal this injury. I don’t even know if it will interfere with my plans and goals. It could and it might, and that would be devastating; however, I am not defined by what I do or where I go or how I perform on the platform. My goals are goals and deadlines are seldom applicable. Some things cannot be rushed, and healing is one of those things. So I need to take this part of the journey one step at a time, as if there were any other way!