Nationals, Fallen Records & Pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Advertisements

Stronger Than I’ve Ever Been

I didn’t have an amazing sleep last night, but it was okay…the best it has been all week. That could be due to the fact I took 900mg of Gabapentin last night instead of the 300mg I have been taking lately. I do not like taking medication, so I severely cut back my daily dosage a few weeks ago when we realized that the nerve was stuck sending pain signals. In fact, there has even been the odd day here or there when I haven’t taken any pain medication. I know that skimping on pain medication isn’t always an intelligent decision, but I seldom claim to be smart.

My back was quite sore and achy yesterday, actually all week long, so I had no intention of not taking some pain medication. As I opened the bottle and shook out a single capsule, I remembered that I was allowed to take three capsules at a time, even three times a day, if necessary. As I shook out two more capsules, I wondered why I had been so insistent on limiting myself to one capsule a day. Because I hate taking medication and being dependent on it! But still…if I’m experiencing pain that is consistently impacting my day-to-day life, then why not help myself out? I still chafe against the idea of taking more pills, but I also need to accept that I might need to use them for a while yet. Even if I only take some in the evening in the hopes of experiencing real sleep. Okay, so real sleep won’t magically appear because of my pain medication, otherwise I’d have been sleeping all along, but you get my point. Right?

The back was still quite achy and sore when I woke up. I was also still groggy and slow and tired, but I planned on going to the gym in the morning after eating breakfast and “waking” up. I ate breakfast. When I decided it was time to get dressed and head to the gym, I felt the ache in my back and considered NOT going to the gym. I could go later in the day. I could go tomorrow. I really didn’t feel up to going today. Those thoughts flashed through my mind in the span of a minute, and then I got dressed and went to the gym.

My training session was good, solid, and I felt strong. I maxed out my reps on a number of sets and exercises, and where I didn’t max out I still increased my reps. Even on the arm exercises that are usually tough and weak, which isn’t to say that they weren’t tough today because they still were. Strength was just there today, and so was the mindset that I will get up again.

If you knock me down I get up again I get up again Born unstoppable I get up again Now I’m stronger than I’ve ever been ~ Kaleena Zanders

 

Squeezing Lemons in My Eyes

You know that whole lemon theme thing I have going on this year? Something about making lemonade and learning to appreciate the lemons? About that…

I am tired of being tired. While I am not going to bother attempting to calculate the lost hours of sleep since herniating my disc, I am quite certain I have lost more hours of sleep these past three months than I have over the past few years. Sleep has always been important to me, but weight training made adequate rest all the more valuable. Consistently missing out on sleep will mess you up in multiple ways.

Up until three months ago, sleep and I got along well more often than not. I have sometimes struggled to fall asleep early in the evening in order to get in enough hours of sleep before an early morning start to my day, but I have long made a point of positioning myself for at least 8 hours of sleep a night. There would be many nights where I would get 9 or 10 hours of sleep. Despite years of waking up before the rest of the city, I seldom found myself flagging in the afternoons. I could start work at 5AM, go to the gym at 4PM, and still be energetic and alert into the evening.

When I herniated my disc, everything changed. At first, it was the intense pain and physical discomfort that kept me awake. Those first days were brutal, and I would often end up in the living room for most of the night. The pain was too strong to stay in any one position for more than a few minutes, which meant that sleep was limited to only a few minutes at a time, if I was lucky. Prescription pain medication was supposed to make it easier to sleep but never quite lived up to that promise. As time has passed, the intensity of pain has ebbed and flowed. Once, twice, maybe even three times I have had a solid night’s sleep. Mostly not.

The pain is not gone. It has greatly diminished, but it is still there. The numbness in my left leg has likewise greatly diminished without being completely gone. When I lay down, I feel the most pain. I’m not even certain I can always call it ‘pain’ these days, because most of the time it is something less sinister. Less sinister so long as the description of something crawling or wigging beneath the skin doesn’t bother you! That sensation can be uncomfortable and it varies in its intensity, but it is a far cry from the pain I felt a couple of months ago. There are still occasional bouts of shooting or stabbing pain, mostly in my hip or deep within the buttock. And then there is the back itself. The back, despite being the source of all of my problems, has generally felt the least amount of pain over the course of these three months; however, there are still moments and days where the back does actually hurt. There is one spot in particular that has been feeling achy and sore for the past several days. Just enough to be a nuisance.

Where am I going with this? Sleep. I am not sleeping well. Despite frequently being in bed for anywhere from 8 to more than 10 hours a night, I am not getting adequate rest. Time in bed does not equally translate into time asleep. Like last night. I was in bed for 9 hours and 42 minutes, but I feel as if I barely slept. I laid awake for nearly 3 hours after going to bed, tossing and turning in a futile attempt to find a physically comfortable position. Once I did finally manage to “fall” asleep, I was awake every hour, almost on the hour, which would then result in more tossing and turning before gradually returning to what passed for sleep. I wake up sluggish and tired. I remain sluggish and tired throughout the day. My body tells me it could use afternoon naps, but my body also has this odd inability to nap in the afternoon. An early afternoon cup of coffee can’t stop the yawns at bay. This has been typical for me since moving past the stage of the physical pain keeping me awake.

Most of the time, I have nothing on my mind. No worries or stress. No flurry of thoughts. Sometimes the crawling sensation in my leg is strong enough to keep me awake for a while; sometimes it might be shards of real pain. Lately physical comfort seems to be a major factor. My shoulders are feeling cranky with sleeping on my sides, but any other sleep position presents other feelings of discomfort. I wonder if this is why I have an achy spot in my back lately, because I’ve been propping myself up a bit to keep the shoulders happy, even though it doesn’t necessarily feel the greatest for my back or neck. Taking forever to fall asleep wouldn’t be quite so bad if I was at least able to stay asleep through the rest of the night, but I can’t.

So where is the lemonade in three months of not sleeping?

Well, I wear daily contact lenses and my last purchase should have been used up by mid-December; however, I still have at least a month and a half worth of contacts sitting in my bathroom. With constantly waking up groggy and tired, I have been wearing my glasses almost exclusively. Even if I want to pry open my eyelids to pop contacts in, my eyes are so tired that the contacts irritate my eyes more quickly than normal. So, sleepless nights are saving me money on contact lenses! But I’d still rather sleep.

Sleep vs. Shoulders

Sleep was elusive last night, so I am sipping a quad grande Americano as I am reclining on my heating pad. I had a physiotherapy appointment this morning, and the IMS (some with electricity) always leaves my body feeling bruised and battered. Today should be a gym day, but my resolve dissolved with my sleep-deprived fumbles to shut off my alarm this morning. Even if I had slept better, I don’t know why I thought I might be capable of training immediately after physio. I can go to the gym later today or, more likely, tomorrow morning.

My brain feels full to overflowing, yet that is not what kept me awake. Last night was all about the body rather than the brain. My shoulders were the main culprits, but their crankiness affected the rest of my body as I struggled to find a comfortable position in which to sleep. The shoulders act up every once in a while, but last night seemed to come out of nowhere. The low back was a bit tender and achy, and there was the ever present uncomfortable sensations in my legs. Honestly though, I blame it all on the shoulders. I am a side sleeper.

Despite the post-physio aches, my appointment went well. It was pointed out to me that, although I may not see it day in and day out, from my physiotherapist’s perspective, he is seeing good progress. He asked how I was feeling about returning to work soon. I get asked about returning to work a lot, but his question somehow seemed different, more probing maybe, and I was able to be more reflective and honest in my response. Mentally I am more than ready to get back to work! Physically, I am a little nervous. I know I am much improved and moving better, but I also know that I will still need to be careful, to ask for help and modify some of my tasks. I am nervous about being on my feet for hours and hours at a time. Since sitting is uncomfortable and often painful, even my breaks will be spent on my feet. Although I’ve been trying to mimic some of my work movements at home, I haven’t attempted staying on my feet for several hours at a time. So I am eager to get back to work but cautiously nervous. My physiotherapist feels that I will be fine, so long as I do use appropriate caution and ask for help. He did also warn me that it would be completely normal to experience an increase in pain and soreness during the first few weeks back to work, which I think I knew subconsciously but it was good to have it pointed out.

I need a nap. Or more coffee. Probably more coffee. Naps never seem to work for me, no matter how tired I am.

 

Bumpy-wumpy

“Time isn’t a straight line. It’s all…bumpy-wumpy. There’s loads of boring stuff. Like Sundays and Tuesdays and Thursday afternoons. But now and then there are Saturdays.” ~The Doctor, The Impossible Astronaut

Most of my days are heavily laden with boring stuff especially of late. I miss going to work with my amazing co-workers and interacting with our wonderful customers. Being on a medical leave is boring. Almost every day my husband asks me what my day is going to look like. I haven’t had anything overly interesting to say in response, although I suppose I could make something up. My days look almost identical. Drag myself out of bed. In varying order: eat, drink coffee, get dressed. Go to the gym three times a week. Do my rehab exercises at home every day. Eat lunch. Drink water and more coffee. Apply heat to my back. Walk around aimlessly in search of something to do. Perform a few light cleaning tasks or tackle a cluttered spot. Read the news online. Make dinner. More heat to the back. Go to bed and lie awake for 2 hours. Sleep. Wake up once or twice and lie awake some more. Repeat.

The good news is that as the back continues to heal so does my ability to move and engage in somewhat normal tasks for short periods of time. I might not be doing much in the grand scheme of things, but I am making progress. I can do more, but I still need to listen to my body. Yesterday I was finishing up sorting the stuff stored under my bed. All I was really doing was putting a few bins back under the bed after sweeping up all the dust bunnies. It didn’t take long for my back to ache from the forward bending, even though I was on my knees. I’m healing but not finished yet.

This week I have been doing a little bit of light weight bench pressing with my feet up on the bench to keep my back flat. It has been so good to touch a barbell again, something I haven’t done since November 4, 2017 when I herniated my disc. As exciting as it is to be able to do some almost normal bench pressing, I also realize that I still need to be mindful and slow with my progress. As I was benching today, there was one rep where my lower back arched ever so slightly. Seriously, it was barely perceptible, but I immediately felt mild discomfort in my back. I made sure I flattened my back before the next rep and all was okay again.

A couple of weeks ago I tried some goblet squats with maybe 10 pounds and felt discomfort in my back. The goblet was abandoned, but I was able to use that same weight to squat with the weight held with arms straight down. Today I tried the goblet squats again using 15 pounds, and it was all good. A forward step of progress! But I still know that putting a barbell on my back is not going to happen anytime soon.

The left leg continues to be a nuisance. You know, I think that the numbness in my left foot is slowly diminishing, although watch it flare up again now that I’ve made such a bold statement! 😉 A lessening in numbness is progress, no matter how slight the difference. In general, the left leg pain has been slightly less since last Friday, but it was slightly more again last night, waking me up a couple of times. I skipped doing leg curls today, because of the surge of leg pain last night and the way the leg was feeling today. It’s a process and a reminder that healing takes time and that timeline is not straight at all! It’s all bumpy-wumpy.

But tomorrow actually is Saturday and I feel kind of excited about it. No particular reason why and no particular plans for the day yet. There is just something lovely about have a wide-open Saturday.

Breaking Through

Just stop your crying

Have the time of your life

Breaking through the atmosphere

Things are pretty good from here

Remember everything will be alright

~Sign of the Times~Harry Styles

It has been more than 10 weeks since I herniated a disc. In many ways, it feels as if I have been dealing with this injury for a much longer period of time. My memory of those early days is already growing fuzzy around the edges, and yet I am glad that I haven’t experienced that same pain intensity for several weeks now. The pain during those first few weeks was on a level that I have rarely experienced. As resistant to the idea as I was at the time, taking a medical leave of absence from work was a wise decision as it has allowed me time and space to heal. The pain intensity changed once I was no longer going to work, and I gradually began to see some progress in my mobility. But I still had constant numbness in my left leg and nerve pain in both legs every single time I laid down. Despite physiotherapy, rehab exercises, and three prescription drugs, I would still feel that leg pain when lying down, and my sleep suffered because of it. My mood, while mostly positive, would still plummet quickly from sleep deprivation, endless pain, and the frustration of feeling stuck with no end in sight. Then last Friday happened.

I had a physio appointment. There is nothing out of the ordinary about that…I’ve had quite a few physio appointments since herniating a disc. I was put through the usual barrage of physical tests and performed them all better than I had at my previous visit two weeks prior. My physiotherapist said that the disc is healing very well based on how I am moving my body. This was good news for me to hear, as I had been feeling improvements in my ability to move and use my body. It was also a relief to know that the disc actually is well on its way to healing, because the pain in my legs often makes me feel as if healing is such a long ways off.

The disc is doing well, so what’s up with the nerve pain in the legs? My physiotherapist said that it looks as if the nerve is stuck on sending pain signals and needs to be re-trained on how to function normally. Okay. I am not a sciencey, medically knowledgeable person, but the explanation made sense to me. My physiotherapist’s course of action was to continue with the IMS treatment on my back, but then he would leave one needle in my back and place one in the back of my left leg and attach electricity to both. At the same time. Do you know how that feels? It is uncomfortable bordering on intensely painful, depending on the frequency of the electrical current. The muscles with the needles in them twitch to the frequency of the current, and you have absolutely no control over that. With my leg and back muscles twitching at the same time, I literally felt like a fish flopping on the ground. At one point, my physiotherapist asked how I was doing. My “okay” must not have been too convincing, because he then asked if I was sure that I was okay. I don’t know that my “yes” was any more convincing, as I lay there flopping and silently gasping, but I survived the process. After all of that, I was once again asked to perform the same physical tests, and my performance was even better than it had been at the start of my appointment. This was good news and means that I will be similarly tortured again, but the good news doesn’t end there.

I left my appointment Friday morning feeling slightly stiff and sore in the areas where the IMS had been done which is quite normal. During the course of any day, I have periods of activity and periods of laying down. As the day wore on, I noticed that there was a difference in the leg pain when I would recline in the living room. The pain wasn’t completely gone, but there was a definitive difference in a mostly positive way! The left leg, which has always been the worst, felt significantly less pain and the pain I did feel was changing from the norm. I went to bed that night and slept better than I have for a while. I do not know why, but my right hip now hurts more intensely.

It’s now been several days since that physio treatment, but I feel excited and hopeful. A week ago, I couldn’t see an end to this struggle and, while it might be a stretch to say I can see an end now, the truth is that at least now an end actually feels possible. The pain in my legs isn’t gone. I am laying down as I am typing this blog post, and there is pain in my legs; however, it is less than it used to be! The pain that I am feeling is changing in its very nature. My physiotherapist once said that pain concentrating to one area is good, spreading pain is not good. It no longer feels like my pain is spreading. Is it concentrating? Sometimes it feels that way, but even when it doesn’t there is still that sense of the pain being different, in a good way. When I go to bed at night, leg pain isn’t waking me up several times through the night. Leg pain isn’t keeping me awake for hours before falling asleep. Unfortunately, I am still having trouble falling or staying asleep for the first few hours, but I’m just relieved that the leg pain isn’t the cause anymore.

The pain isn’t gone, but I feel hopeful. I am almost excited about my next physio appointment…until I remember the awkward flopping and pain!

Side Sleeper

There are many positions in which to sleep, and everyone tends to have a favourite. For me, I am a side sleeper. When my shoulders act up, sleeping on my side is uncomfortable and a position to avoid. In the early days of my herniated disc, I could barely sleep in any position and definitely not on my left side at all. Thankfully, I have been able to resume my side sleeping, but sleep has still been elusive due to the leg pain whenever I lie down. Sleep has always been important to me. I understand the role that sleep has to play in good health and recovery…and keeping me sane and happy.

So when the physiotherapist asked me how I was doing this morning, I told him that I am tired. Of course, I am tired of this injury and all that comes with it, but I am also just plain tired from endless nights of inadequate, disrupted sleep. After some trouble-shooting discussion, my physiotherapist suggested sleeping on my stomach. On my stomach?! I am not a stomach sleeper. In fact, sleeping on my stomach is the one position that I never use. I do not like it at all. But here’s the thing…when you’re desperate you will try almost anything! And I am desperate for a good night’s sleep. I want to go to bed and actually fall asleep soon after rather than laying awake for hours. I want to sleep through the night instead of waking multiple times from the pain in my legs. I have tried sleeping on my sides and my back. I am already taking pain medication which feels ineffective. I am also taking an opiate before bed that my doctor said would help me sleep; it’s not. I’ve tried a rolled up towel under my side. Will sleeping on my stomach help? I don’t know, but I am willing to give it a try.