In The Moment

When I pull my brain back from tomorrow and my heart from yesterday, I live with joy today.

(I came across that quote somewhere a while back, but I have no idea who originally said or wrote it.)

It’s been a weird week. There was the unexpected follow up appointment with the neurosurgeon and a couple of surprise announcements that are going to take some time to process and accept. After a deload week in my training, I began this week expecting a fresh training week feeling strong and fresh, but that never quite materialized. At the gym on Wednesday, I wanted to throw a kettlebell through a wall, because the back was so achy and uncomfortable, and I cannot always avoid feeling frustrated and stuck. I had no anger or frustration issues at the gym today; however, my mood was drooping and I simply felt tired and weak.

I didn’t sleep well at all last night, probably the worst night in a while now. Sleep has been tricky since the start of this injury, but the past few months has at least allowed me to settle into a reasonable, functional rhythm of lying awake, falling asleep, lots of tossing and position changes, and a few wakeful periods. Last night had plenty of tossing and position changes and lying awake…not so much sleep though. It wasn’t all due to the physical symptoms. The brain was racing for the first hour or two, twisting problems into knots before unraveling them to start over again, but the brain did eventually quiet and settle. Still no sleep. Despite the central air-conditioning and bedroom fan blowing, I felt too hot, too uncomfortable. The lack of sleep probably didn’t help me out at the gym this morning.

Although I stopped taking my prescriptions more than a month ago, I still have them. Lots of them actually because the last refill had been a big one. In all the time that I was on the medications, I never felt like they made a difference in the pain or symptoms, which is why I stopped taking them. I hate taking medication, but there are moments when I pause to consider the vials on my counter. What if I was wrong about the impact they made on the pain I felt? As much as my current pain levels are a far cry from what they used to be, I am still in pain. All of the time. It sucks. It saps energy and life from your body. It eats away at you from the inside and wears you down. Most of the time I can look beyond the pain and discomfort, but there are moments, sometimes days, when that is difficult to do. I think today is one of those days. Perhaps most of the week has been like that, and certainly my body is still re-learning and adjusting to being back at work, even if with limited hours.

I am tired, frustrated, and hurting, yet the day was not all gloom.

I got to go to the gym today! Although this injury has significantly impacted my ability to train as I would like, I am still of the mindset that going to the gym is a positive. My body might not always enjoy working out these days, but I am always glad to be able to do it.

My youngest son came by today. Sure, he was only here to pick up some mail, but that’s two days in a row I got to see my baby boy.

It’s far too easy to allow pain, fatigue, and low mood to throw road blocks in front of any sort of productivity I might have planned, but I managed to get a few things done today.

I laughed. Not the fake laugh one does when being polite but genuine laughter. Mostly at my own expense and that’s okay. It was still the sort of laughter that lessens the weightiness of whatever is sitting on your shoulders. And I didn’t laugh alone, which only increases its’ potency.

I finished off one book and began another. You would think that someone who had been off work and essentially idle for seven months would have read plenty of books, but the pain was too distracting and my head too foggy to focus on written words up until recently.

 

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Resting

I overheard a bit of conversation between two women in the change room at the gym this morning. The older woman had asked how the younger woman was doing which brought up recent struggles with either allergies or a cold, as well as the fact that her young daughter had been sick for several weeks previously. More rest was suggested by the older woman. The young woman pointed out that she didn’t typically stay up very late; however, she also said that she routinely gets up at 4:00 each morning to go do her cardio before returning home to resume her day. I am at the gym three times a week between 8 and 10 in the morning, and I see this young woman in the weight area almost every time. I don’t know if this woman is a stay-at-home mom or if she works outside of the home in addition to caring for her child (or children), but it sounds as if she is a busy person. The conversation ended with the young woman going to do her workout, while the older woman finished changing to leave.

Hearing that this woman gets up at 4 AM to do cardio makes me wonder what kind of crazy she is! I’m kidding. Mostly. Training and/or going to a gym wasn’t part of my lifestyle when my kids were little, but I understand that people sometimes do need to plan life at odd hours to make things happen. It’s not so much the time that amazes me but rather the excess. Getting up that early to put in that much time doing cardio, then going to the gym to weight train…that sounds like a lot of physical activity for an average person, an average person with at least one young child to take care of. I’ve made training a consistent part of my routine and, up until this injury, I was training with intensity and the purpose of competing. I can’t say that I’ve never done cardio at 4:00 in the morning, because I did back in my running days when training for the marathon I never got to run. So I get that life is busy and you gotta do what you gotta do, but if you’re sick you need more rest!

I first woke up around 5 this morning, rolled over and let myself drift back into sleep. Around 6:30 I woke up enough that I could have got up and begun my day, but I was still so exhausted and sluggish. I laid there for about an hour, fading in and out of sleep, having already decided to forego my morning cup of coffee before the gym in exchange for my laziness. Only now as I replay that overheard conversation, I don’t see my decision to stay in bed as laziness, but rather as self-preservation.

It’s no secret that I’ve been exhausted for months, since herniating my disc. I’m sure there are many reasons for why that is: medication, pain, healing processes, lack of quality sleep, and so on. I’ve made progress in many ways over the months, but I am still not where I want to be. It is easy enough to remember that healing takes time and still easy to forget. Physically I am not sick, but that doesn’t mean my body doesn’t need rest. Healing is hard work. As I did my workout this morning and my new rehab exercises, I was thankful for that extra hour of rest! I left the gym feeling as limp as a wrung out dish cloth; I don’t know I could have made it through all of my exercises without that extra rest.

The moral of the story, I think, is to listen to your body and take time for rest. Rest days are a regular part of my training life, but sometimes your body still needs something more. If you’re sick or injured or simply overwhelmed, cut yourself some slack. Maybe you can skip that 4:00 AM cardio session once or twice in order to get a few more hours of sleep. Canceling one night’s plans for a quiet evening in might be just the charge your battery needs. A weekend walk in nature will refresh your soul more than a Netflix binge session ever could. An early morning cup of coffee on the patio by yourself might be just what you need to ground your day with clarity and purpose. I think the methods are many and uniquely personal.

 

A New Hope?

I am feeling good and hopeful, although good is not equal to normal or pain-free. It is, however, a sense of progress, of turning a corner to see light at the end of the tunnel.

My back was quite achy when I woke up and through most of the morning, but it feels not so bad now, even after working out and doing some housework. The legs still have electric currents running through them when I lie down, along with tingling feet and toes, and always the numbness. And yet, I think I can safely say that the level of pain and tingling has decreased somewhat. When I do my rehab exercises, they feel smoother and easier than they used to be, although they have always been hit & miss depending on the day. My sleep is still broken up by frequent changes to position, but I am sleeping better. Unfortunately, I’m still waking up far earlier than I would like, but I guess that is to be expected when you’re sleeping better and averaging 9 hours a night!

I’m sure it was only a few days ago, maybe last week, that I commented on the slowness of my walk. Lately I have been noticing my pace improving, and the limping is almost non-existent; however, both my pace and the limp get worse after lengthy periods of standing or sitting or when in a lot of pain. So not normal yet but getting closer.

My energy has been improving. Mostly. I still yawn from morning to night. My medications are likely to blame for most of the fatigue I feel, but my productivity levels are increasing. My motivation is increasing. I can feel hope and excitement bubbling up inside of me.

So, what happened?

My thinking is that the recent treatments by my chiropractor are making a difference. Time could certainly also be a factor…it has been 7 months as of today, but these recent improvements seem to have come about rather suddenly. I am pretty sure that I told my chiropractor last week that I wasn’t feeling much of a difference. Then I had my crazy busy and active weekend and came out of it feeling better than expected. I am not the type of person to say that chiropractic care cures everything (and I still wouldn’t say that), but I do believe that having the right people taking care of you, regardless of their area of practice and expertise, makes all the difference. In years past, I’ve seen other chiropractors and would never walk through their doors again, let alone trust them with my herniated disc. I am ever so thankful to have a chiropractic team who are passionate about what they do and do it well.

I am still waiting for a CT scan and an appointment with the pain clinic. My medical leave comes up for review in a month, and I am hoping that the LOA team will approve my return to work this time around. That will, of course, depend on my doctor and his ideas of what I can or cannot do. But I’m hopeful. Nervous about the possibility of pain pushing back once I return to work…but hopeful.

Enter Sandman?

It is two o’clock on this Saturday afternoon, and I desperately would like to have a nap. Sleeping during the day is not something I normally do. I might try to nap, but it seldom works for me. I wonder if I’d be able to nap if I wasn’t in pain while lying down, but then again, if I wasn’t in pain I would probably sleep better at night, wouldn’t need medication that makes me drowsy, and wouldn’t feel exhausted all day long! I’m stuck in a vicious cycle.

My ability to maintain some semblance of sleep for as long as possible has been fading. It’s like the earlier sunrises is connected to my sleep patterns. Despite a bedroom that is very dark with the blinds tightly closed and never sees the morning sun, I have been unable to hold onto sleep beyond six most mornings. Some mornings are earlier. If I am extremely lucky, 6:30 or 7:00 would be “sleeping in.”

I was awake and out of bed by six this morning. Not even a half-hour later, I began to notice a disturbance in my vision which was getting worse by the second. Ocular migraine with aura. I’ve had them a handful of times over the past four years. The visual disturbance part doesn’t last very long; in fact, my vision was back to normal within five minutes. It’s the headache after which is most bothersome. Almost eight hours later and half of my head is still hurting. The headache is moderate enough to be a nuisance but not debilitating.

Despite the headache, I did get out for a few hours with my husband this morning. He had a few little work-related errands, so I tagged along for the ride and the neighbourhood yard sale being held at one of his destinations and we finished off with a stop at Costco. Sitting in the car was painful. Walking through the small neighbourhood was tolerable but uncomfortable. By the time we got back home, I was wiped out and done in. My feet are burning and tingling with shots of pain. Pain is running down both legs from buttocks to ankles: burning, throbbing, crackling live wires.  Muscles are twinging and moving in my calves, hamstrings, and feet. Half of my head feels hazy, pained, and heavy. Closing my eyes for ten or fifteen minutes would be wonderful, I think, and yet, how could I possibly nap through all this pain?

 

Weekend Whimsy

With my days a jumble of really bad, bad, and not so bad, some effort is often required to keep my thoughts all neat and tidy and composed. An idea or thought ignited in the morning is typically lost by the time I have the energy to execute it. In all honesty, my life feels mainly made up of movie quotes and song lyrics which would probably soar over the head of anyone I might share them with. My husband had some errands to run this morning and asked if I wanted to tag along for the ride, so I went. It wasn’t long before I was thinking to myself, “I shouldn’t have come!” Now I am a Star Wars fan, but I don’t know every line of dialogue; however, I am reasonably certain that Luke Skywalker makes a similar comment on the forest moon of Endor. My reason for regret wasn’t due to Darth Vader sensing my presence, but rather the pain and numbness in my legs as I sat in the car. The end of the month and my neurosurgeon consult cannot come soon enough!

So it is the weekend…a long weekend, in fact! Every day is the same for me, more or less. Boredom. Lots of pain. Exercises. Short bursts of tolerable activity. Fitful sleep and too early mornings. There are so many things I want to do but cannot. Today I am going to share a few odds and ends about myself.

  • I drink my coffee black, but I prefer any iced coffee drink with some type of milk.
  • I love yogurt, cheese, sour cream, whipped cream, and ice cream; however, I seldom drink milk.
  • When I am sleeping, I almost always need to have my shoulders covered by the blanket and/or sheet, but if I get a little warm, I will stick a foot outside of the blanket (with my shoulders covered).
  • I don’t mind pineapple on pizza, as long as the pizza is still fresh and hot. Once the pizza is cold, I pick off the pineapple.
  • I love living in British Columbia with mountains and a lake on my doorstep, but I also love the prairies with endless sky and fields.
  • I am a night owl, but I love being an early bird for work. (These days my natural inclinations have no say in anything! I go to bed early, because I’m tired all the time, yet I wake up much earlier than I would like after another restless sleep.)
  • I have always enjoyed having strong fingernails that grow long, but lifting weights keeps my nails short and I’m okay with that.
  • I hate wearing socks. My preference is bare feet and flip-flops; however, I have a rather large collection of fun and funky socks.
  • I have loved English bulldogs for a very long time, since my days of watching professional wrestling and the British Bulldogs. But I am more of a cat owner than a dog owner.
  • I prefer silver over gold, except when it comes to winning medals.
  • A few years ago, I would drink 4-5+ Cokes a day. Since I quit drinking Coke, I find any pop too sweet to drink.
  • I love tomatoes, but I’m not so keen on sun-dried or cherry tomatoes.
  • Peanut butter is okay but I don’t go gaga over it. Mention salted caramel though and I’m all over it!
  • Normally I am a fast walker. These days I hobble slowly. Some days I could even be easily passed by a turtle.

 

Mental Check

When last I saw my doctor at the beginning of this month, he whisked me in and out within five minutes and told me to see him again in two weeks. I left feeling highly doubtful that I would in fact make another follow-up appointment. After all, I’m not exactly happy with my doctor’s interpretation of appropriate diagnosis and care, and I was hopeful that I’d be returning to work, thus reducing my need for continuing the medical paper trail. The best laid plans of Angela fell apart though, when my return to work was denied, especially when I realized that my medical employment insurance coverage is about to come to an end and I might be able to apply for short-term disability through my benefits coverage. Because applying for short-term disability requires more paperwork, including paperwork from my doctor. I wasn’t happy about the need to book a follow-up appointment after all, but it would be better to receive some money over the next few weeks rather than none at all. So I booked an appointment for this afternoon.

As I anxiously waited in an exam room, I was surprised when a stranger walked in the door. It seemed that my doctor currently has a medical student doctor working in his clinic, and she was going to be taking care of me today. And wow! What a difference! Instead of an appointment less than five minutes in length, this doctor spent at least 15-20 minutes with me, and she asked pertinent, probing questions. My doctor only asks how my back is doing without actually hearing what I’m saying, and then he tells me that these things take time. This doctor asked me a lot of questions and listened to my answers. Perhaps the biggest and most important question was, “How is your mental state?”

Now I realize that a med student is generally going to be more thorough in examining or diagnosing a patient, but experiencing it in action today was like a breath of fresh air and I walked out of my appointment with a new prescription, a referral to the chronic pain clinic, my paperwork filled out, and another follow-up appointment. Somehow I’m okay with yet another appointment, which will more than likely be just like most of my appointments. I think I’m okay with it, because this appointment actually felt worth my time and productive.

Back to the question about my mental state…

It was the kind of question that I didn’t want to hear yet also was relieved to be asked. Mentally, I have a lot of really good days, but there are also more than a few tough ones. I knew that I was struggling with low mood, but I’m always reluctant to admit it. Part of that reluctance might be the stigma that often comes with mental illness, while a large part of it is the fact that my struggles are mild to moderate, a far cry from the debilitating depression so many others face. But refusing to acknowledge my own struggle won’t make it go away. I also know that the combination of depression and months of not sleeping well can have a negative impact on healing and how the body deals with pain. And so, I left my appointment with a prescription for a low dose antidepressant that can help my mood and supposedly help me sleep. As much as I dislike taking medication, for the short term it sounds like a ‘win-win’ situation to me.

 

Singling Out Shame

As I laid awake in bed last night, my mind randomly flashed back to a situation I found myself in about a month or so ago. It was the kind of situation that would be quite easy to ignore or glide over, but in chewing it over in my mind last night I was able to talk myself through the awkwardness and the negative emotions which threatened me in that situation. Of course, all of my best thoughts and words were probably used up in the dark of night, but let me try to spit it out now in the light of day.

I don’t know what day it was exactly, not that it matters at all, but we were at Costco, my husband and I. We had wandered the aisles and thrown a few items into our cart before planting ourselves in one of the long lines to checkout. As we were waiting and talking, I noticed a woman in a line next to ours, and I immediately recognized her face. That’s my super power…recognizing faces. It might take me a month to remember where I know a face from, but I remember faces. Anyway, I recognized this person as a friend of a former friend. I don’t know if she recognized me (we had met once or twice before), but I was instantly flooded with anxiety and shame. Our items were scanned and paid for, and we walked out of Costco, while I shoved those feelings into a mental closet and locked the door.

I know why I felt anxious and ashamed when I saw this person, but I didn’t want to spend any time thinking about it. Sometimes we think that shutting painful emotions off is the same as dealing with them, but that’s not how it works. It was easy enough to ignore how I felt in Costco all those days ago, and I could probably continue to ignore that for a long time yet. Until the next time I see someone with a connection to a former friend.

The anxiety comes from the fear of being disliked or treated with disdain, while the shame flows out of the fear of what the former friend may or may not have said about me. The end of our relationship was surprising and odd. The last conversation was confusing and one-sided, as if designed to create shame within me. In some ways, it felt like I was being gas-lighted. As confusing and hurtful as that was to experience, I was able to see the smoke and mirrors, even if I can only guess at the motivation behind them. It was surprisingly easy to move on, but maybe not so surprising given the growth in my self-confidence over the years. Seeing someone connected to the former friend rattles that confidence. Negative thoughts whisper in my ear, questioning what gossip or lies about my character might have been passed on. In actuality, I feel no shame about what happened with the former friend, because I know I did nothing wrong. But I feel shame in thinking that someone might have been told misinformation. Why? Why should I feel shame about that? Why should I feel anxious simply because I recognize a face in a crowd?

I have absolutely no idea if the former friend has ever said anything about me or the end of our relationship to anyone. No idea whatsoever! Quite honestly, I think it is more likely that this person hasn’t mentioned my name at all. Or maybe my name gets mentioned like a piece of trivia or a historical tidbit of information without emotion or explanation. I have no way of knowing, and I don’t want to care about it one way or the other. What is of greater concern to me is the way that I respond emotionally to a situation that I cannot control and is likely not even a situation to speak of, like seeing someone at Costco.

The feelings of shame that I felt in Costco that day were nothing more than lies designed to imprison me. To the best of my ability and with the grace of God, I have peace within myself in the end of that relationship, so there is no need for me to feel ashamed at the possibility of being recognized as someone’s former friend. I don’t need to stress out over what may or may not have been said about me, when I know my own actions and words and attitudes and have examined them most carefully. If some random person has a problem with me because of misinformation…well, he/she can have a conversation with me about it or not. As for me, I don’t have a desire to waste my time fretting over what ifs, and I do not want to be weighed down by misplaced guilt or shame. There may be moments or days when my confidence is battered and shaky, but I know who I am and I know my worth.

And now that I’ve got that off my chest, perhaps the only thing that will keep me awake tonight is the ever-present pain in my legs!