11 Months

I just received an email indicating that I am now fully back to work with no modifications or restrictions or graduated hours. When I texted my husband to let him know, he asked if this was good or bad news. Overall, I consider it good news indeed! My only hesitation is rooted in the fear of the ‘what if’ possibilities lurking around dark corners. Since I still have symptoms and pain, what if things get worse? As much as I am eager to be free of the modifications and restrictions, they have also been both a safety net and a leash. It has been reassuring to know that I had support and valid excuses to be careful about what I do at work, and it’s also been good to have others keep me in check when I have wanted to do more than I possibly should. I suppose that I won’t truly lose those supports now that I am not deemed a medical risk at work, but somehow having that piece of paper made it easier for me to be kind to myself.

But that’s just mental stuff.

I am quite relieved and excited to be done dealing with the Leave of Absence people. They have been pleasant and helpful, but I am so done with paperwork and waiting to hear what they have determined about my situation every few weeks. There is a thick file folder in my desk that contains almost all of the paperwork and medical receipts for the past eleven months of dealing with this injury. And now that I won’t need to submit another functional abilities form, perhaps I won’t need to check in with my doctor quite so often either!

Although the restrictions are officially over, my doctor has placed a small restriction on bending. This is the one thing that I know will cause me a great deal of pain if I do it too much during a shift. It’s not that I cannot bend at all, but a few hours of constant bending will leave me hobbling and hunched over like a 90 year old woman. I can deal with the limitation. Most of the time. There will be days when I have little choice but to bend often, and hopefully the back will tolerate more over time.

It’s been 11 months today since herniating my disc, and I went on medical leave 10 months ago, not ever thinking that my return to full work duties and hours would be such a long and arduous process. Of course, I also didn’t think I would still be dealing with the injury at this point in time either.

Eleven months ago, I broke a World record with a 253 pound squat. Today I set a post-injury PR with a 65 pound goblet squat. One day. Some day.

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Post-Injury Fear

I did a thing yesterday. Rack pulls. It’s no big deal really, as I have been doing rack pulls since my chiropractor gave the okay a couple of weeks ago. The weight started low with a 20-25 pounds jump each week. The weights and reps leading up to yesterday had felt good, but yesterday’s program had me pulling 205 pounds for five sets of three. Being given the green light to add more exercises to my training makes me happy and excited, makes me feel as if I am stepping closer to being a powerlifter once more, but that’s still a ways off yet. Permission to do rack pulls feels like finding the golden ticket. This is the first time I’ve been allowed to do any lifting resembling a deadlift since herniating a disc ten months ago!

Pulling 200 pounds yesterday was exciting, but I also approached the bar with some trepidation. Feeling the heaviness of the loaded bar during the first set did little to calm the flutters in my stomach or stop the doubts from invading my head. Still, I plugged away at my reps until the fourth set, when I started to feel soreness in my low back and my rhythm broke after the second rep. I tried to refocus to do the final rep, but it didn’t feel right and I stopped, rested, and then completed the final set.

It’s been a long time since I’ve picked up that much weight and doing it yesterday was so exciting, but getting the work done didn’t stop the doubts and fears. The low back felt a bit achy during the rack pulls, and the discomfort I felt increased for a while after and then held. My first instinct was that this was the normal post-deadlift muscle soreness, but lurking in the corners of my thoughts was the possibility of having hurt my back again. This ache didn’t feel quite the same as how the back feels after a day of bending at work, but it’s been so long since I have deadlifted that I wasn’t confident in my ability to discern the difference. What if I had aggravated the disc? What if I had pissed off my SI joints? The pain doctor suspects a joint problem…what if? Did I use too much back and not enough legs to pull the weight? Was I going to have to drop the weight? Would I have to stop the rack pulls completely?

As much as I tend to say that my training has been light and easy in these months since herniating my disc, that is true only in comparison to what my training looked like prior to the injury. Before the injury I would squat and deadlift weights heavy enough to impress my non-powerlifter friends. Some training days would see me moving more than 10, 000 pounds of weight over the course of a work out. With the injury came drastic changes to every aspect of my life. I went from squatting and deadlifting to performing breathing exercises and basic body-weight movements, gradually adding in some upper body work and light weights as healing slowly progressed. Those have been basically simple exercises, and yet, they haven’t always been easy to perform and I have worked very hard to progress as much (or seemingly as little) as I have. Yesterday’s rack pulls seemed like a milestone, or perhaps an important test I had to pass. And while I think I did ultimately pass the test, the taking of it also revealed a weakness.

This weakness is not physical, although I am certainly still healing, still struggling with constant pain and other symptoms in my legs. No, this weakness is mental. It is the fear of re-injury and all that would come with that…more pain, more suffering, more set-backs.

The opportunity to add exercises and weight back into my training is exciting. This is part of the progress I want to see, but I really don’t want to regress. The fact that I am still dealing with pain and a partially numb foot means I’m not keen to make things worse, but I also have to accept that some discomfort and aches will come from taking those forward steps. The stiffness I’m feeling in my low back is most likely simple muscle soreness, because that has been normal for me after pulling and I haven’t used those muscles like this for a long time! There is a measure of comfort in realizing this is probably normal, but that won’t stop the fears from surfacing again.

For anyone involved in a sport, the mental game is just as important as the conditioning and physical training, even more so when coming back from injury, I think. I experienced this on a smaller scale last year when I had issues with my SI joints for the first half of 2017. Recovering from that issue was an up and down affair, and things didn’t always go the way I wanted. I did get through that issue though and was stronger as a result, both physically and mentally. Then I broke a World record and had an excellent competition. I also herniated a disc. I will get through this stronger…again.

Here is an article I saved a few months ago which talks about this same thing:  https://www.girlsgonestrong.com/blog/mindset/overcoming-fear-injury/

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.

Rise of the Machines

Being injured is not my idea of a fun time. If I had broken an arm, I would quite likely be having a cast removed any day now and on my way to regaining strength, but a herniated disc doesn’t necessarily have a predictable and tidy healing schedule. I’d rather have a broken bone or a pulled muscle, a sprain or stitches, or a week long flu. This is not fun.

I feel like two different people. One is the optimist who knows how to dream big and work to achieve it. The other isn’t quite defeated yet but is broken, frustrated, and despairing. I am both people, flipping back and forth sometimes as frequently as a heartbeat.

My training routine since the injury has been little more than rehab exercises. Everything has been careful and slow and simple. I’ve not been allowed to touch a barbell or perform certain movements. While I appreciate the necessity of the rehab and the restrictions, I miss moving some weight and training more like an athlete than an injured person. I might have a World record squat, but these days my prowess is pretty much limited to bird dogs and body-weight glute bridges.

With my training playlist blaring in my ears, I go through my rehab motions fighting an internal battle between determination and despair. It’s an ugly battle of hand-to-hand combat, trenches, and no man’s land. One day a song might bolster my spirits and fan the flames of positivity and determination, while the same song the next day might shoot down my hope in a fiery hail of bullets. The ongoing numbness in my left leg weighs heavily on me. It’s bad enough that I can feel the weakness in that leg and the tentativeness that comes with diminished physical sensations, but the thought of potential long-term nerve damage is rather frightening. Having resigned myself to missing out on Nationals, I have also accepted that there is no specific timeline for stepping back onto a powerlifting platform. Although I have seen some improvements over the past five weeks, my physiotherapist has pointed out that ideally there should be more. My worth and sense of self are not dependent upon being or training like a powerlifter; however, I do still greatly miss doing those things that I enjoy doing in the gym.

I smiled last night when I opened up this week’s training program from my coach. Not only did he put in a reference to the new Star Wars movie opening later this week, but he also changed up my program to incorporate a bunch of machines! This is both exciting and out of my comfort zone. It’s exciting, because machines means I get to use some weight, even if I’m still starting out low and slow. This is potentially uncomfortable and scary, because I’ve never really used machines before! I’ve seen them in the gym, but I’ve always looked at them as strange, wild animals that you look at but don’t touch. I have no idea what they are or how to use them, so I quite literally need to google each exercise/machine before going to the gym. I need to know what machine I am looking for and how to use it properly. That’s the easy part. Then I need to find those machines at my gym. My gym has two floors with machines on both levels. Some are labelled, some are not. But I think I found all of the machines I need for now.

I’m still a long way from deadlifting, bench pressing, or squatting with a barbell, but it was so good to use some muscles that haven’t been used since the injury. The weights I’m using must start off low. I need to take each rep slowly and carefully, but I was able to work biceps and triceps, pecs and delts, quads and hamstrings. It’s been a long time since I’ve had so many muscles quivering from exertion. I felt the effects of a lack of strength training and the ongoing left leg nerve impingement. Standing body weight calf raises…the left calf is weaker and lagging. The same is true of the left hamstring when doing leg curls. Even though my left quad is unaffected by the herniated disc, when doing leg extensions I can still feel a lack of involvement in my left foot, or at least the numb half of my foot. As I’m extending both legs, my right foot feels engaged and active, while the left foot isn’t engaged and feels as if it is merely hanging out for the ride. <sigh> Small weights. Small steps. Turtle’s pace.

Die Another Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Three!

This is how my mind works…

Several days ago already, I was mentally planning and arranging my time between then and my competition, because time seems to be something I don’t have a lot of right now. Today is day 6 of 7 consecutive work days. Two open shifts. Three closing shifts. Today is 10:30-6:30. Tomorrow is another open shift. I knew that I would need to go to the gym on Monday and Wednesday. Monday wouldn’t be a problem, but Wednesday wasn’t looking appealing with a mid shift sandwiched between a close and an open. I like sleep. I need sleep. I am usually drained by the end of my work week, and I am feeling that way already but I’ve got two shifts to get through yet. When would I be able to get to the gym on Wednesday?

Obviously I had two choices: before work or after work. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t thrilled about either choice. Before work would mean sacrificing some sleep after a late night. Going after work would have me scrambling to train, eat, and unwind before getting myself to bed early enough to get enough sleep prior to waking up at 4:45. As unappealing as my choices were, I knew that I could make each of them work. I could get up early and go. I could survive an open shift on less sleep. I can do all of that and more, but I wasn’t happy about it. I’m in the process of water loading, which means drinking a ton of water and making frequent trips to the bathroom. It feels like I have so much to get done before the competition and no time to do any of it before I finish work early tomorrow afternoon. Excuse my little whiny moment!

In my brain I like to look at all the angles and options and then come up with a plan. My plan usually also has options in case I hit a snag along the way. So, I decided that it would be better to potentially lose a bit of sleep last night in order to get to the gym early this morning. I can function on less sleep than I get, but I definitely do not like having my time crunched together at the end of the night, trying to fit everything into a tight space. I was awake at 7:10 this morning and at the gym ready to train at 8:00. Today’s training was super easy, because I am 3 days from competition. I performed all three lifts: squat, bench press, and deadlifts. At 50% for 3 single reps. Twenty minutes later I was finished without even breaking a sweat. Everything moved well and felt good.

Shortly I will be on my way to work. Hopefully it will be a day that seems to pass quickly, because I definitely feel exhausted and it wasn’t from the gym. But at least now I only need to worry about eating, drinking more water, and unwinding in the 2 hours between finishing work and crawling into bed!

5 Days!

Competition is in five days, yet it sometimes feels still so far away. I am so excited and nervous and aware of every little ache and pain and twinge in my body. As long as those aches remain minor annoyances…this is normal at this point in time. The biggest area of concern is my back, especially since last Friday’s day of pain for no apparent reason. Since then the back has been okay, and I say that tentatively. While the pain is gone it leaves a palpable presence lingering in the shadows, which has me figuratively holding my breath, waiting for the back to explode and destroy my hopes and goals for this competition. So far, so okay.

Today’s training session was relatively easy, although not nearly as easy as Wednesday’s will be! The hard training work has been done. This morning I did all three lifts, working up to my openers or thereabouts. I worked up to a 225 pound squat, a 120 pound bench, and a 270 pound deadlift. Generally I think everything moved fairly well. My back is still intact with no explosions or implosions yet. The other achy body parts just have to be accepted as part of the family for now.