An Attitude of Gratitude

After Christmas, I think my favourite holiday is Thanksgiving. I have felt this way for a very long time, and yet Thanksgiving tends to be celebrated on a very low-key scale. A turkey dinner is usually the extent of any celebrating, and I seldom even bring out the good china for the occasion. While I love a turkey dinner with all that goes with it, Thanksgiving is much more than a statutory holiday on the calendar. As I am laying here with my belly full of delicious food and considering the holiday, I am struck by the personal nature of Thanksgiving. It’s not that we cannot be thankful in community, but I think that thankfulness needs to begin internally. Individually.

A number of years ago, I took up a Facebook challenge to post three things that made me happy every day for a week, and I am still making such posts on a regular basis. Sometimes I miss a day because I’m busy with life or don’t feel like it, but I always come back to it. It is a habit that has permeated the fibers of my being. It is quite normal for me to be making mental notes of my happy things throughout the day, although I do sometimes forget items by the time I get around to writing my formal list. Even beyond Facebook, I make a point of recognizing reasons to be thankful. In my blog. In my journal. In prayers. In conversation. In actions. In attitude.

My life isn’t all roses and honey, and I try not to pretend otherwise. Some days are hard, and some days just suck. But I firmly believe that gratitude is an attitude much more than it is dependent upon circumstances. We cannot always control what happens to us or around us, but we can always choose how we respond to such things. I admit that my first instinct isn’t always positive, not always thankful, but a misstep isn’t the same as giving up. Even on the darkest days, when nothing goes the way I want or the constant pain is stronger than usual, I still make the choice to be thankful for something.

Because gratitude is an attitude. It’s a posture that acknowledges the good in life, because there are a lot of good things out there. As a Christian, choosing to be thankful and looking for positives helps centre my spiritual focus. But even without my faith in the picture, I think there is great value in choosing gratitude as a daily ritual, if only to shift your focus from negative to positive. It has been my experience that practicing daily gratitude can have a profound impact on one’s overall sense of peace and joy. Being thankful for all sorts of things, big and small things, helps to make the painful and ugly parts of life easier to bear. I cannot imagine what my state of mind would have been like during these months of injury if I hadn’t made gratitude my habit a few years ago.

 

Advertisements

A Dark Cloud

An announcement was made yesterday by one of the two powerlifting organizations I compete with. A lifter had tested positive on a drug-test and was suspended for four years. I read the notice with dismay that someone had attempted to cheat. While the number of people involved in powerlifting within Canada continues to grow, we are still a relatively small group. Unless you live and compete inside of a bubble, as a lifter you become familiar with the names of successful lifters. I don’t know this lifter. I don’t know much about him as a person off the platform, but I know his name and the respect he had earned on the platform. I love my sport, and it is always sad to see its’ reputation tarnished due to situations like this.

Then the lifter himself shared his story, and I found my thoughts and emotions becoming even more disgruntled. I respect the fact that he is owning his decisions and his transparency once the violation was discovered. I recognize the shame and upset this has created around him and the outward ripples created by his actions. But I’m shaking my head.

A couple of years ago, he slipped a disc during competition. Healed up a little but competed again a few months later. When things got worse with his body to the point that he wasn’t training and worried he might never compete again, he knowingly took a banned substance in an effort to prevent muscle wasting. He then competed five more times before competing at Nationals in February of this year. Somewhere in there was the drug test which ultimately was his downfall, and now he has been banned for four years.

Strip away the fact that this lifter is stronger and more experienced than I am, and you’re left with two powerlifters in somewhat similar situations.

  1. We both experienced a disc injury in competition.
  2. We have both experienced disruptions to our regular training due to our injuries.
  3. We both have struggled with fears about losing our strength.
  4. We both have questioned our being able to compete again.

Similar situations but different outcomes.

  1. He chose to take a substance that is banned completely and is not even legal for human consumption anywhere. I took medications which are banned only in competition but are allowed outside of competition.
  2. He chose to compete within a few months of his injury, likely before his body was actually healed. I chose to take at least an entire year off of competing in order to allow my body the time and space to heal.

Herniating my disc last November was a major blow for me. I have been in constant pain ever since. I am not sure if the numbness in my left foot will ever go away. I lost 8 months of work. Two years of hard work and checking off prerequisites in order to go to Nationals were wiped out. Not only was I unable to compete at Nationals this year, but I will also need to start from the beginning in order to qualify for a future Nationals, which means I’m looking at least two years from now. I have had many fears and questions about the long-term prognosis for my health and ability to compete. My day-to-day life has been greatly impacted by my injury and the ongoing symptoms. I may not be the same caliber of lifter as this individual, but my experiences with my herniated disc are not all that different from his. I just let go of my ego in order to heal.

I don’t know which cheating scenario is worse: just wanting an edge over everyone else or the unwillingness to accept the repercussions of an injury. The cheaters who feel they need the advantage are easily viewed as ignorant jerks. But this lifter has a young family and appears to be a genuinely nice guy. While I don’t think he was looking for an edge, he still made the conscious choice to put something illegal into his body. When I look back over the past ten months of my own pain and suffering, it is difficult to feel sorry for him and the punishment he’s received. Anyone who competes in a drug-tested sport knows their responsibilities to be clean and the risks that come with failing a test.

When You Fail

These are interesting days, and I’m sure my mind is working overtime trying to make sense of the snarl of thought threads spinning inside my head. This post is likely going to be nothing more than a mind dump.

Good news is that the stiffness and achiness in the low back has settled down from yesterday’s injection, as I figured it would. While it is still too early to discern the effectiveness of the injection, I have not noticed a difference in my pains yet. It’s only been one day though.

This morning’s training session was not what I was expecting or hoping for. I was supposed to do one bench rep at 135 pounds, which would have been a PR of sorts. I haven’t benched that much weight since herniating my disc, and I’ve never benched that weight using a close grip or without an arch in my back and feet on the ground. Last week, I benched two singles at 130 pounds, so I went into this morning’s session knowing that a five pound increase was within my capabilities. But I failed. I walked around and tried to psych myself up for one more attempt. I failed again.

As much as I have enough experience to know that every training session is not going to be strong and glorious, these two failures were disheartening and frustrating. As I was going through my warm up sets, I could tell the goal was going to be tough to achieve. The same weights I had done with ease last week felt heavy and slow. My last two warm up singles at 115 and 125 pounds were both slow and almost grindy. I’m pretty sure that the 125 pounds was slower than last week’s 130. My husband came with me this morning, because I wanted a spotter and that alone was probably an indicator that I wasn’t feeling up to the task. Right before I set up for my first attempt, I instructed my husband to be aware that the bar might move slowly, because I expected it to be grindy. The weight felt reasonable as I slowly brought the bar to my chest, but there was nothing there when I went to push it back up. He told me to walk it off and try again. The end result was the same. Over the past year, I have learned how to grind through a tough bench rep, but I couldn’t even press the bar high enough to be able to grind through it.

My thoughts and emotions are playing tug-of- war over this failure. It has been a very long time since I have failed anything at the gym so significantly. Sure, I’ve had to drop reps or weights or sets because of my injury and the ongoing symptoms associated with it, but that isn’t quite the same as attempting a heavy weight on a main lift and falling short. Every athlete experiences failure, loss, and difficult training sessions; it is a fact of life and part of the journey. I understand it. I accept it. It still sucks to fail, especially when you know that you are completely capable. However, I cannot get sucked into dwelling on the failure for too long. It happened, and there are likely many reasons why: fatigue and the extremely smoky skies and poor air quality being big ones. The fact it happened doesn’t take away from the progress I have made, nor does it indicate an inability to progress further.

While still feeling disheartened with my failure, my husband and I walked around the Farmers Market, picking up fresh local produce and kombucha. I chatted briefly with a fellow powerlifter there and found my perspective changing through our conversation. It wasn’t earth-shattering conversation, but it revolved around competing, taking time to heal or build up, and being determined. Volunteering at last week’s powerlifting competition really stirred up my desire to get back on the platform, but I am committed to taking the time I need to heal and build up before stepping on a platform again. And perhaps that is a factor in my disappointment over today’s bench misses! While I still have pain, tingling, and numbness in my legs, my ability to move and function has improved significantly over the past couple of months and that has me feeling hopeful and excited. My chiropractor’s excitement over my progress and allowing me to re-introduce some exercises into my training also has me feeling excited and hopeful. It’s like I can see light at the end of the tunnel now, even if I still do not have a timeline for healing. So, I think I should be getting stronger. I feel like I should be more capable. I think I am becoming unstoppable. Then I miss a heavy bench rep and momentarily doubt myself.

Sometimes you attempt to lift a weight that you really have no business trying to lift. Well, I don’t think I ever do that, because I have a good coach and listen to what he tells me to do. However, there are ego lifters out there who think they need to ‘go big’ regardless of their capabilities. That is not what happened to me this morning. Bench pressing 135 pounds may not be something I do often, but I have done it a few times over the past two years. I know it is within my ability to achieve. Today was just an off day, and I was reminded of just how insidious the smoke blanketing our province is. Since I work indoors and have limited my time outdoors lately, I didn’t think that I was being affected by the smoke, but maybe I am wrong in that assumption. Maybe that has contributed to the fatigue I have been feeling this week, and that fatigue could very well have sapped my strength today. I haven’t lost my strength, and my physical progress hasn’t gone backwards. That’s good news!

Mamma Mia!

My daughter is going away to college in a few weeks, and I ran straight into that reality last night as we watched the local production of Mamma Mia!

Abby has been dreaming and planning for this year of college for quite a while now, and she has been driving me crazy lately with all of her dorm room shopping and talk about dorm room shopping. It makes me a little crazy, because I don’t like shopping and I didn’t see the need to obsess over it months in advance. Aside from the shopping annoyance, I’ve been pragmatic about her leaving in the fall. I’ve made sure that I have the weekend free to take her to school, and I’ve booked the hotel room for that weekend. Time has kept its steady pace, and I haven’t been oblivious to the speed with which September is approaching, but I haven’t been emotional about it yet. Well, until last night.

There we were at our community theatre to watch the absolutely amazing performance of Mamma Mia! Abby had placed herself between her father and I for the night, which meant she and I shared many glances, nudges, and bits of conversation. We shuddered together over some fashion choices in the crowd. We nudged each other when someone from a middle seat had to get out in the middle of the performance, because we had talked about the tightness of the rows, our preference for sitting on the aisle, and the fact that it always seems to be a person in the middle who needs to get up during a show. During the song Knowing Me, Knowing You, I leaned over to hit her with the “a-ha” of the chorus, and that’s when reality smacked me in the face.

My girl is going away in a few short weeks, and I am going to miss her. The house won’t be empty, but there will be a void. Abby and I have a good relationship, and it is going to be strange to not have her here to speak sarcasm with and to disagree over Captain America and the Winter Soldier. I won’t have someone blessing me for having a pot of coffee on in the morning or understanding the need for chocolate. Instead I will need to make sure the cat gets fed and the litter box cleaned out, but I refuse to FaceTime the cat for Abby. Maybe towels won’t get lost in her bedroom once she’s gone, and maybe my chocolate will last longer.

Because I am who I am, my eyes leaked during the performance from start to finish. The waterworks were especially strong during the song Slipping Through My Fingers. Abby told me after that she had looked over during the song and seen the tears on my face. That made her laugh a bit, at least enough to stop her from getting too emotional. Typical.

My emotional balance has been restored with the light of day. For now. Abby tried to make me cry this morning by playing Slipping Through My Fingers again, but I’m okay. She’s determined to make me emotional about her leaving, and she will likely succeed at some point. That can’t be helped or avoided, but I am not at all sad for her to go. I am excited for her to go and learn and spread her wings.

Not Your Regular Type of Anniversary

Tomorrow is an anniversary of some kind. Although it is most definitely not an anniversary of celebration and could easily be viewed as a reminder of a pain and loss, I feel ambivalent about it. I took some time this afternoon to sit quietly with my journal, something I haven’t done for a long time, and I wrote what came to mind. This pending anniversary has been lurking in the corner of my mind for a couple of days. While my mind does replay that day every now and then, it truly isn’t something that I waste my time or energy dwelling on much. I cannot change what happened, and although the events were hurtful and confusing, I have no interest in trying to rehash, resolve, or return to the past. That’s not my circus, not my monkeys.

As I wrote in my journal, my thoughts swirled around that day, landing only on the final outcome rather than the actual happenings of the day. Most of my focus was actually spread over the past year, the days between July 14, 2017 and tomorrow. I echoed a sentiment I have expressed many times over the course of all of 2017 and thus far in 2018, that it has been quite the year! Tomorrow’s anniversary is only a small blip on the timeline. It might have felt bigger in the moment, but it’s power to hurt me evaporated like morning dew on a hot summer’s day. If nothing else, the months between January 2017 and today have been all about adversity and personal growth. There hasn’t been a whole lot that has gone as planned or expected in this time period, but I’m still standing.

I am being intentionally vague about this anniversary and will continue to skirt around it. A year ago, I felt shame and humiliation although I had no valid reason for either feeling, but that’s not the reason for my vagueness. In a way, I guess I am protecting others by choosing to not speak directly to what happened, and, if I’m going to be completely honest, rubs me the wrong way just a little. It doesn’t seem fair, to not take someone to task for their words and actions, but that is just the way life is sometimes. It’s not always fair. People hurt other people, and sometimes they even feel justified in leaving carnage in their wake. I don’t agree with it. I don’t like it. But I accept that it is what it is and my self-worth is not tied to any person’s opinion of my character. Despite all of the disappointments and challenges of the past year and a half, I have no regrets about anything I have said or done. I know I am strong, inside and out. I know I have only grown stronger through all of the challenges. I have remained true to my character, my nature, and yet managed to grow even more comfortable in my own skin. I think of this time last year with a dispassionate eye, because the events of that day can no longer hurt me. Truth is they haven’t had any power over me for a very long time, but I am a sentimental person who remembers such details as dates and events.

Filling Cups

My husband texted me this afternoon to ask if I wanted to meet him at my Starbucks for a refreshing beverage. Since I had already been to Starbucks a couple of hours earlier, I hesitated but ultimately agreed. A few minutes later, we were sipping our drinks at the bar counter, where I could stand instead of sitting. This is where I work, so I frequently watch what is happening behind the counter, wanting to stay connected and involved even if I’m currently not working, and so, I picked up on some concern towards a regular customer who was sitting outside with friends. I am not usually the sort of person who makes a point of injecting myself into other people’s conversations, but I did this afternoon and I’m glad I did.

Her eyes lit up when she saw me, and she quickly stood to greet me with a hug that she was reluctant to end as she told me that her husband had passed away last night. This sweet couple have been regular customers for as long as I’ve been working there. Alf was always the quiet one, but there was a sparkle in his eyes as if he had been up to some sort of mischief. There had been health concerns for a while, so his passing shouldn’t be a surprise, and yet, there was also the sense that we would present him with his mug of green tea for a long time to come.

It’s not always easy or comfortable to interact with someone who has experienced such a loss, especially so recently, and such situations make me feel incredibly inadequate and awkward; however, I am thankful that I had the opportunity to see Corrine today, to share a bit of her grief, and to simply be a friendly face to hold onto. In her typical sweetness, she introduced me to her good friends and also asked about my own health and potential surgery (the last time I talked with her I was still waiting to see a surgeon). I listened to her share some stories of Alf, some recent and some not. There was laughter in her voice but also grief and loss and sadness. And strength.

I love my job. Mostly I caffeinate people, but I love that I also have the opportunity to nurture and inspire the human spirit, to fill the figurative cup of the people I serve. Of course, not every customer is going to want anything more than their cup of coffee, but we do our job with the knowledge that we have the potential to be something more. It is about connection, and that is one of the reasons why I started working at Starbucks. When you connect with people, even with a coffee counter in the middle, you get excited when a student passes that exam they’d been studying for. You know when someone’s been on vacation or when they’ve been sick. You encourage the teachers as the school year draws to a close. You welcome the snowbirds back in the spring. You listen to stories and share your own. You cry with them when they’ve received bad news. And you grieve when loss happens.

You don’t need to be a barista to experience this connection. People are everywhere, and I don’t know a single person who has their life all together and without struggle, pain or loss. As an introvert, I like my time to myself…I like it a lot; and yet, people need people. People need people who care enough to ask how they’re doing, to simply say hello, to lend a hand or even just a smile. Think about that.

Know Yourself

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

~unknown

 

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

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

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

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

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

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