A Little Less Conversation

Conversation is not where my strengths lie. I can exchange casual dialogue with a stranger, a customer, an old acquaintance bumped into in the unexpected places. I can plaster a smile on my face and respond pleasantly, graciously, even when dealing with the obnoxious, the slimy liar, or the downright creepy. While I can generally navigate these conversational minefields, the process can be mentally exhausting and damaging. A statement that strays too close to personal might hit a soft target or stir up lingering fears and doubts. Even when the conversation isn’t quite so perilous, there is always the strain of needing to be on, to have a response or reciprocal question.

It is seldom simple or easy to be an introvert in our extrovert-focused culture, and I find myself frequently at odds with how I think and feel compared to the expectations impressed upon me. I relish quiet and solitude and being left to my own devices, and yet, there are instances when I enjoy a little bit more noise and a few more people. Being on a leave of absence for almost 2 months has meant that I have had more time of solitude than is typical for me. (Except for around Christmas! With the holidays and sick family, I had no space, no quiet, no solitude.) Days and weeks of being stuck mostly at home have made me feel isolated, bored, and restless.

I left the house yesterday and surrounded myself with people. Mostly, it was good…good to get out, good to see people and even talk to a few, and good to return back home to safety. In the course of being with people, a brief conversation was begun with a couple I do not know well at all. It wasn’t a bad conversation, but I found myself glad and relieved to have had it interrupted and abandoned.

The brief conversation moved rapidly from exchanging hellos to an inquiry into the state of my back. As is frequently the case when I have been in the midst of a conversation I wasn’t prepared for, replaying it in my mind later is like watching a pinball game in the hands of an expert. I say expert, because that is the only way I see the little ball bounce and ricochet and speed through the obstacles. In my hands, the ball shoots up, around, and straight through the hole at the bottom. Anyway, I am not adverse to talking about my back, my injury, my love for powerlifting, etc. and so on, but I don’t enjoy wasting my breath and enthusiasm speaking about something that another has no interest in listening to or understanding. Differing opinions are okay, but a closed opinion is not.

I was quickly asked if I was going to return to lifting weights. Before I could even open my mouth to respond, someone else spoke for me with absolute confidence in the correctness of the statement. I would not ever be able to do the things I used to do! How does one even begin to respond to such a statement in the course of an extremely brief conversation that really allows for nothing more than exchanging pleasantries? And this is one reason why I do not enjoy such little, forced conversations! Either you fake a connection by exchanging hellos and maybe a tidbit about the weather or some similarly benign topic, or you jump in with both feet into a conversation too deep for the moment leaving at least one party feeling more alienated than they had been before.

I am an easy-going person, eager to please and easily pleased. I have no trouble whatsoever being told what to do by certain individuals for specific situations. I listen to my boss. I listen to my spouse. I listen to my health care practitioners. I listen to my coach. I listen to those who speak with wisdom and experience. Do I always make the right choices? Probably not. I am human, after all; however, I do strive to make good choices based on what is right and best.

It’s been almost 3 months since I herniated my disc, and I am closer to “normal” now than I was even a few weeks ago. There is no specific timeline for healing this type of injury, and I think it would be foolish to even attempt to create such a timeline. Every body is different and so are the injuries and healing. I want to heal well and properly, which means that I am trying my best to listen to my body and to my health care team. Do I want to continue to lift weights? To compete in powerlifting? Yes and yes. I can be honest in admitting that I do not know what I do not know. When will I be able to compete again? Don’t know. When will I be able to put a barbell on my back again? Still don’t know. Will I ever be able to challenge my own records? Nope, don’t know. But not knowing is not the same as accepting that it will never happen!

As much as I haven’t enjoyed these past few months of being injured, I have been purposeful in allowing myself the time and space to heal. My leave of absence ends in two weeks, even if the process of healing will continue for an undetermined length of time. I have taken the pain medication that I hate taking. I have gone to my physiotherapy appointments and faithfully done my physio homework. I have continued going to the gym, walking past the heavy weights, and immersed myself in the safe, gentle, and back-friendly exercises that I have been permitted to do. Sometimes I have chafed under my limitations, but I have never once believed that life as I knew it is over now that I have hurt my back. I know how to work for what I want. I know how to claw my way out of the muck and fight for my goals. It is my intention to lift heavy weights again and to step back onto a powerlifting platform, so I didn’t appreciate being told that I would never be able to do that again.

Let me clarify that last bit. I didn’t appreciate being told that I would never be able to do that again by someone without the proper credentials. The person who made the statement has apparently experienced a back injury of their own at some point in time, and obviously that person’s life has never been the same again. That’s fair! I can appreciate that perspective, but I don’t think it is as simple as that. What kind of back injury? What kind of treatment to heal? How proactive in allowing healing to take place? There are all sorts of questions that would need to be answered before I could give weight to such a statement based upon an experience. My own experience with this injury would be rather different if I didn’t seek treatment promptly, if I didn’t take a leave of absence from work, if I didn’t follow my physiotherapist’s protocols, and so on. So no, if you want to tell me point blank that I cannot do something, then you’d better have more behind your statement than personal experience.

I want to lift weights and powerlift again. That’s my goal. That’s the plan. However, there are a few people in my life who do have the proper credentials to influence my plans and goals. If one of those people were to tell me that I should not, then I would at least listen and give serious thought to what they had to say and the reasons for saying it. Would I like it? Probably not but that would be a conversation worth engaging in.

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So This is Christmas

I slept well enough last night, but it was also uncomfortable thanks to the multiple pillows necessary for maintaining a back happy sleeping posture. Unfortunately, the pillow positioning changes depending on which side I am sleeping on, and I’m not always awake enough to remember to change the pillows when I roll over. As such, I was awake around 6:00 this morning and coffee has since replaced the blood in my body.

Gifts have been given and opened. For those who know me, there is no surprise at the nature of the gifts that I received. Star Wars. Wonder Woman. Wine. Coffee. Journals. Fun socks. A puzzle. I am so easy to buy for, so easy to please and excite. And as difficult as my boys are to buy for, I think I can safely say that we managed to find gifts that they actually enjoy and will use!

Food is always part of Christmas. After we open our gifts, we have brunch. My husband makes most of it, while I contribute by making some mini frittatas. Normally I am adequately planned and prepared, but my life is not currently normal in many senses of the word. It wasn’t until we were ready to make breakfast that I realized I couldn’t find my old recipe, so I winged it. For the first time in all the years I’ve been making these, this was the first time that the frittatas didn’t stick horribly to the muffin pans! Go figure.

After brunch, the only other meal of the day will be a big dinner with turkey, ham, and all the fixings. The space between meals is left for grazing on nuts, chocolate, and whatever other goodies are laying around.

Games are always a big hit at Christmas, and we added several to our collection today. I think three new games have been cracked open and played already. Having young adult aged children means that time all together becomes increasingly more difficult to find, but it warms my heart to see our little family having fun together.

For the past several years, my husband has had the tradition of giving the kids new Nerf guns at Christmas, and there would always be a massive Nerf gun battle after dinner. This year my husband decided not to get any new guns. One child nearly freaked out upon learning that there wouldn’t be new Nerf guns under the tree. It might be safer for the bystanders tonight!

Christmas Day always means the Doctor Who Christmas special, and I’m looking forward to today’s episode as well.

On the subject of entertainment and Christmas, there is some disagreement in the family as to whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie. My husband and I say it is, while the kids disagree. What do they know anyway!

It’s cold and grey outside, but we’re warm and cozy inside. I wish we had a fireplace, but we don’t. That’s okay though. I have my heating pad that I can enjoy as I recline between periods of standing and activity. The legs are buzzing with electric currents…nothing new there!

So that’s a snapshot into our Christmas. It’s low-key compared to some people’s and likely extravagant compared to others. We are far from rich, but we are richly blessed. I am thankful for all of our blessings, and I am learning to be thankful for those things that are not easily seen as blessings. Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, I hope that this is a season of love and joy for you!

Eyes & Ears

It’s day 4 of my ‘end your year intentionally‘ questions, and I have decided to skip this particular question.

4. What’s your biggest win this year?

I felt as if I have already answered it when I talked about my most recent and successful powerlifting competition. There is no doubt that this competition was my biggest win of 2017, and I’ve talked about that in varying degrees of detail several times. So, I’m going to jump ahead to the next question.

5. What did you read/watch/listen to that made the most impact this year?

What have I read this year? I am someone who loves reading. I am a bookworm. However, my reading tends to go in cycles, which means I can burn through a bunch of books in a short period of time and then not touch a book for months. When I am struggling physically or emotionally, I also tend to read less, and 2017 was a tumultuous year. Sometimes I go on a non-fiction rampage, while other seasons are all about the fiction.

I did pick up Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, which was a sequel to one of my all-time favourite’s, To Kill a Mockingbird. Did it have an impact on me? I don’t know yet, and I suspect that this book will require several reads before feeling wholly immersed in the book.

I got myself a copy of The Gift of Injury, which will probably be the most impactful book of the year for me. Since I am in the midst of my own injury involving my back, this book is extremely insightful with loads of information to absorb and implement in my recovery and return to lifting weights.

The question of what I watched this year that had the biggest impact is an easy one to answer. The Wonder Woman movie. No doubt about it! I have been a Wonder Woman fan since I was a little girl watching Linda Carter on the television. I wanted to be Wonder Woman. This movie was, in my opinion, simply amazing. During my first time watching it, I bawled from the very start until the final scene. I hadn’t expected to be so overcome by such powerful emotions while watching the movie. Yes, I am a sentimental, emotional person, but this reaction was something deeper. The movie was empowering and inspiring. I could ramble on forever trying to explain how I feel about the movie, but I don’t have time for that right now.

As for what I’ve listened to this year? Not so easy to answer. I don’t listen to the radio. I don’t keep up with what’s trendy or Top 40. My iTunes contains a mix of music, yet it barely contains a fraction of what I like. A good deal of my playlists contain music that I listen to over and over again, like my gym playlist. For a song to be worth purchasing, I need to feel some level of connection to it. Sia’s Unstoppable has been powerful and impactful. So has Imagine Dragon’s Believer. Although I have no musical skills to speak of, music speaks to my soul in a language that no one else can speak. It has the power to encourage, to motivate, to inspire and challenge.

Enjoyment

Continuing the end of year reflection theme from No Side Bar that I began in yesterday’s blog post …

2. What did you enjoy doing this year?

2017 has been a difficult year for me in so many ways. What did I enjoy doing this year? That’s a question that requires grinding mental gears and peering deeply into the dark corners of my memories.

Yesterday I mentioned celebrating my 25th anniversary with my husband, and our little celebratory holiday was definitely something I enjoyed doing.

My most recent powerlifting competition was also highly enjoyable.

This summer when I changed my gym and my coach, I stepped out of my comfort zone into unfamiliar and potentially scary territory. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if I would thrive or even like what I was doing. As an introvert, it is not easy for me to dive into the unfamiliar or place my trust in someone I don’t know and doesn’t know me. At the time of the coaching change, I had already been through months of struggles with my SI joints and low back and a disappointing competition. My confidence in my ability to overcome those struggles and regain strength was a little shaky. Despite my struggles, doubts, and nerves, I can honestly say that I have enjoyed the change and the process.

It wasn’t easy to step into the unknown like that, but a small part of me was glad for the challenge. My doubts and fears resurfaced every week as I would receive my new program, yet a part of my spirit soared at the prospect of squashing those doubts. In the gym as I put in the work, the load sometimes felt heavy and hard, but I did it and I took joy in the results. Those months of uncertainty and challenge were enjoyable! It sounds odd to say that, but it is true. I enjoyed it, because I grew through the challenges instead of being destroyed by them.

This year I have also found enjoyment in the company of family and friends. Celebrating birthdays. Family holiday gatherings. Graduation. Escape room success. Celebrating successes. Cards. Texts. Notes. Christmas bake day with girlfriends. Grey Cup party. Homemade gelato. An impromptu dinner out with friends. Musical theatre. A heart-to-heart over wine with a best friend. Many of these instances are of little consequence in the grand scheme of a year. As a lover of words and authentic relationships, these small instances add up to a whole lot of love and affirmation.

Chaos

“It was her chaos that made her beautiful.” ~Atticus

2017 is rapidly drawing to a close, which turns my thoughts both inward in reflection and outward in anticipation. I like to give myself a theme and a bunch of goals for each year. My theme for 2017 has been Powerfully Beautiful, but I’m afraid that I haven’t felt like this has been applicable for most of the year. The year has been full of various struggles and challenges, many revolving around little injuries and a big one, most recently. It is this recent injury that has the potential to cause the most chaos in my life, and I cannot imagine that chaos being beautiful in any way, shape or form.

Although the pain is generally tolerable now, it still fluctuates quite wildly. I had two good night’s of sleep, then last night happened. I slept well enough, but I also experienced more aches and pains in my back than I had the previous two nights. I went to the gym this morning to do my rehab exercises, but the pain in my back was enough to make me cut some exercises short or out completely. For the most part, I’ve been able to do these exercises without much discomfort in my back, and really these rehab exercises are supposed to easy on my back. Most of my pain or discomfort while exercising has been in getting down on the floor or up off the floor, so today was disheartening. Since I cut the exercises short, I thought I’d spend some time on the treadmill. I could only manage a speed of 2 mph. I tried 2.5 mph but could barely handle it for just over 50 metres. My initial goal was to walk for 10 minutes, but then I changed the goal to completing 2 laps or 800 metres. My hands had a vise grip on the handles for almost the entire walk because of the pain in my back.

My mood feels as fragile as my back these days. Grumpy. Moody. Liable to dissolve into tears. Frustrated. Dejected. Hopeful. Resigned. Weak. Pathetic. Useless. Not powerful. Not beautiful.

For all the progress of the past month, it is still incredibly slow. The ‘surgery’ word has now been uttered, although that does not mean I will require surgery, only that I should get a referral and begin the waiting process in case it is. The physiotherapist made a point of saying that they generally like to see more progress by this point, and I can’t argue that, especially when he re-tests the reflex in my left Achilles tendon and finds none.

I just feel broken. In more ways than one.

The Green Grass Proverb

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence is an old saying that warns against the folly of thinking others have things better than ourselves. It’s a lesson in making assumptions about appearances which would seem to reveal our faults and short-comings. Despite the popularity of the phrase, it can be easy to fall into the trap of looking at our neighbour as having a better situation than ourselves. Lately I have been twisting that phrase inside out with a different perspective: the grass isn’t always greener on my side of the fence. Or, the grass on the other side of the fence isn’t necessarily more in desperate need of water, sunshine, and TLC than my own!

It has now been 4 weeks since I herniated my disc, and I am still living with numbness and varying degrees of pain. Despite a reduction to the hours in my work week and modifications to my activities and tasks, I am still finding work to be extremely taxing on my body. I came home from work last Thursday night in so much pain that I almost cried myself to sleep. Actually, the tears soaked into my pillow as I wrestled with the physical discomfort and the emotional upheaval born out of dread for another painful work shift the next day and decisions I could make to help myself out. Once or twice in the early days of my injury, my boss had asked if I wanted to take a medical leave, but I demurred. As I laid in bed Thursday night (or early Friday morning), I had to consider the possibility.

When I broached the subject with my boss the next day, I was still somewhat reluctant to take a leave. She asked me what was standing in my way. There are 2 things. Firstly, I don’t like to let people down, and secondly, I don’t like to ask for help. That’s it in a nutshell.

I don’t want to leave my co-workers scrambling to cover my absence. Being a key-holder makes filling that gap a bit trickier. It’s not an insurmountable obstacle, but I really don’t like to let people down.

It’s the asking for help part that is the big one here. Taking a medical leave may not be asking for help in the strictest sense, but it does make me feel weak  and incapable which is tantamount to asking for help. This is where my mind has been turning the ‘grass is always greener’ phrase inside-out.

I don’t feel like I should need to take a leave! I mean take a look at me. Well, I guess you can’t see me through a computer screen, but my point is that, unless you know me well, you wouldn’t necessarily see that there is anything wrong with me. Even those who do know me well would have to look carefully to see cracks in my veneer. Over the course of a day, my ability to walk will vary considerably. One minute I can walk with almost no limp at all, while the next minute will have me hobbling like a 100-year old lady. Mostly I look normal, so I feel guilty for wanting/needing time off work to heal. I am in pain, yes, but less so than I was in the first week or two of the injury. Things are improving…even if not even close to as fast as I would like. There are people much worse off than I am! And that is where I think my grass is greener than on the other side of the fence. Why should I need special care for my injury, when there are so many people suffering and struggling with illness and injury so much worse than mine?

It has been pointed out to me by a few people that I need to take care of myself first, that I am not doing myself any favours by continuing to push myself to go to work when it is causing me such difficulty. As difficult as it is for me to admit to weakness, I do see the wisdom being spoken into me. I need to take care of myself, which includes allowing myself the opportunity to heal properly so I can resume a normal life. Failing to do so will only prolong my suffering and negatively impact all areas of my life. Acknowledging my own injury, pain, and current limitations is not about comparing myself to anyone else. Each person’s suffering is valid and real, even if of no importance to anyone else.

So I have made the decision to seek a medical leave of absence, but first I need to get a doctor to sign off on the paperwork in agreement. Obviously I am not keen on seeing my family doctor after his erroneous dismissal when I first went to him with this injury, so I will return to the walk-in clinic where I received better care along with the referral for physiotherapy. Part of me is so skeptical of the medical system that I am half-afraid of meeting with resistance to the idea of a leave. I can hear the arguments against it in my head. Why not reduce your work hours? Why not just find ways to accommodate your limitations within the workplace? Thankfully I have answers for those questions! I have been working fewer hours for the past 4 weeks. I have made as many modifications to my tasks as I am capable of making. I have already been making my best efforts to avoid doing anything I cannot or should not do with this injury…but it simply isn’t enough! My job isn’t in the same league as someone in construction or some similar type job, but my job consists of so much bending that I cannot avoid it all. There is no value in paying me to stand there for hours each day, but even something as simple as preparing one beverage for a customer requires me to bend and lean and twist in ways that are subtle but take a toll on my body in it’s damaged state. My job cannot be modified any more than it already has. As much as I don’t like the idea, I need some time off work. I love my job, but I do not enjoy how I have dreaded each shift lately, knowing the pain I’d be in through the shift and after. Although I am in much less pain than I was originally, there is a significant increase in the pain when I’ve been working. I need to take care of myself first.

So, while the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side of the fence, please don’t think that you are wrong to put extra care and attention on your own lawn. Especially not when it comes to your health!

The Brain Game

In a way it seems odd to think about the fact that November is almost over. I mean, wasn’t it just yesterday that I had the best powerlifting competition of my life?! Well actually that was on November 4, slightly more than 3 weeks ago now. What happened to all that time in-between?

One positive of rapidly inching towards December is that NaBloPoMo is almost finished, and so far I have been successful in the challenge of blogging every day in November. Some years this is a real struggle, whether for a lack of blogging material or an inability to remember to blog. This year hasn’t felt nearly as challenging, although I guess it helps that I have an injury and subsequent rehab to chronicle. Still, thinking of something to blog about on a daily basis is downright taxing.

My mind feels like it is going at full speed these days. This isn’t too far from normal for me, but it seems to be more of a nuisance these past few weeks. I’m not sure if this is merely the result of having more time on my hands than usual, but it is entirely possible. The injury has resulted in a reduction to my work hours for a bit, and I am unable to do a whole lot with all this unexpected free time. Housework is falling by the wayside, and my physical activity level is sorely hampered. Over the past few weeks I have had two completely sleepless nights. The first was due entirely to pain and the inability in the freshness of the injury to find comfort in any possible sleeping position. The second occurrence was just last week and had nothing at all to do with pain or comfort; it was all an inability for my brain to shut off long enough to fall asleep.

Ironically, on that second sleepless night, I was aware that my brain wasn’t shutting off; however, for the most part, I wasn’t actively thinking of anything. Of course, the conundrum of lying in bed wide awake is that eventually your mind will meander down rabbit holes for lack of anything else to do and you can seldom control which holes it dives into. My thoughts that night, or early morning, briefly settled onto a subject that is quite a few months old and water under the proverbial bridge, and yet, I felt anger as I laid there that night. My mind rehashed situations and conversations, and I felt quiet anger at the injustice and all that was wrong about that situation. I allowed myself to feel the anger, let the emotion swirl within and focus my thoughts but only for a short time. Sleep is important to me and especially right now as I am healing, so I know the futility of allowing such negative thoughts to run amok in the night. I entertained them then closed them up tight inside a box, but I still could not sleep. My thoughts did not return to those negative rabbit holes, but the brain was still actively churning, looking for something to grab hold of instead of succumbing to slumber.

Last night I lost a couple of hours of sleep to the brain once again churning and active without any traction. No thoughts to speak of. No emotions to drag about. Just a wide awake brain wanting something to do that wasn’t sleep. Thankfully I did fall asleep, even if much later than I had planned. Even during my non-busy moments of the day, I will often find my brain racing ahead, fracturing into a dozen or more pathways at the same time. It’s rather messy and problematic, and it makes me a little more emotional than I might like. That’s just the way it is right now. But all those thoughts cannot be blogged about. I’m looking forward to December 1st.