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.

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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.

Windows

windows

I took this photo of my kitchen window this afternoon. The left side of the window makes me happy, while the right side leaves me feeling annoyed. I washed the windows in my kitchen and dining room yesterday, but the slider on this kitchen window proved too challenging for me to remove. At first, I couldn’t even figure out how to remove the slider, because this window is only two years old and not the same style as the others. Once I did figure out how to remove it, I quickly realized that I simply shouldn’t. This window is right above the sink, which means I would need to stand on a stool, bend forward, and awkwardly lift the heavy pane over the tall faucet. The old me wouldn’t have a problem tackling this task, but current me has a low back injury which makes the task more challenging and potentially risky. Since I also cannot figure out how to remove the screen, the outer pane of glass on the slider remains grimy until my husband has time to remove it for me. A similar situation applies to my living room windows. Although I washed the insides yesterday, the outside needs to wait for some male assistance.

I do not enjoy having my vision distorted, not by a dirty windshield, window or a smattering of raindrops on my eyeglasses. Even when my husband is driving and I am a passenger, I have been known to reach over and activate the wipers, because my husband is not bothered by peering through raindrops. I like to see where I am going. I like to see clearly whatever is before me.

With spring finally here and green things popping out everywhere, I find my vision frequently turning to my now clean windows, where I can clearly see the yellow blossoms budding on my maple tree. But that one dirty window taunts me. It is a reminder that I am figuratively peering through grimy glass as I try to see what the next few months have in store for me. When will the constant pain end? When will my doctor finally send in the paperwork that was requested three weeks ago? When will I get an appointment with the neurosurgeon? When will I actually be able to return to work? When will I be able to resume real weight training? When will I be able to compete again? I have no answers for any of those questions, and, for all my asking and wondering, no answers can actually be given to me by anyone. All my swipes at this dirty window only succeed in making it more difficult to see through, which means I must wait for clarity of vision. It’s not easy to do, but there really isn’t any choice.

So, I will enjoy looking through the windows that are clean and clear, watching for the first signs of leaves on the maple.

Sifting Knowledge

The art of knowing is knowing what to ignore. ~Rumi

I like to know things. I want answers to the questions why, how, when, where, and who. There is a thirst for knowledge that sends me searching for answers, for wisdom, for a broader perspective. And yet, I recognize that not all of the knowledge I seek is of value or for long-term storage. This is why I love history but would struggle to rattle off specific dates. The dates aren’t nearly as important to me as the actual events and themes. As a teenager, my knowledge of professional wrestlers was amazing. I could tell you a wrestler’s real name and all sorts of interesting tidbits. That information is no longer relevant to me, so most of that data has long been lost or erased. Without even being aware of what I was doing, I have been practicing the art of knowing for a long time, but lately I have been struggling in knowing what to ignore.

Since herniating a disc last November, I have heard and read all sorts of information on such injuries and how to treat them. To say that there is conflicting information out there would be an understatement, and it is enough to make my head spin.

  • do not squat with a barbell
  • do not deadlift
  • do not stop squatting or deadlifting
  • get traction
  • traction is an out-dated treatment
  • take this medication for pain
  • do not take that medication
  • you will never be able to do weight training again
  • you will be able to do weight training again
  • hang upside-down by your knees
  • use an inversion table
  • don’t use an inversion table
  • walk
  • swim
  • see this physiotherapist, sports trainer, chiropractor, massage therapist, etc.
  • don’t see that physiotherapist, sports trainer, chiropractor, etc.
  • take these supplements
  • eat these foods
  • don’t eat those foods
  • do back extensions
  • don’t do back extensions
  • don’t sit
  • don’t stand
  • don’t lie in bed all the time

The list is long and continues to grow. Some contradictions actually do make some sense. Back extensions are a common rehab exercise for disc issues, so it makes sense that they are recommended and prescribed. I was told to stop doing them, when it became apparent that the extensions were being more harmful than helpful in my situation.

Other contradictions make sense on the surface but not always practically. The don’t sit, stand or lie down theories are such an example. If I sit, I hurt. If I stand, I hurt. If I lie down, I hurt. What does that leave me with? I avoid sitting as much as possible, but not sitting requires that I either stand or lie down. So, what’s a girl in constant pain to do?

Then there are the contradictions which leave me confused and unsure of what I should do. Things like don’t deadlift versus keep deadlifting or get traction versus traction is out-dated and ineffective. My brain has been chewing on these things, hoping to find discernment and clarity where there is none. I’ve been scouring the internet, reading articles and opinions, listening to the voices of those I trust, those I do not trust, and those I do not know well enough to as yet determine their trustworthiness. Despite all my searching for information and wisdom, I honestly feel no closer to what is best and true for me and my situation.

It seems as if everyone has an opinion on what to do for herniated discs, whether through their own experience, their medical expertise, or the ego of being an expert on everything. I am usually quick to recognize the ones speaking from their egos, and their advice is swiftly sifted and the chaff discarded. Personal experience can be a great teacher, so long as you remember that each person and body is unique and one approach won’t necessarily work for everyone. I am eager to hear about the experiences of others with a similar injury, because there is comfort in knowing others have traveled a similar path and perhaps you can learn something new. But when another’s personal experience runs counter to what the professionals have told you to do or not do, how do you reconcile that? Ignore your health care team? Discard the personal experience? That decision is made more difficult when the personal experience or contradictory directions comes from someone who also has professional knowledge.

As the days inch towards the 6 month mark, I feel like I have learned a great deal about disc herniations. Causes, symptoms, rehab exercises, treatments, surgical procedures…I have read all about them over and over again. But I still feel lost. Sometimes I even feel caught between invisible opposing forces. On one side is the force of out-dated and old-fashioned thoughts and practices, the attitude of reacting rather than being proactive, and a system that places proper steps and protocols over proper care. The other side is completely opposite. Modern techniques, forward thinking, constant learning and adaptation, proactive and holistic care. I lean heavily towards the modern ways, but I am forced to endure the plodding steps of the old-fashioned side of medical care, which then results in being pulled in two different directions at the same time. It’s hard to listen to both, but the way our medical system works I have little choice. It’s confusing and frustrating, and it leaves me feeling as if I’m little more than a guinea pig at times. Wouldn’t it be nice if an injury was exactly the same for everybody with a one-size fits all band-aid solution?

 

The Invisible Woman

I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they only see my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.  ~Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man, 1952)

Someone at church this morning made a comment about seeing me in the flesh. I can laugh at that statement and accept that there is some truth within the joke. Since injuring my back last November, I have withdrawn, pulled back, skipped out or avoided situations and sometimes people. Although I know that I am the one responsible for withdrawing, there are many moments and days where I simply feel invisible.

Going to church has been one of my biggest challenges through all of this. A church service involves periods of standing and sitting, and both activities cause me pain and physical discomfort. I cannot merely sit through the entire service, as prolonged sitting will inflict tremendous pain well beyond the completion of the service. Standing through the entire service is typically quite painful at the time, but a period of reclining at home after the service will usually succeed in reducing the stress on my back. Reclining brings leg pain, and that is often more tolerable than the back pain of standing or sitting. Alas, there are no recliners at church. So, despite my enjoyment in attending church, I often need to weigh the reward against the pain. After all, it is difficult to focus on a sermon, while pain is rising to the level that causes your body to shake, desperate for relief. In the past five months, I have missed a lot of church, and so I can understand the comment about seeing me in the flesh.

Yet somehow, even when I go to church and suffer in silence, I feel invisible. Sure, there might be the odd interaction with other people, a brief exchange of pleasantries, but mostly I enter and leave as one unseen. And mostly I’m okay with that. After an hour or so of standing, I am desperate to get home to put myself into a reclined position, to exchange one source of pain for another. Although it often seems as if I don the cloak of invisibility willingly, there is still deep within me a longing to be known, and, in the isolation of injury, I cannot help but feel like that circus sideshow head without a body. I might be seen, but the image seen is a far cry from the real me.

I pop into my workplace on a regular basis, welcomed by my co-workers, and frequently talked to by regular customers, and yet, I feel disconnected, out of the loop, and alone. My life revolves around so very little these days, weeks, months. I go to appointments with doctor, chiropractor, and physiotherapist. I go to the gym three times a week and do what I can do. I do grocery shopping in small, manageable bits, and housework falls into the same category. Sometimes I go for a walk, but mostly I alternate between short periods of standing/walking and reclining. It is a routine that chafes and feels more like a prison than a vacation. Or more like solitary confinement.

This will not be forever. I cling to that truth, for these many days of feeling stuck have the power of a black hole to snuff out light and life. Invisible I may be at times, and sometimes I prefer it that way.