Not Quite Yet

I was looking forward to returning to work next week. When I first admitted that a medical leave of absence would be of immense benefit to healing, I honestly had no idea how long I would be off work. The initial leave was two weeks, but I realized that it wasn’t going to be enough and asked my doctor to approve a longer leave. I still had no idea how long, so I was surprised when my doctor told me to take another 8 weeks which would see me back to work after February 12th. After being home for 2.5 months, I was mentally ready to get back to work, and I was hopeful about being physically ready with a few accommodations. At the end of January I submitted the necessary paperwork from my doctor to head office and began preparing for a return to work.

The leave of absence people finally responded to my submission yesterday, and I was informed that they were unable to approve my return to work based on the restrictions noted by my doctor. I could rant about my doctor, but I won’t. While I may not agree with everything my doctor put on the form, I also cannot deny that the majority of the restrictions are reasonable and appropriate. Still, I wasn’t expecting to be denied and it stung. Instead of returning to work next week, I remain on leave until mid-March and will need to see my doctor for an updated abilities form. Once again I feel like I am letting down my co-workers, because I know they were looking forward to having me back as much as I was looking forward to being back.

I didn’t see that lemon being hurtled my way, but I can be quick on my feet sometimes. It’s almost easy to see the benefits of remaining on medical leave for another month…

  • no need to wake up at 4:00 AM
  • I can continue wearing nail polish
  • I can continue wearing yoga pants almost exclusively (because belts and jeans seem to aggravate my back)
  • I can watch as much of the Olympics as I want
  • I no longer need to dial back my training at the gym in anticipation of an increase in pain the first few weeks of being back to work
  • another month off means that I will have another month to focus on healing and regaining strength, flexibility, and mobility
  • winter might be over by the time I get back to work
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Stronger Than I’ve Ever Been

I didn’t have an amazing sleep last night, but it was okay…the best it has been all week. That could be due to the fact I took 900mg of Gabapentin last night instead of the 300mg I have been taking lately. I do not like taking medication, so I severely cut back my daily dosage a few weeks ago when we realized that the nerve was stuck sending pain signals. In fact, there has even been the odd day here or there when I haven’t taken any pain medication. I know that skimping on pain medication isn’t always an intelligent decision, but I seldom claim to be smart.

My back was quite sore and achy yesterday, actually all week long, so I had no intention of not taking some pain medication. As I opened the bottle and shook out a single capsule, I remembered that I was allowed to take three capsules at a time, even three times a day, if necessary. As I shook out two more capsules, I wondered why I had been so insistent on limiting myself to one capsule a day. Because I hate taking medication and being dependent on it! But still…if I’m experiencing pain that is consistently impacting my day-to-day life, then why not help myself out? I still chafe against the idea of taking more pills, but I also need to accept that I might need to use them for a while yet. Even if I only take some in the evening in the hopes of experiencing real sleep. Okay, so real sleep won’t magically appear because of my pain medication, otherwise I’d have been sleeping all along, but you get my point. Right?

The back was still quite achy and sore when I woke up. I was also still groggy and slow and tired, but I planned on going to the gym in the morning after eating breakfast and “waking” up. I ate breakfast. When I decided it was time to get dressed and head to the gym, I felt the ache in my back and considered NOT going to the gym. I could go later in the day. I could go tomorrow. I really didn’t feel up to going today. Those thoughts flashed through my mind in the span of a minute, and then I got dressed and went to the gym.

My training session was good, solid, and I felt strong. I maxed out my reps on a number of sets and exercises, and where I didn’t max out I still increased my reps. Even on the arm exercises that are usually tough and weak, which isn’t to say that they weren’t tough today because they still were. Strength was just there today, and so was the mindset that I will get up again.

If you knock me down I get up again I get up again Born unstoppable I get up again Now I’m stronger than I’ve ever been ~ Kaleena Zanders

 

This is Me

A big, bad ass powerlifter shared a bit of his story on social media yesterday. Although I do follow his account, as is often the case of social media, I didn’t see the post until my coach tagged me in the comments. The reason he tagged me was immediately apparent. This big name, successful Canadian powerlifter had shared a small glimpse into his “broken back” experience in 2010. He mentioned the long, hard road back to the platform, the pain, the unsatisfactory workouts, and the permeating doubts about ever being able to compete again. Then he went on to talk about his first two competitions back and how much he loves the sport of powerlifting. He even dared to say that his injury was the best thing that ever happened to him and that he came back better than ever in every way possible.

I read his words last night as I was reclining in my living room, feeling self-pity along with the pain coursing through my legs, and the tears ran down my face. Of course, it didn’t help that I was watching This Is Us. For the record, that is not a good show to watch when you are already feeling down and emotional! But, despite the tears, I did feel hopeful and encouraged.

It is easy for me to put on the happy face during the day. Even though I am bored and restless, I can putter about the house or walk in the mall or go to the gym to do my unsatisfactory workouts. My left leg and foot are still numb, but walking and moving are generally beneficial. I can easily feel it in my back when I need to take a break and get off my feet. It’s easy to feel hopeful and positive when I’m upright and mobile.

It is in the “getting off my feet” that the shine fades and darkness moves in, because laying down brings instant pain to my legs. This pain varies in intensity, sometimes mild and other times intense, but is constant. It is as if the act of laying down plugs my body into an electrical outlet which then sends currents of electricity throughout my legs. My daytime lay down sessions are uncomfortable enough, but somehow the setting of the sun only elevates my sense of frustration, self-pity, and despair. In the safety of my home and the silence of the night, I am at my lowest. That is when I am most vulnerable.

As is frequently the case, I slept horribly last night and struggled to pull myself out of bed. But I had to get to the gym. Given my current situation of volatile emotions, little sleep, pain, and unsatisfactory workouts, there are many days where I simply do not feel like going to the gym; however, I am thankful that going to the gym has been an activity that I enjoy and have faithfully scheduled into my life from the beginning more than 4 years ago. I might not feel like going some days, but the gym is an appointment with myself that I rarely miss.

I went to the gym this morning, feeling tired and reluctant and not so excited. Today’s program had an awful lot of upper body/arm work, like the kind of arm work that I am not good at and makes me feel weak. I started off with my physio exercises to warm up, then I hit the incline chest press machine. I suck at incline pressing at the best of times, and the weight I’m using is hardly worth mentioning it is so low. But in the midst of my sets, a song came on my playlist that shifted the direction of my attitude to North. The song was Invincible by Sia. I love this song, but this morning I felt the words sink into my skin like water on parched soil. As I soaked in the words, I found myself pushing just a little bit further than I thought I could go. Over the course of my workout, some of my rep numbers weren’t fantastic, but I still mostly managed to push that little bit more. Except for the leg curls. There is something going on with my left hamstring/knee that isn’t feeling super great on the curls and a few other movements. It could be related to the nerve and numbness issues in that leg, or it could be something else. I don’t know but will point it out to my physiotherapist again on Friday and my chiropractor next week.

What am I trying to say here? I am not sure.

Injuries can be debilitating beyond the physical aspects. An injury can be just as traumatizing on the emotions as it is on the body. Just as my pain levels fluctuate, so do my emotions. It’s bad enough to be in pain, to have physical limitations, and to have emotions run amok, but then there is the sense of isolation to make one feel truly lost. Although I am so not a social butterfly, I do enjoy the social connections of my job. Being off work, I am missing out on those connections. I feel disconnected from my job in so many ways beyond just going to work each day. Not being able to sit without pain means I need to be extremely choosy about going out for dinner or a movie. The inability to sit with the inability to remain standing for hours on end means being extremely selective about my involvement in many other social opportunities, like going to church or a gathering with friends.

There is the pain, the emotional upheaval, the isolation, the loss of previously enjoyed activities, and then there is the mental haze of medication. I am taking three different medications to help with the pain and supposedly to let me sleep. Well, sleep is still problematic and the pain seems largely unchanged on the drugs compared to when I was not on them, but I do have the wonderful side effect of feeling permanently tired and often in a mental fog.

Each day is unique. There is much that seems unchanged from day to day…the numbness, the pain, the lack of sleep. What does change each day is my attitude, my emotions, my perspective and outlook, my fears and doubts, my confidence. Yesterday was a gloomy day. Today is brighter. This journey through injury is not one I wanted to ever travel, but here I am. Today I feel some hope that I will get through this to be better and stronger than before. Today I feel hopeful that I will look back at this time and say that it was the best thing that ever happened. I might not feel the same way tomorrow, but I am going to grab hold of today’s hopefulness and drag it along with me through each new day like a toddler’s favourite blanket. I can focus on the good, the small steps forward, and wrap myself up in that blanket of hope on the days when nothing seems right in my world.

46 Years

“The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.” ~Ashley Montagu

Today is my 46th birthday.

I hadn’t given much thought to the day or what I might want to do to celebrate. As I have been dealing with my injury for the past two months, my attention has been focused more on pain and recovery than on an impending birthday. As 2017 drew to a close, birthday thoughts did start to run through my mind; however, those thoughts were like mist. It’s bad enough that my birthday is during the awkward post-Christmas/New Year’s bustle. The weather can be iffy. People are exhausted from the holidays, or they are out of town or still hosting company. And then there is the sickness that always seems to make the rounds over the holidays! Even if I had wanted to make something out of my birthday, my plans would have been defeated by the illness inside my house. I’m not sick but almost everyone else is.

I went to the gym this morning, both excited and nervous about new exercises in my program for the week. As is often the case with a new exercise, the weight was left for me to choose and I chose cautiously. It’s been some time since I last did these types of exercises, but they felt better than I thought they might and I actually upped the weight on a couple of them.

The rest of my day was hardly worth commenting on…recline (while wincing in pain), putter around the house aimlessly (limping actually), drinking coffee, drinking water, nibbling on food, watching my son fold the laundry that he washed (bless him), watched the US lose to Sweden, more reclining, more puttering, ate pizza and cake, and watched Canada beat the Czechs. Real exciting, right! And all this while my husband and daughter moaned, groaned, coughed, ate soup, slept, and blew noses. Happy birthday to me!

But the day hasn’t been horrible. It may have been less than I hoped for, but it was still an okay day. My phone was alive with the sounds of Star Wars. I received plenty of birthday love on Facebook and Instagram.

Lemons in Shades of Grey

With the year being still fresh and new, I have seen quite a few social media posts announcing the start of new goals and/or the first workout of the year. Such posts are equally encouraging and depressing to me. It is good to see people pursuing fitness goals or striving to improve their health, and I applaud those efforts and encourage them. But for me, in this current season of dealing with a herniated disc, it can be a struggle to keep my grip on positivity from slipping. Sometimes I simply feel frustrated. Frustrated with my limitations. Frustrated with the slowness of recovery. Frustrated with being unable to do…normal. My normal. I’m not just talking about at the gym. I am bored and restless. I have oodles of time on my hands, but there are limits to what I can do.

Although I was given a program for last week, I told my coach that I wasn’t going to do all of it. In fact, I didn’t go to the gym at all last week. There was Christmas. We got a lot of snow. My car is on the brink of death. And I just had a rather painful week. I did my rehab exercises at home and that was it. I enjoy going to the gym, but it was a mental struggle to get myself there today for my first “workout” of 2018. I went through the motions, occasionally feeling some rust from the week off, but mostly I was acutely aware of the numbness in my foot, the weakness in my calf, and the currents of pain down my legs. It’s not that my activities were doing harm, at least I don’t think they were, but then again, I don’t honestly know.

Not knowing seems to be what I do best these days. Every time someone asks me how I’m doing, I don’t know what to say or how to answer the question. Am I doing better? Yes. I think so. In some ways. In many ways I am moving better. I feel like I could do a lot of things that I probably shouldn’t actually do yet. But there is still so much that isn’t right and good and normal. The numbness. The lack of reflex in my Achilles tendon. The pain. No one can see those things, but I feel them. I walk with the sensation that three of my toes are swollen and twisted because of the numbness. I lie down and immediately have ripples of pain and muscle spasms radiating from my butt all the way down both legs. Sure, I can tolerate the pain now, but it is unrelenting. I go to bed with the pain. I wake up with the pain.  I want to be better, but I don’t know when that will happen. The pain in my legs feels a bit stronger today. The numbness has felt a bit worse for the past couple of days. I have to call my doctor, but I am dragging my feet, knowing the futility of such a task.

If you’ve never had such a back injury, can you fully understand what a person is going through or feeling? I don’t have an answer for that, although I can say that I can now admit that I would never have completely understood prior to my own injury. I look normal and whole, so why shouldn’t I be able to pick up a heavy bag of garbage, shovel snow, or even sneeze without bracing and fear. I’ve been living in yoga pants, because somehow wearing jeans bothers my back. I am in danger of being mistaken for a sasquatch, because I haven’t shaved my legs for 8 weeks. That’s not from winter laziness; it’s too painful to sit in tub or to kneel/bend over in the shower. Sigh.

Today is just a gloomy day or a day full of lemons, and I don’t particularly want to make lemonade today. The lemons will still be here tomorrow…

Worry

6. What did you worry about most and how did it turn out?

Worry is an odd thing for me. I tend to carry a lot of figurative weight around on a day-to-day basis, things like worry and stress; however, the weight of such things isn’t always heavy. For example, as a mom I had worries for my son when he traveled to Thailand recently. This was his first time undertaking such a lengthy and distant trip and without the presence of family or a large group. I am not naive about things that can happen when traveling (or at home). Although I did worry for my son’s safety, the worry was not heavy or consuming. I went about life without dread or fear. While I appreciated the bits of contact that my son made with me during his absence, I was not dependent on them to have peace of mind. I held worry in my hands but was at peace with the situation. This is how I respond to stress and worry over many details of life. I can feel the inner disturbance yet quickly regain solid footing. My natural inclination is not chaotic or dramatic but calm and rational. Mostly.

As for worry that weighed heavily upon me, I suppose I can pinpoint two situations.

1. A friendship ended this year. At the time and still to this day, I don’t really understand what happened there. The type of worry that eats away at you only lasted a brief period of time before I reclaimed my peace and solid footing. That short period of anxiety and doubt and worry was horrible, not so much for how it made me feel but for the sense of impending loss. I am often slow to open up to new people and cautious about who I allow into the deeper levels of relationship; however, once someone has been granted access and makes the choice to accept me, I invest in the relationship and value it greatly. When a treasured relationship ends, it hurts. There is confusion and uncertainty. Worry…about so many things! What did I do wrong? What did I say? What didn’t I do right? What didn’t I say? Those questions and doubts can attack with brutality, leaving you bruised, battered, wounded, and forever scarred.

Thankfully, my confidence and knowledge of self has grown stronger over recent years, and I was able to discern truth from fiction and weigh my worries accordingly. The friendship was gone, but I was not destroyed. I think I’m stronger now.

2. The other big worry for 2017 has been and continues to be my back. My back has been through a lot this year. This current disc herniation makes my earlier SI joint problems look like a walk in the park. Tomorrow will be 7 weeks since I herniated my disc. There has been improvements. I even think there continues to be improvements, but they are slow in the coming and not always consistent from day to day or even hour to hour. I am not in screaming, agonizing pain on a scale of 100 out of 10…thank goodness! But there is still pain. Too much standing/walking and the numbness in my left leg/foot increases, pain shoots down both legs, and the back hurts/aches/throbs. When I lie down I can feel the shock of electric currents traveling down both legs. There are moments when I feel almost normal, except for the permanent numbness, but such moments are brief and sporadic. I am so weary of this injury.

In the early stages of the injury, my worry was mild. In my ignorance of what was actually wrong with me, I was still optimistic that I’d be back to normal soon. When I was made aware that I had actually herniated a disc, that little blob of worry transformed into a giant black hole that sucked all the joy, peace, and hope out of me. I was worried, and this worry was heavy. As the days and weeks progressed and my recovery progressed so slowly, that worry began to crush my soul. Knowing that discs will eventually heal wasn’t enough to allay the worry. The lessening of the pain wasn’t enough either. The continued presence of numbness and the later addition of pain and numbness in the other leg only fed the worry I held inside. I’ve cried a lot of tears. The worry has been all encompassing. I’ve been worried about how my injury impacts my ability to do my job to the level that I am accustomed and that I desire to attain. I’ve been worried about how my injury impacts my co-workers who have had to cover my short-comings and my absence. I’ve been worried about my limitations in doing basic, every day stuff around the house. Worried about the limitations in my ability to train at the gym the way that I enjoy most. Worried about my future in powerlifting. Worried about the financial impact of this injury. Stress over the process of applying for a medical leave and employment insurance. The worry about my short-term and long-term health has been heavy. Even the process of seeking medical care is riddled with worry and stress. This worry has taken a heavy toll on me.

I am still dealing with this injury, tripping my way through recovery and medical care, and slogging through the muck of emotional distress. I am still worried, and I do not yet have resolution to this problem. I am still injured. Recovery is still in progress and hazy. There will still be a financial impact for months to come. There is no sneak peek into the future. Uncertainty remains. So does worry.

But the worry is less consuming now and I feel more hopeful than I did a week or two ago. I am far from where I want to be, but I do know how to put one foot in front of the other in order to take a step forward. I know how to work hard to reach my goals. I know what it feels like to struggle, to feel challenged in a task, and to succeed. I know failure, too, but I also know how to pick myself up again. Worry isn’t done with me and my disc and I don’t know how it will turn out yet, but I know I will be okay.

 

Gratitude

The third question on the list for ending your year intentionally is:

What or who is the one thing or person you’re grateful for?

Regardless of what my year has looked like or how I feel about it, I am always grateful for the people in my life and I have long been in the habit of expressing gratitude for things, big and small, on a daily basis. Thankfulness is part of who I am, and I could go on for days expressing all that I am grateful for over the course of the year.

To choose one thing or person is a difficult task, so I am going to approach it as a group result. Have you ever watched a boxing match? When the bell rings to signal the end of a round, the boxers go to their corners where they are tended to, coached, supported and encouraged. Cuts are tended. Sweat is wiped away. Water is provided. The boxer has people in his corner. I am not a boxer, but I know what it is like to have that kind of support and I am grateful for all of it.

1. My husband! He lets me do all these crazy things and willingly spends countless hours at my competition, most of which is just waiting for my turn to lift. He cheers me on, encourages me, and takes video for me. He has been at 8 of my 9 competitions, missing out on one only because he was still recovering from hip replacement surgery. It was odd not having him at Provincials this year, and I know that I felt the loss of emotional support when that competition didn’t go as well as I had hoped. I am glad that he was there at my most recent competition. When I broke the World record for my squat and emotion was bursting out of me, being wrapped in his arms was a wonderful feeling. Now that I am injured, he is still supportive. He encourages me when I feel troubled by worry and despair. He has my back. He loves me.

2. My chiropractor! I visit my chiropractor with some regularity as I put my body through a lot. He helps keep my body functioning as well as it possibly can, but he doesn’t just twist and crunch me. He seldom fixes me up without also giving me practical skills and advice to help keep my body working well. On occasion, I am also blessed to receive words of wisdom or encouragement that nourish my spirit and soul. In my eyes, my chiropractor is more than just a health care professional…he’s also a friend.

3. My coach! Perhaps coach should really be coaches, since I have had two different coaches this year. My previous coach got me started in powerlifting and played a big role in my journey. Even though he is no longer my coach, I cannot discount his part in my story.

My current coach and I are still in the learning each other stage, I think, but I have already experienced good things under his programming. Although I no longer have the direct, real-time contact with a coach while training, I still feel supported, encouraged, and challenged by my new coach. When I started with him this summer, I was recovering from another problem with my back or SI joints and hadn’t been in powerlifter mode for several weeks. I had the November competition on the horizon, and my coach took me through training on a level I had never done before…and it worked. I could hear his encouraging comments as I was on the platform. My injury has changed the nature of my training again, but I know my coach has my back!

4. My friend Sienna! For my competition in November, I needed a handler. This was only the second time that I have needed to find someone to help me out at a competition, because that role was usually covered by my coach. My daughter was my handler at Westerns last year, and my friend was my handler this time. She was probably quite nervous, uncertain as to what to do to support me, but I think she did a great job. I have competed enough that I know what I need to do and when to do it, but it is always nice to have someone there to chalk the back, offer encouragement, and remind you what you’re capable of.

5. My physiotherapist! This is a recent addition to my support crew thanks to my injury, but I feel confident in his abilities and treatment. I tend to be highly cynical when it comes to doctors and many aspects of “health care”, so I am always grateful to find medical professionals who are not stuck on out-dated methods and systems.

6. My friends, co-workers, and family! These people have cheered me on every step of the way, through thick and thin, weight cuts and water loads, disappointments and frustrations, sore muscles and all my back struggles. When I’ve had success, they’ve celebrated with me.