In The Moment

When I pull my brain back from tomorrow and my heart from yesterday, I live with joy today.

(I came across that quote somewhere a while back, but I have no idea who originally said or wrote it.)

It’s been a weird week. There was the unexpected follow up appointment with the neurosurgeon and a couple of surprise announcements that are going to take some time to process and accept. After a deload week in my training, I began this week expecting a fresh training week feeling strong and fresh, but that never quite materialized. At the gym on Wednesday, I wanted to throw a kettlebell through a wall, because the back was so achy and uncomfortable, and I cannot always avoid feeling frustrated and stuck. I had no anger or frustration issues at the gym today; however, my mood was drooping and I simply felt tired and weak.

I didn’t sleep well at all last night, probably the worst night in a while now. Sleep has been tricky since the start of this injury, but the past few months has at least allowed me to settle into a reasonable, functional rhythm of lying awake, falling asleep, lots of tossing and position changes, and a few wakeful periods. Last night had plenty of tossing and position changes and lying awake…not so much sleep though. It wasn’t all due to the physical symptoms. The brain was racing for the first hour or two, twisting problems into knots before unraveling them to start over again, but the brain did eventually quiet and settle. Still no sleep. Despite the central air-conditioning and bedroom fan blowing, I felt too hot, too uncomfortable. The lack of sleep probably didn’t help me out at the gym this morning.

Although I stopped taking my prescriptions more than a month ago, I still have them. Lots of them actually because the last refill had been a big one. In all the time that I was on the medications, I never felt like they made a difference in the pain or symptoms, which is why I stopped taking them. I hate taking medication, but there are moments when I pause to consider the vials on my counter. What if I was wrong about the impact they made on the pain I felt? As much as my current pain levels are a far cry from what they used to be, I am still in pain. All of the time. It sucks. It saps energy and life from your body. It eats away at you from the inside and wears you down. Most of the time I can look beyond the pain and discomfort, but there are moments, sometimes days, when that is difficult to do. I think today is one of those days. Perhaps most of the week has been like that, and certainly my body is still re-learning and adjusting to being back at work, even if with limited hours.

I am tired, frustrated, and hurting, yet the day was not all gloom.

I got to go to the gym today! Although this injury has significantly impacted my ability to train as I would like, I am still of the mindset that going to the gym is a positive. My body might not always enjoy working out these days, but I am always glad to be able to do it.

My youngest son came by today. Sure, he was only here to pick up some mail, but that’s two days in a row I got to see my baby boy.

It’s far too easy to allow pain, fatigue, and low mood to throw road blocks in front of any sort of productivity I might have planned, but I managed to get a few things done today.

I laughed. Not the fake laugh one does when being polite but genuine laughter. Mostly at my own expense and that’s okay. It was still the sort of laughter that lessens the weightiness of whatever is sitting on your shoulders. And I didn’t laugh alone, which only increases its’ potency.

I finished off one book and began another. You would think that someone who had been off work and essentially idle for seven months would have read plenty of books, but the pain was too distracting and my head too foggy to focus on written words up until recently.

 

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8 Months, 7 Months

I’d like to say that tomorrow is the day I have been anticipating for seven months, but the truth is that my seven months of medical leave were more necessary than I could have imagined back in December. Sure, I was hopeful about returning to work in December, February, March, and April and disappointed when it didn’t happen, but my desire to return to work was firmly based on emotion. My body, however, was relieved with every delay in going back to work. So in reality my body has only recently begun to fall in line with my emotions, and I feel confident that now is the best time to go back to work.

It’s not the ideal time, but one cannot always wait for something that might not ever be. Ideally, all my pain and nerve-related symptoms would be completely gone by the time I return to work. Tomorrow will be 8 months since herniating my disc, and I still have symptoms and pain. Only the severity has changed. Everything I feel these days is tolerable but annoying. Tolerable but constant. Tolerable but still impacting my daily life. I hope that things will continue to improve. I hope that there will come a day when I have no more symptoms, but I don’t know when that will be. Or if ever. I strongly suspect that even if  these symptoms do vanish, they will show up again from time to time. I cannot wait for someday.

I return to work tomorrow, but I will have a graduated return for the first month or so. I feel good about it and realistic. My body will most likely not be as thrilled with resuming work activities as I am. Tomorrow is supposed to be a gym day for me. With a short work shift in the middle of the day, I will need to go to the gym sometime after work. I am going to play that by ear, knowing that I might be physically done in by the end of my work shift and that I have flexibility with the rest of my week to get the training in. Continuing to be smart by listening to my body is kind of the name of the game.

Self Worth Project

I am having a love/hate relationship with summer this year, or more appropriately perhaps, my issue is related to my body more than the weather. Although my favourite season is Fall, I really do enjoy Spring and Summer, when warmer weather means bare feet, shorts, and tank tops instead of fuzzy socks, jeans and heavy sweaters. But I have been feeling dismay and disgust increasing along with the temperature outside, and my feelings are firmly rooted in my physical appearance. I know better than to focus on the scale, a size, or the image reflected in my mirror. I have fought that battle before and come out victorious, yet here I am again. Still.

Hurting my back has impacted my life in many ways and for much longer than I ever thought possible, so I also understand and accept that I will be in a state of “recovery” for quite some time and in many ways. My activity level has been severely hampered for months. Not only have I been unable to train for powerlifting or with significant weight or intensity, but my every day activities of work and life were wiped out. When you add months of medication with a weight-gain side effect, it really shouldn’t be surprising that I’ve gained some weight and look like a potato.

Now that the hot weather is here, I am finding it difficult to ignore the weight gain. I cannot easily hide under layers of loose clothing anymore, but finding cooler, comfortable clothing that doesn’t make me feel like a potato is almost impossible. After nearly eight months of wearing leggings and yoga pants almost exclusively, one of my biggest moments of panic about the possibility of returning to work soon is wondering how I am going to fit into work-suitable clothing again. Although I am a long way from being pain and symptom-free, every bit of progress and improvement makes me feel excited and hopeful that I will be back to normal again soon. Perhaps I get too excited in my expectations of being back to normal, thinking that it should have happened last week even though today might have been the first “good” day in a month. Sigh.

I also know that the only one who is actually critical of how I look is me. Even if someone were to mock my body, my confidence in myself is solid enough to see through the bluster and discard the garbage, but it isn’t so easy to stop insulting myself. Isn’t that the way it usually goes…being our own worst critic?

As I continue to heal, I know that I will return to work. I will regain strength and conditioning, and my weight and body composition will change. I know this to be true. In the here and now though, between the moment of injury and the day I am completely normal again, my confidence in the truth is often shaky. This isn’t where I thought I would be. This being less than isn’t who I want to be. In all honesty, I think this frustration of not being who I was is the ultimate source of my disgust with myself now.

Worlds Delayed Reaction

The International Powerlifting Federation’s World Championships just wrapped up today in Calgary. Before this injury, I held the wild hope of making it there myself. Of course, my hope wasn’t based on anything more substantial than wishful thinking, because I am far from the strongest woman in my age/weight group in Canada. Even if I hadn’t hurt my back and had been able to compete at Nationals, I still wouldn’t have qualified for Worlds and I knew that would be my reality. That’s okay!

I had all the time to watch the Worlds this year, but I honestly didn’t make the effort. I watched several highlight lifts posted on Facebook and Instagram, but I didn’t tune in to watch the livestream. I love competing. I love watching powerlifting and cheering on other competitors, but my heart just wasn’t in it to watch this one and I’m not sure why.

Powerlifting, for me, hasn’t even been on the rear burner this year; it is a pot that won’t be put on the stove for some time yet to come. Yes, I want to get back to powerlifting, and sometimes I feel that itch more strongly than others. Last Friday’s training began with heavier sets of close grip bench press, and I felt like a powerlifter as I carefully wound my wraps around my wrists. Midway through my sets as the hands got sweaty, I put some chalk on my hands. The combination of chalk and wrist wraps and several reps of heavyish weight almost made me forget the fact that my back was flat on the bench, my feet were on the bench instead of the floor, and my grip was close instead of wider. But that feeling of still being a powerlifter didn’t erase the currents of pain that pulsed through my legs as I lay on the bench, nor did it remove the permanent numbness from my left foot. As much as I want to squat, bench, deadlift, and step onto a platform again, my body just isn’t ready. I’m okay with that.

Powerlifting is something that I do and enjoy doing, and I’d like to continue doing it for a long time to come, which means being patient and smart. I’ve been a pretty good patient, doing the right things and making the best decisions to promote healing and recovery. I think part of making those best decisions is being selective with where I focus my attention. Watching Worlds wouldn’t necessarily have been a bad thing…it just might not have been the best thing. I cannot find any other words to explain myself, but even then I think that’s okay.

Resting

I overheard a bit of conversation between two women in the change room at the gym this morning. The older woman had asked how the younger woman was doing which brought up recent struggles with either allergies or a cold, as well as the fact that her young daughter had been sick for several weeks previously. More rest was suggested by the older woman. The young woman pointed out that she didn’t typically stay up very late; however, she also said that she routinely gets up at 4:00 each morning to go do her cardio before returning home to resume her day. I am at the gym three times a week between 8 and 10 in the morning, and I see this young woman in the weight area almost every time. I don’t know if this woman is a stay-at-home mom or if she works outside of the home in addition to caring for her child (or children), but it sounds as if she is a busy person. The conversation ended with the young woman going to do her workout, while the older woman finished changing to leave.

Hearing that this woman gets up at 4 AM to do cardio makes me wonder what kind of crazy she is! I’m kidding. Mostly. Training and/or going to a gym wasn’t part of my lifestyle when my kids were little, but I understand that people sometimes do need to plan life at odd hours to make things happen. It’s not so much the time that amazes me but rather the excess. Getting up that early to put in that much time doing cardio, then going to the gym to weight train…that sounds like a lot of physical activity for an average person, an average person with at least one young child to take care of. I’ve made training a consistent part of my routine and, up until this injury, I was training with intensity and the purpose of competing. I can’t say that I’ve never done cardio at 4:00 in the morning, because I did back in my running days when training for the marathon I never got to run. So I get that life is busy and you gotta do what you gotta do, but if you’re sick you need more rest!

I first woke up around 5 this morning, rolled over and let myself drift back into sleep. Around 6:30 I woke up enough that I could have got up and begun my day, but I was still so exhausted and sluggish. I laid there for about an hour, fading in and out of sleep, having already decided to forego my morning cup of coffee before the gym in exchange for my laziness. Only now as I replay that overheard conversation, I don’t see my decision to stay in bed as laziness, but rather as self-preservation.

It’s no secret that I’ve been exhausted for months, since herniating my disc. I’m sure there are many reasons for why that is: medication, pain, healing processes, lack of quality sleep, and so on. I’ve made progress in many ways over the months, but I am still not where I want to be. It is easy enough to remember that healing takes time and still easy to forget. Physically I am not sick, but that doesn’t mean my body doesn’t need rest. Healing is hard work. As I did my workout this morning and my new rehab exercises, I was thankful for that extra hour of rest! I left the gym feeling as limp as a wrung out dish cloth; I don’t know I could have made it through all of my exercises without that extra rest.

The moral of the story, I think, is to listen to your body and take time for rest. Rest days are a regular part of my training life, but sometimes your body still needs something more. If you’re sick or injured or simply overwhelmed, cut yourself some slack. Maybe you can skip that 4:00 AM cardio session once or twice in order to get a few more hours of sleep. Canceling one night’s plans for a quiet evening in might be just the charge your battery needs. A weekend walk in nature will refresh your soul more than a Netflix binge session ever could. An early morning cup of coffee on the patio by yourself might be just what you need to ground your day with clarity and purpose. I think the methods are many and uniquely personal.

 

The Wall

For as long as I have been on medical leave from work and barring conflicts with medical appointments, my habit has been to do my work outs first thing in the morning. In the handful of years that I have been training, my regular schedule has seen me working out as consistently as possible through the inevitable changes in my work and life schedules. I have never grown accustomed to training only at one time of day and would usually have both morning and late afternoon training times each week. Since being off work for an extended period, my schedule has only been hampered by the ongoing medical appointments and my own mental or physical state. With the odd exception, I have been training in the mornings since being on leave.

Over these past months, my definition of “first thing in the morning” has generally seen me arrive at the gym between 8:00 and 9:30. These days I seem to be waking up by at least 6:00, but I am really not mentally prepared to hit the gym before 8. A few months ago, I had trouble dragging myself out of bed at 8:00. I am not certain which scenario I like better. I am generally more of a night owl than an early bird; however, my work schedule over the years has enabled (or forced) me to adapt to being functional by 5:00 AM. But these months of pain, lack of sleep, and medication have left me dragging my butt around as much as I am wide awake. I go to the gym in the morning, because I know I need some sort of routine and because morning is still better than later in the day when I will have definitely crashed.

Over the past few days, or has it been almost a week already now, I have begun to feel more hopeful that positive things are happening in my body. My chiropractor seems to have nailed down a plan of attack that is making a difference in how I’ve been feeling these recent days. There is still burning, electric current-like pains down the backs of my legs from buttocks to calves. There is still numbness in my left foot and small toes. The back still feels achy at times. However, I am now actually experiencing moments without tingling in my feet, which is a huge thing! My doctor gave me the okay to stop taking my medications, since I have never felt that they were actually helping. I might still have a ways to go before I am normal, at least it seems like we’re finally making progress.

At the gym this morning, I started off my training program with some bench press. It wasn’t a maximal weight, and the rep range wasn’t crazy. Aside from some shoulder issues which have been lingering for a while now, my bench press felt good today. I’ve been doing seated machine rows for quite a while now, at least when it doesn’t bother my back, and those felt decent this morning as well. The remaining workout was a struggle, even though I’ve been doing the same exercises for weeks and had been having solid results recently. The shoulder issues affected the band pull-aparts, so that I had to return to a thinner band than what I used last week and spread the total reps out a bit more evenly. Dumbbell curls and prone incline dumbbell shrugs both sucked. I hit the wall!

I am used to training “tired” these past seven months. It isn’t uncommon for me to yawn frequently through my workout, despite having a cup of coffee prior to heading out to the gym. But hitting the wall this morning was something different entirely. It wasn’t merely a case of being physically or mentally tired; I literally had nothing in me. I managed to get a few reps done each set, but I was well short of what was called for. I don’t like leaving reps on the table, but I also haven’t figured out how to magically make reps appear out of nowhere! I might be able to grind out a tough rep once in a while, but when the first rep of the first set is almost too much, there’s something else going on.

So what’s going on? I don’t know. Probably nothing! Apparently it can take quite some time to flush out the medications I’ve been on, which can account for the usual fatigue I feel all of the time. I haven’t been sleeping well for the past couple of nights, in part because of the shoulder issue and one aspect of the new treatment focus. The past week or so has also been kind of busy for me, at least in terms of what I am physically used to. Maybe all of those factor in and maybe none of them do. Who knows,  and does it matter?

Tipping Scales

One lesson that I have learned over the past 4.5 years of weight training is that the numbers on the scale are not the most important thing to focus on. Before I began weight training, at my heaviest I was 180 pounds. Through the years of training and powerlifting, my weight has ranged from 145 to 174 pounds. The fluctuations came with cycles of hoping to increase strength and fit into a reasonable weight class for competition. Through most of those weight fluctuations, I still wore the same clothes in the same sizes, and that is where the lesson hit home the most. Losing or gaining weight in the process of eating reasonably well and lifting heavy weight changed body composition, and scale changes were of no great importance.

I am trying to remember that lesson these days, but I admit it isn’t always easy. Like this morning when I was getting dressed and searching for shorts or capris to wear that weren’t intended for the gym. I have one pair of denim capris (which I’ve owned for a couple of years now). While I could put them on and do them up, I was dismayed by the muffin top oozing over the waistband. I chose not to wear them, in part due to the muffin top, but also because of the strain the waistband puts on my back. The number of times I have worn jeans or pants since herniating my disc last November can be counted on one hand; the waistband hurts my back, so I’ve been living in leggings. With the warm, sunny weather, I am wanting to wear tank tops and shorts or capris, but I feel limited by the physical discomfort and my current struggles with too much belly jiggle.

The weight gain bothers me a bit, because I am the heaviest I’ve been since I started training. The weight gain isn’t muscle, and it seems to settle in my belly. It’s not surprising though. After all, for four years I was a lot more active and lifting a lot more weight than I have since the injury. Most of the time I am still eating reasonably well, but I haven’t paid any attention to calories or portioning. Less activity+uncontrolled eating=weight gain. To top it all off, I am on at least one medication which can have the side effect of weight gain.

Even though I have gained weight over the past few months, I am really only about 10 pounds heavier than where I maintained for quite a long time. That maintenance weight was within easy reach of my competition weight and allowed me to build strength. Getting back to that weight shouldn’t present much of a problem once I am off medication and able to resume more physical activity and weights in the gym. Of course, I can still turn my attention towards what I am eating and drinking, even if I do not want to count calories. My toolbox is well-stocked…I just need to use it. This means eating more vegetables and fruit and less treats. I don’t need to go crazy, just keep it simple.

Is it odd that I am freaked out over my physical appearance rather than what I actually weigh? I seldom step on a scale and only use the numbers when I’m preparing for a competition. But I am not happy with the jiggles and extra baggage. Does it bother me because I know this injury plays a big part of that outcome? Is it just part of the frustration of being hurt, of always hurting, and being limited? As much as I know that I will never have the body of a fitness model, I am human with moments of vanity and self-conscious thoughts.