Oh Monday!

Today I am tired and slightly cranky since getting home from work two hours ago. When my husband asked how my work day was and I said it felt long, he asked if it had been good long or bad long.

“Is a long work day ever good?” I asked.

He seemed to think that it could be, while I am not convinced, although I am probably not in the appropriate frame of mind to be agreeable in this moment.

Let me clarify. My work day was not bad. It is simply that my little shift felt very long, and my body hurts and aches and I am tired. Having worked until dinner, I am also a little miffed that the bare minimum was done in getting “dinner” made. Chicken was cooked and nothing else. I had eaten some leftovers for lunch and wasn’t exactly thrilled about having more of them for dinner to round out the chicken. I also wasn’t wanting to do anything to address the deficiency, because I was hurting and tired and needing to get off my feet. So tortilla chips and salsa rounded out my meal, more or less…and a glass of wine.

Today was work day number two out of five in a row. This is the first time I will work five consecutive days since last November. In fact, I’ve only had three consecutive work days once in the month I have been back to work from my medical leave. I think I can manage these five days in a row, because they are all short shifts. I am just hoping that my body will handle it all as well I hope it can. Yesterday was a decent shift for my body, but I’m feeling like more of a toll was taken today. Since I am not used to working several days in a row, I am not certain if today feels harder because of that or just the nature of today’s shift. Some tasks definitely have the potential to cause my back to hurt more by the end of a shift, like doing several loads of dishes or carrying in the patio furniture, but both of those tasks are ones that I try to avoid or limit as much as possible. Maybe everything is just catching up and compounding…the busy week last week, the extensive sitting as I volunteered at the powerlifting competition, and now work and another busy week.

Three more work days left in the week! I can do it. I can make it. I think I can. I know I can. I am holding out for Friday, when I have my appointment for a caudal epidural steroid injection at the pain clinic. I’ve been told that it won’t do anything for the permanent numbness in my foot, but maybe, just maybe it will help with the constant pains in my legs.

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9 Months

Three-quarters of a year has now passed since I herniated my L5-S1 disc. It takes nine months to grow a baby, but healing a herniated disc can take even longer. Progress often feels slower than slow, and yet I have seen significant improvements since the injury. As I’ve come to learn with this type of injury, there are very few, if any, magical and instant improvements. I haven’t just woken up one morning to discover that the numbness in my left foot is gone or that I have no tingling or pain in my legs. How I wish for that type of progress! Instead, I view everything on a sliding scale ranging from 0-10, with 0 being absolutely no pain, no other symptoms and 10 being the worst of the worst.

The first month of the injury was quite easily 11, 12, and higher; the pain was that bad. For a few weeks before I returned to work a month ago, I would have rated my average daily pain level between 4 and 6. Since being back at work, even with graduated hours, my average daily pain level has been hovering around 6 or 7. But even with the slight increase in pain over the past month, I can still see and feel progress.

A couple of days ago, my chiropractor put me through some of the physical tests that he has had me do many times before, and I performed them better than I have since this ordeal began. I was pleased by that, but my chiropractor was quite excited. The physical symptoms might seem stuck, but the tests would indicate that nothing is impinging my nerves. That is exciting!

Post-treatment seemed to result in an increase in symptoms in my right leg, especially the nerve pain in my hamstrings area; however, the left leg has been feeling generally decent. Not pain or symptom free yet but milder. Right now, I’d rate the left leg at 4 and the left leg edging towards 7, and I still see progress as I haven’t rated anything as low as a 4 since June.

I worked a close shift last night, roughly 4.5 hours. Although I didn’t make sure I was taking my required 5 minute sit-down every hour, I did ask my barista to bring in the patio furniture and I kept my picking up of dish racks to a minimum. Of course, the numbness in my left foot only increased as my shift wore on, but standing at least tends to keep the tingling and nerve pains in the legs simmering in the background. My back is what usually gets most annoyed with being at work with all the standing and bending, but it wasn’t much of an issue until right near the end of the night. By the time I got home though, I felt as if I had been hit by a truck. My back was aching, sore, and throbbing. As soon as I put myself into a reclining position, the nerve pain and tingling in my legs exploded. Despite how I felt when I got home, I truthfully told my husband that this shift had probably been the best one yet in terms of how my body felt while working. That’s progress.

Between the body pains and a brain that wouldn’t shut off (which tends to happen after a close shift), I didn’t sleep much or well. I am closing again tonight, and I think it should be similar to last night’s shift. Including the inability to sleep once I get home. 😉

 

Not Straining

“Sometimes I can feel my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.” ~Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

The days of summer are half over in their typical hurried manner, and yet, life around me feels slow and methodical. Normally, I think, I would be chafing and in a hurry to reach some destination I had focused on in my mind, but not this summer. Not this year. The herniated disc erased my goals and plans, threw away clocks and calendars, leaving behind uncertainty about so many things.

Of course, I haven’t thrown away calendars or clocks or all semblance of routine, because those things are all part of what make me who I am. For nine months, clocks and calendars have mostly been used to get me from appointment to appointment, while the rest of my life was less scheduled but still routine. I have been back to work for a month now, however, I am still not back to full-time hours. This is a good thing from my perspective, although I had hoped I would be closer to normal by now. I am thankful that I work with supportive people who are okay with me taking the time I need. As someone who doesn’t like to let others down, I do sometimes feel as if I should be working more hours by now and simply doing more. However, and this is a big however, the past nine months have also made it quite clear to me that I need to be my own advocate, and I need to respect what is going on in my body. Jumping into full-time work might be tolerable for a day or two, but it wouldn’t likely be sustainable. So, for now, I’m plodding along, working little bits here and there and constantly reminding myself that this is perfectly acceptable.

Last August when my husband and I celebrated our 25th anniversary, we managed to spend a few days at Harrison Hot Springs. We had a wonderful time and anticipated going back again this summer. Then I herniated my disc. As my leave of absence grew longer, any thought of a summer holiday kind of fell by the wayside, because we simply didn’t know what was going to happen or when. Returning to work at the beginning of July meant a graduated return with continued communication between short-term disability and the leave of absence team. Between appointments, working as much as I am able, and taking a few days off at the beginning of September to move my daughter to college, taking a vacation just doesn’t feel right. Not to me. Besides, we have to replace our roof!

I am not complaining about the loss of plans or goals or vacation. My bones may often feel as if they’re straining under the weight of missing lives, but this year is a long season of accepting, growing, and healing. I don’t need to duck the lemons thrown my way, because I can catch them and find a use for them.

Reflections of Lemonade

As I was reflecting on a few things early this morning, I found myself scanning through some old notes and blog posts. In doing so, I realized that we are more than halfway through 2018, which made me pause to consider my theme and goals for the year. It is common for me to perform a little check up around the middle of each year, but it almost got lost in the shuffle of a year in disarray. My theme for this year is Making Lemonade, which is all about accepting the struggles and challenges placed in my path and making something positive out of them.

Over the years, my goals have been a combination of relational, physical, spiritual, and mental. Some of them have had specific numbers, like dates or weights, while other goals have been more open-ended. A few goals carry over from year to year, because not every goal can or needs to be achieved by December 31. And yet for all the fluidity in the way I set goals for myself, I found it a challenge to create goals for this year due to my state of injury and the massive cloud of uncertainty hovering over me as a result, but I managed to come up with a few. If you want to see the list in its’ entirety, you can read it here; otherwise, here is a quick recap:

  1. Use lemons to my advantage.
  2. Heal my disc.
  3. Get back on the powerlifting platform.
  4. Walk on the wild side.
  5. Simplify.
  6. Expand.

Looking at that list in all its brevity could be completely nonsensical. What kind of goals are those? I guess that’s why it is a good thing to review the first half of the year and see where I’m at! So how am I doing with my challenges?

  1. Using lemons to my advantage is intentionally vague and broad, because you cannot always plan out how you will respond or react to a lemon in your life. Life’s lemons take us by surprise, and I think it is okay to be surprised, to feel upset or angry or confused or whatever emotion the situation evokes in us. What is of greater importance is how we deal with those emotions and the situation after that initial response. I have been embracing lemons as often as I think about them. I’ve enjoyed some really delicious lemon treats, and the bright yellow of a lemon will always catch my eye now. In terms of the more symbolic lemons in my life, I think I’m doing okay. Maybe not perfectly or to the same degree another might in my situation, yet I am looking at life with different eyes and finding reasons to be filled with joy and thankfulness.
  2. Healing my disc. Hmmm. I don’t know how to qualify that goal. I was quickly shown the CT scan of my disc earlier this week, so I know that the disc is still bulging and looking quite similar to how it looked in the MRI from last December. The image would suggest it isn’t healing. The ongoing pain and numbness would suggest it isn’t healing. And yet, I am not in the same place that I was at the end of last year, and that would indicate to me that healing is taking place. After a seven month leave of absence, I am now back to work. Unless I’ve been on my feet for an extended time, I can walk without limping once again. Although I still have constant pain and numbness, the intensity of it is not always as strong as it used to be. This is a goal that is not entirely within my control, because I cannot just do this or that for X number of days and all will be well again. I can control a great deal of things by doing my rehab and exercises and being mindful of my restrictions/limitations, but even my 100% compliance will not guarantee a healed disc in a specific timeline.
  3. Powerlifting! Oh, how I miss thee! But I am at peace with leaving that goal up on a shelf until the time is right to pull it down and dust it off. I won’t be competing this year at all. At this point in time, I’m not even looking ahead to next year.
  4. Walking on the wild side has been one goal that I have not thought of much over the past number of months, at least not purposefully. It’s a goal about being open to trying new things and stepping out of my comfort zone. I did my own little Polar Bear Dip to start the year. I tried tempeh for the first time and purchased three packages, which have been in my freezer for a couple of weeks now, waiting for me to have the courage to do something with. To be honest, I cannot recall if I’ve done much stepping out of the comfort zone, because I barely stepped out of the house for much of the first half of the year!
  5. Simplifying is something I strive for on a regular basis, and I successfully removed a ton of stuff from the house in the early months of the year. Due to my injury and symptoms, my life has been rather simple by necessity more than choice. I have been able to enjoy cooking more, because the demands on my time and energy have been less. I enjoyed simple activities and a simple schedule. I have been simplifying by making smarter environmental choices, like remembering to use my cloth shopping bags and reusable straws and cups.
  6. Expanding is a complicated goal that might not make sense to anyone but me. It is also, in many ways, an invisible and silent goal that may not be seen in the moment and is easily overlooked in retrospect. I’m not certain I have done much with this one yet, but there is still plenty of time. And with the brain fog gone and the pain/symptoms being mostly tolerable, I have been opening myself up like a slow blooming flower.

Now that I’ve examined the past seven months, I think I’m doing okay, although I really wish I could do something more #2!

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.

 

Attitude Check

While I am not a risk to snap at anyone in my general vicinity, I am feeling just a bit grumpy today. This isn’t a sudden occurrence, as I have felt a disturbance in the force for the past several days; it just was mild enough to be brushed off. This morning though, as I walked from the change room to the weight room at the gym, my attempt to be positive and upbeat crashed hard. An immediate cause was evident, at least to me, with every step I took. I am quite familiar with the area of permanent numbness in my left foot and toes since herniating a disc, but I was startled by a new area of numbness in the same foot.

I have had numbness in my left foot since herniating my disc more than 8 months ago. For the first month or so, the numbness was quite extensive. For the past 7 months or so, the numbness in my left foot has been limited to my smallest three toes and the ball of my foot directly below those toes. Sometimes the numbness is painfully strong. Other times the numbness is simply numb, but it is always there. What hasn’t been there for 7 months is an odd, numb sensation on the sole of my foot near the heel! Hours later, the sensation is not as strong or noticeable, yet in that moment, I was dismayed.

After being off work for 7 months I am glad to be back, however, my body is not so excited. I was warned about that. Told to expect an increase in pain, that it would be completely normal. I thought I was mentally prepared for it, but reflection on today’s mood has me re-considering that position.

I worked two very short shifts last week and went home in a significant amount of pain. The back was the main culprit, increasing in pain over my time at work until I was reduced to limping once again. Once back home and laying down, the back pain subsided within an hour or so; however, the nerve pain in my legs would only increase. Despite having a couple of days off in-between shifts and since my last shift, I am feeling the effects of being back to work. There is an increased aching in my back. The nerve pains in my legs have most definitely increased compared to what I had been experiencing in the weeks prior to going back to work. It isn’t as bad as it was way back at the beginning. Not even as bad as a few months ago, And yet, it is worse than the best it has been recently, and this should be expected and normal.

But I wasn’t expecting new numbness in my foot. Is that normal? Is that to be expected? Perhaps this new numb sensation will be fleeting. Maybe it is just an anomaly. I don’t know and the not knowing is disturbing. Frustrating.

Frustration is really the name of the game here, I think, and the reason for my grumpiness. Despite knowing that pain would increase, I think I was still half hoping or expecting that returning to work would be okay. Mentally, I am so glad to be back to work. Physically, my body is not so happy. I think my body will eventually adapt, at least in some ways, I hope. Like the back. In my non-professional opinion, the back will eventually get used to being back to work. My back has held up okay the past few weeks, when I’ve been out and about for several hours at a time, so I thought it would be okay at work. Work, I suppose, is more physically demanding than simply standing and walking for hours. The nerve pain increase is exhausting. I had trouble falling asleep last night because of the pain. I nearly burst into tears at one point last night while in the middle of an activity, not from the pain but from the dark tunnel my thoughts randomly entered. When will this be over? When will I be back to normal? Will I even be normal again? My doctor’s mantra is that it takes time, and I get it. Healing takes time, but how much time is considered reasonable? At what point do you consider healing to have reached its maximum potential? Because quite honestly, I’m leaning towards the belief that I will never fully return to my pre-injury state. That numbness in my left foot and toes…I suspect that might be my new normal. The nerve pain in my legs…even if it seems to go away eventually, I suspect it will return now and then, depending on what I’m doing. When I think about the possibility of these symptoms being permanent, I feel my insides shrivel and twist into a hard, ugly lump.

I just want to get back to normal, to resume normal activities again, and to feel normal when I sit or stand or lie down. That’s not too much to ask for, right? I am tired of being asked how I’m doing, how it is to be back to work; I don’t always like to talk about myself or make a big deal out of my problems. I feel like my being back to work should mean something more than what it currently does with my graduated return. With how “well” I was feeling in the month leading up to my return to work, I think I expected an easier transition than I am having, as if that warning I had been given wouldn’t apply to me anymore. Obviously that’s not the way things work with this sort of injury and recovery.

As I went through my workout this morning, moping and frustrated without really understanding why, I managed to put 2 and 2 together to reach 4. Those mild irritations I’d been experiencing for the past few days were flowing out of my frustration with the state of my body after returning to work. The increase in pain was a disappointment and unwelcome. I had thought I was prepared for it, but I guess I still managed to downplay just how significant it could be. Will it get better with time? Maybe. Hopefully. To be honest, I just do not know.

Thankfully, or not, I had an appointment with my doctor this afternoon. If he were at all interested in how I am actually doing, I would have shared some of my thoughts with him; however, he’s not, so I don’t offer much beyond what is physically relevant. My doctor doesn’t seem all that interested in how I actually feel or the toll it is taking on my or my life. He also doesn’t seem overly interested in improving my situation, but maybe that’s just the way most family doctors approach (or don’t approach) such things as herniated discs. I have come to the conclusion that my doctor is merely the gate-keeper (yes, I am thinking of Ghostbusters!). The only way I can access various means and methods of treatment is through the gate-keeper my doctor, but that’s about all that he is useful for. Another source of frustration to be sure! My doctor told me that I wouldn’t be damaged by returning to work. Good to know! He sent off yet another request for an appointment with the pain clinic. I’ve been waiting for an appointment since March. And I can come back in 2 weeks. Lucky me! I get to waste my time every two weeks, so he can get paid to see me and do nothing to actually help or improve my situation.

It’s been almost a week since I officially started back to work, and it has been a painful, uncomfortable week. Maybe my little shift tomorrow will be better? I have my doubts, but I’m hopeful that it will at least be slightly better. I’m desperately hoping to at least last the entire 4 hours this time!

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.