Nationals, Fallen Records & Pain

Yesterday, instead of competing at my first Nationals, I watched my fellow competitors from the comfort of my zero-grav chair in my living room. I wasn’t sure what I would actually feel in the watching, but I think I made it through the hours in a good mental space. My heart sank a little when I saw the opening attempts put up by my group, because I knew that all of my BCPA Provincial records were about to be smashed to pieces. And they were. Every single one of them!

I am competitive. I don’t like to lose, but I am gracious in losing. The woman who broke my records is very strong, and she made her attempts look easy. Congratulations to her! I’ve always known that there were stronger women than me, and I knew that my records wouldn’t last forever. It is hard to be disappointed in the loss, when you can see the bigger picture. There is almost always someone better than you. Had I been able to take part in Nationals as I had hoped, I expect that I would have placed either 4th or 5th out of 5 competitors. The four women who were actually there ARE strong!

Even if I didn’t have a realistic chance of winning Nationals, I really wish I could have been healthy enough to compete just to have the experience of not winning. I have never been in a competition with that many direct competitors, so that would have been an amazing learning opportunity. Of course, I’d love to challenge for those records again, but that might not be realistic for me for a long time, if ever. She set the bar high! Without this injury, I’d be hard pressed to reach those heights. With this injury so much is in doubt. I don’t know when I’ll be able to squat with a bar or deadlift. I don’t know when I’ll be able to compete, but I am about 95% certain that it won’t be this year. I am still healing. Will I even be able to get back to where I was? I don’t know. So yeah, I am a competitor who wants to strive for new goals, but right now I need to just focus on being cleared to return to work.

Last night was not a good one for sleep. Maybe 3 hours and finally out of bed at 2:30. Thank goodness the Olympics are on TV at that time of the morning these days! Leg pain was the culprit that kept me awake most of the night. I almost put off going to the gym until tomorrow, but I changed my mind and went early in the afternoon. It wasn’t super great. The back seems to be handling the return to having legs down and an arch for my benching sets, and the shoulders are loving being in a proper position once again; however, almost everything else was less than stellar.

The shoulders, despite feeling fine on the bench press, are still sore and feel unstable. As much as I’m not a fan of laterals, I shouldn’t feel like I need to scrap the second and third sets. The left shoulder felt especially unstable throughout several exercises, like dumbbell curls and dumbbell floor press. The back felt fine all morning and through the bench press sets, but it did not like the single arm triceps pushdowns. The left hamstrings are still feeling the effects of IMS treatment from Monday, but the bigger leg problem today (and last night) has been throbbing and shooting pain down both legs between the hips and knees. This pain is quite familiar…I’ve only lived with it in varying degrees of severity since herniating my disc, but the level of pain in the legs had settled down substantially over the past few weeks.

I’m not thrilled with the way my body seems to be fighting me on multiple fronts right now, but I need to respect the fact that healing isn’t always a straight line. It’s often bumpy, especially with some types of injuries. Here now at the end of the day, the back is feeling okayish again. The shoulders aren’t throbbing, but I can feel the instability depending on how I move my arms. Honestly, the shoulders are the least of my worries, because I know they are just over-used and annoyed. They will get better. What feels the worst right now are my legs. I’m still experiencing throbbing and shooting pain in both legs, and there isn’t much I can do about it. I can increase my pain medication dose tonight, and I will, even though the medication has never erased the pain. But, if I’m really, really lucky, maybe it will help me sleep tonight.

 

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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

3 Months Post

Today is an anniversary of sorts. Three months ago, I set a World record and herniated a disc. Whether you think this anniversary is a good or bad thing depends upon a certain point of view, and I admit that my own point of view tends to focus on the injury more often than my outstanding performance. That’s fair, I suppose, because pain can cast a massive and ominous shadow over daily life.

As I am mentally and physically preparing to return to work next week, I appreciate a few statements my physiotherapist made at my last appointment. Firstly, that despite how things might feel from my own perspective of living in my body every day, from his perspective I am improving. I still feel all the nuances of pain and physical discomfort. I still feel the numbness in my left foot and leg. Obviously I can tell that the pain and symptoms are not the same as they were 3 months ago, 2 months ago, even 2 weeks ago; however, sometimes pain is still just pain. I know my body is moving better. I know the pain is less. It is still frustrating to feel stuck in the limbo of waiting to heal completely, so it is good to hear my health care practitioner say that significant progress is indeed taking place.

His other comment related to my return to work, pointing out that experiencing increased pain will be completely normal. I think I kind of knew that already, but a reminder is always beneficial. Pain also has a way of distorting your perceptions, and I can see how I might freak out at an increase in pain while working. Hopefully the reminder will keep that freak out from happening. Even today I am clinging to that statement, because I am experiencing an increase in pain and discomfort and I haven’t even returned to work yet!

Last night I had an enjoyable time hanging out with some girlfriends, but I also spent most of those 3 hours sitting. I knew that sitting wouldn’t be physically comfortable for very long, and it wasn’t. I was squirming and feeling the nagging in my back within the first half hour, but I really didn’t want to stand for hours. Sometimes I simply miss being able to sit for a spell.

So now my back is achy and hurting more than my more recent normal, and there is an increase in the pain and symptoms in my legs. Although I am a bit worse for wear today, this is still a far cry from where I used to be! Today is a reminder both of how far I have come, how far I still have to go, and how variable each day can be. Even when I don’t do something as stupid as sitting for 3 hours!

Sleep vs. Shoulders

Sleep was elusive last night, so I am sipping a quad grande Americano as I am reclining on my heating pad. I had a physiotherapy appointment this morning, and the IMS (some with electricity) always leaves my body feeling bruised and battered. Today should be a gym day, but my resolve dissolved with my sleep-deprived fumbles to shut off my alarm this morning. Even if I had slept better, I don’t know why I thought I might be capable of training immediately after physio. I can go to the gym later today or, more likely, tomorrow morning.

My brain feels full to overflowing, yet that is not what kept me awake. Last night was all about the body rather than the brain. My shoulders were the main culprits, but their crankiness affected the rest of my body as I struggled to find a comfortable position in which to sleep. The shoulders act up every once in a while, but last night seemed to come out of nowhere. The low back was a bit tender and achy, and there was the ever present uncomfortable sensations in my legs. Honestly though, I blame it all on the shoulders. I am a side sleeper.

Despite the post-physio aches, my appointment went well. It was pointed out to me that, although I may not see it day in and day out, from my physiotherapist’s perspective, he is seeing good progress. He asked how I was feeling about returning to work soon. I get asked about returning to work a lot, but his question somehow seemed different, more probing maybe, and I was able to be more reflective and honest in my response. Mentally I am more than ready to get back to work! Physically, I am a little nervous. I know I am much improved and moving better, but I also know that I will still need to be careful, to ask for help and modify some of my tasks. I am nervous about being on my feet for hours and hours at a time. Since sitting is uncomfortable and often painful, even my breaks will be spent on my feet. Although I’ve been trying to mimic some of my work movements at home, I haven’t attempted staying on my feet for several hours at a time. So I am eager to get back to work but cautiously nervous. My physiotherapist feels that I will be fine, so long as I do use appropriate caution and ask for help. He did also warn me that it would be completely normal to experience an increase in pain and soreness during the first few weeks back to work, which I think I knew subconsciously but it was good to have it pointed out.

I need a nap. Or more coffee. Probably more coffee. Naps never seem to work for me, no matter how tired I am.

 

Breaking Through

Just stop your crying

Have the time of your life

Breaking through the atmosphere

Things are pretty good from here

Remember everything will be alright

~Sign of the Times~Harry Styles

It has been more than 10 weeks since I herniated a disc. In many ways, it feels as if I have been dealing with this injury for a much longer period of time. My memory of those early days is already growing fuzzy around the edges, and yet I am glad that I haven’t experienced that same pain intensity for several weeks now. The pain during those first few weeks was on a level that I have rarely experienced. As resistant to the idea as I was at the time, taking a medical leave of absence from work was a wise decision as it has allowed me time and space to heal. The pain intensity changed once I was no longer going to work, and I gradually began to see some progress in my mobility. But I still had constant numbness in my left leg and nerve pain in both legs every single time I laid down. Despite physiotherapy, rehab exercises, and three prescription drugs, I would still feel that leg pain when lying down, and my sleep suffered because of it. My mood, while mostly positive, would still plummet quickly from sleep deprivation, endless pain, and the frustration of feeling stuck with no end in sight. Then last Friday happened.

I had a physio appointment. There is nothing out of the ordinary about that…I’ve had quite a few physio appointments since herniating a disc. I was put through the usual barrage of physical tests and performed them all better than I had at my previous visit two weeks prior. My physiotherapist said that the disc is healing very well based on how I am moving my body. This was good news for me to hear, as I had been feeling improvements in my ability to move and use my body. It was also a relief to know that the disc actually is well on its way to healing, because the pain in my legs often makes me feel as if healing is such a long ways off.

The disc is doing well, so what’s up with the nerve pain in the legs? My physiotherapist said that it looks as if the nerve is stuck on sending pain signals and needs to be re-trained on how to function normally. Okay. I am not a sciencey, medically knowledgeable person, but the explanation made sense to me. My physiotherapist’s course of action was to continue with the IMS treatment on my back, but then he would leave one needle in my back and place one in the back of my left leg and attach electricity to both. At the same time. Do you know how that feels? It is uncomfortable bordering on intensely painful, depending on the frequency of the electrical current. The muscles with the needles in them twitch to the frequency of the current, and you have absolutely no control over that. With my leg and back muscles twitching at the same time, I literally felt like a fish flopping on the ground. At one point, my physiotherapist asked how I was doing. My “okay” must not have been too convincing, because he then asked if I was sure that I was okay. I don’t know that my “yes” was any more convincing, as I lay there flopping and silently gasping, but I survived the process. After all of that, I was once again asked to perform the same physical tests, and my performance was even better than it had been at the start of my appointment. This was good news and means that I will be similarly tortured again, but the good news doesn’t end there.

I left my appointment Friday morning feeling slightly stiff and sore in the areas where the IMS had been done which is quite normal. During the course of any day, I have periods of activity and periods of laying down. As the day wore on, I noticed that there was a difference in the leg pain when I would recline in the living room. The pain wasn’t completely gone, but there was a definitive difference in a mostly positive way! The left leg, which has always been the worst, felt significantly less pain and the pain I did feel was changing from the norm. I went to bed that night and slept better than I have for a while. I do not know why, but my right hip now hurts more intensely.

It’s now been several days since that physio treatment, but I feel excited and hopeful. A week ago, I couldn’t see an end to this struggle and, while it might be a stretch to say I can see an end now, the truth is that at least now an end actually feels possible. The pain in my legs isn’t gone. I am laying down as I am typing this blog post, and there is pain in my legs; however, it is less than it used to be! The pain that I am feeling is changing in its very nature. My physiotherapist once said that pain concentrating to one area is good, spreading pain is not good. It no longer feels like my pain is spreading. Is it concentrating? Sometimes it feels that way, but even when it doesn’t there is still that sense of the pain being different, in a good way. When I go to bed at night, leg pain isn’t waking me up several times through the night. Leg pain isn’t keeping me awake for hours before falling asleep. Unfortunately, I am still having trouble falling or staying asleep for the first few hours, but I’m just relieved that the leg pain isn’t the cause anymore.

The pain isn’t gone, but I feel hopeful. I am almost excited about my next physio appointment…until I remember the awkward flopping and pain!

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.

Unforgettable

I stumbled upon an article this morning which immediately caught my interest enough to click on the title to read the entire thing, and I liked what I read. It is about ending your year intentionally by asking yourself some questions. The words line up with the way that I usually look at the end of each year and the start of a new year, so I think I am going to answer those questions on my blog over the remaining days of the 2017. Or at least as many of them as I can, because I feel like some of the questions can easily overlap.

  1. What makes this year unforgettable?

There are two things that immediately come to mind when I look at this question, and it isn’t surprising that both things are recent (or current) events. Undoubtedly I had many experiences and interactions over the course of the year which are memorable in their own ways. It is also easy to lose sight of those unforgettable people and events for no other reason than the passage of time.

1.Unforgettable number one was my powerlifting competition on November 4th. This was the competition that I had been working for and hoping to have for a long time. I’m not even certain that words could ever adequately describe just how much this competition meant to me on various levels. I’ve tried to blog and talk about it, but I fear that the resulting injury has overshadowed everything that was good and positive and empowering about that competition on that day.

I broke all the Provincial records and almost all of the National records (not the bench press). I broke a World record! I achieved every goal I had going into that day, and success is sweet. I am competition. I am driven to reach my goals, but my performance was so much more than just the records. So much more! My performance was the culmination of many months of hard work, sweat, tears, pain, stepping outside of my comfort zone, changes, uncertainty & doubt, and scratching my way back. Stepping onto the platform and walking off with white lights was empowering, reaffirming, redemptive, and peaceful. On the platform that day, I felt powerful and confident and competent. As I completed each lift, it was as if a heavy layer of debris was being shed from my body. Even walking off the platform in pain after my final lift, I still felt whole, clean, and powerful. I’m sure that sounds weird, but I have no better words to describe how I felt and still feel, despite the other unforgettable thing.

2. The second most unforgettable event of 2017 is my herniated disc. How can I forget something that has caused me so much pain and anguish and is still a major factor in my life? Although the competition is not entirely to blame for the injury, the two will forever be tied together. In the eyes of some, the injury casts my competition in a negative light, but I cannot see it that way. This is something that happened at a particular time, but it could have happened at any time or any place.

It’s slightly more than 6 weeks now since the herniation occurred, and I am still reeling. My left leg is still numb from butt to toes with pain radiating down from butt to ankle. The back sometimes feels okay and other times has solid pain, radiating pain, or spasms. About a week or so ago, the right leg began experiencing radiating pain from butt to knee and sporadic tingling and numbness in the foot. The new pain is not good. Heck, the old pain isn’t good either!

I had an appointment with my doctor this morning, and he is still an ass. However, he did give me two prescriptions for the pain, although I am fairly certain that he tried to lump me in the same category as opiate addicts. This is in spite of the fact that I haven’t been on an opiate and really have no desire to be on an opiate. I’d much prefer to not take medication at all. I’ve had the same doctor for close to 20 years and we used to attend the same small church…you’d think he’d know me better than he obviously does. Of course, he also essentially criticized me for going to a walk-in clinic previously, even though my reason for doing so was for a second opinion after he said I hadn’t herniated my disc! He treated me like a child, explaining the proper steps and procedures for getting the care I need. Hmmm…if only he had taken my pain, symptoms, and concerns seriously when I first saw him 6 weeks ago! Despite receiving an email from my physiotherapist recommending a surgical consult, my doctor will not initiate the referral until he sees the results from the CT scan, which would take months to get an appointment. Thankfully, my husband said that he was willing to pay to get an MRI done at a private clinic, which means I’m having the MRI on Wednesday, as in 2 days from now instead of months! The sooner we know what is actually going on inside of my back, then the sooner I can get adequate treatment, even if my doctor thinks it is perfectly acceptable to suffer for months, even a year before seeking further treatment. <insert colourful adjective here>

My one other request from my doctor was a bit more time off of work. I went in asking for 2 weeks, but he gave me 8 weeks off work. I am surprised by that, to be honest, and I don’t know how I feel about it. Torn and conflicted. Just as I was about my initial two weeks off work. I appreciate the time to heal and take it easy on my body, but I miss my job and feel like I’m letting everyone down. Also, the extended leave means that I need to apply for Employment Insurance, because that’s a long time to be without income.

3. I almost forgot about one other unforgettable thing! In August, my husband and I celebrated 25 years of marriage. We were able to get away for a long weekend at Harrison Hot Springs. That was probably the first no-kids, no sports event weekend away just the two of us, and it was amazing. We had no agenda, and Harrison is a small, relatively quiet tourist spot. We ate delicious food, drank some wine, did a lot of walking and talking. I love my husband, and 25 years has not diminished that love one bit. He is my biggest fan and supporter. He is everything that I am not, which means that we mesh fairly well, most of the time.