Anxiety, and the Struggle to Recover from Injury

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2017 was supposed to be “the year”.

The year…

I got in shape
I gained muscle
I improved my stamina on the bike
I conquered my anxiety
I finally felt comfortable again in my own skin

But, of course, life does not listen to your planning. It often does the exact opposite.

The Injury
As I’ve written about before, I suffered an injury this year. And 7 months later, I am still recovering. I injured my ulnar nerve (aka the funny bone nerve) back in June, in both arms. Most significantly in my left arm which is my dominant arm.

How did I do it? I think in my case this is the result of years of poor posture, lack of core strength, and a “slippery” ulnar nerve.  I’ve had smaller issues with this nerve – numbness at night, tightness when doing certain weight exercises, elbow tenderness at work, etc. This all combined to make my arms ripe for this type of strain at some point.  I think the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer, and staying on my road bike for two days, in a fixed position, expedited the problem. I also suspect that I wasn’t properly fitted on my bike. (I want to be clear: I don’t fault the event itself at all. I think this was purely the result of my physiology and my position on the bike).

I knew when I first injured the arm that this wasn’t going to be a quick fix. For the first couple of days I couldn’t hold a pen. I had trouble flexing my hand. I was in a lot of pain. There was numbness. I went to a few massage therapy appointments, which helped a little, but the pain wasn’t going away. I went to the doctor, and was sent to an orthopedic surgeon for evaluation. He diagnosed me with an entrapped ulnar nerve and gave me a prescription for anti-inflammatories, physiotherapy, and a referral for a nerve function test (to be certain I hadn’t damaged the nerve permanently). I was told it could take about a month for my symptoms to subside, and to lay off cycling until I was pain free.

The First Two Months
I kept waiting for the day when I’d wake up, and the pain would be gone. I took time off from the gym, and dove into physiotherapy. While at first I thought I could get away with just riding a stationary bike, or going for runs – it soon became apparent that even those activities were causing flare ups. I stopped knitting. I had to limit my handwriting, use of my cell phone, reading, and even the way I sit on the couch had to change. Just about everything I did caused pain. It was exhausting and frustrating. It felt like every tool I regularly used to combat my anxiety was taken away from me. It left me feeling very helpless against my mental battles.

This ate away at my confidence, and my mood. I became depressed about not being able to ride my bike, or do more at the gym. I watched my social media feed become filled with people achieving goals throughout the summer, getting fitter, while I worried I was just going to become a lump. I started to monitor my calorie intake so I could do my best to ensure that while I was losing muscle, I wouldn’t gain too much fat. While I tried to stay positive, my anxiety ate away at me.

“How much muscle am I losing right now?”
“I am going to be so slow when I start running again”
“All that hard work, ruined”
“I am never going to get in shape”
“What if this is permanent?”
“What if this is a sign of something more serious like MS?”
“Are people at the gym judging me?”
“Are my friends judging me?”
“What’s going to happen when I try to workout again?”
“What if my heart is losing its conditioning, and it gives out the next time I try to run?”
“What if I can never ride my bike again?”
“What if I can never knit again?”
“Why can’t I even just hold a book?!”
“Why aren’t these drugs helping?”
“Why isn’t it gone yet?”
“I wish I had just fallen off my bike instead”
“If I had broken a bone, it would have healed by now”
“I bet I am doing something wrong, and this is why I don’t feel better”
“All these online articles say I should have recovered within 8 weeks”

Over and over, those thoughts and questions have plagued me. I can’t even sit here and say that today I no longer have these thoughts. At least once a day, most of those questions run through my mind.

Reality vs. Expectation
Over the summer, I slowly had to come to accept my reality. I wasn’t going to be running, and certainly wasn’t going to be biking. I had to back out of a cycling event in September. I stopped training for my 5km race in October. Instead, I started to just take everything one day at a time.

I had ups and downs. There was a point in late July, into August that I thought I was getting better, and had finally turned a corner. I started running again. But then, BANG, all of my symptoms came roaring back, and I was back to incredible pain and discomfort. So I stopped exercising, outside of going for long walks. For most of August, I just walked around my neighbourhood.  This continued into September.

One of the hardest things has been watching others. I’d feel sad when I would have runners pass me by. I felt embarrassed to just be walking. Part of me felt like screaming “I usually run! I’m injured!!” because for some reason I craved the validation of strangers. Same thing at the gym when I’d make an appearance. I felt like others were thinking I was just wasting space by only stretching on the mats, instead of doing weights or squats, or even planks. I felt like people were thinking “why isn’t she doing more??” Even though I know, 99% of people are just focused on their own agenda at the gym, and not what I am doing. I felt like a loser, and a failure.

I had really hoped, when I was first injured, that it would just be a couple weeks and then I’d be back to normal. I never would have thought it would be January, and I’d still be experiencing symptoms. The good news was that my nerve function test came back without any signs of permanent damage. I am literally just waiting for this to go away. I am also working to correct posture, and release the muscle tension around my nerve. I still, though, get very scared that surgery might be inevitable, or that this is just going to be my life from now on.

And through it all, it’s been really difficult finding resources online with how to deal with injuries psychologically. There’s so much out there for what to do physically, but no one really writes about what your brain is going to put you through. Most well-intentioned people just keep telling you over and over to have patience, and that it will get better in time. Patience is hard. Patience is not an action. Physio at least makes me feel like I am actively doing something to help my body get better. But nothing is more frustrating for someone with anxiety than being told to wait.

The anxiety also leads to a lot of self-doubt. I’ve wondered a lot about what I’ve been doing wrong, or how I could have prevented this.  You blame yourself for not being a psychic. If you’re part of a team or group, you feel like you’ve disappointed everyone. I worry about missing out on things. I can’t even think about not riding for TEALPOWER in 2018, but there’s a real good chance I’ll be unable to. I worry about how much muscle mass I’ve lost, and whether I’ll ever be able to put it back on. Over and over, your anxiety just reminds you of the possible ways you’ve failed. And then through it all, you’re physically in pain.

So I know what most of you are thinking – “just keep working and you’ll get there Tesla” and “you’re too hard on yourself!” or how about “Tesla, don’t measure your self worth against others!” I know. I know all of these things. Trust me, I’ve tried not to care about what others may or may not be thinking about me. I’ve tried to love my body as is. I’ve tried to just roll with the punches and wait for the day the pain has subsided enough that I can get back on a bike. And I’ll keep trying to make the “loud voice” in my brain that one that accepts me for who I am at any given point in time, instead of the “loud voice” being in love with the version of myself that ran a half-marathon.

I guess what I wanted people to understand is that, injuries force you to recover in two ways – mentally and physically. And sometimes, I just need to cry about being in pain, and be angry, and resentful. Sometimes I just need to let those emotions out. And sometimes I know I need to be better at reminding myself that even if this is forever, I will find ways to cope, manage, and be happy. Everything needs to be one day a time and less focused on what my world might look like six months from now. If anything being injured has been a good reminder that the best way to live your life is completely and fully in the moment.

If you’re out there, reading this and struggling to overcome an injury or chronic pain, my best advice would just be to keep focusing on what’s right in front of you, and what you can do today. If today you can go for a walk, consider that a success. If tomorrow you can’t, don’t consider that a failure. Remind yourself of the other positive things in your life, beyond whether or not you can bench press today. Have coffee with a friend, watch a funny movie, sit in the sunshine, do anything to make your heart happy. Meditate when you can. Write out your feelings. Go to the doctor and ask for help. Get a second opinion if you have to. Ask for support. And remember it’s OK to cry and be angry. Let it out, don’t hold it in. Let the feelings pass so you can then move on with your day. Keep looking forward, and stop comparing yourself to your “pre-injury” self. Trust me, it will only cause you more pain. Just keep going and remember to forgive yourself. We can do this together.

Thanks for reading as always. I’ll be Tweeting all day about #BellLetsTalk to help raise money for mental health services in Canada. Join n the conversation if you wish. 

If you would like to also read my other Bell Let’s Talk Day posts, they can be found below: 

2017
2016
2015

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#JanGoals: Week One Recap

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Sweaty Selfie!

To start off my #JanGoals, one fun thing I did this week was sit down and calculate my “stats” from 2016. Last year, I used a pocket calendar to mark off and track which days I exercised, and wrote down what type of workout I did. It was part of my attempt to get to 3 – 4 workouts a week. In the end, I worked out a total of 197 times last year, roughly; 54% of the year! My best month was July 2016, where I worked out 20 times. My least productive month was December, where I only worked out 12 times. I found this tracking habit really helpful during the year, so I plan to pick up another calendar to use for 2017. It’s a great visual planner to help me look ahead at the week and plan out when to workout and when I can relax and kick back.

Also, it would be nice to improve upon this number in 2017 and go above 200 workouts!

One thing I am a firm believer in when it comes to weight loss is avoiding the scale. It is incredibly misleading. First of all, your weight fluctuates an incredible amount throughout the day – and ladies, it can REALLY fluctuate depending where you are in your cycle. Also, this past year really affirmed how little it actually tells you. With just the scale you have no idea what % fat you are, and what % muscle you are. My weight has remained nearly the same as 2016’s starting weight, but yet I’ve lost about 8% of my body fat. (How do I know my fat %? There’s a fancy scale at the gym I go to that tells you your body fat %, water weight, etc).

So what do I measure my “success” by? Measurements! Once a month I take my measurements. I do it first thing in the morning before I have anything to eat. To me, this is the best way to track your results. It seems fitting to start tracking these January goals by looking back at what I did in 2016. So, for all the world to see, here are my measurements from January 2016 compared to how I am starting in 2017.

January 2016 

  • Weight: 146 lbs
  • Chest: 35.5″
  • Waist (Natural): 31″
  • Waist (Belly Button): 34″
  • Hips: 41
  • Body Fat: **
  • BMI: 25.1 (considered “overweight”)

January 2017: 

  • Weight: 139.5 lbs
  • Chest: 34.5″
  • Waist (Natural): 28″
  • Waist (Belly Button): 33″
  • Hips: 39.5″
  • Body Fat: 33%
  • BMI: 23.9 (considered “normal” but just barely)

** I don’t have my body fat statistic from January 2016 when I first signed up at Goodlife, but I do know that in late November I was at 31% body fat, which was down 4% from when we took that information in September.

I love comparative stats like this, which is funny because I hate math and numbers. But I love progress that can be measured, literally! Which again, is why I hate the scale. I’m including my weight because my hope is that by the end of the month I can prove my point that it’s crap, and that measurements are going to boost your ego way more.

Oh – and another stat I am not a huge fan of – BMI. It just takes into account your weight and height. But it doesn’t take into account how much of your weight is fat vs. muscle – just like a scale. So I take that information with a grain of salt as well.

So how did Week One go?

I signed up for a Spring 10km race! I signed up for the Goodlife Marathon 10km race on May 7th. I used to run the Yonge St 10km, but Canada Running Series have moved that race to June, and it now is too close to the Ride to Conquer Cancer. I’ve debated doing the Spring Run off 8km in April, and may still sign up for that! So I am feeling motivated! (But also very terrified… it’s been two years since running that distance in full, and the perfectionist in me is going to want to be a sub-60 minute time, set a PB and all that jazz…)

I also ordered a new book to help with my anxiety – The Little Pocket Book of Mindfullness which was recommended to me by my therapist before Christmas. I am excited to check it out and try out the exercises! I have also tried to be more diligent with my daily journal, and taking time throughout the day to appreciate small moments.

I started the withdrawal from Pristiq and taking my doctor’s advice to take a pill every other day. I’ve read mixed views online about whether this is the correct way to ween off this drug, but I am going to trust my doctor. So far the symptoms have been minor. I get weird dizzy sensations, but so far nothing major. My mood doesn’t seem to have changed drastically. But we’ll see. It is early in the process.

BUT WHAT ABOUT DA BOOZE?

Total drinks consumed: 1.5

Sean made homemade pizza on Saturday night, and so we split a large bottle of some Trinity Bellwoods beer that we had purchased prior to New Year’s Eve. It was hard to turn down a fancy beer, especially when I knew we wouldn’t be dining out this past weekend. The “.5” portion of the number is from the small portion of coffee & Bailey’s I had at a friend’s brunch, before I decided I didn’t care for Bailey’s in Tim Horton’s coffee…

But this 1.5 is a lot less than what I would have “normally” consumed. I was out and about this week, and between some mid-week plans, and relaxing at home I could have easily had 5 – 6 drinks this week. So even though I still had 1, I’m really happy that I resisted alcohol elsewhere.

I will admit, I officially started going “somewhat sober” on January 2nd – so this doesn’t count what I consumed on January 1st!

I also feel the need to admit I have still been eating crap food in the form of leftover dip, chips, cupcakes, and cookies from the holidays! It hasn’t all been salads and oatmeal.

Now let’s hope Week Two turns out as well as Week One!