Silver Linings and Important Lessons

The other day I had a follow up appointment at the spine doctor, where I was cleared to ease back into lifting and see how my body tolerates it.

So, my plan is to continue swimming and ease back into lifting slowly. Possibly introduce one lift at a time and then if no nerve issues develop after a few weeks, then add the next lift. Starting with light deadlifts. No Olympic lifts yet. No back squats.

Even though it wasn’t easy or pleasant, I can now say that I am grateful for the time I spent injured because it taught me some lessons and perspective. Here are some of the things I learned:

One size does not fit all in health and fitness

There are many coaches who say that if you are squatting and deadlifting heavily enough, you do not need to do dedicated core work or glute isolation work.

For myself, I found that was not the case. I was given core work and glute isolation work in physical therapy, and found I was very weak in those areas when I started. My theory is that since my particular body type tends to store a lot of fat in the upper front of my body (belly and boobs), my core and glutes need some extra strengthening to be able to handle my body weight without aches and pains.  Perhaps for the average person, squats and deadlifts might be all they need….but for myself at my current size and shape, this turned out not to be the case.

One size does not fit all in self-care and body positivity

Much in the way that different parenting styles work for different families (and sometimes even different kids within the same family), best body positive health care practices may look different to each person. Everyone should feel free take what they can use, and leave the rest.

There are many people who assert that wanting to lose weight can never be considered body positive. I used to think that too. Now, having experienced chronic pain, even when doing the “right” things like rest, heat, and physical therapy, I can understand the desire to lose weight even if you otherwise love and accept your body. I still don’t think this desire makes the odds of sustained weight loss any more promising, so I would never put all my eggs (or even most of them) into that basket. But I can see how a person who is in pain would be thrilled if weight loss did happen and resulted in more comfort in their everyday life. I would be happy for them and support them in their happiness, for however long it lasted. And I would expect the same of any of my friends if I found myself in that situation.

In the absence of ideal conditions, sometimes the best choice is one that we would not consider under ideal conditions.

Prior to my injury, lifting weights was an effective and enjoyable way for me to manage both back aches and depression. When I had to give it up temporarily due to nerve tingling, I noticed a prompt increase in both back aches and depression.  What that meant was that different self-care methods were needed.

Rather than suffer through depression, I decided to go on an antidepressant.

Regarding the back aches, I began to consider breast reduction surgery. And the spine specialist agreed that might be the next option for relief of back aches. In the past, I was against having that surgery because I wasn’t experiencing any issues that I couldn’t control through lifting, and being able to breastfeed was important to me. More recently, since my son is weaned and my husband and I aren’t planning on having more children, and since I was experiencing back aches that kept me from doing much on my feet, I started to rethink that position. Even though I was able to swim, it wasn’t enough to prevent back aches while standing and walking. That meant I couldn’t go for long walks, which I used to enjoy. And I made accommodations at home by sitting at the table to prepare food, and resting my back a lot.

That was all well and fine, but the limitations on standing put a damper on my activity and productivity. So I recognized that even though I wouldn’t consider breast reduction surgery in the past, it might be a viable choice if I was unable to control my back aches through physical therapy, swimming, heat, and weight lifting.

Luckily, the doctor and I both agree that this is a comfort issue and not a safety issue, so I don’t have to make any decisions right now. And after doing some deadlifts last night, I was thrilled that I had zero back aches today for the first time in weeks (or possibly months). It was so nice to feel some relief, and to think maybe surgery might not be my only option left.

However, I think that if I were more permanently disabled and unable to lift, I would seriously resent it if people shunned me for not being “body positive” when I was just trying to improve my everyday function.

Going for big athletic achievements has little to do with health, and for some people can be unhealthy.

Having an injury has forced me to face and examine some deep seated fears I have, and some beliefs about my body and health that I was still holding onto. I learned that even if it would be unhealthy or risky for me to push for big numbers, I can train for maintaining health and quality of life. I learned that the two are not the same thing, and for some people at some points in life, can be mutually exclusive.

So, there you have it! Some words of gratitude for a tough period of my life. Finding the silver linings has been very helpful.

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