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:

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I Needed to “Be Awesome.” Now I Need to Learn to Just Be.

Swimming laps over the past few weeks has given me a lot of time to think, away from the constant distraction of preschoolers, work, and technology.

One thing I started thinking about was, “if I know that I still have movement options available to me, and I know that intense heavy lifting is not necessary for good heath, why am I so up in arms about having to take a break from heavy lifting?” I mean, aside from the abrupt changes in routine and hormones, there was another feeling there. What was it?

It was fear. Logically, I knew that I was going to be okay. What was so scary? This was about more than fear for my health. I knew my health would be fine.

One day I realized that the fear was about the need to “do something special.” Or to be seen as special by others. When I lift heavy weights, people tell me they are impressed with me. In an age of fitness on social media, people lifting heavy things are “badass” and “inspirational.”

I realized that I very strongly felt the need to be seen as doing something inspirational and special. That felt really profound. I decided to sit with that, and have some curiosity about it.  What was behind that?

It took me a week or so of sitting with that self-awareness, and then I realized what was behind it.

I never felt like I met the cultural standard of beauty, in a culture that very much values physical beauty in women. From a young age I felt like an outsider. I didn’t fit in. My parents stressed about my weight and even though I know that they were concerned about my health (not my appearance), at the time, it added to all the noise and messages I received on a daily basis that I was not beautiful, and therefore, I was less valuable than other girls.

And so, in order to feel valuable, I had to be something else. I had to be smart. I had to be talented. I had to be the best at something. I had to do things that other girls weren’t doing. I had to be seen doing these things, so everyone could see those things as well as my fat. I couldn’t just BE, as a fat kid, a fat girl, a fat adult. I had to be fat and AWESOME at something, or I would disappear and be forgotten.

Looking back, I can see that this need to be seen as special and valuable drove a lot of things in my life. I was an accomplished musician with a conservatory music education, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore, and I felt lost. Why else would I, as a non-runner, decide to train for a marathon, instead of setting a goal to consistently run a mile 3 times per week, or to run 5ks consistently? I thought that by doing things other people didn’t do, I would be special…and therefore okay.

And so it didn’t seem like enough to just exercise like a normal human being. I had to do marathons 10 years ago, and in the past year and a half, I had to learn to lift as heavy as possible. To have a goal of a 300lb deadlift, and then be devastated when I learned it won’t be a good idea for me to pursue that particular goal this year.

Deep down in my subconscious, I believed it would be okay to be fat if I could also deadlift 300 pounds. I looked to Olympic athletes like Holley and Sarah as models.  And I pursued those goals, rather than work on the belief that it is unconditionally okay for me to be fat. It is okay for me to be fat even if I don’t accomplish anything  extraordinary or special or  inspirational or badass while fat.

The reality is I have no idea what I want to do with myself and my time if I don’t spend time on something that makes me appear special or different or inspirational. I had this deep seated need for so long, because I felt like I wasn’t okay. But knowing and acknowledging that I have that fear driven need is helping me to move past it. I feel seen and understood, if only by myself. I feel better able to ask myself “what do I need to care for myself today” and have it be okay and enough to say “laps in the pool. However many I feel like.” I am able to differentiate between  “things that will make me feel healthy” and “things that will make others see me as special /inspirational /valuable.”

So here I am, doing my thing, parenting my kid, working my job, rehabbing my injury, swimming my laps like the older people at the gym. Physically it feels quite satisfying. Mentally it is an adjustment. Having the awareness of why it is an adjustment is helping me settle in and enjoy it for what it is. It is taking some practice. Facing it head on, however, is helping me feel more peace about not being able to lift for a little while.

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I Got Sidelined, and I Did A Thing That “Good Fatties” Don’t Do

I have been sidelined.

I had been feeling some tingling in my right quadricep (feels like pins and needles – like when your foot falls asleep but more mild). I first noticed it last fall when I had kiddo on my back on a trail walk. I’ve noticed it now and then since, when carrying kiddo on my back.

A couple weeks ago I started noticing it when I was not carrying any extra weight on my back; just while standing and walking. So my primary care doctor requested an MRI of the lumbar spine, to see if it was a spinal issue. I had the MRI this past Monday. That same day I started noticing tingling in my left foot.

The results came back yesterday and I have two big disc herniations. My primary care doctor  explained to me that while one of the herniated discs was super common for weight lifters and she wasn’t worried about it, I also had a compression on a vertebra in the thoracic that was not commonly herniated (even among weightlifters), and appeared to be related to an older injury or possibly something I was born with (since I don’t recall ever having an injury to the spine, but the MRI report definitely said it was an older injury). She is referring me to a specialist to see if this herniated disc causing my symptoms. It appears that it is slightly compressing the spinal cord.  I don’t know yet what treatment the specialist will recommend (physical therapy? surgery? shots?). I have a lifting limit in the meantime – no more than 50 lbs. I can still walk, swim, or do yoga or stretch.

I am beyond bummed, because lifting is so much fun for me and it makes me feel healthy and strong and proud. But not causing more nerve damage is obviously more important. I’m trying to look on the bright side and feel grateful that a) we caught it before I experienced any pain, weakness, or loss of function, and b) that I can still lift my kid if necessary, because 3 year olds are not great at listening. I’m feeling nervous about finding a new routine / way of going about my week that makes me feel as good as lifting does and that I enjoy. I’m nervous about the possible time/money commitment that rehab will involve. Hopefully my insurance will cover this. I don’t have answers yet. I am feeling defeated –  I finally got to the point where my movement routine felt like a true habit….like brushing my teeth. And now I need to change my routine and schedule.

My doctor also warned me me that the spine specialist group I am being sent to has the most talented spine doctors in the area, but they are all assholes. One of them once told a patient to “ditch the refrigerator she is carrying.”

I was super nervous about going to the specialist after hearing this. I don’t enjoy confrontation and I am scared that I will be so intimidated that I wont ask the right questions. I asked in the Fit Fatties group for suggestions on handling doctors like this, and someone suggested  “bring an advocate. ”

At first I couldn’t think of anyone. Let’s just say my husband is not known for his assertiveness. Most of my local friends have kids. And I have some local fat friends who would be great for solidarity, but would probably be just as disrespected and possibly triggered as I am by the specialist.

And then I thought of the perfect person to bring along. She is a massage therapist and ART practitioner with several anatomy practicums under her belt. She is a Cross Fit coach and weightlifting coach. She drew a tree out of a human spine on her Christmas cards.  Read: she will likely understand what the doctor says a lot better than I will. And she will know what questions to ask regarding rehab and lifting.

Now, though I like her a lot, we are not close friends. I trained at her gym for a while and we are Facebook friends and maybe we would hang out more if I didn’t have a kid and I wasn’t a boring introvert who likes to stay home. So I was really nervous to ask for such a big favor from her. But I remembered how important relying on a community is, and I reached out and wrote her a message. I explained what my doctor said, and how I was afraid that the specialist would intimidate me or shame me and I might lose it or forget to ask the right questions. I asked if she would consider coming with me to the appointment. I offered to pay her for her time or buy her dinner or barter veggies. I was in tears as I typed the message, even though I knew she was likely to say yes. From nerves and an emotion that I wouldn’t identify until later.

My friend did say yes. She didn’t make me feel bad for asking at all. She agreed with my doctor that the thoracic herniation and compression was concerning because it isn’t one that typically herniates. She is happy to come with me. I am so relieved and so glad I reached out and that a knowledgeable friend is going to help me.

Later, I asked myself why I felt so emotional asking my friend to come help me. I realized that the emotion I felt was humiliation. In our culture’s mainstream media, we hear about “obesity epidemic” this and “strain on the health system” that quite often. And so I was trained to feel humiliation about the fact that here I was, asking for an accommodation or favor that I needed, that I may not have needed if my body was a different size.

Once I identified that, I realized that I was doing NOTHING wrong by advocating for myself and asking for what I need to get proper treatment so I could get better. I realized I didn’t need this favor because of my size, I need it because of the societal stigma and medical bias around my size. And while that is not my fault, and it does indeed suck that it has become my problem, I am practicing good self care by asking for it anyway. Even if I cried tears of humiliation as I typed the request to my friend.

Wow. That was heavy. On to something a bit lighter. How am I going to get my movement in, now that my favorite thing is off the table for now?

In the meantime, while I wait to see the specialist, I am cleared to walk, and swim and do yoga or stretch. Since I already have a good walking routine going, I hope to continue that, but I need to make some changes now.  Since I don’t have the option of carrying kiddo on my back when he gets tired, it limits the distance I can walk with him, and probably limits trail walks. Anyone with kids knows that 3 year olds’ legs work great..until they don’t. So, hiking with a kid won’t work anymore, for now, but I can still walk to the garden on my own. Now that I’m not lifting in the mornings, I can try to get those walks in before my husband leaves for work.

I have done yoga in the past, but honestly, I have some resistance or a mild aversion to trying it right now.  Maybe that will change later. I realized that while I enjoyed it in the past, now, I tend to associate it with the days when I felt really unhappy with my body and was trying so hard to change the way it looked.  I was a lot thinner then than I am now, but  I was also a lot more unhappy with myself. So maybe that’s why I am not super excited about yoga.

But I knew I could wrap my head around swimming, if I found the right pool. As a child, I loved swimming. I was not good at any other sports, but I really enjoyed swimming so my parents paid for lessons year round (because “hey, whatever gets the fat kid to move” is probably what they thought, but nonetheless, I loved it). I wasn’t planning to join a gym this summer, but I knew I wouldn’t feel great if I didn’t find some form of movement to replace lifting heavy stuff.  And I want to keep myself feeling good.

So today I went to check out a gym with a nice pool and childcare. I have a friend that teaches classes there and I think it will be a good fit. Not only do they have a nice lap pool, it is in a room with lots of natural light, so you don’t feel like you are swimming in a dark, smelly room. They also have a kid’s wading pool so I can bring my kid to play. And a rock climbing wall I can do with him (or rather that he can do with me; I’m scared of heights and probably not cleared for that).

And not for nothing, but I was also pleased with the way the salesperson handled the gym tour and sales pitch with me. I told him what I was there for: “I’m a weight lifter and I am injured and my doctor says I am cleared to swim. So I am interested in the pool and your childcare hours.” And he asked me what kind of weightlifting I did, and I told him I do some powerlifting and some Olympic weightlifting. He showed me exactly what I asked about. He did not try to sell me training packages. He did not push (or even mention) weight loss – which means that he didn’t make assumptions on why I was there based on my size; he actually listened to what I told him about why I was there. When he was showing me the weight room, he said things like “when you are cleared to lift, if you want to do Olympic weightlifting, you can do it here. Here’s where I do power cleans…” And last fall I had such a hard time finding a place to do that. So I am happy.

Check out this sweet lap pool!

Check out this sweet lap pool!

So, I will probably join later this week. It will give me both a place to swim and an activity to do with my kid in the summer. I’m excited about that.

Still very sad about being sidelined, and feeling a bit defeated, but trying to make the best of a shitty situation.

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Satisfying My Cravings for Big Numbers

I’m in a pretty good groove with my current lifting plan. Doing Wendler 531 (back squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press) is really great for me. Not just because it fits into my life so well, but also because it is satisfying my craving for gainz while I do the necessary patterning work at light weights for the Olympic lifts.

Last year I worked on Olympic weightlifting almost exclusively. And I really liked it, though I found it too tempting to increase the weights before I really developed my speed and technique well. I hear that is a common problem among people who are already pretty strong when they discover Olympic weightlifting.

A few weeks ago, I went to a Snatch Seminar at my local Crossfit box. I got a lot out of it and I feel a strong desire to work on my Olympic weightlifting technique again.

The difference is, now that I am seeing consistent strength improvements on Wendler 531, I am happy to be a lot more patient with the snatch, clean and jerk. I have been working technique with an empty bar once or twice per week. Sometimes I include some very light technique work in my warm ups. Meanwhile, my need to know I am making strength progress is met by my back squat and deadlift programming.

I also started hanging from bars at the playground when I visit the garden. I can’t hang for very long yet. That will come in time too.

What’s in My Home Gym (Complete with Non-Instagram-Worthy Photos)

I am asked somewhat often about the gym equipment I have at home. I thought I’d do a quick post, with some unedited, un-posed photos. Because we were all up late at a seder last night, and I couldn’t be bothered to make them look nice.

A 15kg barbell. Commonly known as “the women’s bar” in Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit.

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The white thing next to it is a PVC pipe from Home Depot. My three year old calls it the “ABC pipe.” Used for movement patterning and mobility work. Some people use a broomstick for the same stuff.

Various bumper plates (5kg, 10kg, 15kg, 20kg, 25kg), change plates (.5kg, 1.25kg, 2.5kg, 5kg) and fractional plates (.25kg, .5kg, .75kg, 1kg) to load onto the barbell, and collars to hold them in place.

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A heavy rubber honeycomb mat that stays put and doesn’t slip, and protects my floor. (Note to self: needs washing). Fun fact – the mat itself weighs around 100 lbs. It’s not going anywhere.

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A squat rack that is in two pieces so I can shove it into a corner when it’s not in use.

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A flat bench.

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Chalk. Which I hate the texture of, but my kid loves it and I occasionally catch him playing in it.

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A foam roller and lacrosse balls for recovery work.

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A 20lb kettlebell which I have not used in a while.

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A yoga mat which is mostly used by my kid. Pretty sure a cat barfed on it and it needs washing. (The knife is wooden and it belongs in my kid’s toy kitchen).

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Assistance bands (two different weights). These live in my backpack or in my car. I use them when I go to the park to hang from bars to improve grip strength and shoulder mobility. And maybe one day I might do assisted pull ups with them.

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A doorway pull up bar and a pair of gymnastics rings. I used to do ring rows with these and I haven’t used it in a while. I hesitate to hang from it using bands because I weigh more than the weight limit, but if I do ring rows, my feet are on the floor taking some of the weight.

Sometimes I hang it up and let my kid play on it. He likes to grab the rings and swing.

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My kid’s toy barbell. He got it for his birthday. There was a picture of someone setting up a snatch on the box. I asked my kid “what do you think is inside?” He answered “some guy weightlifting?”

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And there you have it! What’s in my home gym. If you are looking for suggestions for setting up yours, I collected some other links here.

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Ripple Effects – Helping Friends and Growing Things

Yesterday was a great day. I felt great physically and mentally. I had gone to bed by 9:30pm for the prior two nights.

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Ready to take on the day!

One thing I feel really great about was that I was able to spend some time helping a friend who had been in a car accident last week. Kiddo and I went grocery shopping for her, and then I folded some laundry when I got to her house while our kids played together. I feel really satisfied and happy that I was able to do this, not only because it helped my friend, but also because in the past, doing this would have wiped me out and taken a lot of “spoons” for me.

Truth: In past years I have accepted a lot of help from family and sometimes from friends, for basic tasks around my house. Everyone says that is normal when you have a baby, and to be grateful for any help offered to you. And I am very grateful. But part of me always felt guilty accepting the help, because I knew that I would likely not be able to offer similar help to others in the same position, because I didn’t have the energy. So I am really glad to be able to offer help to others now.

Afterwards, kiddo and I walked over to the garden to water. No germination yet. Maybe today we will see some lettuce sprouts.

Another thing I feel great about is that my legs were recovered enough from the prior day’s deadlifts to work some olympic weightlifting technique in the morning….and still feel energetic on my feet throughout the day afterwards! Took my kid to gymnastics, did the grocery shopping for our friend, walked to the garden, walked back home uphill with my tired kid in a carrier….and my legs managed all of it without feeling too spent!

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