Tuesday, November 7, 2017

light begets light

I don't even know how to talk about everything that has happened.  But I've got about thirty-six more hours on this planet with the use of both hands (just for a while, I'm not donating anything to science), so if I'm going to get a story out, it's going to be now.

When you lose something you love, whatever it is, there is grief.  We know that, it's a fact in the world. And I, an ENTJ with absolutely zero patience for stupidity, adore cold hard facts.  
There are facts about what I've been through in the last six months, straightforward well-documented medical information.  In July, I was diagnosed with two herniated discs, scapular dyskenisis, and a whole bunch of torn shit in my shoulder.  BOOYAH, here we go.  I was already rocking a dozen stitches up the poonanny thanks to the nod from a year of bicycle chaos and then while continuing a long trend of doing what I was told, I ended up with a calcaneal stress fracture.  So I finally decided to shut it all down.  For real.  Not just I'll just go to yoga and do an easy hike, but twisting the handle firmly and all the way over to OFF.  When I say it like that, it sounds like I had a choice.  But with a torn up shoulder and a torn up saddle-sitter and a busted foot, there just wasn't anything left.  (Other than, as a friend helpfully pointed out, the Single Arm Tai Chi Chair Olympics).  
It didn't help.  Of course it didn't help, don't be ridiculous, but I did it anyway, if for no other reason than to shut up all of the (mostly well-meaning) fucking assholes who felt inclined to chime in on my situation unsolicited, with absolutely no information other than that I was in pain (thanks!).  I found a new physical therapist, a different kind who specializes in neuromuscular reeducation.  She was actually quite a bit more knowledgeable than some random people on Instagram and she didn't even seem to mind that I cried almost nonstop for the first eight weeks of working together, a flood with no outlet.  My neurologist person at the same time guided me through many many rounds of medication and nerve studies and scary things done to my neck down at CU Anschutz in Denver, where they have the greatest-tasting ginger ale on the planet in their surgical recovery room.  And for a long time, for weeks that turned into months, I did nothing.  Nothing except watch my life pass by without me, imprisoned by a body that had totally fucking had it.  
There are facts about what this did to my mental state, facts that are probably oversharing but there's nothing really left on my fake bullshit highlight reel.  Depression, yes, that's what happens.  And I don't mean, oh man they discontinued my favorite flavor of coffee creamer I'm so bummed kind of depression.  I mean the real, ugly, dark & twisty kind, the kind where you don't leave your house for days at a time, where you stop getting out of your pj pants because it starts to seem like an exhausting effort to do so. Pain that lasts more than six weeks is considered chronic; mine lasted over five months & still isn't gone.  Nerve pain is its own particular inferno, because muscle relaxers don't help, steroids don't help, naproxen doesn't help, a hot bath and a glass of wine doesn't help, meditation doesn't help, actually nothing helps, you just walk around trying to figure out how to keep breathing in and out, all the while being mercilessly stabbed with thousands of knives.  So the only thing to do is to chase down the next doctor who might know something, or be able to prescribe something, or move something, or fuck it can we just chop my neck off if that will make it stop?  And in our brilliant health care system everything takes two weeks: scheduling appointments, getting a follow-up, finding a new specialist, seeing if the latest meds will start working, and that's a lot of dead time of waiting for a few quick seconds of hope before the doctor disappears out the door in a whirl of white coat.
October is my favorite month.  I'm in love with fall and everything it brings - the birthdays of everyone in my house, arm warmers, cool nights, dark beers, fuzzy boots, all of that crap.  And every year for the last seven years, for my own birthday, I've written a blog post.  It's generally just another pile of overly adverb'd nonsense, but routine, rituals, rhythm - these things are meaningful to me.  This year, I didn't do it.  This year, I missed the whole thing.  One of my best friends was in town to celebrate, and oh, it broke my heart that she spent the time and effort to come out and visit in the middle of this, that she had to bear witness to some of the worst moments of my life.  I woke up the morning of my birthday, and I tried to go for a ride.  That's what I do every year, usually it's the 80+ mile loop through the mountains that makes me happy in a way that not a lot of other things do.  This particular morning was Colorado-windy, and I was in a tremendous amount of pain, and I rode less than forty minutes before I was back home, and if we're going to be honest on a deeply squirmy level, I spent most of the ride hoping that a car would hit me so that it would be over.  So it could all just stop.

Yeah.  That kind of depressed.  That kind of hopeless.

There are facts about what this did to my physical state, and the next person that says nah you still look great to my face is getting their eyes clawed out and I am not even joking.  Because I've gained more than twenty pounds at this point, and twenty pounds on a 5'6" frame that has completely stopped exercising does not look the goddamned fucking same.  My running shorts are gathering dust, I've been rotating between the black yoga pants and the stretchy blue yoga pants when I deign to get dressed at all.  My boobs have exploded fantastically outwards into being, when I stuff myself into a sports bra I am the grand prow of a ship; I'm Courtney Cox in the fat suit, a shadow of the person I used to be except the opposite of a shadow, a caricature with four chins.  So when you say, shut up you look fine, either you're placating me or you aren't seeing me - or my pain - at all.   Both of those are worse.  
Nerve pain, that's been my problem throughout.  When the superstar doctors solved my neck issue all of the pain should have stopped, and went it didn't, everyone just kind of stumbled over their feet and went, huh.  About a month ago, I saw yet another specialist.  She mapped out a couple of experiments to try and route some kind of path forward, and I was in, ready to try anything, sure I will buy your purple snake oil and drink it while reciting German poetry backwards at moonset because I bet THAT will fix me.  I was almost ready to listen to someone on the internet!  But one of them worked, although it was the bad kind of "worked," the kind that means, well, we figured it out but you are really not going to like the answer.  My herniated discs were compressing a nerve, and that sucked and probably kicked off at least part of this mess, but it turns out the all the Torn Shit around my shoulder wasn't holding the shoulder in place - you LITERALLY have one job! - and when it flopped forward to where it's been living for the last six months, it was compressing a nerve.  Actually a whole crapload of them.  And nerves DO NOT like that, NO NO NO NO NO, they bitch and moan and pull on every single muscle they can reach, and now I know exactly how many there are back there, surrounding my scapula.  It is a lot.  I've spent the last several months busting my ass in physical therapy to try and get my body to put my shoulder back where it goes and keep it there, but we haven't been able to crack the pain/flare-up spiral at all and no one could figure out where all the nerve pain was coming from.  This particular doctor, who will now get a Christmas present from me every year for the rest of eternity, voodoo-taped my shoulder back where it's supposed to be, and over a period of about a week, most of the nerve pain went away and the muscles started to calm down and all of a sudden I remembered how to smile.  After about three weeks of working hard and hoping, we pulled the tape off to see what my shoulder had learned and everything went batshit to hell, because, like I tell my athletes all the time, hope is not a strategy.  So on Thursday, another doctor is going to take my shoulder apart and put it back together correctly because tape is not a permanent solution.  And all of the 17 opinions that I've gathered from real doctors about moving forward in this direction are confidently positive that with about 6 months and a zillion more dollars of physical therapy, I'll get my life back.  Exhale.
But I won't be the same.  I'm already not the same, I'm already different in a way that I can't quite put my finger on but I can see, and not just in the boobs and thighs.  I'm more careful, with my body but also with my life and the people that are allowed inside.  I'm sure that stress contributed at least in part to this, and I've finally started to learn how to set real boundaries around my time, my energy, my heart.  

Figuring this mess out and scheduling surgery lifted a lot of the dark clouds that were hanging over me.  Even though it means the next few months I'll be in a sling and on the stairmaster and knocking things over trying to navigate the world with my left hand and oh fuck I just realized I'm incapacitating my selfie arm, even though it's a few more months of staying inside while the world seems to pass by in high speed outside of my window, there's an end, or maybe just yet another day one.  There is a light.  And light begets light.  
More well-intentioned friends have tried to point out a silver lining here and there.  I've been able to focus more on work, and I do truly love what I do or I wouldn't still be doing it, but if someone took away a bunch of crap that make you really happy and rewarded you with more time behind a computer telling people they don't eat enough on the bike, would that 100% be a good thing?  As a coach, it's hopefully not immodest to say that this year has been really great, and in a lot of ways that has helped what I have been going through personally.  I don't want to take the credit because it's all of my athletes that are out there busting their asses, but I feel really lucky to be working with the people who have found me.  People who are rebuilding from something themselves, or seeking new heights, or chasing whatever kind of dream that gets them out of bed in the morning.  And this year, athletes that I have coached for years have experienced some incredible breakthroughs.  I'm torn between wondering if it was because I had more time to nurture their experience and truthfully understanding that it is a combination of hard work, planning, opportunity, patience with the process and just a tiny sprinkle of luck.
I've been able to see how much my husband loves me, and tucking in a few lines deep in this post is in no way able to embrace the incredible significance of how supportive he has been.  He has tried to fight for me when I could no longer fight for myself, and if that isn't what marriage is supposed to look like, then I don't want to know what is.  
When we found the correct band-aid for what was going on, I was able to start moving again.  And I don't want to call it training, it's barely even been exercising.  I've made a lot of jokes about how it's been going, the watts and the pace and the near intolerance of the spandex, but it has felt good to move again.  To work through the process of starting from scratch, all on my own terms.  I've always said that as an endurance athlete I would never be without a coach to prevent myself from falling down the ironman stairs naked in the dark, but this isn't training.  I'm not an athlete right now, and I know that no one on the planet knows better than I do what I need.  I'm not even sure I would trust anyone to try.  So I've been building it myself, and patience is easy to come by after everything that has happened.  It has been a month, and I've watched myself grow, and I'm excited to do it all over again once this is truly behind me.  A couple people have asked why I would bother to spend a few weeks now rebuilding when I'm going to turn it all off again after surgery for more than a little while, but that's easy.  Because it's who I am.  Because it's how I take care of myself, because after all this darkness I needed some sunshine, because it's the few moments on this planet that I feel more me than anything else I've ever experienced.  I have no idea what the future will bring, but I know I have two choices, I have a reminder that I see every day.  I can stay here, and get the shit kicked out of me.  Or I can fight my way back.  Into the light.  I can climb out of hell...one inch at a time.  I was stuck there for far too long.  I gave up.  But now, I am ready to climb.