Jumping in with Both Feet

With the exception of last year, the year I have given the working title of The Living Death, Nick and I have had a longstanding tradition to welcome the unofficial start of summer enthusiastically with a day of biking, a day of hiking, and a day of kayaking (in no particular order). We refer to it as the trifecta, and it’s as much a reason to jumpstart our out-of-shape cold weather bodies as it is to embrace the reasons we still live in the midwest despite the long bite of winter.

This year, it doesn’t appear that the forecast will allow three dry days to complete the trifecta, but we hit kayaking and hiking with a vengeance while the sun was in session. We both used vacation time on Friday to squeeze in an extra day without rain. We were out on the water just after 9:00 on Friday morning for a smooth, soul-freeing paddle along Mirror Lake.

We had the lake mostly to ourselves until the afternoon matured, and weekend visitors arrived in the Wisconsin Dells area to begin their long weekends. Those hours of solitude were the definition of perfection, but the weight of underused upper body muscles made itself known on the last stretch of our established path as we fought the current rolling toward the dam where we turned around. (We’ll save portaging over the dam for a time when the arms don’t feel so noodly as we approach.)

When we decided to call it a day, we worked like a well-oiled machine to pack up the boats. It felt good to work in tandem so naturally, like this is who we are—an active couple who likes spending time together…and it is. The seamlessness of our actions was so automatic that I didn’t appreciate it until an older couple who parked near the boat launch remarked upon how easy we made it look to transition from paddling to travel-ready.

I felt fine on Saturday. I felt alive. I felt happy. Endorphins are so yummy…I can’t believe I forgot the high. Saturday was to be the last pleasant day of the long weekend, so we planned a morning hike at one of my favorite places in Wisconsin: Devil’s Lake.

In typical extremist Laura fashion, I picked the hardest trail to begin and agreed that we should take the harder of the two trails on the other side of the lake to get back to the car. According to my Fitbit, the first part of the first trail was the equivalent of climbing the stairs of 45 floors without rest—basically a long, continuous, boulder staircase straight to the top of the cliff. By the time we finished the paths on both sides of the lake, Fitbit had me clocked in at 113 floors.

I was proud to have accomplished such a feat because it had been years since we completed a challenging trail on both sides of the lake. By the second side, my right hip (the wonkier of the two) was definitely protesting movement, but I talked her into sticking it out (mainly because we had no choice if we wanted to get back to the car).

The photo of myself at the top of this post was taken before we left the house that morning…fresh-faced and happy. I used to feel like that every weekend, because every weekend meant a new adventure. I want to become fit enough to recapture that spirit. My mom used to have a plaque at her desk (at work) that read, “If it is to be, it is up to me.” It’s a statement that has stuck with me through some of my tougher times. I decided to put it in play through this journey; I’ve even added it to the site header.

Today, it’s difficult to interpret the results of my enthusiasm. Difficult because, while I am in increased pain, I can’t know why. Today is also rainy, and though it’s cliché, my [arthritic] lower body joints become real jerks every time it rains. I’m still navigating physical activity on the D-L, so I will have to pay attention and listen to my body (when I figure out what it’s trying to tell me).

I dearly hope I don’t have to take two steps back after taking such a thrilling step forward this weekend. For the sake of the trifecta, I would love some dry time tomorrow to take the bikes for a spin, but the forced break might be a kindness to a mind that has decided to push through whatever pain may come. For now, I’ll post an old photo to help me remember where I want to be again.

Bearskin Trail

Sophie Sunday

Sophie kisses feel a lot like sandpaper.My poor, anthropomorphized pet. I sometimes forget that she’s at a disadvantage…we’re not cats, and we’ll never understand her all the way.

We’ve been a tight unit, the three of us. I would live in a cat colony if I could, so I’ve always been on board with rescuing another cat…Nick? Not so much—mainly because we didn’t want to rock the boat with Sophie.

She’s a dog in a cat’s body, truly. She’s the sweetest and most engaging cat I’ve ever known. We didn’t want her to go all territorial and lose her awesomeness. She is also on a prescription diet from a kidney illness she was diagnosed with early-on in her life as a domesticated cat. The prescription diet will help her keep it in check, but the vet also warned that stress could trigger a relapse.

Then, our condo sold super fast and we couldn’t find a house that we loved in Conservancy Place, a community along conservancy land in my hometown…but we did find a lot, so we decided to build. In that time, Sophie was transplanted from her home two different times, subjected to a multicat household, and…she adapted…very well, actually.

Not long after we moved into the new house, it was time for Nick’s mom to take her annual leave of winter and head to Florida. We watched her cat, Krystal, while she was away. I was sad to see her go because the cats were in such harmony. Sophie acted differently after Krystal was gone. She became very clingy (almost suffocatingly so). She’s never been a cat to suffer from separation anxiety in the past, but after a year living with multiple cats followed shortly by a 2-month play-date with another cat, I think being an only cat started to suck.

So, we’re looking for another cat to rescue.

A lot of buildup for that one statement, eh? We’ve had Sophie eight years (she is eight-and-a-half years old) as of last month, so this has been a years’ long thought process.

What are we getting ourselves into?

A Cleansing

Well, well, well…what do we have here? A writer who hasn’t written isn’t just irony, it’s sad—at least it is for this writer. For this writer, it means that I haven’t felt like my feelings are worth recording…worth remembering.

It’s just that…life is precious. I know it as well as anyone (probably even more than some), so I have no rational excuse: I need to stop wishing my life away.

I’m very hard on myself as I struggle through the melancholy that sometimes clouds my vision. I feel like I have a lot of things going right for me. I have a solid grasp of who I am as a person. I know empathy. I have patience. I have the love and friendship of a wonderful man. I have a job that—okay, yes it can be stressful, but it can also be rewarding. I am living in a home that captures my heart and gives me solace.

I have so many of these riches of the soul that my permanent zip code should be on cloud nine. When I am surrounded by these things without distraction, I do live there. It’s the distractions that weigh me down. They make me feel undeserving of the good because I am not impervious to the bad. My shield isn’t resilient enough to keep them away, but I feel like it should be by now.

That isn’t the way it works though, at least not for me.

I don’t even know where to start since I don’t want to write a 10,000 word position paper about the thoughts that have polluted my mind since I stopped using this blog…my pensieve. I suppose I should chip away at the thoughts that shame me most.

I feel ugly. Really, truly, solidly ugly. I’m not really talking about my physical appearance. That has never mattered to me all that much. The outside has nothing to do with me…it’s a collection of genes that my parents passed along. As I get older, I am beginning to see a pale version of my mother staring back at me in the mirror. It’s the living part of her I have left.

Rather, I feel like all the negativity inside me has seeped through my skin…and now I’m coated in it. I show it to no one, but it screams at me to get my attention beneath the disguise. I’m, again, distracted by it. I’m missing beautiful, sweet, fleeting moments of life because I can’t push aside my feelings of failure and worthlessness (which only multiplies those feelings). Talk about a slippery slope.

In late 2013, my doctor, in an effort to help me control my pain, began prescribing different combinations of medications that would prove to be a mistake. If I have one fault (and I have waaaaaaaay more than one), it is that I trust too easily. It’s a fault that I struggle with controlling because I think it can be positive. I don’t want to be a cynic who believes in no one and nothing, but I also need to trust my intuition when trusting someone else feels wrong. It’s a balance I have not mastered, particularly with the medical profession. I always assume that a doctor is way smarter than I’ll ever be, and I should always defer to their advice. The thing is though, no one knows my body as well as I do, and no one ever could. This patient needs to grow a spine (and preferably one that isn’t deformed or damaged from surgery this time).

After months on opioids, I was referred back to the pain clinic when I expressed interest in either spinal cord stimulation or neuraxial drug delivery as an alternative. My pain surgeon happens to specialize in both. It was her professional opinion that neither was an option on my treatment table. She scheduled more steroid treatments and another round of PT. She also prescribed a transdermal patch that would deliver the pain medication since the pills upset my stomach.

I was on a relatively low dose (compared to some people) for about a year, having only increased the dose once. Maybe it would have been different if I felt like the medication actually took away all the pain, but I was respectfully afraid of the drug and feared increasing the dose. The patch, plus the narcotics for break through pain, plus the steroids, plus the muscle relaxers…I lived in a haze, if you can even call it living—and I was still in pain because I didn’t want to increase any of the doses.

PT had me to cease all my regular exercise routines (at least for “a while” they said…but never really defined a timeframe when I could return to activity) because they surmised that any activity that required me to be in an upright position was worsening the problem. I felt like I was losing a friend. Exercise has helped me keep the demons at bay when darkness looms for over a decade.

Back to the drugs: I was afraid of them almost from the start but tabled my feelings and followed blindly. It struck me one night in bed as I listened to Nick’s deep breathing next to me how shallowly I breathed in comparison. Would there be a night when I stopped breathing completely? How long was I willing to gamble with my life?

Maybe I just didn’t give it enough time, but those thoughts were enough for me to pull the plug on this treatment plan. The year and a half of narcotics, steroids, and inactivity altered my physical appearance. I would be lying if I said that it didn’t bother me or that I’m not bitter—it is a visual reminder of a bad decision, after all. But those feelings will not help me fix it. I have some hard work ahead of me, and I suppose I’m going a little rogue on approved activities…but for the first time in too long, my mind is in a positive place.

If I cannot have a perfectly working body, I at least want my mind. On the medications, I was so tired. I felt like all of my energy went toward staying awake during the hours normal people are awake. Everything was dull, like I was experiencing my own life as a bystander. I felt like my brain processed conversation and information in slow motion. There was nothing of myself that I recognized…I felt so lost. I am relieved to be free of them, even if the pain is greater. I don’t feel like I’m forfeiting my life anymore.

Losing the extra weight will be slow going. It’s something that I need to do not only to feel like I’ve resurrected a semblance of myself, but also because I know that the lighter I am, the less stress I will place on my spine.

I can’t be the exercise extremist that I used to be. I cannot eat vegetables as heartily as I’d like because my body does not digest them well (and tells me so quite pointedly when I force the issue). I’m still figuring it out. I know how to lose weight…I just have to figure out how to follow through within the boundaries of my physical constraints. I still believe that if you can conquer patience and consistency, you will win at weight loss every time. Point blank, you just have to want it badly enough that your goal mutes the other noises vying for your attention.

Basically, I have to not give up on myself. That seems simple enough, doesn’t it? It’s not simple at all. When enough different people inject the word “can’t” into your vocabulary, you start to believe it. The ceiling on the realm of possibility lowers. Fear has imprisoned me…fear that I won’t be able to walk at all one day, fear that I will become a burden to my loved ones. Fear has stopped me from being as fit as I’d like to be, and my fears are slowly becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even if any of my fears come to fruition, I will regret forever that I didn’t use my body the way I wanted to when I still had the ability to use it at all. So, I’m breaking out of this jail. Yes, it seems simple…but I know this is going to be hard. No hiding from it now.

I am suffocating under circumstances I cannot control; I need to reclaim those that I can.