First off- thank you all so much for your heartfelt and concerned emails about my back. It’s been a trying week, to say the least. I have felt all sorts of emotions- from very low and discouraged, to hopeful and thankful. This week has served to remind me how precious every day is. You realize that fact when you literally can’t move and enjoy any of it. I actually prayed that I might have the physical capability to do the laundry today. Now that’s sayin’ something. It’s interesting what kind of perspective on life you can get when not only can you not enjoy a fall drive through the canyon, but you can’t even enjoy doing the mundane tasks like loading the dishwasher.
I have been extremely grateful to my husband this week who has been such a trooper. He’s handled dinner every night, emptied the liter box, massaged my aching back, and many other tasks–all with no complaint. On top of it all, he’s been home sick himself a couple of days this week. Poor guy has been coughing and sniffling and sounding miserable for several days now. I think we are both ready to get back to normal.
During the course of this week I was surprised that several of you revealed that you’ve been suffering from a similar back pain and wanted to know about my progress. So if you’re interested, here’s a run down.
I first experienced this pain exactly a year ago at the end of September 2011. It came on gradually throughout the course of a day and then when I woke up the next morning, I was in excruciating pain. Andy had to lift me out of bed and I cried big crocodile tears. I took some time off work, visited the campus doctor and took pain meds and muscle relaxers. After about 5 days it went away as gradually as it came on. The pain was in the left side of my back, mid way up around my shoulder blade, close to my spine. I had no idea what brought it on—in hindsight, I think I have an idea. The muscle relaxers helped me sleep at night. I slept with an ergonomic pillow only to be told later that that was a big mistake, as it actually tweaked my neck in the wrong direction.
I consider myself a fairly active person. I’m strong and healthy and young. So when I first had this happen, I assumed I’d done something to injure my back and that it would heal, and that would be that. I didn’t think I could have this kind of severe pain when I took good care of my body. I was shocked when it happened again.
The second time I experienced this was in June of 2012. It was bad enough this time that I did some research online about my symptoms and ended up making an appointment at a spine, sports and rehabilitation center. I really didn’t know what kind of doctor to go to or who could help me, but their website told me that they specialized in the kind of pain I thought I was experiencing.
My doctor did some physical tests on me and felt the muscles in my back. He noted that I probably had trigger points that periodically flared up. Trigger points are “classified as potential, active/latent and also as key/satellites and primary/secondary. There are a few more than 620 potential trigger points possible in human muscles.” In my research I have found that this is in connection with myofascial pain syndrome. “Myofascial pain is associated with muscle tenderness that arises from trigger points.” This pain is not initially caused by trauma or injury and often there is no explanation for the pain. However, stress and repetitive motion that irritates these spots can make them much worse.
I was sent to physical therapy for a few weeks. I learned some at home stretched and exercises I could do which helped a little. The physical therapist told me that the muscles in my back were too stretched out. This can be caused by sitting at a computer or desk either in an awkward position or with my arms stretched out in front of me at the keyboard and my shoulders hunched. I often sat like this when working at the library digitizing collections. Also, my scanner was placed in a difficult to reach place and I’d stretch awkwardly over and over again when scanning large collections of photographs or other documents.
This last time, the pain has been on the left side of my back and has radiated tightness and pain throughout my upper back, shoulders, and neck. It is much, much worse than any of the two previous times. I’ve had some time to think about what might have caused the trigger points to flare up and then what may have aggravated them even further.
The first time the trigger points in my back acted up was last fall. I was taking 20 credit hours, teaching dance, working full time, and getting ready to organize the annual book sale at the library, To say I was tense and stressed is an understatement. I was stretched very thin and very, very busy. Hence, back pain appeared which was made worse by the repetitive motion of lifting hundreds of boxes of books for the sale.
The second time the trigger points acted up was in June. My job environment had become unbearable, my boss was going out of town and everything rested on me- in a time when I wasn’t really enjoying what I was doing in the first place. I was stressing myself out with questions of where to go next and what to do. I took full charge of Gift in Kind donations at the library and single handedly picked up over 20 donations in a 4 week period, amounting to over 1000 boxes of books. I picked these books up at people’s homes all over northern Utah, transported them by van and then hauled them in to the library where I sorted, counted and moved them all again to a holding room. As you can see, all this is a major reason why I no longer work there.
This last flare up has come on in a time when I’m a little worried about the lack of decent jobs out there, the decision to take on more debt to get my master’s degree–only to possibly not be able to find a good job afterward, and just other random little things. (I’m a chronic worry wart, what can I say?) But mostly, I think it’s more physical this time. Last Monday I tried a new Pilates class. I’ve complained on here before about people advertising their class as mat Pilates, only to go and find out that it’s nothing more than an aerobics class with very little classical Pilates involved. That’s what this class turned out to be. But I was there- I’d paid my money, so I stuck with it. We did some work that required contracting those sensitive back muscles over and over- way too much. At the time, I didn’t know this would have a major effect on me. I should have stopped, I know. But hindsight is 20/20. Then I taught three hours of dance to hyperactive kids on Thursday night and came home utterly exhausted. It’s only the third week of dance this year and I’ve had the whole summer off- my body wasn’t ready for toe touches and c-jumps. But I’m the teacher and I teach beginners who have absolutely no idea how to do anything without seeing a demonstration- I can’t fake it.
I went to the doctor on Tuesday morning and he gave me some injections to numb the pain. It didn’t help me at all. I still may try acupuncture or dry needle injections as I’ve read that it can help. I would get the injections again just to see if they really don’t help me. He’s ordered an MRI for me as well. He gave me a prescription for muscle relaxers which haven’t dulled the pain either. It just seems that this time around, it’s too severe and the only thing to do is to persist with ice packs, heating pads, soaks in the hot tub, massages from Andy, and the exercises my physical therapist taught me and wait it out. I think these things help to relax me rather than dull the pain. When I’m relaxed I can better endure the pain. When you have this much pain, you end up getting even more tense, which just makes it worse.
In the future I will be much more selective about the Pilates classes I attend. I’ve said before that they are a God send- but only when they’re taught correctly. I need traditional mat Pilates in a serene and quiet environment. Pilates focuses on core and spine strength- it’s very beneficial to me. Also, I’ll rely on my assistant teacher at dance more. Last night she was able to lead the warmups and demonstrate a lot of the skills we were working on so I could let my body rest. She’s a wonderful teacher and I’m going to allow her to step in where I can’t. It’s hard though, to curb my enthusiasm for helping the kids in class. I often get excited and carried away in class just trying to help the kids have a good experience. I’ll have to reevaluate my teaching methods so I can demonstrate enthusiasm but tone it down too.
Also, I’m a naturally tense person. I’m not sure why this is. For instance, I will be sitting at dinner and realize that I’ve got my shoulders tightened up and I will have to remind myself to physically relax them. I’m not sure why I do this. Stress is an interesting problem for me too. I think of stress more in the form of having an extremely overactive mind- it’s always going, thinking, analyzing, wondering, worrying—active. My mind is never at rest. So when I add more to that pot then I liken it to a person being ‘stressed.’ I’m not frantic or anything- there’s just a lot going on up there and sometimes my brain gets overloaded with mental lists, ideas, plans, etc.
The problem is, I don’t often know when my ‘stress’ level is at the point that it might cause a back flare up. This is because I’ve done a very good job my whole life of refusing to recognize when there’s too much going on up in my head. (I plan on giving meditation a try in the hopes that it will quiet my mind for a little bit each day.) I am excellent at ignoring it, pretending I’m fine, and pushing right through- sometimes to the point of really wearing myself down. I usually have to be talked out of taking more on, even though I know I’m already doing too much. Both Andy and my mom have become very good at recognizing when I’m at my limit and telling me so. I need this at times. For example, I have the opportunity to take on one more dance class each week. I know I shouldn’t, but I can so my brain is telling me I should just do it. These are the times when I remind myself that just because I can, doesn’t mean I should.
So the next few months for me are going to be about trying a few different things- muscle relaxation techniques including some deep tissue massages from a specialist, I’ll be getting an MRI just to rule out something more serious, perhaps morning meditation is in order, more self awareness and being okay with not doing everything, and also some extremely light Pilates and weight training to strengthen the weak parts of my back. I’ll be working on getting to a more balanced state in both mind and body.
So that’s where I’m at right now. I’m gradually regaining my mobility and my pain is lessening just a little each day. I am hopeful that, while these active trigger points will never go away, I will be able to manage them with a little daily diligence. I’m good at diligence :)
Here’s some sources that helped me if you want more information:
*something I wrote a while ago when I was trying to sort out my thoughts…
I’d worked my way up in the library. I’d worked my way up in the university. I thought, “Why shouldn’t I be grateful to move to salary. A contract position! So glamorous. Somebody actually thought I was good at what I did and that I deserved to be rewarded by that. Man, I should jump at that- just because it’s there!
But the truth is, I was happy to punch the clock and put in my measly 25 hours a week. I was happy to do my work (and do it well) and then go home and not worry about it. I was happy not to have to be the person to make decisions or come up with new ideas or plan events. But I felt guilty and lazy about that. I started thinking what a terrible person I was and what a lazy person I was, not to desire to do more at my job. I knew I could plan a killer new project-I just didn’t want to.
Don’t get me wrong- I love the library. I love what goes on there. I love the programs implemented by the library. I love supporting the library. I just didn’t want to plan those programs or be in charge of anything. At least, not now. I could see myself getting amped up about that kind of work in the future– but not right now. I can’t explain it, but I just felt like I didn’t want a job that required too much brain power at this time.
Being the creative-new idea-event and display implementing person was a lot of pressure. I don’t want pressure right now. I want easy and relaxing. I know what pressure like that does to an otherwise enjoyable job: It sucks all the happiness and joy out of it. It makes it stressful.
So there I was with a shiny new salary position and an important title and I just wanted to give it all back. I felt ungrateful. A lot of people would kill for the opportunities that I had. But I’m not interested in climbing the ladder right now. I want to be a mom. I want to do volunteer work. I want to craft and sell my crafts. I want to practice Pilates and get my Pilates certification. I want to finally choose a grad school program and get started on it. Minus the grad school part, I feel guilty about wanting all that. It seems that in this day and age I should want to be a career woman. Don’t get me wrong, I do want to further my career. But right now I want other things more.
At one point my boss had to get surgery and would be out two months. We talked about what this meant for me. Being ‘next in line’ I would essentially have to be her for two months. As I sat there in the chair listening to her chatter off all the meetings I would need to attend in her absence, I could literally feel the dread creeping up from my stomach to my throat. But I nodded, smiled, and said, ‘No problem, I got this.’ And I did have it. I could do it. I just didn’t want to. I didn’t want the anxiety that came with all that. The anxiety that comes with anything that you subconsciously realize you don’t want, but are too afraid to admit it.
I didn’t want to be important or in charge. I’d been important and in charge for a lot of years as the owner of my own dance studio and head coach of a high school drill team, and I stepped away from it in an effort to cut the stress. Now I found myself back in that position. But I just wanted to be little old me, sitting in my corner, working on my little projects, and never being called on to step up. Honestly I beat myself up about this for months. I felt so guilty for not wanting to do it all. It’s not that I was a half-ass employee. I did my tasks to the fullest- I just didn’t want to be the all important go-to person.
I started looking back at the hourlies who seemed so stress free. They did their work, they went home, and forgot about it until the next day. I did more work (which never seemed to be enough) and then went home and obsessively checked my work email all night long, just to make sure that I was prepared for whatever would hit me the next morning. I busted my ass to get to work before anyone else and stayed after everyone left. I ate my lunch at my desk, while I kept working. I didn’t stop working while my coworkers talked about Once Upon A Time and Dancing with the Stars. I listened and interjected my thoughts- but I kept typing all the while. I wanted to keep up appearances. I felt obligated to do all this.
I convinced myself to stick with the new salary position and new responsibilities, even though I knew I was unhappy. Afterall- I was damn good at my job. I should want more opportunity to show what I could really do, right? But I never wanted to be a slave to my job, and that’s exactly what I was. I was at my boss’s beck and call. I came running any time she instant messaged me and summoned me to her office. I did everything she asked and more, even though it left me stressed, exhausted, and in a bad mood by the time I went home each night. I didn’t want my life to revolve around my job (and I still don’t.) I
wanted want to put in my hours and then go home and enjoy my life with my husband.
It thought that if I went in to my boss and was just honest with her and told her that I wasn’t happy in the new position, then she would look down on me and be disappointed in me. That she would tell everyone else that I just couldn’t handle it. Then I realized, just because I can handle something and I am good at something, doesn’t mean I have to do it or should want to do it. It’s okay to want less responsibility at times in your life.
It’s okay to want simplicity and peace.
It’s okay to want your life to revolve around your family, rather than your job.
It’s okay to want your job to be a small speck in a large life fulfilled by other things, like cooking dinner with your husband, and doing Pilates in your pajamas, and pulling weeds in your garden, while listening to audio books on your ipod.
It’s okay. I need and still need to convince myself that it’s okay to want and do less.
1. My husband is a wonderful guy. He really is. I’m constantly in awe of how he treats me and humbled that I get to be the one to spend my life with him. The last two months we’ve gone through some tough life experiences and made some tough decisions together-some of the hardest things we’ve had to face as a married couple I’d say. During this time Andy was right there with me through it all. I never felt like I had to deal with anything alone and I am so grateful for his constant support and strength.
2. As you know, I recently took a leap of faith and left my full time salary position at the library. It was getting stale and frustrating, to say the least. I took a temporary job in Salt Lake. I have been at this new job for a week now and have felt so refreshed by the environment. Positivity and friendliness go a long way in convincing me that I made the right decision. It’s possible that this job may turn in to a permanent position, but that’s not even what matters to me. At this point, I’m just so happy that I was brave enough to leave the fog of my old job so that I could see what awesomeness could be found out there. Work really doesn’t have to be dreadful.
3. I still struggle with managing my time and finishing projects that I start at home. I have committed myself to taking action to remedy this, because it really makes me feel sad and a little like a lazy ass failure. So many plans and ideas have never actually come to fruition and that’s not cool with me. I put all of my energy into projects at work but yet, do not do the same at home. It’s like I feel like my silly little goals of sewing a quilt and baking bread aren’t worth the same amount of attention that everything else in my life is. I’m disappointed in my lack of follow through on my personal goals and have decided that I simply have to change, even if it’s hard to find the time for hobbies. I know myself and I know that I am a much happier person when I feel accomplished- and these days, not going to bed with a sink full of dishes is accomplishment for me!
reading two and twenty dark tales and shadow of night and 1421 and a trick of the light
worried about nothing (seriously! this is rare for me)
missing a visit with my grandma
creating lesson plans for the dance classes I’ll teach this year
hating that our washing machine is on it’s last leg
wondering when I should start grad school
thankful for new opportunities and a supportive husband
listening to an audio book
watching the truman show
loving being involved in something awesome
discovering hidden potential in myself
waiting to see which kids I’ll be teaching at dance this year
excited about labor day weekend activities
wishing we’d gone camping this summer
searching for the right way to prioritize my time
craving pumpkin lattes
enjoying a couple minutes of peace before bedtime
We’re headed up North to do more work at my moms. Wishing you a happy weekend!
Inspired by Jess’s post several weeks ago, I decided to follow suit. I started the post but never hit publish, just as Danielle never hit publish. The big one being that I didn’t want this post to be seen as negative. However, as a couple more of these posts trickle into my G. Reader, I decided to publish what I had. I constantly argue with myself over how ‘honest’ to be on this blog.
When I first started blogging I really put myself out there and I got hurt several times because of it. Since then, I’ve stayed mostly on the surface with my writing afraid to say what I really wanted to say. I’ve matured a lot since then and become a little braver. I am better at not worrying what people think of me and have a strong desire to connect with people who have had the same experiences as me and feel the same way that I do.
When I first started blogging, I made some very close connections with a few other bloggers and I miss that friendship and sense of community. So here goes. The things I’m afraid to tell you:
~ I’m extremely self conscious and was teased in high school for being churchy and shy. Even today I have to remind myself to look people in the eye when I speak to them.
~ I have an intense fear of something happening to someone I love when they are far away from me. When I was young, my family lived in one city while my dad was temporarily working in another, six hours away. We saw him only every couple of weeks. He was killed on the job and I have vivid memories of the hours it seemed to take to travel there after it happened. I watched how agonizing it was for my mother on that trip and felt the same pain because I was old enough to understand what was going on. I now have nightmares when Andy goes on business trips because I’m afraid something will happen to him and I won’t be able to get to him quickly enough.
~ I often suffer from blog envy and feel inadequate. I’d like to take my blog to the next level, but think that maybe I’m not meant to do that and be successful with it. Like maybe it’s just not in the cards.
~ I’m terrified of not having enough savings to sustain my family during hard times. In the past I have worked myself to death, taking on as many jobs as I can at once just to insure that I’m bringing in enough money. I am much better now and am not a workaholic anymore.
~ I am terrible at keeping in touch with people and maintaining friendships.
~ My entire life I’ve had the feeling that I will never have children. I’m not sure why I have always felt strongly that kids will never happen for me, but I still feel that way. There is no particular reason- sometimes I feel that God put that thought in my head to prepare me for it, if that makes sense. That doesn’t mean that Andy and I won’t try for children- we most definitely will! I want children. Even though I won’t be surprised if, for some reason, we can’t have children, I will still be very deeply hurt.
~ I am afraid of the embarrassment of failure and often will not do something unless I know I can rock it. If there is any doubt that I will be successful, I may not do it at all.
~ I have imaginary conversations with people out loud. I will often ‘practice’ conversations that I know are coming before I actually have them. I will practice all the different things the other person might say and what I will respond to them. I know this stems from high school- I learned quickly not to say anything without thinking about it first- kids will jump at the chance to ‘tease’ over anything and my naivety got me in trouble a lot.
~ I have wanted to blog about my desire to get my Pilates teaching certification but haven’t done so, because if I fail and it doesn’t happen, I will have to admit it.
So there you go. A few of the honest things I’ve been wanted to talk about but haven’t out of fear of being judged. Really, I think I’m just a regular gal with many of the same insecurities and fear as a lot of other girls out there. That doesn’t make it any easier though. Sometimes being comfortable in your own skin is hard but I keep working at it. I’m a lot more mature and secure than I was ten years ago that’s for sure, but sometimes those fears creep back in.