The Ultimate Test

Leigh Chmilar

I’ve been trying to write this blog for a while. Actually it’s been over a year (13 months to be exact, but who’s counting), and I’ve probably drafted and thrown away 5 different attempts. I always write it out of frustration, in an effort to vent or release the pent-up emotions. And then I talk myself out of posting it, either because it’s too negative, or un-inspiring, or I assume people wouldn’t understand it and then judge me, or I just convince myself that it’s too trivial in comparison to people with real problems. Honestly, it wasn’t until I read a blog by a friend and fellow local fitness and health guru that I was inspired to write this. She hit the nail on the head with her blog post about her own personal struggle. She reminded me that “no matter how big or small your battle may be, everyone is going through one, and to them, it’s important, regardless of what it may look like to you”.

So here goes. Over 15 months ago I sustained a lower back injury while training. The injury is unknown at this point, but it’s suspected that I’ve herniated or bulged at least one vertebral disc. I was pretty ignorant to the severity of the injury for about 4-6 weeks. I took a week or two off exercise, then tried to lift weights, and push through pain. I even went for runs and played basketball, but it seemed like every time I tried to do those things, I would get pain that ended up more severe than the last. After two months of testing my ability to do different things, it became real. I was in severe chronic pain all the time. I couldn’t walk up an incline or bend over without significant bracing of my core, and pain. Sneezing or coughing would cause significant pain (and it still does). Sitting soon became out of the question. On a weekly basis (and sometimes daily), I’d go through a rollercoaster of emotions – pain, anger, frustration, irritation, depression, and resentment. Then somehow every time I’d be reminded that others have been through the same if not worse, that I have support of those who understand it, and from some who have been there themselves. The hardest part is trying to stay a positive person when the thing that is most important in your life is suddenly gone, and no amount of hard work seems to bring it back.

“no matter how big or small your battle may be, everyone is going through one, and to them, it’s important, regardless of what it may look like to you” – Raw Fitness YYC

So – 15 months later here I am, still unable to push my body hard physically, or have one full night’s sleep without pain. I rarely get through a day without pain doing day-to-day activities. This is not a pity party. The last thing I want is for people to feel sorry for me. I don’t want pity, I don’t want advice, I just need to vent it, for my own sanity. Maybe this will help the people in my not-so inner circle to maybe understand why I break into tears sometimes in the middle of an attempt at exercise (I’m sorry that it made people uncomfortable). This has been by far the most difficult and frustrating things I’ve ever had to go through, health and fitness are the most important things to me, and I’ve worked so hard to get to where I was. I know I am working with great professionals who are all trying to help me, and have seen countless cases of the same (or similar) injury. They tell me that I need patience. That the only thing you can do are the things that don’t create pain. Every day I play a tug-o-war of needing to exercise to relieve pain, but not so much that I cause more pain.

The thing I’m slowly realizing about it is that it might be one of the best things that could have happened to me – sometimes I don’t believe this, but my logical brain tells me so. Injuries are never good, and I know there are people out there with far more difficult and longer health journeys than mine.  What I am really clinging to, is the idea that someday I’ll look back on this, and struggle to remember how it felt to have so much pain rolling over in bed, or picking up something off the floor, or bending over to tie my shoes. Someday I’ll remember how I had to lay on my bed to get dressed. Someday I’ll think back and be so thankful that I’m not here anymore. And I do truly believe that I can get out of it, because I know people who have done it. My boyfriend is so supportive, and has gone through the same exact journey, and he is the strongest and fittest he’s ever been now. He stays strong and positive for me when I have days where I have a resting bitch face (that’s an understatement), because he knows what it feels like.

So, through all of this venting, I’m asking people who know me for a few things:

Please, don’t ask me when you think my back will be better. Trust me, when it feels better I will probably tell you. Please don’t give me unsolicited advice. I know it comes from a good place and you are trying to help, but please trust me that I’m seeking out all the legitimate advice from professionals, and that I’m doing everything in my power to better this shitty situation. It’s frustrating and upsetting when people solicit their opinions on me, especially when 99% (including me) don’t know what they are talking about. Lastly, please don’t comment or make jokes about the repetitive and seemingly simple rehab exercises I do every single day at the gym. These are necessary for re-patterning and activation of important muscles, and they are usually the only exercises that are guaranteed not to cause pain. I know that you are trying to be funny and make me laugh. But all it does is make me want to break down and cry out of frustration.

The silver lining is that this is forcing me to work on the mental aspects. I can no longer just “hard work” my way out of this. I have to figure out a way to remain positive. To put my ego aside and stop giving into the temptation to push myself. To find alternative methods of stress relief, other than exercise. To control my eating so that I don’t gain (more) weight. To love myself even though my body is not cooperating.

It’s really easy to talk about inspiration, and being strong, staying positive when things are going well. I’m being put to the biggest test I’ve seen yet. How I act and come out of this over the next while will really shape whether I stay true to my values and everything I’ve been preaching over the last few years. I’m clinging to the hope that this will make me a stronger person in every aspect. I’m finishing off the blog with an analogous quote from a wise and dear friend. It’s a mantra that is so powerful and true, but difficult to see when you’re stuck in the middle of the thicket.

“To reach the peak of the mountain, you must first walk through the valley”

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