Health,  Mindset

Don’t Back Down

We are so much stronger, braver, wiser
than we think we are…

As a society, we are quick to offer advice or pass judgment on someone else’s injury. So when thinking of my own back injury and wanting to share my experience, I tread carefully. I don’t want anyone to feel ambushed by the should’s and should not’s on how to apply my inquiry to your life. A road that would lead both of us to a dead end. I am also hyperaware of the slippery slope of comparison when navigating an injury: a slide I do not recommend you go down and one that will also lead us absolutely nowhere (trust me, I know). 

Instead, I write from a place of encouragement. In sharing my ample of mistakes, in hopes that you may make a few less. In an effort of reflection- through my way, translated into your own way- to find the realizations and acceptance that your pain is screaming for. In talking honestly about the healing light at the end of the tunnel, but not to overshadow the darkness of the tunnel traveled through first. All of this I am here for, so that you don’t feel alone in your own pain like I did.

Speaking from first hand experience, I know the pain all too well that can uproot your life through injury, but also through many other reasons in life. So even though I am specifically talking about injury, remember that we don’t draw a line in the sand when it comes to what it feels like when we are hurt. We all walk amongst pain, big or small, manageable or unbearable. Pain is pain, no matter how it got there. How we handle it, how we live with it, that is what is up for debate here. That is what we can all learn a lesson (or five) over.

So first, a little background.

My back injury surfaced when I was feeling the strongest of my life (which made the blow that much harder to wrap my head around). I was the leanest I had ever been with my confidence soaring through the roof; I was running a faster pace with a higher endurance threshold than ever before; I was progressively lifting heavier and heavier in the gym, 200# dead lifts kind of heavy. I was flirting with what I considered to be the peak of my health, with no plans to stop climbing. 

Until that climb all the sudden felt impossible. I was stuck on a cliff, which so appropriately brings me to the ‘cliff notes’ version of the next fourteen months:

May 2021: a lower back ache, nothing that limited me but enough to be annoying

July: rapid progression into excruciating pain that radiated into my hip and down my leg

August: MRI diagnosis. All you need to know- my lower left half of me was a mess, and it hurt… a lot.

Fall 2021-Spring 2022: I tried all the treatments, alllll of them. Nothing worked and in fact, the pain had gotten worse. Medically speaking, it made no sense to my doctors and definitely not to me.

July 2022: Out of desperation before a week long trip to Disney World, I try a second round of steroid injections, this time at a new entry site. It wasn’t immediate, but after a month or so, I started feeling some relief. The hip pain lessened, the tingling stopped, and the pain become localized into my lower back (this is a good sign). 

I think two things happened. One, the injection finally treated some very angry inflammation to settle down just enough to give my discs literal space to heal. Two, because I was not consumed by pain 24/7, I was able to breathe fresh air and my mind to think clearer. Frankly, I was finally able to stop acting like an idiot. 

I spent over a year’s time trying to convince myself I was ‘doing everything I possibly can to heal my back.’ I can’t even write that sentence without laughing out loud now. 

I’ve said it before, I have a patience problem. But I also have a problem slowing down, stopping, and just sitting. ‘Relaxation’ is not in my vocabulary. Throw a back injury into this mix, and you might as well call me the worst patient on earth. 

So I continue this story with the raw reality of what pain can do to your perspective and what stories you can make up in your head along the way. What it takes to re-write your narrative and hold your own alignment in its highest regard. To show some insight, within some very regrettable hindsight…

Don’t kid yourself. The infamous sentence of injury: “Ohh, I’m taking it easy and slowing down.” Really though? Are you? (Spoiler alert- I was not…)

I may have said this out loud to others, but I certainly wasn’t listening to myself say it. It was probably the most foolish way I tried to convince myself that I was doing the right thing. 

A standing, overhead bench press shot tingles down my leg, so I did them sitting down to simmer down the intensity. Any kind of long run would have me practically in tears over the hip pain later in the day, so I ran less miles to still feel pain but at least avoid the urge of crying. Instead of carrying two kids up the stairs at once, I did them one at a time, back-to-back, to just lighten the initial load.

I still did all the things. It hurt, but I still could, so I did.

And just gritted my teeth along the way.

Back pain: 1

Kate: 0

Lesson learned: Take ownership of your own actions- you may not like it, but you must be honest with yourself and the effort you are putting forward, if you ever expect to make a change or any kind of difference.

Don’t be so damn stubborn. I am independent. I am strong. I don’t ask for help. It’s just the way I am, I guess. And most of the time, I can thrive off these characteristics. 

But by internalizing the magnitude of pain I was experiencing, I hurt more than just myself. My family’s ‘normalcy’ suffered in more ways than one. My patience was thin so my parenting was sub par, at best (especially in those dreadful, painful evenings when, in fact, my kids needed me most). My desire to just have fun and ‘be me’ was deafened by the overwhelming pain I was feeling, not exactly making me a peach to be around (sorry, Josh). 

I had blinders on to my own unhappiness all because I wouldn’t admit to how vulnerable this pain was making me really feel. And as you know, smiles and laughter are contagious… so is the lack of them. Safe to say, my family got the short end of the stick here.

Back pain: 2

Kate: 0

Lesson learned: There is nothing admirable about bottling up true feelings, about not admitting to our pain because we think it will make us look even weaker. We let others in. We tell them. We explain it. We let them help. And we will, then, be stronger… and happier… for it.

Lean in. I ran from my pain (some days, quite literally). I thought, it will just go away, it has to. It can’t stay like this forever.

You could say I even went to the extent of pretending my pain wasn’t there. News flash, Kate, that’s not how injury works.

I needed to sit in my pain. Understand it. Feel it. In doing so, I could then not only teach myself how to work through the pain, but also trust my body again. To look beyond the obvious head of pain, and to see the healing pieces hiding behind it, that were trying to fall into place the whole time.

Just imagine, what if I had let them from day 1?

Back pain: 3

Kate: 0

Lesson learned: Be intentional with your pain. Nerve pain, especially, can be so intense that is overpowers what would be common sense under normal circumstances. It takes practice to re-focus both your body and your mind. So be present with the pain, and know as much as it hurts, there is light on the other side. 

It’s Okay to Pivot. Thinking about how I ran from my pain, it makes me think about why I did that. 

I didn’t want to believe I had to change my ways (running, lifting, biking, etc) because I didn’t want to change them. 

I worked so gosh darn hard to get to where I was, I thought stopping these things would also throw away everything I had accomplished. I thought there was no other way and accepting any kind of change in my activities was unreachable. 

I felt helpless, useless. My pain being in control of what I could and could not do. 

Yes, I hear myself now and how ridiculous that sounds. Here lies the issue: My passion for movement clearly runs deep, but my mind was not operating on the same level. 

My mindset was fixed. It was stuck. It was putting my injury and my abilities in a little dark box, and burying it deep into the ground.

Once I got my shovel out, the doors opened back up. Better late, than never.

Back pain: 4

Kate: 0

Lesson learned: Injury is not a restriction. It’s an opportunity. 

Change your mind and you will.. and can… and want to… change your path. It’s ok to change directions. Who knows, you may even like it better that way. 

Honor Your Definition. This. My biggest struggle. Pperhaps because it an accumulation of all the thoughts above, growing from this one seed.

After giving my physical self to my four beautiful babies for six continuous years, I was beyond anxious to take ownership of my own body again. In doing so, I re-found a new love for myself along with an incredible passion in health.

My workouts, being in the gym, running on the open road- these things became me. 

So when it was all taken from me with an injury, I felt like I was drowning. Breathless. Scared that I was losing myself because I couldn’t do what made me, me. 

I even had a health coach, at the time, telling me how wrong I was. How I could light my fire doing other things too. Although I still may not agree with how she went about it, she was right. 

I heard her, but I didn’t believe her. 

I needed to come to Jesus on my own terms with this one. 

To realize the dumbbells, my Peloton, my running shoes – those are just things. Actions I enjoy (ok, LOVE). 

But they are just that. They do not define me. 

A healthy lifestyle does. 

And there are many options, other things I can do to still prioritize my health. Pushing through injury with the same actions I was doing, is not healthy. That is, in fact, the opposite of me. 

Honoring my health is who I am. Trying something different, no matter how uncomfortable it is at first, is what aligns with my definition and allows me to heal. 

This is true self-respect. This is me

Late to the game or not, I’m calling this one a win my book.

Back pain: 4

Kate: 1

Lesson learned: Know who you are. Where your values lie. What defines you. To love yourself enough, to (temporarily or maybe permanently) let go of what you love, allowing yourself to expand into a new one. Hold true to you, and you will still be you.

There you have it, folks. 

Pain. Acceptance. Darkness. Healing.

Navigating injury is all inclusive. It’s not linear.  There is certainly no clear cut finish line either. Mentally, I am on the other side. Physically I am “better,” but it’s something I still deal with every day. Some days are more painful than others (if I was a betting gal, another steroid injection will be in my future)…. but I remain grateful. 

For the lessons I’ve learned, for the space I’ve granted myself to heal, and to continue to grow. For the life I am living and the path I choose. 

To keep climbing. Right where I left off. 

Because that peak I saw before?

It’s got nothing on me now. 

Until next time❤️

PS- I just can’t share my story without adding this…

Pay Attention to your Body. I made A LOT of mistakes in this department, so I’m going to take a side-step onto my little soapbox for a moment. Because I know someone out there needs to hear me.

As I mentioned, when my injury happened, I felt stronger than ever. On the outside, I was built like a brick. But it’s on the inside that matters, because there? I was (unknowingly) crumbling.

When I think back to my performance in the gym and applying what I’ve learned since, a lot of my lifting was powered through my back instead of my core. I was stressing my lower back when carrying my kids, as opposed to engaging through my hips and abdominals. 

And the icing on the cake, of course, is the havoc put on my body from having my kids. My insides were physically ripped apart on four separate occasions, with no focus on fixing the aftermath other than what was the fastest way to get my body ‘thin’ again. ….Enough said….

The social pressure to ‘look the part’ became an obsession. I focused on the outside appearance of me instead of fixing what was damaged on the inside. Just more fuel to the fire that we, as a society, crave instant gratification over the slow and steady race. 

I lost the importance (of what should be a requirement in postpartum care) of rehabilitation to a woman’s pelvic floor and deep lower abdominals. Along with not respecting my own body mechanics enough. Instead all I cared about was how much weight I could push around the gym any given day.

As a result of all of the above, I truly believe this injury was years in the making.

Which also means, could I have spent years preventing this same injury?

Culture’s expectations of women’s bodies: 1

Kate: 0

Lesson learned: Strive to be better than everyone else around you. Educate yourself. You may think you have the perfect form in the gym, but you don’t. You can always learn more. Video tape yourself, watch your reflection in the mirror, hone in on how everything feels.

And for the love of God, Mama’s, give yourself some grace. You may be Superwoman but your body is not- exercise and movement will be humbling after birth. Focus from the inside, out. You must accept it and embrace it. 

Remembering this can literally make or break you… case in point.