Defining and Finding Myself after Multiple Setbacks

Back on the trails

It has been a long time since I wrote. I missed writing but I didn’t have the energy nor the capacity for it. Writing has been my outlet and I hope to come back to it. I write for myself but if my blog can help others, even if just one person, that’s even better.

So… where am I at? What has happened? Well, very briefly without the many pages I could write, this is where I’ve come from with my hip setbacks:

  • 4 months 2 weeks post hardware removal surgery
  • 1 year almost 6 months post derotational femoral osteotomy for left hip due to femoral retroversion
  • 3 years 11 months post hip labral tear surgery
  • 4 years 2 months since the issues all began and I was pretty much on bed rest

Before all of this, I was running 20-30km a week. I could run 20-30km long distances. I had started doing Spartan obstacle course races, half marathons and long distance trail runs.

And the last 4 years I’ve battled barely getting out of bed, waiting for tests, waiting for diagnoses, waiting for surgeries, waiting for recovery….

Every ”fix” seemed to lead to another issue that was missed or caused by one of the previous surgeries.

From September 2013 until I was sidelined in March 2018, I had lost 96.5lbs. Sadly the yo-yo effect of the last 4 years, I’ve gained most of it back even with healthy eating – unfortunately my body is the type that needs exercise to lose weight and even macros and calorie counting don’t do a lot – especially with the stress and medications.

My final (hopefully) surgery on January 7 to remove the hardware (rod and screws) that was causing issues (when surgeon opened up, the screws at bottom of rod were pushing into IT band and also I unfortunately had excessive heterotopic ossification that grew around the top of the rod. Surgeon removed about 2/3 of the HO and doesn’t think the rest he couldn’t get as deep into hip capsule will be a problem.) Since then, I’ve mostly struggled with stamina – after the initial few weeks, I could tell a huge difference without the issues the hardware was causing. But I tired easily. Each new thing I could do came with such bone weary exhaustion later. I went back to teaching at 30% on April 4. I started 50% on April 25. This is my last week at 50% and I will start 70% next week.

During weekdays, teaching exhausts me so much that I can barely do anything else – cook, dishes, a short walk – I often feel like I have to make deals with myself for what I can do in a day. It’s hard not to just do all I used to.

The surgeon said to me after all I’ve been through in 4 years with surgeries, delays due to pandemic leaving me on bed rest and my body weakening – it will take 1-1.5 years after the hardware removal surgery to be ”fully recovered.” I often forget that and that I’m only 4 months post op.

Some days, a shower is the struggle. Or cooking a meal feels like I’m lifting a 50lb kettlebell. Some days teaching feels like 42.2km run (marathon).

But some days, like today, I reach a milestone. I finally walked over 5km. And it feels like I have won the lottery.

Milestone Walk

This surgery does not come with a manual. It does not come with a guarantee. It doesn’t make space for all the other things I was dealing in life. I came into this setback completely unaware of how different a person I would become throughout the process.

My hip issues took a lot away from me the last 4 years, but I won’t stop trying to take back all it took – even if what I take back may look a bit differently. What I mean by this is, I will take back my life – my active lifestyle. But I’m also making some adjustments. I am quitting OCR. It is too risky for injury. After all I’ve been through to get back to where I am today, I am not going to risk it by climbing walls and other wooden structures. I’m not sure about running again as though surgeon and physiotherapist said I can do it again eventually, it is harder on joints.

Before this, I was truly enjoying rucking (look it up) and it burns as much calories as running without running! I love just throwing on audiobook and walking. I will focus on longer walks and hopefully can add back rucking down the road too. I love biking and hope to get a better outdoor bike to try that more. I hadn’t biked since I was a kid before this journey and the required cycling for recovery has made me fall in love with it again. I am slowly getting back into my kettlebell training. I’ll do less races – I was racing a lot before and the constant need to train for long distance races is hard on a body. Instead, after I am fully recovered, I’m planning on very few races, maybe one or two a year. Instead, I’m going to enjoy what I do on my own time and in my own way – and with Ginny. I’m going to enjoy what I do every day to be active and healthy, not let racing become the focus.

View on today’s milestone walk

I know I can’t always avoid injury or setbacks but I can choose to do the things that aren’t highly likely to sideline me again. By sacrificing some of the riskier activities I used to do, I’m not giving up. I’m choosing to live. I’m choosing to move. I’m choosing to respect what my body can do and also respect its limitations.

I won’t define myself solely by my setbacks. I won’t forget those challenges and obstacles I’ve overcome. My comeback isn’t my only definition of who I am. I refuse to define myself by what I can or can’t do. And I won’t define myself by how others are dealing with this process or their own obstacles. I also won’t define myself based on how others think I am or how I should handle my setbacks.

Instead, I’ll define myself by what I did and what I do each day to get to tomorrow. I get to choose.

And, thanks to my 4 legged walking partner, Ginny, I can always see in her eyes how amazing I am.

“Mom, you’re amazing.” – Ginny looking back at me to check in and encourage me during our walks.

Ginny’s smile means the world to me. Each walk is “the best walkie ever.” Coming back from multiple surgeries and a lengthy period of being in chronic pain and immobile, I often find myself viewing each walk like Ginny does. Each one is special regardless of how long or how far, regardless of where we go, regardless of weather, and regardless is was tough or easy… just being able to walk pain free with my 4 legged my best friend is a gift I’ve been given back that I’ll never take for granted.

Beautiful Ginny

Don’t Judge the Weight on a Scale by Its Number

This is only one of 3 bins of clothing I packed up yesterday. I’ve been ignoring the multitude of clothing that doesn’t fit me anymore. However with returning to teaching next week, I was forced to realize I couldn’t do that anymore. Every article of clothing (mostly sizes small to medium, a few large sizes) folded up and stored away felt like a knife jab into my heart.

Left: 2012 Right: 2017

I worked hard to change my lifestyle starting in September 2013. I started by walking and then tried running which I fell in love with. I joined a local strength training group and begin to train for obstacle course races. I also began rucking in 2018. By summer 2017, I had lost 96.5 pounds. It was freeing and I felt more confident than I have in years. I know that everyone has different bodies and that’s okay but it had become a health risk for me as I was testing pre-diabetic. Luckily, the work I put into becoming active and eating healthier has meant I haven’t tested pre-diabetic in 4 years.

While I felt like I could do anything and achieve anything, life had its own course for me. In March 2018, I began to have chronic pain in my left hip and leg. It led to a surgery in June 2018 to repair a hip labral tear. While waiting for surgery, I was on bed rest and while I continued to eat healthy, the inactivity still slowly crept some weight on. I gained 30-40 pounds this setback.

After surgery, I worked a healthy recovery and at returning to my active life – deciding to focus on trail running instead of obstacle course racing. I didn’t want to risk damaging my hip anymore. I was working with physiotherapist for the best recovery possible. Little issues kept popping up and then the little issues began to become larger issues. I had slowly begun to lose weight again – about 10 of the 30-40 pounds I gained on bed rest. Then in January 2020, I found myself with such a chronic pain flare up, I could barely walk. I was sent back to my surgeon, all activities stopped, and underwent more testing.

In March 2020, 5 days before our province closed everything down due to the pandemic, I was told that the surgery in 2018 only fixed a secondary issue. The main issue was that my left hip had a condition called femoral retroversion. It was highly likely this caused my hip labral tear. My first surgeon wasn’t qualified to do the surgery to repair this condition so I was referred to my second surgeon. At the time, it was supposed to be within a couple weeks due to my history and that this issue wasn’t caught the first time.

However, the province shut down and along with everyone else, my life was frozen. Yet, I was even more limited as even walking and working was challenging. When school went to online the last few months of 2020, I was able to work the last few months from home. But each day, the pain worsened and each step was getting harder. I was prescribed pain medication – not super strong ones as I refused to go back on the addictive opioid ones I was on the first time. While I needed the pain medication both times, the second time, I did not want to be on it long term as we had no idea when I’d be able to see the new surgeon. Even when it’s prescribed and even when it’s needed, the medications are very hard on the body. Instead I managed the pain with rest, medication, and reading – taking only the medication when really needed.

I was finally able to see my new surgeon at the end of July 2020. With his consultation, the surgery he would do – a derotational femoral osteotomy – he strongly believed it would reduced or eliminate my chronic pain and the issues I was having due to the femoral retroversion. Due to the pandemic, I was told to expect a 1-1.5 year wait for surgery. This was a hard to hear but I couldn’t change it. I put my energy into reading, eating healthy, and going for very short walks to keep up some strength.

The reduced activity, even with adjusting my nutrition, still meant the weight crept back on. I am sure stress didn’t help with it at all either! In October 2020, I received a call that I would actually be getting surgery November 30, 2020. That was a hard 5-6 weeks while we waited as we were told it could also be cancelled – even up to the morning of the surgery!

Fortunately, the surgery happened as planned and I was finally on the other side. I went into surgery 185lbs. While I had fluctuated throughout my setbacks, I went into surgery 30lbs heavier than my lowest weight. The recovery that came after wreaked havoc on my body – between the medications (now having to take prescribed strong pain medications and other medications for the first 2 weeks after surgery) plus being stuck in bed with a leg that had gone through being broken, realigned, and put back together with hardware.

The last 9 months have been a doozy. The first couple months felt very slow in healing but after that I have been progressing very steadily. I am finally returning to work 50% next week and this milestone brought a whole new reality to me.

I knew I had gained weight the last 9 months. I had worked hard at eating right and healthy – with still allowing for moments of balance such as takeout and movie date night in with my partner or cooking a delicious pasta meal at home. Even with healthy eating and as I began walking again, it still seemed the scale was going up. Each time I weighed myself, I wanted to cry. I felt I was losing myself with each pound gained on the scale. The weight slowly crept on throughout the last 9 months until I went from 158.4 as my lowest weight that was worked hard to get to… to 185lbs just before surgery… to 245lbs. Jut 10lbs below what I was before I began this journey.

I haven’t shared much about this part of the journey because it hurts. I feel ashamed, guilty, sad, angry – all of the emotions all at once. Yet, I have to share as I truly believe sharing the good and the bad is how we connect with others in the world and maybe make a difference with even one person. In “Seven Days in June” by Tia Williams, she writes “There was power in showing the messiness of her life and what it took to hold her together.” Insert expletive or two here…. Holding me together has been a daily battle. Heck, some days it’s an hourly battle. I feel so lost some days, and others, all I feel is hope and motivation. I feel excited and fearful at the same time. I feel doubt I’ll ever lose this weight again, and I also feel determined to do it. I have anxiety that the pain will return at the same I am enjoying returning to previous activities.

While I am still in the recovery phase and will be classified in it for another 1-1.5 years, the surgery seems to have been successful. The chronic pain in my hip, knee and leg are all gone. I have some minor issues from the hardware put in and I will be having surgery sometime this year to remove it. I have lost some weight and I’m at 239.4lbs from the 245 I went back up to. It’s a long journey back to my lowest weight of 158.4lbs but I can only focus on today to get to the tomorrow’s.

My current combined total of weight losses and gains is likely a gazillion pounds with the fluctuations over the last 8 years but I am focusing at where I’m at now. I have lost 15.5 pounds from my highest weight of 254.9. I faced reality, I packed up my smaller clothing (but keeping it as I plan to get back there again) and I went out back to school clothes shopping for clothing that was cute and comfy – even if in larger sizes.

There have been so many stumbles the last 3 years, I’ve lost track. While I feel so far away from where I had gotten to in my journey, I still feel like I can get back on that road. I have no idea what the future looks like – and I’m not going to promise what mine will look like. I’ve learned through my setbacks that you can’t always be guaranteed where you’re heading but I can only deal with what I do in every day as it comes.

So I start with today. This morning, I went for a short walk with Ginny, I had a healthy breakfast, I did a long stationary bike ride, I did my healthy meal prep for the week, and I will also rest this afternoon. I will keep working at being the best possible of myself each and every day to come. Perhaps I’ll find the me that wears the size small and medium clothing again. Perhaps I’ll be the person that wears large or extra large but works hard every day at being healthy and her best self. Regardless of what the number is on the weigh scale, it doesn’t see the work I’ve put in or the setbacks I’ve faced. I’ll work at not letting that number on the scale define who I am either. I’ll celebrate the losses but I’ll also grow from the gains.

Scars & Souvenirs

Note: Some photos of my surgery scars – but I only share ones that are not excessively graphic!

Yesterday I returned to the pool. I’ve been approved to for a few weeks but I had a few obstacles: getting my car going again, becoming more steady (with a cane) to be able to handle driving and going out on my own, the recent disastrous increase of Covid cases in my community (many cases are the variants and it’s putting a strain in hospitals), shame for the surgery weight gain, the scars left on my leg from surgery, and the stares I’d get for using a cane at 36.

Post Op Surgery Scars – February 9, 2021 (10 weeks/2.5 months post op)

The car was fixed (needed new battery), the snow and ice melted, and I was more steady and comfortable in driving and going out without help. But I was still hesitant. A lot of the hesitation was due to not wanting to put myself at risk for Covid and also trying to determine if swimming was a necessary outing or one I could omit to help my community reduce the spread of cases. I talked to my local YMCA and my physiotherapist. The current protocol in the pool and the Y made me feel very safe in going to the pool and that swimming wouldn’t be an unnecessary risk. My physiotherapist also strongly believed it would be immensely helpful in my recovery and my progress. Yet, when I put on a bathing suit, I saw my reflection and at first, I did not recognize the woman in the mirror.

First time back in a bathing suit. 4.5 months post op.

Now, I’m not a vain person. I am the woman who stopped using make up 7 years ago because I liked the woman I was without makeup and always felt more comfortable without. I’m the woman who lived in an excessively overweight body for most of my childhood, all of my teen years and most of my twenties. I’ve learned to live in a body I didn’t feel comfortable in and to still dress and style myself to be comfortable for me, not others.

However, a huge part of me wanted to use multiple excuses – Covid, using a cane, all the other physio I’m already doing and justifying it as enough, wait until I lose some weight – to not return to swimming. But I forced those thoughts back, threw on pants and a hoodie over my suit, I grabbed my swim bag, I drove to the YMCA, I got out of my car, made it to the change room, and I got myself into the pool.

The swim felt amazing!

First post op swim

I did receive some stares and some even asked – and I just shared my story and I found so many were supportive and one person said to me: “If you can come back to the pool from all of that, and be here even with a cane and scars, then I have no excuse to come back tomorrow either.” So when I came across the quote: “I would rather have a body full of scars and a head full memories than a life of regrets and perfect skin.”, I really understand what that meant.

The body full of scars is both physical and mental scars. This journey is not just a physical battle but it is a mental battle almost every hour. Some days I have to really convince myself to complete a physio task as I’m so exhausted physically and mentally. The weight gain has been a major mental challenge with myself. I worked hard to lose the weight I did over 3 years and I worked hard throughout the before surgery, during surgery and after surgery to eat healthy and do what I could to manage it – but unfortunately not being able to do the high intensity of training I used to, the weight has crept back on – very nearly to where I was when I began.

Yes, I could take all of what I’ve been through, the setbacks I’ve had, and the losses this journey has created and fixate on it to a point of a major depression. And trust me, I have been near there – I won’t sugarcoat it. This. Is. Not. Easy. And to accept and face it every day takes an emotional toll. So I tell myself take each task one at a time. Take each hour by hour, each day by day.

So, with swimming I focused on step by step. First I called to ask about Covid protocol. Next, I packed my swimming bag. After, I booked a swim time. Then, I put on my bathing suit followed by throwing on clothes. By putting suit on at home, it reduced the anxiety of getting changed in change room both due to my weight gain and my scars, and I could have less excuses to leave the change room and not get into the pool. I still had to shower and change after the swim, but it was getting into the pool that would be the challenge as after, you have no choice but to shower and change – especially in Saskatchewan when winter returns – there’s no way you can just leave in your wet suit!

Shorts weather… my top 2 scars are covered but the middle scar (the worst one) and one my knee show.

So, I am battling a body full of physical and mental scars. But I will have memories of how hard I fought this whole journey. My goal isn’t to look perfect, act perfect, or have perfect skin during this setback or even after it. But when I look back, I hope I can say I didn’t have regrets with how I dealt with what I was given. I still aim to get back on track with my weight loss journey and to get back to as many activities I used to do before this. My priority is returning to teaching, followed by being able to do long walks, rucking, kettlebells, and hopefully running too. My priority is to always recognize the woman in the mirror regardless of what she looks like and if her physical appearance changes, for better or for worse.

And I’ll put on those shorts and bathing suits without shame but with pride in the warrior I am and for the scars and memories I am fortunate to have – as it all just means I am alive, I am living life the best I can, and that I fought for myself to have a better pain free life.

Running or Winning?

In summer 2020, I read “No One Ever Asked” by Katie Ganshert.

Click image to go to the Goodreads addition for this book.

I highlighted this quote in the book: “I guess the question you need to ask yourself is, What do you really love? Running or winning? If it’s running, then you’re not really going to lose …”

Since March 2018, I’ve really faced missing out – on training, on running, and on races and events. I had to cancel all of my events in February 2020 due to my hip condition – even before that became a reality for everyone else with the pandemic. Everyone has been faced with missing races and fitness events as we once knew them since the pandemic a year ago. Sure, there are virtual races everywhere but any athlete will tell you that it isn’t the same feeling.

But when you’re also faced with being on the sidelines completely, the first thing you miss is not the races – it’s the running. It’s the training. While I am a positive person, I cannot deny how often I feel down when I can’t just get out for a run, ruck, or ruck. Or when I can’t just crush a kettlebell workout. As well, not being able to be a part of doing any training with my team has been very isolating.

Every athlete has had to face this pandemic reevaluating and replanning training and races. But my hip surgery has left me with even less, and some days that crushes you. Everyone is feeling the effects of the losses but some have lost even more. I am worse off than some, but I am better of than many too.

As a teacher, I truly love being in the classrooms. Teaching Core French isn’t just what I do but a part of who I am. I miss every moment I’m missing teaching. But I do have to take care of myself first – and that’s hard to do. I am better at taking care of others!

I can focus on all that I’ve lost this past year and that I’m losing right now in teaching, running and training. But if I focus on what I really love – while I can’t do it now, there’s a lot of hope that I’ll be able to in the future. I may be sidelined but what I truly love – running, rucking, walking, kettlebells – will always be there. I still don’t know what I’ll all be able to return to but I do know that I will be returning to my active lifestyle. It may mean long walks but no running. It may mean no swinging kettlebells but I will be able do other kettlebell work. Right now, I’ve been told nothing I was doing before this fitness wise is off the table yet.

So, if focus on my love of teaching, running, and other training and embody the reasons of why I love those into what I’m doing now in my recovery and whatever I’m able (or even not able) to do in the future, I am not “really going to lose anything.”

Old photo of me running at Wascana Trails with Ginny.