Officially Cleared

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Thanks to last week’s snow, my surgery followup was postponed until this week, but it went great!  I’m healing like a champion and cleared to resume activities, including swimming.  My doctor did recommend I not do any insane ab workouts, because even though it would be really hard to cause a hernia, better safe than sorry.  Besides, who wants to do an insane ab workout?  The regular ones are hard enough!

Of course, my energy levels aren’t back to normal and won’t be for 8-12 weeks after surgery (I’m not quite 4 weeks out).  So I’m not quite back to regular workouts.

For example, this weekend, I got on my trainer and decided to do a “long” ride, time to be determined by how I felt.  I was doing 2 hour plus rides prior to surgery.  At around 80 minutes, I was definitely feeling the fatigue but did some easy pedaling to get me to 90 and called it quits.  I’m not disappointed in this at all.  I got in the exercise and it’s more than I was able to do the week before.  But I’m also not going to push myself.

So as planned, the rest of March (what few days there are left) and the month of April is going to be all about training by feel and not beating myself up about missed exercise.  I am, of course, making sure to do my PT exercises because I have to get this hip into shape if I want to be able to run.  And it means going to the pool at least once a week, even though I pretty much never feel like going.  I’m always glad to have gone.

Yesterday, I had Physical Therapy.  I walk there and back, and it’s about a mile each way.  My session is 30 minutes of table work followed by 30 minutes of exercise.  By the time I got home last night, I was exhausted, and that’s not my norm.  Typically after PT, I was able to do a solid bike ride, even with that two mile walk.  It just goes to show that I’m just not quite there yet.

I’m tempted to do an FTP test on my bike this weekend to get an idea of where I am, simply because it will be nice to see the improvement, rather than work all month and then do a test and look at how much fitness I’ve lost.  I know that right now, I’m not as strong as I was.  That’s totally okay.  I think I’m going to try to chart the improvement, because it’s pretty much guaranteed to happen!

Back to Reality

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After a glorious two weeks at home, it’s back to reality.  Yes, I’m back at work this week.  And to be honest, it’s not so bad.  In terms of recovery, I don’t think I actually needed the full two weeks off, but it was certainly better safe than sorry.  The added rest was certainly nice, and I’m sure the lower stress level helped too.

Week one was pretty quiet.  I spent a lot of time just hanging out and watching tv.  I made a few quick outings, nothing too strenuous, and a week after surgery, I was able to walk on the treadmill, though it was slow going.  By Wednesday of the next week I was feeling pretty great.  Still being careful, but I could get on my bike without pain and spent some time doing small projects around the house (while still getting in quality couch time with the cats).

Work hasn’t been bad at all.  Monday I did a full day, went for a 2 mile walk at lunch, and still had plenty of energy for a bike ride that evening.  I’d say I’m well on my way to recovery.

In terms of training, I’m taking that much more slowly.  I’m not allowed to swim for four weeks, so basically, I won’t be making a return to the pool til April.  I haven’t been running because of my hip, but I’m working with my physical therapist (going back this week), and we’re going to make a plan to get me back to running.  And I’m easing into biking, not pushing too hard.

Obviously, I haven’t been working with my coach this month and I think I’m going to take April off from formal training as well, and just work with what feels good.  Plan a workout, but just do it by feel.  I’ll still try to get in 2 workouts from each sport, but not overtax myself.  After all, I don’t have any major race goals this year except to cross some finish lines.  I’m not racing til July.  Plenty of time to get ready.

Of course, as I watch the snow come down outside my window, it’s a bit strange to be thinking about triathlon!  Happy spring?

Mental Health – It’s not just in your head

Over the past week, I’ve seen a number of things floating around pushing the importance of exercise for your mental health. One article (which I will not link) went so far as to imply that in many cases of depression, exercise works just as well as medication. And we’ve all heard the saying “Running is cheaper than therapy.” And that’s true. Exercise is great for helping you feel better.

Until it doesn’t.

Recently, Outside magazine had a phenomenal article about anxiety and mental health. This is one of the best descriptions of anxiety that I have read in a long time. For those of you who have experienced it, you will recall the feelings immediately. For those of you who haven’t, I recommend checking out the whole article.

When the anxiety is at its worst, I’m not present for anything. It’s as if I’m going through life with my hands in front of my face. It’s an overwhelming and devastating feeling that is very different from what I used to think anxiety was (feeling exceedingly nervous before a public speaking gig or butterflies on the start line of a marathon, for example). It can feel like I’m two different people. During “normal” periods, my non-anxious self knows how irrational my anxious self is being, but my anxious self doesn’t abide by reason.

Read that last sentence again. It’s so incredibly true. People with anxiety can see that their anxiety is often irrational, but when trapped in that anxiety, you can’t see the way out.

I have suffered from anxiety for years. Probably the majority of my life, or at least since I was old enough to be anxious about something. At its worst, I had a doctor look at me, tap his pen against the running shoes I was wearing, and tell me that I needed to be using those shoes for their purpose and not just wearing them to walk around. At the time, I was in the middle of training for a half marathon.  Clearly, exercise wasn’t going to work, and honestly, it was really insulting to hear that from a medical professional.

Now that’s not to say that exercise doesn’t help.  I do feel better when I’m getting the extra endorphins from exercise.  I think I’m a happier person when I’m able to workout.  But I’m not sure it has a huge effect on my anxiety levels.  My anxiety is a product of screwy brain chemistry, and what works is medication.  And I’m not ashamed of that.

Current society has such a stigma against mental health medications.  We don’t shame people for needing glasses (okay, so some kids will tease other kids with glasses, but that’s a different story).  And what are glasses but something to correct vision that doesn’t work quite right thanks to changes completely out of our control.  And sure, there might be some things you can do to help your vision, like taking a break from the computer every hour, but these things are very minor, and for the majority of people who need glasses, won’t help much.

Medication for depression or anxiety is the same.  Sure, there are some minor things you can do to help your situation, but often times, the issue just can’t be fixed without medication.  Can you function without it?  Sure, some people can.  But for others, it is excessively challenging, to the point of being unable to get through daily functions.

I’m not saying that everyone on medication for mental health needs to shout it from the rooftops.  We all have a right to privacy, and no one has to share anything about their health with the general public.  But we should remember that there are many people out there who take medications for their mental health, and there are many people who are too ashamed to talk to their health care providers about medications because of the stigma.  No one should ever be ashamed of their health status.

So yes.  Exercise can help improve your mental health.  But it’s not the only solution and for many people, it’s not the best solution.  So if you need something more than exercise, you shouldn’t be ashamed or feel like you’ve failed in any way.  It’s ok to not be ok.

Update: Ovarian Cyst Removal & Recovery

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So I’m now five days past surgery and feeling pretty good. I’m moving pretty well, but not doing any activity other than walking. If the weather were nicer, I’d probably go on a walk around the neighborhood, but instead I’m just doing laps around the house.

One of the worst parts of surgery for me was the unknown. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen and I was definitely nervous. I looked online to see if other people had talked about their surgeries, and most of what I found was stuff about hysterectomies, which I suppose is similar, but a much larger surgery. So I thought I’d put my experience out there.

My scheduled surgery was a laparoscopic procedure to remove a large dermoid cyst on my ovary, plus the ovary and Fallopian tube. For funsies, my doctor had me do a bowel prep, meaning I needed to be totally empty prior to the surgery. That way if something happened and the bowel got nicked, it wasn’t as big of an issue. And the bowel prep was totally not bad at all. I think staying hydrated definitely helped. I never had bad cramping or any issues.

Surgery day dawned with an insane windstorm. Tropical storm strength winds. So that made for a slightly sleepless night the night before. Not that I planned to sleep all that well anyway. I made my way to the hospital with my mom and my sister, who flew in for my surgery. It was definitely nice to have them there.

Not long after we got there, we headed back to the pre-surgical area. I got into my super cute gown and they hooked me up to a saline IV. And then the waiting began. I think I was in a bit of a daze from exhaustion and hunger. I expected to be freaking out and I didn’t feel as stressed as I thought I would be. As most things go with hospitals, there was a lot of waiting. I also saw a lot of people. There was a pre-op nurse, and the surgeon came by, as well as the anesthesiologist and the nurse anesthetist. Finally, after a couple of hours, it was time to head back to surgery. I got to ride on the gurney into the operating room. I didn’t have my glasses on at this point, so it was hard to see much other than the giant lights on the ceiling. They had me shift over onto the operating table, which was cushioned, something I didn’t expect. Then I remember them saying they were going to hang the good drugs, and that’s all I remember.

I came out of anesthesia in a chair, pretty much in a daze. I had an oxygen cannula in my nose, and my head was definitely spinning. I was never nauseous (thanks to the drugs from the anesthesiologist), but I couldn’t get my eyes to focus. They gave me some additional pain meds, and after the debacle with my “high” heart rate (my HR is higher as part of my heart rhythm, I hadn’t had my normal anti-anxiety drug, and they kept saying surgery was “more” than expected – which I worried meant cancer, but really meant the main incision was just a bit bigger), I was released, given some ginger ale and graham crackers, and my family was allowed to come in. I had to very carefully get up, but I was free.

Walking was a bit rough due to pulling in my lower abs, but stairs were never an issue. Stairs didn’t hurt at all, which was totally unexpected. I credit this to my general fitness level and all the PT I’ve been doing to strengthen my hips and legs. After the first day, I stopped taking the “good” drugs and have just been taking ibuprofen. The pain is like the feeling the day after you do a crazy ab workout and regret everything. It hurts, but it’s just the muscles, and once I’m moving, it’s not so bad. At first rolling over to get out of bed was rough, but that’s much better by now.

I’m really taking it easy and doing a lot of lounging. Catching up on tv and reading. Petting the cats. Because even though I’m feeling pretty good, my body is still healing. My abdomen is definitely still bloated, and I’m a little afraid I will be wearing yoga pants when I finally do go back to work. I took a full two weeks off, but will likely do some telework next week to stave off boredom.

I’ve got a Follow-up with my surgeon in a few weeks, but I expect to be fully cleared to get back to training. It’s all about easing back in (and also continuing to rehab my hip), but this surgery seems to just be a bump in the road.