Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Good news, fear, and Fear

Having been told I was probably going to need more surgery two months ago, it was with a great deal of trepidation that I attended fracture clinic yesterday.

All of the feedback pain-wise I'd been receiving from my leg said that things were improving. But the doctor I'd seen was adamant that we should do surgery, and the consultant overruled him, saying we would allow a couple more months to heal.

When I walked into the appointment my heart was racing: I was dreading the thought that I might have to let them do more structural work, especially because I was so sure things must be getting better. However, when I saw the X-Ray, I could immediately see where the bone callus was thicker. There was still a gap, but very small. The consultant proceeded to explain that it's a race between my bone healing and the metalwork fatiguing. I asked "Am I going to win?"
"You're winning it at the moment", he said, smiling. "Have you been pounding it like I told you to?"

So basically, I'm allowed to use it as I'd use my right leg. The consultant's words were "I don't understand why you'd do something like climbing and motorcycling" but that I basically should be fine, and can return in six months to confirm this.

So finally, I'm allowed impact. It was, quite literally, the best day of my year. Better than finishing my final exams, better than any recent achievements. I was OVER THE MOON. Still am!

I was dressed first. Seriously.

For someone who has never suffered from any fear when lead climbing or bouldering, it's more of a nightmare than I expected. I can't imagine ever feeling OK climbing normally on a bouldering wall again. You try to convince yourself that you can be happy never climbing above the kickboard, and never leading. Never pushing the level of difficulty of the move, never making a move dynamically. But how can that be true? Before I broke my leg, I don't think I knew what static meant. Bouncing between holds was how I liked to climb. Now, I'll intentionally do something which requires unnecessary strength such as cutting loose on crimps on a roof so that I can move my feet and static the next move. As technique goes, it's shameful.

At the beginning of each new thing, after any injury, pushing the boundaries is harrowing. It's often less about it being fun to climb and more about building an acceptance of a situation. Deep down I knew that although it was much worse to be broken and banned from bouldering, I was clinging on to the safety net that is medical advice not to climb and now it's gone, I'm scared.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

You Look Slimmer - Well Done?

I’m not going to blog about recovery, because quite frankly, it’s sh*t. I don’t know when it will be fixed nor when I will be able to boulder and lead. I sincerely hope that there won’t be more surgery. Not having a timescale sucks. But to be honest, there are ways to enjoy climbing safely and that’s all that matters, besides recovery. So it’s ok, mostly.

And yes, as the title implies, this is another blog, by a woman, about what the right shape of a woman is. If this bores you, please do skip to the end where there is a picture of my biceps. If you’re wondering why this is not about how men should look, it’s because I am not a man. I will update the blog if this changes.

As I eat pasta with bacon and Gorgonzola (yes, it’s f*king good), I’m pondering on something which has been in the back of my mind for quite some time. A friend re-posted a cartoon on the subject on Facebook a few months ago,  and it struck a chord. The situation is this: Since I broke my leg, a number of friends have commented on my weight. (My mother and my boyfriend’s mother did too, but in an altogether more “I should feed you” sort of way). Lots of people said that I looked “thinner”, or “slimmer”, or had thinner legs, or wondered “how I didn’t get fat while sitting around”. Well actually, here’s how:

I broke my leg. I spent a week in LGI eating very little because I was either 
a) about to have surgery,
b) having surgery 
c) crying.
 I then went home (and by home, I mean to someone else’s house because it was nicer than my student box) where I took diclofenac for too long and spent some more time unable to eat. A total of about 2-3 weeks was spent eating less than is required to maintain the same weight. I then wasn’t that hungry because opiates made me feel sick. Some kilograms were lost. A total of about four months was spent not walking. Some leg muscle wasted.

Mmmmm…. Healthy.

A lot of people complimented me on looking lighter, several said it must be good for my climbing. The problem is, I quite liked it. It made me wonder though, if they’d thought I was fat before. Would they think I was fat when I resumed normal activity and presumably put some of whatever it was that was there before back on?

I then ditched the opiates. I started to walk. I ate more. I trained more. I gained some weight.
Over the next few month months, I gained back almost exactly the same weight as I’d lost, and some of the lost leg muscle. The difference is negligible. I changed shape slightly, more Fingerboarding, less walking. But I weigh the same. Yet this is apparently a positive state of affairs.

Now I know ‘you look slimmer’ is meant as a compliment. I certainly don’t mind the people who said it, saying it. They meant well. But it is no longer something I’m pleased to be told, either. It no longer flatters me. Because it’s somewhat irrelevant. According to NHS guidelines, I wasn’t under or overweight before, and I’m not now.

I can honestly say I don’t really tell other people they look thinner or fatter because- shockingly- I rarely notice. For me I think that sort of thing actually encouraged me to question whether I looked right. A couple of friends said “Lisa, you look stronger since breaking your leg”. Now that, to me, is a compliment. That is an achievement. That is something I am proud of. If someone needs to lose weight for health reasons, then by all means do compliment them on achieving this. But if someone’s weight slightly changes because they got very broken, it probably isn’t a good thing.

I will never be skinny. Nor am I overweight. At 5’7” I weigh somewhere between 60 and 65 kilograms. I don’t actually know, nor do I want to. I have perhaps less muscle definition than I could, but I also have boobs. I like them. That’s not to say any other girls look wrong, it’s just that the lifestyle choices required to be thinner than I am now (i.e. no biscuits) would not make me happy.

That’s not to say I don’t have insecurities- who doesn’t? It’s just that whereas my teenage self used to act on these, I’m able to objectively see that for my body, eating significantly less would not be optimal for climbing gains. I would like more cardiovascular fitness, but that took a bit of a hit when I broke my leg. So I look thinner but am actually more unfit. I don’t actually think it’s the good thing people seem to think it is. What I’d actually like, is to keep getting stronger. I imagine that this will not coincide with suddenly becoming an unhealthy weight. I will continue to whine to my boyfriend when I feel insecure. He will continue to have the good sense never to comment on my weight.

People like different shapes and sizes of course. But I wish my teenage self had spent a little less time trying to be thinner. I would have looked at the way I look now and thought “Ewwwwww, FAT”. Well that’s bullshit. That’s awful! It’s not even unusual for girls to feel like that! Weight isn’t even fixed! It changes all the time. Bits of us are different densities to others! Muscle, fat, titanium. Oh wait, you don’t have titanium? Guess you’re heavier then. So unless it’s a health concern, I’ll focus on getting stronger and fitter thanks, and keep letting my body do its thing.

As promised in the introduction.

p.s. I don’t know whether the people who complimented my on looking thinner said it because they thing it looks better, or because they thought it would be what I wanted to hear. Either way, I appreciate the sentiment.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

A Taste of Summertime

I realised as I started to write that this blog has been snoozing for a couple of months now. I suppose that's because the road to recovery continues to stretch ahead, though hopefully the terrain gets easier, and for me recovering from a broken leg has become normal, part of life. Nothing to report.

Except actually, the last couple of weeks have been one of those periods of time where things suddenly seem to come together. Similarly to when you suddenly see where your training is taking you, I've suddenly found many things that were up until very recently impossible are beginning to be within reach.

Three weeks ago, traversing on a flat wall made me cry.
I just hated how much discomfort putting my entire
body weight through the rod caused. And I was scared.
Now, I can warm up on the traverse wall. YEEEEAHHH!!!
 This weekend was a weekend when most of us have remembered just what we're waiting for. A weekend to dry projects, and to play outside. I'm still not really at the point where it's easy to climb outside without a lot of planning- I guess I'm really waiting until there are more sport climbing options, and it's very hard to know what's OK- pain wise and safety wise too. But even though I was indoors today, I realised that I'm finally really seeing that I'm starting to get better and that summer will come, and I'll be able to climb in some capacity.

Medically, things are good but uncertain. Essentially, it seems that pinning/engineering lies on a fine balance between allowing enough bone movement to heal, and preventing too much bone movement to heal.
It wasn't possible to tell from the last fracture clinic whether it was making much progress any more. They explained that there is a chance that things are just slow, or it's possible that the metalwork is too stiff, preventing healing from occurring completely. If that's the case, more surgery will be required to allow things to rub a bit more... but a CT scan in the next few weeks will confirm this either way.
But for my part, they suggested as much activity as was bearable, pain wise- hopping and walking as much as possible. But not lead climbing or landing from 6ft. Ha! As if I'd dare...

So I guess I'm relieved that if things aren't really healing, I'm doing the right things, and the best thing to do is be active.

I'd hate to be put back another few weeks, but at the same time I've got used to this being long and hard, and I guess it'd be back to the finger board. 

Physio has continued to make a huge difference to my life: it's amazing how much various bits of my leg (ankle, knee, calf, hip) seem to enjoy complaining when I actually did what was best for them in a high impact situation and snapped the bit that wasn't complicated. Sometimes that gets me down but I can also see how much strength the physio has gained me, especially in the calf department, and I hope that eventually I'll reach the balance there once was.

But on a joyous, terrifying and wonderful note...

I slipped off the fingerboard, landing on both feet, a couple of weeks ago, and realised I was OK. Not only was a small amount of impact medically encouraged, but it was somehow, incredibly, bearable. 

The last week has seen  both my first bouldering session and my first board session at the Foundry. The problem of choice was dolphin belly slap. This was something I never got round to finishing last summer- I found it so much harder than it's mate crucifix traverse. But the real reason for doing it wasn't that it was a nemesis, it was that it was an absolutely bloody perfect place to start.

Barely off the ground, with no left footwork whatsoever, it couldn't have been more appropriate. With careful spotting there was absolutely no possibility of getting hurt. 
The session started really well. I felt strong, I felt surprisingly confident and it seemed like I would do it pretty quickly. But somehow, my confidence slipped after a couple of goes. I found myself yelling one time that I fell off, though not far and not painfully, and it was the sort of mortifying scream that you hate that anyone could have heard, because it comes straight from your soul, and it shows just how in control of you the fear really is.

I think the fact that I've only route climbed, and the fact that I was scared, meant that I very quickly became knackered. it seemed after all like I wasn't going to finish the problem. As much as I knew that it was an incredible thing just to be able to try the problem, I'd also attached a fair amount of symbolism to it. Somehow, well after dark, I managed to finish it... just.

I'm now at a confusing stage where a 6a sport route can shut me down completely on a flat wall if it so happens that I have to put too much weight through the rod in my tibia, but I can climb much closer to my limit on steep things. As a girl who never had any upper body strength before climbing, this is very novel.
The board at the foundry has been the starting point back into bouldering for many a climber with a leg-related injury, and I can certainly see why. I started climbing sticking to the kick board, but made it to the point where I can climb as high as my own height, without being hurt. This allows me the freedom not only to traverse the board, but undertake the challenge of zig-zagging up and down the bottom of the board to fit enough moves in. 

As much as neither of these activities were huge, or involved dropping from any height, I was amazed by how quickly they felt OK. I'm sure that bouldering proper will be more scary, but as it's not currently an option, I guess I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
For now, fingers crossed for a good CT image of bone... and I hope you enjoy the weather :-)

Monday, 27 January 2014

A Glorified Coffee Shop

Anyone who spends all of their spare time doing one activity will know the feeling of being at a loose end when, for whatever reason, you can't engage in that activity but haven't replaced it.

For me, that wasn't an issue in the early stages of recovering from breaking my leg- for the most part, I was taken down by painkillers, or asleep, or both. When I wasn't either of those, I was struggling to keep up with my degree, or occasionally finger-boarding.

I still find life pretty exhausting- some combination of growing bone, I assume, and not being used to walking around- because I'm certainly not doing as much as I was before. But today was the first day of term, post exams, I've no plans to fingerboard this week and I'm utterly dependent on someone to put a rope up for me- and then belay me- if I want to top rope. I was feeling pretty bored, so I went to my favourite bouldering centre.

Unfortunately, of course, if you can't boulder, then a bouldering wall is little more than a glorified coffee shop. You can drink coffee, socialise a bit... and that's it. And when the people you're socialising with are all climbing- or working- it doesn't take long before you find yourself standing sort of awkwardly in the no man's land that is "not-climbing-at-a-climbing-wall".

Fortunately for me, the bouldering wall in question does have an excellent coffee machine. Unfortunately, by their nature, climbing walls tend to be considerably less warm than coffee shops. This means you can't really have a read... or a snooze...

Looking at the wall, I couldn't help feeling frustrated by this middle stage of recovery. Here I was, able to walk into the centre, but not to use it for it's intended purpose. This was annoying because I knew full well that had I been able to boulder I would have enjoyed the setting. I could SEE specific routes that I would have enjoyed. Yet, though I can top rope, bouldering is out of the question until approximately May because (and my leg and brain are in agreement on this one) impact is not desirable. I suspect that even when my leg is happy with impact my brain will take some serious persuading.

Of course, come may, bouldering will be irrelevant. I realise that I broke my leg at a fairly appropriate time. By the time I am deemed fully recovered, it will be time for the route season. I'm unlikely to be confronted with a 'need' to boulder until almost a year after the accident. I see this as a nice margin for not rushing into bouldering.

On a similar vein to the irritation of not being able to boulder because of the falling aspect, I find that not being able to cycle (even though I would technically be able to use an exercise bike- in fact a fracture clinic doctor suggested it at about two months) is really annoying, because it's not the cycling that's a problem- it's the not being able to fall off. Obviously, you'd hope with cycling that you'd fall off less than 20 times an hour, but you still can't guarantee that you won't fall off at all.

They're minor complaints, when top roping is now possible, I realise. But I'm only human, and I can't help wanting what I haven't got.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Training for Climbing

Predictably, not much has happened over Christmas, climbing-wise. Things continue to heal, and pain is pretty much the current normal, but not worthy of much in the painkiller department.

After a couple of rubbish top-roping sessions, and a week of rubbish finger-boarding, I decided to re-evaluate. Top-roping had been going so badly because I was scared, and because I was getting upset when I got shut down by small left foot holds.

Finger-boarding had been going badly because as much as having a fingerboard set up at home is great, it's much harder to be motivated than training at a wall, and there are certain limitations to the "fingerboard climbing wall" meaning I was getting pretty tired.
I wanted a break, but not to stop altogether. And I needed to gain confidence on the wall. So the obvious conclusion was to replace training for climbing, with climbing for training, for a bit.

It wasn't immediately clear to me why I'd be scared top-roping. After all, I didn't get hurt on a rope, and I've never had problems with fear in any big way sport climbing (apart from when injured). But I think fundamentally, I'm terrified of hitting the wall, or banging the wall. And I'd been letting that get the better of me, climbing as statically as possible. Which is great for training, not so great for making it to the top of a route in one go.

Alistair made the mistake of asking me, after a particularly static climb, why I didn't "climb like you normally do". I think it just slipped out, and my first response was to swear at him. But although the obvious answer is that I don't have the physical ability I normally do (I don't know about strong people, but when I climb dynamically using power ALL that power comes from my legs thank you very much), he sort of had a point. It's not that simple, of course. I can't just flip a switch. But at the same time in order to climb normally, I have to let go a bit. I have to push outside my comfort zone and try things which feel uncomfortable- or they'll never feel normal.

Going outside my comfort zone isn't actually something I've got much experience in. Because I've never really felt scared of falling off with a trusted belayer, I've never really had to work at it. Of course, I'm not even dealing with leading yet, I'm still scared of top-roping. But with pushing comfort zones, it doesn't really matter how absolutely scary something is, so long as it's scarier than you'd like.

As regards getting shut down by moves, I think this comes down to remembering that learning how to climb with a weakest link that isn't everyone else's (fingers stronger than ankles...) can't always be about performance. But finger-boarding, on the other hand, is about clear gains and pushing performance, and I'd very much got into the finger-boarding mindset.

It's a great thing that recovery isn't binary. How would you stay motivated without the small improvements? But the problem with that is that you have to adjust to every stage in between initially broken and completely fixed. I have to accept that climbing and walking hurt, and that after climbing, walking hurts even more. But that since this seems largely to be as a result of muscular rebellion, and there's no long term detriment, that's just life.

Sometimes I get pretty bored of walking slowly and painfully. I can't imagine when climbing and walking will be normal. But most of the time you have to just get on with it, I suppose. So January is the month of climbing. In celebration of this, I've bought a month pass to the Foundry. This means going more than once a week is the goal. And I'm eternally thankful for Alistair's patient belaying when I can't belay him back.

I'm grateful that I could fingerboard at all, I suppose that's an advantage of going for a leg. And I'm grateful I can climb to the extent that I can. But I can't help being a little jealous of the August me, with her bouncy climbing and lack of fear.