I couldn’t figure out the best title for this post. It covers a lot regarding pain, insecurity, depression, anger, and the one none of us thinks we have—entitlement. But at the beginning and the end of this gloomy recall of my last several months is hope. Please bear with me: I think the words pouring from my heart right now ring true with quite a few folks, though few think someone else will understand.
Let’s get this talk of pain out of the way, as it really is just a tool in telling the story, and not the story itself. In addition to having moderately arthritic knees (and getting worse each year; surgeries in ’89 and ’99), I also have a new tear in the right-side meniscus. Additionally, I had a series of exercise related lower back injuries last year that have given me a determined and aggravating case of sciatic pain in my right butt cheek and radiating down the leg. VA X-rays pointed toward a “retrolisthesis of L1 and L2”, which didn’t quite explain the sciatic issue, only the low back pain. The degradation of my SI joint in my pelvis is what may be causing that. And though not directly related to the story, I fractured my elbow a few months ago, which gave me a gruesomely swollen bursa sack.
The gist of this story is about how I let those affect my mindset in a few ways. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I started treating lifelong clinical depression in 2020. And though I made great progress, depression is similar to other disorders or even addictions—the treatment and maintenance against recurring issues is a lifelong endeavor.
Last July, I ventured on a discipline program called 75 Hard. In a nutshell, it is a daily checklist of items to achieve regarding eating the diet of your choice, working out or walking twice a day, and a slew of other rules. They’re all designed to benefit you, and collectively—over time—teach you discipline. Miss an item? Start the count over. In fact, I missed a simple task a few times (triggering resets), and other than that, I’d basically completed almost 100 days straight of the program before my knees gave out. I had to quit on Day 65. I literally could not walk, save the required functions around the house. I have a part-time job at a chain feed store, and I had to prioritize several days of ice and elevation just so I could be able to do that.
Even as I’d quit, I’d already had the back injuries. The beauty of the program is that you exercise to the way of your physical capabilities. I set the strength training aside each time and just walked. It was a great solution—until walking was no longer an option. As I took time off (late October and into November) to heal, the sciatic issue only seemed to get worse. And I had to start wearing my old VA supplied knee braces just to do the day job. I hadn’t worn them regularly since I’d left the federal job two years ago.
For the first few weeks, the 40 pounds I’d lost held fast as I stuck with my low-carb eating plan. Eventually all of the 75 Hard tasks fell by the wayside. I tried about 5-6 more times over the next several months to get started on the program again, but my knees just weren’t having it. To boot, there were some communication and scheduling issues with the VA, so I wouldn’t be able to get into physical therapy for the back until the end of March. Over the winter, I quit the entire plan: sticking to a diet, no cheat meals, drink a gallon of water, reading non-diction daily, two daily workouts, and taking a daily progress photo. Slowly the weight crept back on.
Whereas I was proud of my shrinking body fat, building muscles, and overall appearance at an expo I was at last October, by mid-January it was obvious the the pudge was returning. I dare not use a word like devastating, but this kind of thing can be a big blow emotionally and mentally to someone who suffers from things like anxiety, fear, insecurity, and imposter syndrome. I'd lost 40 pounds—and re-gained 43. So all of that sets up a physical and mental funk, fueled by daily pain in the back, right leg and both knees, that is merely “Part A” of this two-part depression-epoxy I’ve molded for myself.
And “Part B”? In two (overly simplified) words: social media. And more specifically, two things about it. The first is that it is (for the most part, and for most of us) a giant time-suck: about 98% “the sky is falling” negativity. The other thing is just how many of my friends—both “IRL” and on-line—seem to revel in wallowing in that nasty mud all day, every day. You can only “snooze for 30 days” so many times before you realize you’re only seeing the same three peoples’ posts every day. I found myself becoming angry. About 6 weeks back, I finally just stopped posting. I still get on a few times per day, but by not posting and not commenting on the vast majority of posts, I can now scroll through in just a minute or three and then move on to some more productive task. (*See the very bottom for an update on the actual work I’ve been up to.) This second topic will get its own lengthy post in the near future. My thoughts on how most folks are letting the social media demons suck them down the rabbit hole like lemmings is sure to rile some tempers.
Moving forward in the face of pain.
One: I journal nearly every day, right in the “Notes” app on my MacBook. Even though most of it never gets read, there is a power to calling yourself out for a flaw or mistake enough times that you can no longer ignore it. And though this mostly applies to things related to a general lack of discipline, calling myself out for it is one piece of the "deal with my pain" puzzle.
Two: Identify the issues and build a plan to address them. Try, fail, and repeat enough times, and you’ll eventually get there. For the back, I found multiple YouTube channels by physical therapists, doctors, and yoga experts. I built a 45-minute daily stretch routine. That is a small price to pay for getting rid of sciatica. And I know it works. It was getting better after four or five days. But a few days later, I missed two days in a row, and the pain started coming back.
For the knees, I got a new pair of braces, which kept slipping under my pants at work. So I started wearing them over a base-layer pant and wearing shorts to work, so that I could pull them up and tighten them as many times as I need to. Get a problem, and figure out a solution as many times as it takes. I’m not entitled to wear pants any more than I’m entitled to eat whatever carbs and sugar I want with no repercussions.
That’s right—I said it. “Entitled.” If you’re overweight, but you refuse to give up deserts and snacks, you have an entitled mindset. “Change my mind.” And I wish it wasn't like that. Heck—I'm definitely a carb-fiend, if not a sugar-addict. My heart goes out to all those overweight folks who need electric scooters just to shop. But the majority of you got there by entitled eating and nothing more complicated than that.
I’m back to the 75 Hard program, learning once more to take control and have some discipline. My knees hurt, so now I’m giving my wife’s homemade CBD gummies a legitimate try. I sit and ice if I need to. I’m doing the 45-minutes-per-day therapy in the hopes that one day I can to burpees and deadlifts and squats again. I’m coming out of my social media blackout with the intention (and a written plan) to be more targeted and specific with my posts. The brain is an enigmatic creature: the same tool which houses our fears and mindsets also contains our hopes and tools for moving forward through obstacles, if we’ll just shut up long enough to listen to it.
What I’ve been up to: Patriot Shield (Blades of Grass 4) is well on the way, but nowhere near being done. I’ve been putting in a huge amount of time on something about to launch. In just days, I will start direct-selling my paperbacks and more from my website. The Cascadia Fallen ebook trilogy will be “wide”, meaning I’m uploading to other vendors, not just Amazon. Tahoma’s Hammer will be free anywhere I can list it as such, and it will be free on my website. I’m also going to be direct selling my audiobooks. And no, the Blades of Grass audiobooks (books 2 and later) are not in production at this time. Quite simply, I can’t afford it. And I’m slowing my writing schedule just a bit to work on big chores around the homestead. We’re finally finishing fences and getting chickens!