Monday, October 23, 2017

Injuries & Surgeries: The emotional component of injury...things no one ever tells you will happen (PART 2)

"People Who Need Help Sometimes Look A Lot Like People Who Don't Need Help."

~Glennon Melton

This blog post really could be addressed to anyone recovering from an injury, who has experienced death in their life, or divorce.  The emotional landscape has similar themes amongst these three pivotal rights of passage (& yes, they are that).  Let me get some things immediatley out of the way that are uncomfortable and disconcerting.  No one told me these things would happen.  They just did, and they were unexpected.  I don't want you to feel the same shock I did, so if you ever experience any of the above mentioned transitions, you can expect one or more of the following to happen to you:

1)  Your heart will break more than any body part ever will
2) People who you thought would help you in your most vulnerable state don't
3) People who you never thought would help you in your most vulnerable state do
4) Your social circle will dissipate
5) You will feel alone
6) You will be scared
7) You will question your capabilities
8) You will transform into a new person (whether you like it or not)
9) You will not look at situations, people and circumstance with the same set of eyes again
10) If you're in the medical profession, you will become better at your job

Remember these things. 

I've always been drawn to male dominated sports.  I was skateboarding with the boys as a kid.  Racing them on bikes.  Tried to join the high school surf club in 1992, and was not allowed to (yes, even in the 90's).  The teacher who was the head of the club looked at me and said, "Oh, I'm sure you have better things to do than surf.  Why don't you join the cheerleading squad?"  So, that's what I did.  I would still bike down to the beach on my lunch break, and watch the surfers with envy. 

Surfing on the Oregon Coast

Here is something that I've discovered for myself, amongst disbelief, heartache, and confusion.  The vast majority of men are what I term "emotionally crippled."  From surfing, to "CrossFit," climbing to martial arts, they haven't done their inner work.  Rarely, do you find one that's "sat with his demons" in therapy, or sought after his own vulnerability.  This is something female athletes need to realize.  If you become one of the "wolf pack," realize that when you become injured, you (most likely) will be surrounded by a group of emotionally stunted "friends," who won't know how to support you through pain.  Often, I've tended to fall into the "sister" role of my "bands of merry men."  Driving "NyQuil" over to their house, at the first sign of the "man flu," checking in on them, when you don't see them in the line up, on the mats, at the gym, or at the climbing crag, etc.  But, as a female amongst a predominately male crowd, the chances of reciprocity are slim.  This is because your vulnerability mirrors their lack of coming to terms with their own.  Your injury reflects the fact to them that, they too, aren't invincible.  This, is something that shakes them to their core.  Its something they squirm with, emotionally, and don't know how to handle.  The lack of support for you will be painful.

The men, that I've noticed that tend to be the exception to this, are men who have been either raised by women, have only sisters, or are in the medical profession.  They've lived amongst and/or tend to be a bit more in touch with vulnerability, and less scared of it.

When my collarbone broke I was already working with a sports psychologist, weekly.  I was focused on training for "Masters Worlds," in the sport of Jiu-Jitsu, and sought out Melinda Halpern from "GRIT Performance."  Melinda's expertise is performance enhancement, and working through any mental/emotional stumbling blocks that can prevent you from performing your best.

I was grateful to already have an established client/therapist relationship with her, when my injury occurred.  Overnight, our focus together changed from performing at my peak, to daily tasks.  In the blink of an eye I went from feeling confident, at the top of my game, ready to bring that game to a competition setting to "What just happened to me?"  Melinda continues to be my weekly foundation of "You can do this."  She also offers a lens and perspective on the insecurities athletic injuries mirror in those around them.  Its been eye-opening.

I had one girlfriend say to me, "Almine, your collarbone is overwhelming to me.  I'm sorry.  I'm going to need some space from you when you're like this."  I was stunned.  Truly.  I couldn't get out of bed by myself.  All I did was ask her to help me out of bed.  She walked out my front door instead.  All I could think was, "Well, thank God, this wasn't worse than a collarbone break.  She would've been running for the hills."

My job as a health care provider is to offer relief, a listening ear, and support for people in pain.   You will find that people you know and trust are comfortable with you as a pillar of strength in their life, but not when you're weak.  Its a rude awakening.  This will act as a "friend filter."  It will clarify, in a harsh, clear, abrupt manner, whose there for you, and who really isn't, when the chips are down.  Its a painful realization, but it distills those people down, who are necessary for our life growth, and those who aren't.

For those of you who haven't been to Bend, Oregon, its an outdoor enthusiasts dream.  It's been called "Little Boulder."  It has some similarities to Boulder, Colorado, but on a smaller scale (& offers more affordable cost of living).  People move here for the year 'round outdoor life.  Mountain biking, kayaking, white water rafting, trail-running, rock climbing, hiking, skiing, snowboarding, etc.  Its all here in abundance.  What that also means is that activity is entrenched with friendship, and vice versa.  You see your friends, because of the sports you share.  When you're no longer able to do those sports, they virtually disappear from you life.  Its lonely and awkward.  They don't know if they should invite you to climb, run, etc., because they don't want to make you feel weird.  But, then you feel left out.  Almost like you did in 4th grade, when you didn't get invited to the birthday party.  Its a no win situation.  You social circle dissipates.  Its gets small.  And your happiness starts to shrink with it.

Climbing at "Smith Rock," Terrebonne, Oregon

This, too, is something I've been grateful to have Melinda to help me navigate, emotionally.  I didn't anticipate to what extent this affected me.  Most of the sports I do take at least you and another person to accomplish.  Climbing is the way, Jiu-Jitsu is this way, etc.  Now, my life consists of my head under the water in the pool, swimming, on a spin bike, or in a Pilates class.  None of these offer the social interaction that I'm used to, and that I value so much in the sports I do.  It is lonely, when you go from socially dependent sports to a "solo sport."  The "rules" change in your life about how to navigate friendship, when everyone else is playing outside.

The last thing I'll share some thoughts on is the pros/cons of social media.  I look at social media like water, like money.  Its neutral.  It can help or harm.  Empower or destroy.  Its in the intent of the user.  Its a beautiful marketing tool for the self-employed (like myself).  Its fast, free, efficient, and can reach large groups of people with the "click" of a button.  The "shadow" side of social media, to me, however, is that it has made humans "emotionally crippled," or "lazy."  We believe, sitting there, staring at someone's posts means that you truly know them.  This is inaccurate.  We all post what we want others to see.  Again, this is good for marketing.  There's nothing wrong with marketing.  Its how we eat and keep our lights on.  But, please make note:  staring at someone's posts doesn't mean you REALLY know them, know what level of pain they're experiencing, and is a lazy way of making yourself feel better that you've "checked in on them."  Know of someone, whose in your "inner circle" of your life whose in pain (for whatever reason)?  Pick up the phone.  Drop by their home.  Ask them what you can do for them (in whatever capacity you're able to help), bring them a meal.  Texting is barely adequate, and a small step up from nothing, but it IS better than nothing.  Don't let yourself fall into the trap of "emotional numbness."

Even saying, "I feel inadequate, and helpless, seeing you in so much pain" is powerful.  Its a friend offering their vulnerability back to you.  You don't have to know what to say or do.  I think someone holding your hand, saying that they don't know what to do for you is more powerful than the emotional "cop out" of saying/doing nothing at all.

All, in all, I would say this has been in the top 3 worst adult years for me.  Its been a powerful in-depth look at areas of my life that were "stuck," or "stagnant."  One day at a time, as I dig my way out of physical pain, isolation from friends and activities, back to re-discovering who I am, I build strength.  The phoenix rising from the ashes is a powerful symbol of what the emotional journey of death, injury, surgery or divorce is like.  You are not the same, with every inch you claw your way out.  You also gain exponential internal strength with every claw mark you make.

The phrase "BE MORE HUMAN" reminds us all that we are vulnerable...no matter how hard we pretend we're not, and that there's no cyber substitute for holding someone's hand, and bringing them a meal.


Saturday, September 16, 2017

Injuries & Surgeries: The lows, real lows, mehs & fuck yeahs (PART 1)

"Never Be Ashamed Of A Scar.  It Simply Means You Were Stronger Than Whatever Tried To Hurt You."
~ Anonymous

This is a 3-part series.  Why?  Because injuries are multi-layered.  They're irrational.  Complex.  Throw surgery into the mix, and it gets even more hairy.  The fact of the matter is, injuries suck.  People try to make you feel better about them, through a coping mechanism of throwing new age rhetoric, spiritual advice, and inspirational quotes at you.  If you're anything like me, its just pisses me off more.  I'm already frustrated.  I'm not asking for a sermon, a "Hallmark" card, or anything else, except for you to acknowledge that its frustrating and it sucks.  Don't say you'll be there "for" me either.  You can't.  Its my journey, and mine alone.  What a patient needs to hear you say is, "I'm here with you."

Why?  Because, there will be many ups and downs.  Tears of anger, frustration, fear and sadness.  You cannot walk that road for me.  What you can do is be a listening companion when the pitfalls and plateaus occur.

This is something important to remember.  Whether you are a health care provider, spouse, partner, family member, friend, whatever...you cannot be there FOR someone.  You can only be there WITH someone.

With that being said, this first part, of the 3-part series is focused on the physical.  The other two parts will address more the emotional and  mental components, because they are real.  Very real.  For some of us, even more real than the physical pain.  Most athletes have a high pain threshold.  There's even a little bit of "hurt-so-good" that we all even get off on.  We have to, otherwise we wouldn't keep going back to our sport.  To an athlete, the emotional and mental are much bigger demons to grapple with than any physical pain.  Its why we're athletes.

But today, we will discuss some physical things you can do for pain, both pre-op and post-op. They're both equally important.  I'll also share some physical tips that have helped me.  Everyone's different, but over a decade in practice as both a licensed acupuncturist and personal trainer, have given me some insight on this topic.  I've treated it, on both the pre and post op ends. I've also helped personal training clients regain their strength, agility, flexibility, speed and power, when they thought there was no hope.  As a patient, I'm going through that rehab. process myself.  I'm no longer a health care provider, whose on the outside looking in.  I'm living it right now.  Its painful, frustrating, heartbreaking, and a long haul.  You have to search, everyday, for small successes.  You have to clap for those small successes when no one is clapping for you.  Its often an empty lonely feeling, and no one can sit in the fire but you.  You get burned, charred, roasted...and then you get up the next day and do it again.

PRE-OP:  Everyone's process is different.  Some people will be able to get into surgery the day of the injury.  I didn't have that luxury.  I live in Bend, OR. for multiple reasons:  originally, I moved here to climb at "Smith Rock State Park."  I'm a climber, first and foremost.  It has been a chunk of my adult life.  Its the activity where I truly found my power, my mastery over fear, was able to glimpse what I was capable of in extreme conditions, and could test my physical limits.  Bend is a mecca for the outdoor enthusiast.  If you live in another part of the country, you could almost think of it as the "Aspen," "Mammoth," "Telluride," or "Moab" of the Pacific N.W.  With top athletes, from all over the world, moving here for the outdoor access, comes lots of injuries.  And, waiting in line for surgery.  Sometimes for weeks, which was my case.  I was in excruciating pain for weeks, until I was operated on.  I passed out unconscious from the pain level, three times the first week, post injury.  It was that bad. One time I vomited, so hard from the pain, I ended up passing out, hitting my head on the toilet, and waking up in a pool of blood.  It must've occurred when I hit my head on the toilet.  I don't remember.  I fancy myself a girl with a very high pain threshold.  According to my surgeon, "You didn't break your collar bone.  That would be easy.  You, essentially, threw a boulder through a glass window, and shattered it into a hundred pieces."

How did I manage the pain, as I had to wait in line for surgery?  There were 20 mountain bikers ahead of me, all waiting for new collar bones.  "Everyone needs a new bike and collar bone in Bend," my surgeon laughed.  Sleeping became next to impossible.  Sleep deprivation only throws gasoline on the fire of pain.  I don't take pharmaceuticals, normally, but I know when they're needed.  I tried everything the surgeon gave me.  Nothing.  No pain reduction of any kind.  I was shocked.  I really thought the strongest pain meds. out there would knock out a "light weight" like me.  Not at all.

Finally, after consulting with my Naturopathic physician, I bit the bullet, and got some marijuana edibles.  I'd never taken edibles before.  I don't drink.  I haven't smoked pot in years.  It never really did anything for me, except give me a sore throat and make me feel lethargic.  I'm too active for that. Sitting on the coach, eating junk food, living a hazy life, doesn't interest me.  But, damn, was I glad for one tiny little 25 mg. chocolate marijuana edible per day.  That one little chocolate bought me 8-10 hrs. of pain free sleep per day.  It was truly a god send for me during those weeks leading up to surgery.  I told my surgeon I was taking marijuana edibles.  He approved.  Each state is different, but in Oregon its legal.

I'd never had a judgement about people needing marijuana for pain.  I've always voted in favor of it.  But, hell, if I didn't have a whole new level of appreciation for it now.  I also used the same 25 mg. chocolates for 2 days post-op, then nothing after that for pain.  Side effect free.

PRE-OP, Hurting In A Big Way (I can still smile while I'm in pain)

If you need this level of pain relief, let you're Dr. know you're doing it. I spoke with my LNP and she approved whole heartedly. There was nothing else they could give me for pain.  Go to a qualified, certified dispensary.  Don't play with strains and dosage yourself, unless you really understand the plant, and all the science of its anti-inflammatory benefits.  I have a graduate degree in herbalism, and I still don't pretend to be educated on this plant.  Growing marijuana, and the resulting pain relieving medicine that comes from it is both an art and science.  Don't pretend to know it if you don't.

I also went to the pool, every single day, from my injury to surgery.  Why?  Most people forget about the pool, and water's amazing healing benefits.  I knew that one of the side complications of an upper extremity break is "frozen shoulder," or adhesive encapsulitis.  This is problematic.  I treat it with acupuncture often.  Its better to prevent it, than treat it.  To have your arm in one position, day in, day out, in a sling or otherwise can create this issue.

In the pool, there is little load on the skeletal frame.  That means, if you have a fracture or a broken bone, even swelling from another type of injury, that you will experience relief in the water.  Just ask a pregnant woman.  She feels immense relief at the gravity being taken off her body, as she carries her own skeletal frame around, plus a baby's.  This is why, often, water birthing tubs can bring such relief for women in labor.  It takes all weight bearing load off her, so she can focus on the labor process.

For one hour per day, my body was free of pain in the water.  I also felt safe in that weightless environment to take my arm out of the sling and slowly, gently, move my arm in various directions, to prevent "frozen shoulder."  Keeping your arm in one position, 24/7, for weeks on end isn't wise.  A number of complications can ensue from it.  If you can, plan to be in the water, and move it slowly, every day, until your surgery.  According to my surgeon, I went into surgery with the best range of motion possible.  He was shocked.  He asked me what I did.  When I told him, he was amazed.  "If all my patients did that, surgery would look different."  I believe in the power of water in all ways:  taken internally, for fitness, pre/post-op range of motion, breath control, there isn't much it won't do for you.  My father taught me this.  He believes water will cure, or assist most things.  I think he's right.  As soon, as I was cleared from my surgeon, post-op, to get back in the pool, I did immediately.  Again, I'm ahead of schedule on where my range of motion should be.  This is because of the water, and diligent, consistency with both physical therapy and acupuncture weekly.  There's no question in my mind.  These three things are a magic combination.


Some physical therapy clinics have hydrotherapy pools at the facility.  Some physical therapists even get in the pool with you, and assist you with various exercises.  If you have access to this, take advantage of it.  If you don't, perhaps speak with your physical therapist about what exercises he/she recommends you do in the pool.  You won't be sorry you did.  Once my incision was completely healed, and I was cleared by my surgeon to get in the pool, I've seen exponential gains, daily.

Acupuncture and physical therapy should be considered "non-negotiables," post-op.  Pre and post-op is even better.  I treat many people, who come in with their "tail between their legs," saying, "Almine, I'm here because I wasn't consistent with my physical therapy, and now, a year later, I'm in bad shape." Don't let that be you.  Do it right the first time.  Give you body the environment and tools it needs to heal properly.  Acupuncture makes physical therapy work even better, and vice versa.

And speaking of water...I've got news for you.  As a certified fitness trainer, with 6 different certs. in water fitness, I'd like to invite you to think "outside the box," in the pool.  Many people find swimming tedious.  "Almine, please don't tell me to go to the pool.  Swimming is so boring.  I go up, I go down, up, down...I don't like to get my hair wet, I don't like to get my face underwater, etc."  I've heard all the reasons why my patients and personal training clients squirm at the thought of getting in the pool.  Think on this 'lil "nugget" of advice from my pool loving father:  "Swimming is the one sport you can age with."  True story.  There is little, if any, downside to water fitness.  I do want to stress the words "water fitness."  If you want to read more in depth about this, you can visit another blog post I wrote on the topic:  http://alminewellness.blogspot.com/2013/04/water-fitness-why-you-should.html

There are many ways to workout in the water.  If you do enjoy lap swimming, and its a motion your physical therapist has cleared you to do, you can add a little fun to it by purchasing a waterproof iPOD.  Download your favorite playlists, and match your cadence in the water to a motivating beat. SwimOutlet.com has got a variety of them to choose from.

Waterproof iPOD for a motivating beat while you swim

Also, "SpeedoFIT" is a system of fitness that appeals to a "CrossFit" coach, like myself.  I like the high intensity movements of "CrossFit."  One of the criticisms of "CrossFit," and I believe its warranted, is about form.  Particularly, in the Olympic Lifting department.  I agree with this criticism.  You need to be able to look whatever system you adhere to/support, and be able to criticize it, also.  The water forces you to slow all movements down.  You have no choice but to concentrate on form.  Doing kettlebell work, at the bottom of the pool is not only difficult, in the way of breath control, it also forces you to work on perfect hip extension, glute activiation, and posterior chain mobility.  And, in case you were wondering, the added resistance of the water makes each movement even more difficult.

People have a strange concept that things in the water are easier.  It couldn't be further from the truth. They generally don't account for the added 15-25x more resistance than they'll encounter on land.  Its a full proof medium for fitness, with little to no injury factor.  Its genius for rehab., and beyond.  You can find some great ideas for water fitness at:  http://www.speedousa.com/speedofit

Everything from kettlebells, resistance paddles, push plates, and barbell work can be found there.  I'd also highly recommend you check out your local pool's class schedule.  I used to teach an "Aqua Boot Camp" class, for years in Portland.  It was not an easy class at all.  That rope you typically see the kids play on at the pool?  Yeah, you climbed laps up that, fell in the water, swam sprints, did partner carry work, kettlebells, etc.  Many students couldn't complete one class, and this was at a top training facility, where elite "Nike" athletes trained.  The water is a level playing field.  Its improves everything, and everyone's fitness, no matter what sport you play.

More and more innovative ways to improve one's fitness, and decrease recovery time, are being discovered.  Recently, I went to Las Vegas to the national "AquaBike" training facility.  I met with the staff, discussed both rehab. and fitness possibilites, and tried out the latest water training equipment. For several days I ran and biked my heart out...under water.  Yes, you read that right.  The future of fitness is in the water.  You heard it here.  Throw a spin bike in the pool, and it'll feel like you're biking through deep snow.  An underwater treadmill makes a "True Form Runner"  treadmill look like a warm up.  They were incredible pieces of equipment that were both difficult, and eye-opening, simultaneously.  Again, emphasis, due to the resistance of the water, was on form.  Like running in quick sand?  It may not sound appealing, but the benefits are amazing.  Think you're a good "CrossFitter"?  Work out in water.  A slice of "humble pie" is coming your way, and it tastes good :-)

Aqua Biking  & Running In Las Vegas, POST-OP

Fitness is something I can't emphasize enough, pre-op.  I was limited in what I could do daily. Brushing my teeth was exhausting.  I couldn't brush my hair.  Doing the basics "winded" me.  I'd have to sit down, after going from one end of the house to the other.  That's how much effort it took.  To get off the sofa had to be pre-meditated.  It would send so much pain through my body, if I did it even slightly at an improper angle, my knees would buckle, and I would involuntarily fall back onto the couch.  The only way I figured how to do it, pain free, is with the "Turkish Get-Up" movement (see video).  How did I know that movement, and have it down pat?  From over a decade of "CrossFit."  Am I advocating you do "CrossFit"?  It may seem like it, but not necessarily.  What I am advocating is that you make fitness a priority in your life.  I had to carry heavy things, sometimes, when I was alone at home, with my "good arm."  If that arm wasn't in shape, I would've felt helpless, many more times than I already did.  Fitness is there for you, when your body is injured.  If you injure one leg, be grateful you have a strong other one.  Established fitness will help you feel capable at a time when you're at an all time low.

A Broken Wing Is A Sad Girl

Often, I treat people for their "good" limb, because the person was out of shape to begin with, had a surgery.  Then, because the other limb wasn't in good shape to begin with, they injured that one too, trying to do everything with it.  Now, we have two injured limbs.  A strong, flexible, cardiovascularly sound body is a machine.  It will "pick up the slack," when its injured.  You'll be grateful the rest of your body feels capable and strong, when one part isn't.  Fitness is preventative. Its also curative. Make it habit.  It will give back to you a hundred fold.

Another system of fitness, that I've recently embraced has been "Barre."  The founder of "Barre 3" was told by her physicians that after a serious injury, that she would never do the sports she loved again.  She could not accept that.  She sought out the best yoga, ballet and Pilates teachers in the world.  She combined the 3 disciplines into a fast burning, strength building system that has been amazing for my recovery process.  I love yoga.  I taught mat Pilates for 10 years in Portland.  I did ballet as a teenager.  These were three combined disciplines I could get behind, and feel comfortable knowing I would stay strong, without the high intensity impact.

To put hardware in one's body entails critical stages where the hardware is vulnerable to be jolted out of place.  My surgeon was serious in emphasizing this.  One martial arts instructor busted all 10 screws out, just by teaching his students to "shadow box" last month.  Several days prior to my one month, post-op appointment, a man hiking, came in with internal bleeding from his plate being jolted out of place.  "All he did was hike down a hill," my physician's assistant said.  "No backpack on either."  There are critical junctures where even lower body activities, such as box-jumps, jumping rope, etc. are out of the question.  The possibility of hardware coming out, while the bone is still healing, is still a high possiblity.  "Barre" was the perfect answer for me.  Lots of max static hold movements, while holding weights, makes for an incredible workout.  "CrossFit" advocates training small accessory muscles.  How many really do it?  Few.  How many know how to train them correctly?  Few.  Exercise such as Pilates, barre work, and yoga train your accessory muscles, force you to focus on form, and sweat buckets while holding awkward poses with complete balance.  Its pure concentration, mixed with strength, flexibility, and body awareness.  "CrossFit" is difficult with large motor movements.  "Barre" and Pilates is difficult with small motor movements.  Both are needed for complete fitness.  They're yin/yang of one another.  Train small and large motor movements, you have perfect fitness.


You can never do too much core work.  You can never work on activating your glutes enough.  My chiropractor speaks of "glute amnesia."  This is a correct term.  We overfire our quads and low back to make up for the lack of horse power our glutes need to be executing.  "Barre" corrects this.  I'm confident I will go back to climbing, martial arts, etc. with a stronger core than ever.  I don't think I'll ever stop doing "Barre" from here on out.  Everything about me feels stronger, more supple, with little possibility of jolting my hardward out of alignment, as my body heals.  Max static hold work is just as important as fast reps., at high intensity.  They both train your body and mind in different ways.  They're both necessary.  As Bikram Choudry says, "You're born with one of these gifts: flexibility, speed, or strength, but no one is born with balance.  We must all work on this, every day."

I want to give one last "plug" for something that has been immensely helpful for me, both pre and post-op.  That's "floating."  This may, or may not, be available in your area.  If you're local to Bend, you can go to "Float Central": http://floatcentralbend.com/

We're getting back to the concept of hydrotherapy, and water as healer, again.  Floating is a different way that water can heal you, other than the pool.  Sensory deprivation in a world of both audio and visual "pollution" is a welcome respite for the senses.  When my body was in so much pain I couldn't think, I would float in a epsom salt saturated tank in the darkness.  Again, the water's weightlessness provided relief for my tired, aching body.  The darkness was pure bliss.  Silence.  Peace.  The high concentration of epsom salts makes your post-workout epsom salt bath, at home, look like a warm-up.  They mimic the concentration after the "Dead Sea" and the "Great Salt Lake."  You couldn't sink if you tried.  The salt concentration is sheer buoyancy.  The saturation of epsom salts gave my aching muscles, that were trying to support a shattered bone, relief.  I highly recommend it.  Athletes all over the world are using these salt concentrated, sensory deprivation tanks to visualize a successful outcome, and give relief to both their body and mind.

Some people have difficulties meditating, and quieting their mind.  Sensory deprivation tanks are a wonderful "training wheels" tool to assist with that.  The quiet darkness is lovely, and forces you inward.  There's nothing distracting you from going within.  I'm grateful.  I began meditating at 17 years old. I became a bit "addicted" to it, to the point where my teacher said, "You're going to have to integrate back into the world, and not just sit here all day."  I love meditating.  I don't talk about it a lot.  Its personal and pretty private for me.  I'm not here to be a guru, or self help teacher.  There are great masters in this world here for that.

From an Eastern philosophy perspective, its best to seek out a "Mahatma," or great soul, for instruction.  It seems as if every new Western self-help teacher, who has experienced some hard knocks in life, comes out the other side, believes he/she is qualified to teach others.  I'm not a fan of this.  Its a dangerous path, from my perspective. I'm not here to teach people to meditate, give you an instructional on how to do it, or even say its your path.  I am here to say that silence, and quietness in the dark is something that everyone's nervous system can benefit from, in this sensory saturated world.  Particularly, when you're in pain (of any kind).  Sensory deprivation tanks offer 90 mins. of silence.  Give it a try if you need to rest your weary body.  I'm so happy I took the advice of one of my patients, and did.

My colleague, Dr. Kerie Raymond, Naturopathic physician, is a fan of the homeopathic, "Symphytum Officinale" for broken bones, tendon/ligaments strains, "phantom pain" from amputation, sprained ankles & "tennis elbow."  I've been taking this remedy, along with Chinese herb formulas, since my surgery to speed recovery, also.


There are always adjunct things to do alongside these suggestions:  essential oils, sauna therapy, compression therapy, etc.  I would discuss these things with your qualified team of health care providers, to see if they can be a part of your physical rehab. program.  If lavender oil on your temples helps you sleep at night, do it.  If sitting in the sauna makes you feel better (not worse) afterwards, do it.  There's wonderful options out there now.  I work at a fantastic athlete recovery facility.  I feel grateful I do.  Its state of the art, with the best recovery equipment in the world. I utilize that equipment, according to the instructions of my phyiscal therapist, Dave Cieslowski, from "FOCUS Physical Therapy," the best in town.  That, combined with the other above mentioned things should, offer you some tools to go into surgery with confidence, and to help you feel empowered throughout your rehab. process.


Look for part two, next month on how to navigate the emotional roller coaster of post-op recovery. Its a doozy and requires honest self-inquiry, and radical patience.  Its is a lonely process, but an honest one.  You won't be the same person, when you come out the other side.  And, that's the point.

If you'd like further suggestions for acute injuries, you can go to a previous blog post I wrote:


Monday, March 20, 2017

Healing From Divorce: A woman's journey of the heart

"If You're Going Through Hell, Keep Going"
~Winston Churchill

I truly believe that no one says "I do" with the intention of parting.  It is the dream of the "happily ever after."  The story.  The ideal.  The hope.  We believe that marriage will create stability in our lives, and it can.  But, it also doesn't always deliver, and according to the most recent statistics, it rarely does in our society.  78% of people have been divorced.

Times are changing.  Things are different.  Historically, marriage has rarely been about love.  Its been about real estate, the joining of kingdoms, for commerce, peace, war, economic gain, etc.  Romance wasn't necessarily part of the equation.  More often than not, marriages were arranged, and even then affairs were common knowledge, mistresses were par for the course, and it was known that a spouse didn't necessarily equate to a fulfilling love life.

A perfect example of this is the old King Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot triage.  Guinevere married Arthur to join their kingdoms.  It was a wise pairing based on mutual government and military advantage.  However, Guinevere's romantic interests were found in the dashing Lancelot.  He was brave.  He was gregarious.  Nothing was solid and steady about him.  Unlike the wise Arthur, who ruled with a judicious hand, was known for his fairness, and brought peace to nations.

Guinevere & Lancelot

When did romance and marriage become synonymous?  Is it even healthy?  Most love experts say no.  Our culture's expectations of love and romance are diluted by unhealthy expectations, which have proven to be ineffective.  It's also been proven that, all around, from a mental, emotional and physical well being perspective, that men benefit more by the institution of marriage than women do.

How then do we reconcile the notion of marriage?  Is there hope in it?  Is it worth doing in this day and age?  This is a question each couple must decide for themselves.  There is no right or wrong answer.

When marriage fails, how do you move forward from a dream that is now gone?  How do you make sense of the "bubble" that's been burst?  I never grew up really buying into the prince-on-a-horse saving me concept.  I was too independent.  Too awnry.  Too wild.  I was always in the ER:  making capes out of blankets (& jumping off our roof), climbing trees, challenging boys to skateboarding contests, stealing my mother's red lipstick and painting war stripes on my face, carrying around my Boa Constrictor in a backpack to school, jumping in muddle puddles, catching salamanders at the resevoir.  My mother had 5 separate fences, put around our backyard, to keep me in.  Each one higher than the last.  Each one more futile than the previous.

I'll never forget my Oma sitting me down, I had painted war paint on my face with my Mom's lipstick, had red Snoopy galoshes on, and a beautiful pink dress with lace...covered in mud.  I was 6 years old.  She said, "Look at you!  You're filthy!  You will never find a husband.  Never.  Boys don't like girls like you.  You will scare them.  Do you understand me?!?"  I never liked her.  My Oma.  She was an emotionally scarred woman.  She was a product of the Apartheid Wars in South Africa, left bitter by them.  I was always defiant to her.  My lower lip started trembling, mud dripping down my dress into my rainboots, down my hair, hanging on the tips of my lashes.

"I'm not like you!  I'm not like any of you!  I don't need a husband!  Leave me alone!  I can take care of myself!  You're mean!  I won't be like you!  I will save myself!"  I ran out the door, in the pouring rain, and spent the night in my tree house that night, shivering, falling asleep to the sound of the ocean waves.

That night I had a dream.  I still remember it...to this day.  I was riding on a beautiful horse, bareback, on the beach.  I felt free.  I began to see the silouette of an old man in the distance.  He had a long staff.  He walked slowly towards me, through the mist.  He put his hand out to me to stop.  I did.  He walked up to the horse, and pet its mane.  He looked at me and said, "You are a warrior.  You are far from your home.  You are not from here.  I'm sorry.  You will be alone much of your life.  But, not necessarily lonely.  Someday, you will meet a weary warrior, like you.  You two will walk next to one another, in respect.  But, it will be later."  He turned and walked away.

Is this a metaphor?  Is this a foretelling?  It doesn't really matter.  The message is important:  you will be alone, but not lonely.  This is a powerful message for anyone going through, or just having come out of a divorce.  It IS okay to be alone.  Our species isn't really built to be alone, long term.  But, it is important to learn to enjoy your own company.  Some of the best dates I've been on have been with myself.  I've really come to enjoy, and be interested in, my own company.  I like myself.  Its a freeing feeling.  The neediness and the clingyness for stability, and someone to love, doesn't shadow my world.  It interests me, but I'm not bound by it.

I often don't relate to women in my age bracket.  I frequently hang out with women of the menopausal age, because they're generally kind of over the ridiculousness of being needed so much. This isn't to say they don't love.  They do.  It just comes from a deeper sense of self.  A clearer understanding of who they are.

I needed to see what the big fuss was about, though.  I needed to understand society's need for being needed.  Think on that a bit.  I like to be useful.  I like to give and receive love.  I'm not cold-harded. Quite the contrary.  My love comes from a deeper place now.  A solid well of admiration, respect, peppered with a bit of romance.  But, naive expectations?  No.   And, its from that place I feel I'm able to love in a more real way.  More authentic than ever.

One of the most powerful things divorce taught me is that I'm even more tough than I thought I was.  And that was a relief.  I'm a tough cookie.  But, I grew up in a safe household.  I had a great childhood.  I was lucky to dodge the statistics of abuse, drugs and alcohol, growing up.  I had no emotional or physical parameters for my husband's behavior.  I wasn't accustomed to drug and alcohol addiction.  Day, after day, drug and alcohol induced rages became the norm.  I use to pack up my dogs and sleep in my office, for fear of the escalated violence that began to occur in my world. My peace had left me.  My animals would urinate all over themselves in fright, when he would come home.  He used to grab my wrists and shake me to the ground, until I would shake in the corner of the room in fright.  He would then say, "Now, you know what it feels like to feel fear."

I began to realize that I attracted him in my life to learn the opposite of love.  We humans learn through opposites.  Our chemistry was a spark that turned into a wildfire I couldn't control.  I needed to understand everything I could about fear.  I was already a climber.  I had looked fear in the eye through that lense.  My whole childhood was doing extreme acts that made the other kids feel fearful. I had traveled the world, alone, through third-world countries, to face my fear of being alone.  Yet, I hadn't experienced love turning into fear...until my marriage.  And, that was the most valuable lesson of all.

High-Ball Bouldering, North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii

An old palm reader came up to me in Varanasi, India, in 1997, and said to me, "Child, you are a student of fear.  You are here to master it on all levels."

Varanasi, India

The day I handed my husband divorce papers, hands shaking, was the day, I began to understand that I would be okay.  My voice trembled and stuttered, "I can no longer help you.  You need to help yourself.  Go home to your family.  Heal yourself.   Thank you for the lessons.  You are free now, and so am I."

That night a great storm swept through the high desert of where I live.  I lived in a small rental home that was a true "fixer upper."  The roof leaked buckets of water into my bedroom and living room.  I had pots and pans all over the house, catching water.  We only had a wood-burning stove.  No electrical heat.  The dogs howled with the roar of thunder, and hid under the bed.  I had a panic attack, realizing, I was truly alone now.  I tried to call my parents.  They were out of the country.  My sister?  In Mexico.  My brother?  In Colombia.  Everyone was gone.  I sat in a heap on the floor, and cried the hardest I had since my best friend died.  After I cried, until I could cry no more, I felt a wave of peace over me, and had a sense of knowing that my end would be a beginning.  Its inevitable.  It is the law of nature, and the way of things.  Your end will be a beginning.  This, I can promise.  As sure as the sun comes up every day.  Your tears will water the newness of a fresh start.  Time is the only true healer.  It comes slower than we want it to, but heals the heart more thorougly.

There are some practical things that you can do, from day-to-day, to take care of yourself.   I will let Sophia McDermott address some of these things, and touch on the subject of self-care.  We have both been through it.  We have grieved.  We have lost.  We have both rebuilt ourselves, and are in the continuing process of doing so.  You can too.  You will realize you ARE so much stronger than you ever thought imaginable.  This is your freedom.

Almine & Sophia Have Both Been Through Divorce, And Came Out Stronger

From Sophia:

Divorce is one of the most difficult times a human being can go through and yet statistically it is something that almost 50% of us experience. In  my previous article I discussed some of the heartbreaking factors associated with divorce as well as some management strategies such as focusing on being in the present moment and exercises to  help you get there.  In this article I want to look at the rollercoaster of emotions we go through during the grieving process and strategies to deal with these. Too many people around me have experienced this difficult stage in life and I have seen some channel their pain into positive ways and others into not so positive ways. I think if we build awareness on the subject and make this less of a 'taboo' topic more and more people can be learn about the grieving process which leads to a greater understanding. Once we are made aware of the stages of grieving that most of us go through we can first and foremost have greater acceptance of the process and our emotions and then adopt coping strategies that allow us to work through the emotional process of grieving.
The process of grieving is quite universal, whether it be because of divorce or a death or a diagnosis of a serious,  life changing illness. This is because the overall theme is about loss. When we lose something important in our lives or
lose part of our lives we tend to experience the myriad of emotions in this order, which are:
Shock or Disbelief
Acceptance and Hope

METHODS TO MOTIVATE: (For the stages of shock, denial and depression.)
Sometimes when you are in shock and denial you tend to be frozen like a deer in headlights. Consumed in your thoughts of 'why?' and 'how?' it can be difficult to carry out a usual day, especially if your significant other was a big part of your daily routine. Depression can make you unmotivated, tired and lethargic. The will to get out and do things seems to be diminished. It is exactly for these reasons why you should enroll in a set class or hire a trainer,
whereby the instructor or trainer can hold you accountable if you don't turn up. The other bonus of joining a class is that you are around other people and hopefully in a joyous and positive environment which can help lift your spirits.

Sophia teaching a Jiu-Jitsu Seminar
CREATE A PHYSICAL OUTLET:  (For the stage of anger.)
For other stages of grieving such as anger, I think it is really important to channel this emotion into something physical. Punching the crap out of a heavy bag is a wonderful way to release it all. Doing something with high intensity that really works your body is the key. Although you may feel tired after the session you will also feel great, having channelled that anger out all the while your body is high on endorphins- your feel good hormones.
If a martial arts is not for you, whether it be MMA, kickboxing or jiu jitsu, there are other exercises that you can do in the gym such as sprinting, or jump rope.

Check Out Sophia's Website For Exercises To Help Empower You Through Divorce At:

This is a great plyometric exercise for the upper body to develop speed and power. In order to be able to do this exercise you must be able to perform push ups and have decent core strength to support the spine while performing this exercise on an unstable and uneven surface as well as transitioning from side to side. 
Aim to do 10 push ups each side, 3 times through and try to keep a straight shape from head to toes.
- burpees with a jump.
Burpees are an awesome full body exercise. They work your upper body, lower body and your cardiovascular fitness. Remember to bend your legs instead of just bending at the hips when you lower yourself down to the ground. Kick your feet back to create a strong plank shape for the push up. Once you have performed the push up, bring your feet back in and jump from a squat position. Aim to do 20 reps, 3 times through.
Medicine Ball Push-Ups Build Strength & Confidence For Women

These exercises are high in intensity and require a lot of energy. The aim is put all your efforts into jumping as high as you can, or propelling yourself from side to side in the push-ups or kicking that bag as hard and as fast as you can.

These dynamic exercises are exhausting, and rightly so. They work many different muscle groups, they  require balance, power, speed and coordination and intensity which is the perfect recipe to channel that anger.
Getting in a class environment or hiring a trainer will help motivate you if you are feeling shocked and depressed and the coach or trainer can hold you accountable if you miss a session.  So whether it be divorce or a traumatic event in your life that is causing you to experience grief, adopting some healthy strategies such as these will help you along the process and make it more manageable.

Almine Barton:  @alminebarton
Sophia McDermott:  @sophiamcdermottbjj

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Foes to Friends: One Journey From Opponents To Allies

"If You Want To Go Fast, Go Alone.
If You Want To Go Far, Go Together."

~ African Proverb

When two women meet in a competition setting they have choices.  The choice presents itself to see one another as adversaries or teachers.  The ego likes the adversary.  The heart loves the teacher.  There is already so much pitting women against women.  Our society almost designs it that way, in many aspects.

I'm not oblivious to the animal kingdom.  There are alphas and there are betas.  One is not better than the other.  They both serve different roles in the grand order of things.  But, lets face it.  You are probably an alpha female if you're drawn to competing in combat sports.  Its possible, yet unlikely, a beta would even be drawn to this.

So, what happens when two alpha females meet one another, eye to eye, in a combat sport setting?  Sometimes a journey of the soul ensues.  A journey of introspection, dark feelings, resolution, ending with deep mutual respect and sisterhood.

Here's the journey that Vickie Valdez and I have undertaken.  Our journey of friendship, competition, training, and understanding has seasoned us as women.  We hope that by sharing our process, you too may benefit in some way...


I became an athlete later in life. Growing up, I did not play any sports, which is what I thought being an athlete equaled. I opted out of gym class to take AP Chemistry. I was co-captain of the speech team and editor of the literary magazine. I crafted an identity around being nerdy and crafty and a love of learning. My body and what it could do was not relevant.

In my early 30s, I started lifting weights. I found a trainer and fell in love with the barbell. I obsessed about my squat and worked to improve my bench press. The metrics of it - logging reps and sets, setting PRs - were exceptionally satisfying. They would be a comfort when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 34. Lifting became a greater focus, as it was something I could control during a time when I felt out of control. I met with my trainer as soon as I was able after each chemotherapy session, and after surgery I had to rebuild much of my upper body strength.

About three years ago I joined a new gym where I’ve had the chance to learn completely new sports, like Olympic weightlifting and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ). This is where I began to think of myself as an athlete. I started competing in powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting and BJJ - all with the excellent guidance of my coaching team and without injury. My understanding of my body, of what I can ask it to do, started to shift.

"Hard Work Yields Success"

Jiu jitsu, for me, has been more about getting my mind and my body to work together. The physical aspects are challenging, as is the need to repeatedly drill movements and techniques so they feel natural. But what I’ve struggled with, and continue to struggle with to be honest, is my mental ability in the fight. Unfortunately for my friend Almine, she was initially an instrument for much of my learning. 

Almine was my very first competitor in my very first BJJ tournament. I’d been training for about 6 months at that point, and have never been in a physical fight in my life. Once we slapped hands, my brain shut down. I panicked. There was a lady trying to hurt me. My brain stopped as she pulled me into guard and choked me in 38 seconds. My second match was better, but I succumbed to that same x-choke.

Over the next few months, she became my arch enemy. She was so nice I thought she was being fake, trying to get in my head. I wanted to beat her. I wanted to choke her. I called her not nice things. My teammates knew about all about it. My coaches used the thought of her as a tool to get me to train harder. I want to say that my lack of experience in competitive sports meant I was learning as an adult what most people learn in their youth. But I can’t really defend what is an exceptionally shitty attitude.

We competed against each other in three tournaments, during which I never did beat her. I was frustrated and acted coldly towards her - stuck in my own head. It was when she came to my gym for a charity competition that I was finally able to put myself in her shoes. To have empathy. She was scared. Usual competition jitters combined with a fear that the other ladies were going to be mean to her. Any enmity I had evaporated. I could see in her pieces of myself - someone who’s had to work to feel comfortable in her own skin. On that day we started building a friendship, and it’s become one I can rely on and am grateful for, both on good days and bad.

Vickie Competing
Photo Credit:  SmithHammer Photography

I’ve competed since and will compete again, but never again against Almine. I'm still working on the mental game, and have a lot more to learn. But this experience with Almine taught me that focusing on my competition doesn't help. Feeling angry or wanting to beat someone just means I’ve lost my control over myself. I’m really competing against the little part of my brain that is yelling that someone is trying to hurt me. I’m competing against my own sense of self and my willingness to keep fighting. I’m lucky that other ladies sign up to compete in my division as it gives me the opportunity to measure that progress against full resistance.

Almine & Vickie Competing At "SubLeague," Portland, Oregon


Competition was a new concept for me.  Excuse the pun, but it really was one I grappled with.  My background is climbing.  Unless you're going for some major speed record up "El Capitan," or doing an indoor climbing comp, people really don't compete with one another in climbing.  Its more about pushing your personal limits, enjoying nature, taking in the views, and cheering on one another, when you're pushed to your edge.  That's what I'm used to.

Almine, free-soloing, North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii

Sure, I've also done "CrossFit" for a decade, and have been a certified coach for almost 5 years now, but I never saw myself as a competitor within the sport.  It was just more of a fitness class for me, where I got to see my girlfriends, and cheer one another on.

You'll notice a theme with me:  cheering one another on.   This is the essence of who I am.  I've always felt particularly passionate about this amongst women.  I've always felt myself to be a "cheerleader" for women, women's rights, and empowerment.

So, when I was given an opportunity to compete in Jiu-Jitsu, it was a foreign thought to me.  Sure, I liked watching the UFC.  I understand you don't have to be mean to be tough.  But, what I've found, over the years, is that not all women have learned that lesson.  They feel the two go hand-in-hand.  That they're inseparable.  That's unfortunate to me.  A famous example of this is the Rousey vs. Holm fight.   I've always had challenges with Ronda's trash-talking her opponents, treating them poorly (see "Ultimate Fighter" t.v. series), and threatening them.  I never saw a need for this. When Holly Holm knocked Ronda out, she exhibited pure class.  Staying with her trash-talking opponent until she received medical attention, making sure she was okay.  This was even after Ronda demonstrated horrible sportsmanship towards her at the weigh-in and wouldn't touch gloves with her, at the start of the fight.  "Why?  Why are you like that, Ronda?"  I've always wondered.  I didn't understand the need for it, and still don't.  I instantly became a Holly Holm fan, then and there.  Class, integrity, sportsmanship, and kindness CAN exist in combat sports.  In fact, to me, its the origins of martial arts.

Rousey vs. Holm, UFC #193

In my 3 years of BJJ, I've realized a lot of women start the sport, fighting invisible "ghosts."  These ghosts are comprised of memories, most of them painful.  They're fighting those "demons," really.  Not you.  Many people who enter the world of combat sports do so with a "chip" on their shoulder.  They're fighting and running against their darkest self.   When you can do as much internal introspection as you can physical training, you realize the meaning of the Ying/Yang symbol. They're interdependent.  Kindness and combat, actually, aren't mutually exclusive.  The word"Code" is fundamental to who I am.  I choose to live, to the utmost of my ability to the Bushido "code," or "Way."  This means, your competition is, in actuality, your teacher.  How can you feel anger at one whose about to teach you something?

Vickie has taught me many things.  She's wise.  She's funny.  She's kind.  She gave me a second chance.  This second chance came in the form of changing her viewpoint of me, and our connection.  She gave both of us the opportunity to go from "opponent" to "training partners."  She gave me a second chance, seeing me as enemy, initially, tofriend.  I'm grateful to her for this.  This is how I've always wanted to be seen. This is how I will always wish to be seen.

I'm not afraid of failure.  A win has never been as important to me as sisterhood and community.   My hope is for all women in combat sports to embrace this.  Its a wonderful thing when you can.  Its like a soothing balm to the heart.  Forgiveness is one of the highest emotional laws there is.

Vickie, (her Professor) Hillary Wright VanOrnum, & Almine

Because Vickie and I have transformed our friendship into one of deep mutual respect, we're now training partners.  We don't go to the same gym.  We don't even live in the same city.  In fact, we're 3+ hrs. apart.  Yet, we maintain an ongoing cyber "training log," where we post inspirational quotes, what obstacles come up for us on the mats (whether mental, physical or emotional), and have begun a wonderful year of goal-setting together.

Almine & Her Professor, Ryan Clark


"Impact Jiu-Jitsu," Portland, OR.  


"Clarks Univ. Of Martial Arts," Bend, OR.

Almine & Vickie's Sponsor:

"SmithHammer Photography"