Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Trip to Ferryland, NL

I've been a bit hesitant to take any unnecessary car rides since my back started acting up in April/May, but, last weekend -- one of my only weekends in Newfoundland this summer -- (arguably the best time to be in Newfoundland) Brian and I decided to head south on the Avalon Peninsula and spend the day hiking the east coast trail.

This part of the trail is pretty manageable, 5km out from Calvert to Ferryland and 5km back. There is some climbing, but nothing too treacherous. At the halfway point, we had a picnic of hardboiled eggs and croissants. We're wild.

When we first got together, Brian and I met up in Newfoundland for a little romantic getaway (it fascinates me that we now live here after that trip so many years ago.) It was 2006, and our memories of the trip are a bit hazy *read: we couldn't agree on where we'd been. I remember driving the entire Irish Loop but Brian was adamant we had not. It was only when we approached this little restaurant Best Friends (sadly, no longer in operation) that Brian succumbed to my memory of the trip. Eight years ago, we shared sandwiches and soup at this cute little place.

In 10km of hiking we came across only one other couple and the only sounds we heard were the sounds of waves crashing against the rocks below us. It's a thunderous sound, and one I could listen to all day. It was a peaceful hike, and I'm glad we left town to spend some time together.

In a sea of green and grey, it wasn't too difficult to spot this bald eagle. I only got this fuzzy picture of him before he took off toward a nest he'd been spying, for his afternoon meal.

I like hiking with Brian. We hike at a pretty brisk pace and he doesn't mind when I stop to take photos. In fact, he admitted to me that day that he sort of counts on me to archive our travels and enjoys looking back on our trips through the countless photos I take. I'd say we're a good match.
We snapped this photo of ourselves right after Brian shook off twenty five ants from his arm after playing in the tall grass. Otherwise, no bugs. Another point in the pro column living in Newfoundland for me, the bug-attractor.

I'm heading out to work for three weeks in Ontario and Alberta and when I return, we're tackling Gros Morne, baby.

Stop It, Jackhammer

I am, for the most part, a patient person. I grew up in a house where one parent was notoriously late for everything and the other was notoriously early. Neither option suited me, but it taught me patience, as did living in a bungalow with six opinionated people with six different schedules and personalities.

I learned to tiptoe when people worked night shifts. I learned to be silent when my sister's baby was sleeping in the living room. I learned to be quiet and not bother the people I lived with even though the majority of my extra-curricular activities required me to make noise.

I found ways around it. I rode my bike to my church 45 minutes away so I could practise the piano there instead of at home. I went for walks so I could sing out loud and memorize lyrics for choir. I craved the rare nights when everyone was away, when I could just hammer on the piano and sing at the top of my lungs with the windows open, not a soul around to hear me. And I learned to find peace by blaring music through my headphones when I had to share rooms or spent too many hours on a noisy bus full of teenagers. How many nights I fell asleep to Rage Against the Machine screaming "Killing in the Name Of" in my ears.  

I am overwhelmed by the outside world today. It's as if I am wearing a hearing aid and it's cranked to the max.  The incessant jackhammering, idling trucks, shouting and bashing around of concrete right outside my window has caused me to flee my otherwise peaceful, empty home.

I cannot think straight. I cannot get anything done.  If I hear another noise -- music, a crow cawing, someone gulping loudly, I will lose it. It: my mind, my cool, my lunch. I will lose anything resembling sanity. I have gone 'round the bend. I am talking to myself and running into walls.

Give me quiet, give me peace.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Picture Post

Three pictures of Newfoundland. This first one of B and me at Petty Harbour.
Here we sat and enjoyed a delicious meal at Saltwater in St. John's Newfoundland.
Cape Spear.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Beginning of Summer in St. John's

Eleven months now, I've lived in St. John's, Newfoundland and this is the first June and Canada Day I've spent here. I thought that the cold winter weather was behind me after spending two months of our Canadian Spring in Australia and Belize, but boy, was I wrong.

Last Friday, it was a jarring 6 degrees. It rained all day and chilled me to the bone. Our furnace is still on, and sweaters are still in regular rotation. 

Friday June 27, 2014, St. John's, NL.

That being said, there have been a number of beautiful sunny days in the last month, and some not-so-beautiful days that transformed into beautiful evenings.

Government House grounds,  St. John's, June 2014
A few things I've observed about living here in the past 11 months:

Newfoundland is beautiful, rain, snow, fog or shine.

View from Signal Hill, Jan 1, 2014

If you want to be active year round you have to dress for it. This is true anywhere, but specific to St. John's, if you're waiting for dry and sunny days, you'll never leave your house. I now own a raincoat I love, rubber boots that protect me from rain and snow and an assortment of toques and mittens. I wore all of my outdoor clothing at one point or another during the winter; not a coat left unworn, not a mitten left unweathered.

Owning an umbrella is fine (we own two) but it's windy here and when it rains sideways, it's best to be head-to-toe in rain gear rather than protect just the crown of your head from the rain.

Layering clothing is a must. In a matter of minutes it can go from sunny blue skies, to rain, wind or snow. It happens fast. Be prepared to strip and layer on when needed.

I came here sporting cute little bangs that I have since let grow out. As much as I liked them, they were a total nuisance when hiking or even doing a simple chore like walking downtown to the bank. 

This is the biggest lesson I've learned: when the sun comes out, go outside. Do not wait until later... in an hour that bright sun might be gone. I used to take Ontario sunny days for granted and just observe them happily from my office window. Oh, don't worry, Kerri, there'll be another one tomorrow. Here, I follow the sun. 

Signal Hill, ice bergs and happy feet, June 2014.

 Hiking opportunities are everywhere. The East Coast Trail is long and stunning. It boasts stunning, rugged coastlines and keeps your heart healthy. From my house, I'm mere steps from lovely walking trails, and from a gorgeous 2km hike up Signal Hill. When I'm home, I go up as often as I can. I take the same photos over and over again and I love taking my visiting family and friends to see the view from the trail. 

Within a few hours from St. John's, are little communities along the coast full of culture, food and stunning vistas. Bonavista, Trinity, Port Rexton, Petty Harbour and Cape St. Mary's are a few of the places I've been since I moved here. There's still so much more to see.

Downtown, I have everything I need, Fixed Coffee and Rocket Bakery for coffee, Model Citizens, Twisted Sister, Johnny Ruth and Living Planet for clothing; Chinched, Cathedral Bistro & Saltwater for a nice night out for dining, The Ship for music, the Duke of Duckworth for fish and chips and a pint, Yellowbelly for some great local beer and a burger;  Piatto Pizzeria for delicious wood fired pizza; my absolute favourite, Mallard Cottage for brunch... I could go on, and in another post I will go on about where to go when you come here.

It's beautiful here today. The sun is hot, the wind is strong, and this weekend a tropical storm may bring even more wind and rain to the island. Until then, you will find me outside, enjoying the heat.

Signal Hill sunset hike, St. John's, July 3, 2014

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Pain, Pain, Go Away: Coping With Sciatica

I suffer from sciatic nerve pain; a pain I can only describe (at its worse) as a sharp, constant radiating pain starting in my lower back all the way through my right leg.

This pain started late 2011 at the height of my running obsession. I became "a runner" in December 2009, and my measurable progress was invigorating. In the year leading up to my injury, I was running 5km six times a week. In October 2011, I was on tour in North Carolina, staying in great hotels with beautiful gyms. For two consecutive days I ran back to back 7km runs. After the second day, something wasn't quite right. I stretched, I continued to play shows, but I couldn't run without a twinge in my back. I thought it was sore, overworked muscles, so I gave them a break for the rest of the tour. We still had about a week left in that US tour, and long drives followed by hours of standing on stage. When that tour ended another one began. I wasn't able to run at all this point, and sitting in the car (or anywhere) felt like tiny knives were swimming up and down my right leg, bum and my lower back.

The next tour was in Northern Ontario - a part of the country not known for its short distances between each town. I traded my heeled stage boots for flats, I stretched every morning, noon and night, not knowing I was actually doing more harm than good at this point. I took Advil for the pain, and slept fitfully when the pain was at its worst. It was an awful time in my life that I did not document very well because it physically hurt me to spend time in front of a computer or a journal and express properly what I was going through. And I think I was in denial. I wasn't coping well, for a couple of reasons; 1) the one thing that gave me a natural boost everyday had been taken from me, and 2) the pain was causing me to fall into a dark and lonely place despite the wonderful and supportive people in my life who wanted nothing more than to help me through this. I became depressed. I feared I would never run again or walk without a limp. It affected my personal life, my social life and my work life. If I couldn't sit comfortably I would be unable to drive or spend time traveling from gig to gig. The job I had always wanted, and dreamed about since I was 10, was now hurting me. That, and an obsession with physical fitness that could have used some adjusting before I hurt myself.

When I finally got home from tour, a month after the onset of the pain, I sought treatment. I went to the Artists' Health Centre at Toronto Western Hospital, located a convenient 10-minute walk from my apartment. I saw a physiotherapist first, and finally spoke openly about my pain. When I told her I couldn't run without pain, I wept, and when she assured me I would one day run again, I wept some more.

She ran me through a bunch of physical tests to see what was going on. The "bend test" was telling: I was to bend over slowly, vertebrae by vertebrae and touch my toes. Though I could touch my toes (through pain) she noticed that I skipped all the lowest vertebrae and compensated in other ways to finally reach my toes.  She gave me a series of exercises to do that would strengthen the muscles in my lower back. They were such strange, little exercises, but once I started them, I could see that those muscles were weak, dominated by other bigger muscles that had likely caused my initial injury. She prescribed alternating icing and heating the base of my spine, doing the stretches twice a day, and she taped my back with Physio Tape. I was (and am) sceptical that the tape did anything, but at that point I was willing to try anything.

I told her I needed to exercise or I wouldn't survive the winter without spiralling into a deeper depression. She said I could try swimming, but cautioned against swimming longer than 20 minutes at a time. She was telling me to heal and I had to trust her. I needed to feel hopeful that I would one day get past this injury and feel like myself again.

In 2012, a year after the original injury, I ran again. It was short, but I ran. I continued to swim and ride my bike, and though I could always feel the nerve down my leg, the pain was at a 2 (out of 10) instead of a seven and to me that was a huge victory. You can read about my reaction to that run here.

Fast forward to March 2014.

I had been maintaining a pretty strict fitness regimen of Jillian Michaels' 30 minute workouts with an emphasis on core strength and flexibility. By the end of March, in the final week of a 5-week tour of Australia, I found a week had gone by where I wasn't getting enough sleep, where I couldn't squeeze in a workout, and where the drives between shows were getting longer and longer. The tour van was uncomfortable and my muscles started to seize up. The flights home from Sydney to St. John's totalled 22 hours, and after a day at home I was back in the air on a 14-hour flight to Belize. The pain was worsening, but I thought if I just walked it off, stretched, relaxed and swam and took a break from harder workouts, it would sort itself out. (I hate myself for not dealing with this earlier.)

After a 13 hour flight back home to St. John's, and just one day at home, I was on another 8 hour journey to Vancouver to start a nine day tour across the Prairies. It was a tour of long drives, short sleeps, no time to work out, no time to stretch. The pain was brutal. Sitting was excruciating. Lugging and lifting suitcases was getting harder and harder. And because of the tight schedule I had no opportunity to stretch my body. Things got worse. I went for a quick massage fix in Winnipeg, and it helped delay the worst of the pain, but it wasn't enough. I flew home the next day... another 6 hours sitting, in flight, in pain.

On May 1st, finally home, it's as if my body knew I had a month off and it just quit working. I could no longer sit still to eat dinner, I could walk but the pain through my bum and leg was constant. I stubbornly continued hiking up Signal Hill and took a road trip to Bonavista to see icebergs. In a way those things helped as much as they hindered. The articles and advice about coping with sciatic pain are confusing and conflicting. You're supposed to rest (a little), but to stop your muscles and joints from seizing up you have to keep moving (to a point.)

In the mornings the pain is the worst. Standing after sitting or lying down takes me a solid 10 seconds to complete and the pain is mind-numbing. Walking is okay, but walking uphill aggravates the my pain. And in case you've never visited, St. John's, Newfoundland, is a hilly place. In a new town, I no longer had access to the Artists' Health Centre that helped me the first time around. I needed treatment and I had to start from scratch finding something I could trust to help me heal. When I'm feeling down and out, small chores feel like mountains, and researching a new Physiotherapist or Chiropractor was exhausting. I was feeling sorry for myself and heading to that dark place again. I found a chiropractic clinic and started treatments about a week ago. His differential diagnosis to date: Piriformis Syndrome.

[Oh, and just for fun, in the middle of all this, I caught a flu/bug and was nauseous for three days. You know something else that isn't fun? Throwing up while suffering from sciatic pain.]

I'm back in Toronto after a very difficult plane ride Tuesday night. During the 3-hour flight, I stood at the back of the cabin for 2 hours and wriggled uncomfortably in my seat for the other hour during moments of turbulence, takeoff and landing. Carrying a backpack, a banjo and rolling a suitcase behind me took a piece out of me. The pain was too much. Standing in the baggage area of Pearson airport more tears fell from my exhausted eyes. I was greeted at the airport by my buddies Sue and Matt who carried all of my things, drove me to my accommodations and let me cry freely as I tried to cope with the pain.

Today, May 29th.

I'm standing at The Common coffee shop on Bloor Street in Toronto (because I still can't sit down) working and editing my blog. It's important to me that I document this experience and the timeline so I can avoid suffering this again should the telltale signs arise again. I'm scared that I have eight months of pain and recovery ahead of me, and I'm worried about what a lifetime with this pain will feel like. But I remain cautiously hopeful that sheer willpower and determination will help me power through. In time, when I do get better, I will read this again, and remind myself where I was and how far I've come. And I will work hard to maintain my health, and do everything I need to do to prevent this from ever happening again.

We're all suffering from something. Physical or mental health problems, loss, grief, pain, circumstances out of our control. Writing this down helped me today, and hopefully did something for you too. I welcome your stories, your insights or just your presence in my life.