How I was able to get back to work

August 23, 2021

As a woman growing up in a rural community in America’s heartland, there wasn’t a bevy of job opportunities for me. Most women worked as waitresses, worked reception at doctor’s offices or retail. Our town was in no way backwards. There were lawyers, doctors, and women in local government. But none of that appealed to me. I wanted to do what my father did. I wanted to work in the warehouse.

I hated school. Sitting in an office all day sounded like torture. I wanted an active job where the time flew by, and I felt, physically, like I’d been working all day. What I never considered was the state my dad was in after he retired, before he passed.

My dad was a big, strong farm boy type man. I used to hang from his biceps as he flexed. Sometimes, to make me laugh, he used to curl and bench press me like a weight. To me, he was a superhero, indestructible.

By the time my dad retired, he had to use a walker to get around. All that lifting and carrying of heavyweights demolished his back. When my life got too busy, with a husband and especially after my pregnancy, I could no longer help him around his house. My siblings and I hired a nurse for him, which he hated. He hated the idea of needing help for things as simple as getting up and sitting down, using the bathroom.

Still, even seeing my dad in such a reduced capacity, I didn’t even consider slowing down at work. I was offered a job in the warehouse offices that paid more and spared my body. But I refused it. Heck, I kept working into my pregnancy until my husband and co-workers insisted I take some time off. That’s when the issues started.

Working in a warehouse, especially one as active as the one I worked in, brought minor aches and pains with it. It wasn’t unusual for me to come home with a sore back or jelly arms. None of it was worse than a few Tylenol’s, and maybe a beer couldn’t fix.

Not working in the warehouse somehow made things worse. I could only assume it was all that accumulated stress I put on my body that went unnoticed since I continued to punish it. It wasn’t until I sat on the couch all day, almost every day, for my unborn baby’s sake, that I got smacked in the face by the consequences of my chosen profession.

In denial, I told myself that the growing list of aches, pain, and stingers resulted from the extra weight of carrying a life in my stomach. I’m sure I wasn’t completely wrong. My unborn son was a bit on the heavy side. Our family was always made of large and hardy stock.

To my dismay, after I gave birth to my beautiful baby boy, my back, shoulders, and arms didn’t recover. Doctors told me that this was normal. They even gave me a simple workout routine, assuming that these ailments came from the pregnancy. The exercises were formulated to help a woman’s body bounce back from what is a beautiful but fairly destructive process.

Several months passed. I wasn’t physically ready to return to the warehouse floor once maternity leave was up. So they moved me up into the office. Begrudgingly I adapted to this new work life. Back home, however, as my son grew, I couldn’t pick him up without a sharp stabbing pain in my back.

Imagine doing something that brings as much joy as a mother holding her son and having to endure eye-watering pain at the same time. It got to the point that my husband had to physically handle him. The most I could do was hold him on my lap or if I was lying down. As illogical as it sounds, it made me feel like less of a mother.

I couldn’t keep going as I was. For the sake of my son, my family, and my own sanity, I had to recover from the damage the warehouse did to me. Naturally, my first move was physical therapy. Unfortunately, my insurance didn’t cover it. So I pivoted to the gym. Without any guidance, though, I was just working out everything but the problem areas.

One day, instead of going out with the other warehouse employees for lunch at the food trucks outside, I decided to stay in and research online. I found a company that provided highly personalized digital coaches, CoPilot. I watched a YouTube video of someone else who had worked with them and had similar pain issues. Offering their services through an app on my phone promised to tailor exercise routines specific to a client’s needs that sounded right up my alley and worth a try.

When talking to my coach, a woman around my age named Jill, I was asked what I wanted out of our time together. I told her my story and the condition I was in. I told Jill that I wanted to be able to hold and lift my kids without pain. To my surprise and delight, she told me that that wasn’t a problem. She’d work up a routine that would evolve as we went along, get back to me the next day, and we could get started.

Jill was a delight. Patient and professional, she held my hand through the process and made sure I pushed myself without going too far. Results were subtle at first. The aches and pains were less frequent. My back, shoulders, and arms could take more weight.

Before I knew it, I was holding my son in my arms again. As I did, there was no sharp pain, no red hot poker between my vertebrae. I was back! But I wasn’t going to just rest on my laurels.

I didn’t return to the warehouse floor, which was okay. The boredom that sometimes came from working in an office was offset by the knowledge that I’ll do a quick and easy fifteen-minute workout that Jill designed for me during my lunch break. When I got home, I’d do more intensive programs that weren’t just challenging but fun. Thanks to my digital personal trainer, determination, and husband’s support, I made a new, healthier life for myself. Every day I smile a little bit to myself, knowing that I’ll be able to probably lift and hold my boy when he’s a teenager if he lets me.

Based on the story of Mary N.

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