Immediately after an injury you go into survival mode. There’s all sorts of new things to contend with – mobility issues, appointments, trying to sort out what you can keep doing, what you can’t, pain management, disability claims and so on. For me there was also a wedding to plan, surgery two weeks before the wedding, and a bit of a struggle to get down the aisle without crutches. It kept me busy, so it was easier to stay positive.
Once the surgery was done, the walking cast was no longer too painful, and the wedding was over, I was faced with the idea of recovery. It had gotten as bad as it was going to get, and now it was supposed to get better.
For me, this stage was much scarier than I expected.
Physical and Mental Repair
I was surprised by how emotional this process was. As I got further past the trauma, and into my recovery, I had to face the possibility that I’d lost something – mentally as well as physically. I worried I wouldn’t get my full range of motion back, and that my ankle was now more prone to injury. But what concerned me more was the sense that a naiveté or a fearlessness has been lost. I know that I can damage myself badly, and I fear that possibility might infect my mind and take away my edge. This is where I had to put my money where my mouth was and turn that the vague optimism I held on to while in a cast into action. It was time to shed the “Injured” identity, and face the “Recovery” road ahead.
This was just another opportunity for a perspective switch. Instead of feeling shame I chose gratitude, and instead of choosing fear now, I could choose to come back stronger and better informed. My body is not the same anymore, that’s the truth, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I can choose to look at my body’s resilience and not dwell on it’s weakness.
No Longer Broken, Not Yet Whole
There’s a funny transition when you become no longer visibly injured. The walking cast is off, the crutches are gone, but this felt like the most dangerous time to be in public. I must have looked very odd: an apparently fit young woman walking absurdly slowly, staring at the ground for any uneven surface that would stretch or twist my weak, newly attached ligaments. No one has patience for you anymore, on the street, so you must be on your guard.
I found I was easily in danger of swinging between two extreme emotional states. In general I felt elated – the simple act of driving, or more precisely, sitting in bumper to bumper traffic on the Gardiner Expressway thrilled me: I could drive again! I got to be in my car – alone! – listening to music! – I felt like I had my life back. Walking through the busy downtown streets, I would alternate between my empowered state: “Hurry up, I just had ankle surgery and I’m doing it – what’s your excuse?” and my Self-Pity mode ‘Waaaahhhh you don’t know how hard this is for me, don’t rush me!!” Neither of which is a healthy mindset.
It was a good reminder that you never know what all the strangers around you are going through, so kindness and respect are always the best choice.
Ghost in the Machine
Now I don’t know the science behind this, but something I’ve observed through my life as an athletic actor is how much emotion is stored in your body. My ankle had been immobilized for ten weeks (except for all those times I snuck it out of my waking cast to test my mobility) and it turned out that a build up of scar tissue was blocking my range of motion. Once free of the cast, it took months of physiotherapy to work through that scar tissue, and one day during an adjustment there was s loud crack. Turned out it was a good crack – and for a few moments, before my ankle seized up again – it felt like a normal foot again. I walked home without a limp, got in my door, sat down and bawled my eyes out. The emotion flooded right through me, from seemingly nowhere. I have always believed that, and have witnessed many examples of how, your body stores emotion – especially your muscles. (Ever get surges of emotion during a massage? Go with it!) An emotional release often accompanies a muscular release, if you’re open to it. And it would seem that the size of the trauma might relate to the size of the emotional release. It was recently pointed out to me that not only does my ankle contain the emotion of the trauma, it probably holds emotion surrounding my wedding too!
Patience, Grasshopper… You Can’t Hop Yet
The biggest lesson for me: Patience. I found this especially hard to apply to my fitness (next blog). But one thing that was surprising was how much judgement I had for myself around the idea of being ‘lazy’. I had no frame of reference: I really couldn’t tell if I was babying myself, or if I was pushing too hard. I desperately didn’t want to use my injury as an excuse, and I was eager to work again – to jump back into my life (when in point of fact, I was months away from even the smallest ‘jump’). It was extremely frustrating to feel free of the cast, yet have so far yet to go. I couldn’t even do my physio every day – I had to rest. My physiotherapist warned me I was a dangerous combination of being enthusiastically committed to my recovery, and in possession of a high pain tolerance. My mission was clear: patience.
What I discovered from this injury is that the pace of your life is actually in your control. I have always felt like I have to talk fast, make decisions fast, be the first one there; and at first I thought I could keep working out, keep helping out on set. But I had been forced to completely stop. And you know what? Stopping is a valid choice. It doesn’t kill you. In order to recover I had to let go of trying to prove that I was indestructible, and trust that there would still be a place for me in the industry, when I was ready. With that mental shift, I could concentrate on moving forward with wisdom, not with an impatient need to please, but a calculated caution. As with so many things in life, we don’t get to leap to the end destination, we just have to keep taking the best steps we can.
I hope you enjoyed this blog. If you have any comments I’d love to hear them @CaseyHudecki! Tune in next month for the last part of my Injury Series – Whatever Doesn’t Kill Me Makes Me Stronger Part 4: Injury Fitness!