I’ve struggled at times to know how to approach this elbow injury of mine.
It is a minor injury that was fixed with a quick surgery that will leave me stronger than ever. It is a crappy, unfair injury caused by the most mundane activity known to man (walking out my front door) that has caused me real pain and suffering. It is a small thing compared to what we’ve been through over the past three years, during which we have lost three parents, Steve has deployed once, and I have suffered two other equally random injuries. It is the straw that broke the camel’s back, considering all that has come before it. It is all of these things. It is none of these things.
What I know for sure: For an athlete of any kind, an injury represents a loss. That’s what strikes me most when I read through all the comments from all the athletes who have responded to Motivational quotes for injured athletes, which is by far the most-read post I’ve ever written for this blog. An injury represents a loss of opportunity and a loss of a sense of identity and a loss of a source of strength and support. It takes away your confidence, your mojo and your standing Saturday-morning plans, all of which requires you to spend time recovering emotionally as well as physically. And like any loss, it needs to be grieved and mourned and honored and reconciled before the griever can continue life as usual.
The trick is to find a way to mourn and grieve and honor your loss while also keeping it in perspective, and without going to the dark side. In other words, acknowledging that you are, in fact, going through something hard, and honoring your feelings of anger and fear and loss, while realizing that the correct response is not analysis or judgement but instead just self-compassion.
I can’t quite bring myself to post photos of me smiling and giving a thumbs-up in a splint post-surgery. I’m instead going to share a few lessons I’ve learned about coping with injuries.
Accept yourself as you are right now. It helps me to remember that I’m not only rad when I’m skiing powder in Austria, but also when I’m reading a book on the couch. It’s also helpful to remind myself that it’s OK to feel sad and angry and a little bitter–that I’m not choosing to feel this way, but can choose how to respond to it.
Practice self-compassion. I’ve been a huge proponent of self-compassion–the act of talking to yourself gently during times of trouble, as you would to a friend–ever since writing Go easy on yourself: Cutting yourself a break once in a while can help you cut weight
for WeightWatchers.com’s men’s site last year. It’s a hugely helpful life skill that’s especially important during tough times.
Focus on recovery. Your doctor will give you instructions. These instructions, whether they are “PT three times a week for a month” or “Try not to move too much until you see me again,” are your new workouts. Treat them with the reverence you would a long run, or a difficult skiing drill, and believe that treating them this way will speed your recovery. For me, that means taking things very, very slowly until my first post-op doctor appointment later this week.
Do what you can. I feel lowest when my friends are skiing or running or otherwise playing outside in ways that I can’t yet. I feel highest when I’m thinking about the things I can do–such as swim, in just a few weeks, which sounds simply amazing to me right now. And though they were never my thing before this injury, I’m also looking forward to taking a few spin classes during my recovery. And of course, I’m taking some solace in the fact that can still work in the clinic or man the radio to stay involved with the ski patrol.
Connect with others who have coped with similar injuries. In 2010, after breaking my right wrist, I connected with Gary Anderson, who found this blog after suffering a nearly identical wrist break (during the same ice storm!), wrist surgery and post-surgery recovery to mine around the same time. Anderson, also a runner, is race director of the Clifton Caboose 5K, and after months of commiserating about our injuries, we met at the race later that year. While recovering from ACL reconstruction surgery in 2011, I found it helpful to follow pro skier Michelle Parker’s recovery from the same injury. I’m looking forward to meeting others who have fractured olecranons and had open-reductions with internal fixations to fix them (Anyone out there break their elbow and get it put back together with a chunk of metal? Anyone?).
Surround yourself with positive reinforcements. I’m a big fan of quotes that nail the way I’d like to feel. Right now, these two from Mary Anne Radmacher are my favorites:
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, ‘I’ll try again tomorrow.'”
“Speak quietly to yourself and promise there will be better days. Whisper gently to yourself and provide assurance that you really are extending your best effort. Console your bruised and tender spirit with reminders of many other successes. Offer comfort in practical and tangible ways — as if you were encouraging your dearest friend. Recognize that on certain days, the greatest grace is that the day is over and you get to close your eyes. Tomorrow comes more brightly.”
Find out how others have coped. Here’s where you come in: What’s your best post-injury coping mechanism?