So I last left you at the bottom of Mt. Washington, my friends and I reeling in the glory of our accomplishment, smiles plastered across our exhausted faces. Although my blue toe may have been a blip on my radar at the end of the day, it grew into a much bigger problem. $353 in doctor bills, 13 pounds, and 5 weeks later, I finally began to pick up the pieces after a serious injury.
We all hear about injury protection and worry about over-exerting ourselves. But for the most part, it remains just that: a worry. Now, of course I didn’t go through Tommy John surgery or a broken femur, but I can imagine the experience is similar, on a grander scale, of course.
Suffering through an injury is a grieving process, it comes in stages, it leaves you a better person for going through it, and it hurts like hell.
Stage 1: Denial
“No, babe, I’m fine, I just need to keep it elevated and relax,” I told Tom. My feet were propped up on three pillows at the end of the bed, the right looking normal, and left about twice it’s normal size, flushed, and topped with a dark blue big toe.
“I just need to take a shower first,” I said as I hoped off the bed, hobbling around the room. I couldn’t feel anything below my ankle, so my gait was awkward, clunky, and I relied completely on my right leg. Tom tried to help, but I refused to look weak. Injury? What’s that? After struggling to take off all of my clothes and get the shower started, I stood under the pouring water, bracing myself against the wall. Every movement felt more uneasy than the previous, so I slide down the back of the tub, tuck my knees into my chest and let the scorching water run down my body, finally letting my muscles release. The water burns but my left foot throbs hotter, like it’s soaking up all of the water like a sponge. I think about anything to get my mind off of the pain, what am I going to workout tomorrow at the gym? I’ll probably be pretty sore, maybe it’ll be a yoga day. Or how about some handstand practice? I wonder if my arms will be sore too…
Once it’s felt like a long enough time for a proper shower, I crawl to the front of the tub, turn off the water, and sit there, air drying is a thing, right?
Stage 2: Anger
All couch and no gym makes Mia an angry girl. I can barely stand sitting around on a Sunday, let alone every day of every week for about five weeks.
It took a lot for me to accept that I had to go to the doctor in the first place, and then for him to tell me that I basically couldn’t walk for the next three weeks, I was not a happy camper.
“Well, basically we have two options,” Dr Malcom told me, “you need to stay off of it as much as possible, then in three weeks we will have a follow up where I’ll either have to make an incision and fix things manually, or you’ll be good to go!” Well that’s fine and dandy, but what on earth is wrong with my foot? “What we have here is acute frostbite, combined with an impacted nerve.” Who the hell does that happen to?
The anger spiraled from that appointment, to me ordering people around from the couch, to spewing out pure negative energy at all times of the day, every day.
It felt like I had a certain amount of energy that had to be released every day, and since I was barred from the gym, most activities at work, and basically anything aside from watching Netflix, that energy had to come out in anyway possible; unfortunately the easiest way was to just overflow in anger and frustration.
I was mad that I couldn’t do anything, I was mad that I was gaining weight, I was mad that my half hour doctor’s appointment left me with a $100 co-pay and $150 antibiotics. It began to spiral out of control, to the point where I was barking orders at everyone around me, lashing out in any all every capacity.
Stage 3: Bargaining
By week three, I was exhausted. The energy I couldn’t place in any healthy capacity began to fade, and was replaced with endlessly restless thoughts. If only I had checked my boots one more time before heading down the mountain…if only I hadn’t worn the liner socks…if only I had said something when my toe started to hurt… At this point, I think everyone around me became grateful that I had quieted down, but the gears were still turning just as quickly. All of the anger internalized, and I tried to think my way out of my injury, fixating on every detail of the hike.
I made a lot of pacts with myself during this stage of the injury. “I will listen to my body more throughout my workouts,” “I will allow myself to rest in order to not over exert myself, “ “I will do yoga twice a week,” “I will stretch after every workout,” and the list goes on and on. This was the fist light of positivity, but the internalized anger began to slowly change into an inner sadness that I slipped into quite quickly.
Stage 4: Depression
This is the stage that I got stuck in the most. Self-pity is an ugly thing we never want to admit to, but the sadness overwhelmed me, and soon the gears stopped turning, but I remained silent, stuck in my own head, wallowing in my sadness. I binged not only on crap food I never used to bat an eye at, but even more so on feeling bad for myself. “aw, poor me, I don’t even know who I am anymore” I was completely detached from the woman I was pre-injury.
The pacts I’d made faded away, I stopped writing, and I barely paid attention to the TV shows I spent all of my time watching. My work began to suffer, and even Tom began to suffer, feeling helpless as he watched me fade into a very different version of myself.
At this point, there really was no energy being transferred anywhere. I could no longer identify with myself or anything else; I became my injury.
“Why don’t we just go to the gym and do some abs and upper body?” my good friend and gym buddy, Kara, asked me. “I can’t even put my gym shoes on, I don’t want to be seen in there in Uggs.” I’m sure she could smell the bullshit, but she understood. I would come up with any excuse I possible could to stay in this safe, comfortable depression I found myself in. Not only had I grown a little more fluffy and complacent, but also lazy. It was just easier to be depressed, after all I had an excuse, right? I had freakin’ acute frostbite!
Stage 5: Acceptance, Healing
His hands were cold as he poked and prodded at different parts of my foot. The tip of my big toe was still numb, but it was back down to its normal size, no longer throbbing, and the nail wasn’t completely purple.
“Good news,” he started off with, “It looks like the nerve has settles back into place on it’s own, the nail matrix feels in tact, and I don’t think we’ll be cutting anything open today.” I was waiting for the next sentence, the “but…”, the bad news. When nothing came, I asked, “so, can I, like, go to the gym and stuff?” Dr. Malcom laughed a little and just said “yeah.”
In my head I’m thinking, what??? How long have I been able to go back to the gym. I can go back!!! I can use my foot! And although that co-pay was an odd $103, I was dancing out of that office like I had never been injured at all.
Just hearing that I was okay, changed my entire outlook immediately. I finally snapped out of my injury depression and was ready to push my boundaries and get back into action.
Sure, it took another few weeks to get completely back to normal, and I’m still not where I was, physically, but my head was back in the game right away, and a bum foot, or a few extra pounds is nothing compared to a sick mental state. The physical aspect of an injury is just the tip of the iceberg, below there are layers and layers of self-doubt, anger, depression, and so much more. It’s no wonder to me now that there are sports psychologists getting paid millions of dollars each year to work with professional athletes through the pain and frustration of injury, recovery, and re-instatement into their respective sports.
I may still not be completely healed, but I know my body better, and I know my self better.