If life isn’t hard enough already, throw in suffering a major injury to the mix and you’ve got yourself a bit of a feat ahead of you. Don’t fret, I am here to try to make it seem a little less scary, a little less hopeless and a lot more relatable. We all think, eh, there’s no way that’s going to happen to me- and for some of you, you’re right, it won’t. For others of us, who go through life acting like we drank from the Fountain of You Can’t Touch This- we got a rude awakening.
My rude awakening happened during *gasp* an explosive sport. The summer of 2016, I was in my third or fourth year of playing Dek Hockey. Two seasons a year, which means 6-8 different seasons, with no issues while playing besides your normal Dek Hockey badges of honor, which include some gnarly ball or waffle shaped bright purple bruises everywhere. My A-1 from day 1 team, Dek Majik, was in the semi finals game. Here we were, just a few short minutes from moving on to the finals, as we usually do.
Let me give you a short breakdown of what Dek Hockey is in case I have completely lost some of you. Picture ice hockey with no skates or a puck. Sub tennis shoes and a street hockey ball. No ice… just hard plastic grated rink. 3 vs. 3, two on offense, one on defense (plus a goalie), with three 13 minutes periods. We back on the same page?
I am one of the defensive positions for our team and after a clearing of the ball from our side of the rink, I went to pivot on my right foot for a quick burst of speed, when all I heard was a loud POP. Like the kind of pop you’d hear if you had put one massive kernel of popcorn in a giant sized microwave. Everything went black. Oddly, I could semi walk but something felt odd when I did. My teammates helped me off the rink, and the last few minutes of the clock ran out. Winner, winner chicken dinner. Only an hour until the championship game and you know the first thing my dumb ass did? Let’s go on down to the Walgreens and get a wrap for my leg. Tis just a flesh wound.
While I chalked it up to a bad sprain, I decided it was best to be a spectator for that championship game. Hey, this sideline coach cheered us all on to a victory. After I woke up the next morning, my leg still felt weird. I could walk but it was almost as if I was flatfooted. I felt around by my ankle and it just felt kind of mushy. The worst thing I had done before this was tear a ligament on the top of my foot back in 7th grade dodge ball or get hit in the eye with a baseball and pop a few blood vessels. Smooth right? I decided to go the E.R and all they did was give me a boot and send me to an orthopedic specialist. Fast forward a few hours, and I’m sitting in a room waiting for the doc to come in, push his fingers on my ankle and say, “Yeah you have completely ruptured your Achilles tendon.” Like what? Like the tendon that all those scary movies have taught you to protect when you’re walking over sewage drains so no one slashes it with a knife!? Okay doc, tell me what we need to do because I have a flight to catch in a few days for a girls trip to Ireland. He tells me I need surgery now. I tell him I need a boot and a surgery when I get back from my trip. He tells me that my Achilles tendon is curled up into my calf muscle and unless I want it to calcify in there and never walk correctly again in my life, then sure, go on your trip. FINE DOC, YOU WIN. Devastating news. Emergency surgery scheduled for the next day, my ladies going out of the country without me, and a really long road of recovery ahead.
My initial recovery took almost a year. I was in a cast for two weeks, unable to walk. I spent two weeks, scooting on my ass or crutching my way to the bathroom, showering with my leg outside of the curtain in a plastic bag and pretty much being knocked out from all the muscle relaxers and pain pills. After the cast came off, a boot with a wedge in it went on. Over the course of two months, they would slowly take out pieces of the wedge in order to release the pressure off of my ankle. It was stitched up with my foot pointing downward so that the sewing of the tendon would hold. GROSS. Almost a month with crutches used in cahoots with my boot. Then, just some QT with the boot and me. Then finally, I got to learn how to re-walk. I went to Physical Therapy 2-3 times a week throughout this whole process and after I could walk again, it was time to learn how to run so I could get back to playing the sport that broke me. But was it really Dek Hockey that did me in?
I think back to a couple weeks before the tournament. I had done a Tough Mudder the previous weekend and while everything went great, I had felt tightness in my calf that I had ignored. Did I stretch after the Tough Mudder or do some kind of muscle repair leading up to that fateful weekend? Of course not because I was drinking from the Fountain of You Can’t Touch This, remember? I didn’t take care of myself after a big event like the Tough Mudder, and I didn’t listen to my body. Achilles ruptures usually happen during explosive sports, so was this preventable? Who knows? What I do know is that it was the best and worst thing that has ever happened to me. Three years later, I am still in recovery. Maybe not the physical recovery, but definitely the mental.
Let’s address the obvious physical hurdles of a major injury. It affects your everyday mobility. I couldn’t do things by myself like showering, going up stairs, working out, driving and more major things like going to work. Most of those went away in a matter of 6 months-1 year. What lingered were the emotional effects. First off, do you know how much thinking one can do when you are bed ridden AND have horrible anxiety?!
Mental aspects to an injury:
- Emotional Impact- There are reports that estimate at least 19% of injured “athletes,” develop clinical depression following an injury that requires downtime, hospitalization or surgery.
- Coping with pain and discomfort- this one is a given.
- Change to self identity- If being a runner or a hockey player or a personal trainer, etc. is a part of your identity, what happens if you are never able to get back to a full recovery?
- Abrupt shift in lifestyle- Day to day routine changes, including sleep and eat schedules. There is also a struggle when you have to rely on others for help.
Notice I use serious injury, not permanent. I can’t say that I can give you the greatest advice that is just going to automatically heal you or get you out of a slump you have been in due to a serious injury, because honestly, I still struggle. There are major changes my body has went through because of my injury. My right calf will always be around 2% smaller than my left calf. My metabolism went to shit, but that could also be because I hit the big 3-0 this past year. My ankle gets really tight if I go too long without stretching or exercising. I was able to get back to playing Dek Hockey less than a year post surgery, which I am really proud of, but I feel “different” when I run, when I play. I haven’t even been able to fathom completing a third Tough Mudder, and I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve already shut the idea down mentally along with physically.
What I have tried to do is stop trying to get back to the life I had before my injury and start creating a life after injury. Classic vulnerability and shame has you reading this post for an hour now with only a sliver of talking about what it really feels like to go through something like this.
It is gut wrenching, devastating, then you feel shame because you know so many people have it worse off than you. That doesn’t take away from the pain of what you’re going through. It is real and it hurts. I struggle every single day with my self-image and my self worth due to this injury. 3 YEARS LATER PEOPLE. I feel incapable of doing the physical things that I used to pre injury. I feel that if I can’t do these same physical things, I won’t be as appealing or attractive. Because the thing is, it’s not easy, at least for me, getting back into the same type of physical routine that I used to. I run differently now and sometimes it hurts if I run too long. I get scared that if I dip too deep in a squat that my ankle is just going to pop again. When I play Dek, I use a billion strips of K-Tape plus ankle compression. Irrational fears. Doubt has filled my mind. Doubt that I can do the things I used to do. Doubt that I am not as strong as I used to be. It is something I have to work on everyday. I have to practice mindfulness. I have to be more kind to myself. I need to speak to myself with less negative talk and remind myself of what a badass I am. As are most things in life, it is a journey. A new journey I have had to embark on and it has taught me a lot about my relationships and myself. Life was telling me something. It was telling me to slow down. It was telling me to reevaluate my life and my relationships. It was telling me that there were more important things in life to worry about. When you try to silence the mind, your body still talks. Listen to it.