Ever injured yourself so bad that you no longer have the ability to do simple tasks, let alone the things you love most? It's not a nice feeling. It happened to me recently. I want to tell you my story, how I experienced the “5 stages of grief” in my own quirky way (no one died don’t worry) and what strategies I am implementing to get me through this long recovery, and back to doing the things I love.
In January I had a gnarly spill on my mountain bike. I had a distal radius fracture (my wrist) that required metal plates and screws, a chipped bone at the distal head of my ulna (my wrist), a fractured radial head (my elbow), and a type 3 ac joint separation (my shoulder/collarbone).
Our epic afternoon that was meant to be full of fun riding, delicious food, lots of laughs, and probably an evening BBQ quickly became episodes of shock, specialists jabbing at my shoulder, pulling at my broken arm, and scraping at my grazes. What was meant to be my first week back in my own bed, in my own home settling into work again was 5 nights in the orthopedics ward surrounded by screaming patients, tears, copious amounts of painkillers, sleepless nights and awful food.
It was an experience to say the least. I didn't lose anyone but I did lose an element of my freedom. I like to think that I went through the 5 stages of grief as I mourned this loss. If anything, it was just a fun way to process what I was experiencing. Allow me to share what this looked like to me.
Instant denial, after my crash I immediately stood up, grabbed my wrist and proceeded to pace. Despite having clearly broken my wrist (it didn't take a genius to see this) I still tried convincing myself that I could “walk it off”. This possible outcome was ludicrous. Looking back now I can't help but laugh at my optimism. It must have been the adrenaline talking, not long later I was being stretchered off the mountain and doing my best to breathe through the onset of shock.
It was only seconds after my fall that anger sunk in. The poor girl who helped me, ran over and asked “I just saw you bail, are you okay?” What she was more likely asking was “Dude you just ate sh*t! How hurt are you?” to which I responded, “I have broken my f**king wrist!”. Honestly, if any of my students heard half of what was coming out of my mouth, my position as a Primary School teacher would have been questioned. I am surprised this girl was still willing to help me, however, it wasn't long until my foul language became a thing of the past.
My first experience of bargaining (there has been multiple) was while I waited for the medics to get me off the mountain. I was reminded to take a deep breath in and out through my nose. This proved helpful. It allowed me to regain a sense of calm. During this calm I promised that I would do everything I was told, be on my best behaviour. I, for a hot minute, believed that if I did this my injuries would magically disappear. But we all know magic isn’t real.
I’m not depressed but I have definitely felt sad. Staying positive is and has been key but equally helpful was allowing myself the chance to feel sorry for myself. This didn't last long, but after a good cry, being positive became more genuine. Jonny’s attempts at doing my hair become entertaining, tying up my shoelace was a win, and cracking an egg with one hand was the most epic achievement I thought I had ever done!
Finally, acceptance. I think this is a daily occurrence. In the beginning I accepted what had happened in the first minute. I knew it was bad and I accepted that it was likely going to be a 12 month recovery. When the surgeon confirmed this to be true, it was no surprise. I knew I would have to work hard at rehab. I am reminded daily of my limitations and that I cannot rush the process. This is where the real lessons are going to take shape and the power of mindset is and will help me get back to 100%.
Now, with all that said, these are a few strategies I have been applying that have been helping me with my mental and physical health.
Setting and celebrating small milestones
Those that know me well, know that I move quickly. Naturally I wondered how I would manage slowing down to allow myself a chance to recover. I realised my recovery is made up of milestones. In the beginning these are close together - my first night in hospital (my rude, obnoxious, loud roommate, which is a story in itself, made this one of the hardest milestones), the day of surgery (the experience of ketamine helped), my first shower etc. The milestones slowly get further apart - 2 weeks of a bulky cast, 2 more weeks of regaining movement in my elbow, 4 weeks of a smaller cast, physio appointments etc. These milestones are always there and I celebrate them all. How do I celebrate? Well, that depends, but usually I just brag about it to anyone who pretends to care. It was only yesterday that I walked into my physios office bragging about my step count.
Speaking of step count. My morning walks have become a regular occurrence. This has quickly become one of the highlights of my day and a part of my morning routine. I take my brother-in-law's dog with me. This is our time to enjoy the quiet of the morning while marching up a hill. I use this time to reflect, be present but also get the blood flow going. The view is always worth it and I feel a sense of accomplishment for the day before the sun is fully awake.
I learn by doing and doing has become challenging. Even typing this up is a challenge, as I'm sure you can imagine. (achievement!) So, I have started listening to podcasts and audiobooks while I walk. This way I am doing something while I learn. I am learning lots about how I can be a better person but also about random historical events and philosophy. It's great, and it feels like even though I am unable to improve my physical skills, I have not put my learning and self development on hold.
Short gym sessions
Honestly, my gym sessions are not what they used to be. Of course they aren't. But this is no reason to stop the habit of going. One day, I will be able to smash out deadlifts again, do a handstand, swing a kettlebell and, my favourite, a burpee - oh how I miss burpees. Instead I now cycle and walk on an incline. I still lift weights but just a little differently. After all, lifting weights on my good side will have a cross-transfer effect. By incorporating eccentric (muscle lengthening) and concentric (muscle shortening) movements on my mobile (uninjured) side I will help increase the strength and lower the effect of muscle atrophy (loss of muscle) on my immobile (injured) side.
Positive self talk
Every day I tell myself I am proud of how I am handling things. I don’t stand in front of the mirror and chant it, that's not what I am into, but I do think about it and it has become a very natural thing to do. If I can’t do something, I don’t feel sorry for myself or get angry. I remind myself that my body has gone through some heavy trauma and of course I can’t do everything like I used to…yet.
I have been forced to slow down and because of this I think I have become more patient, both with myself and others. I have more time to listen. Perhaps it makes me feel better in some twisted way, hearing about other people's challenges. Maybe offering support to others is a distraction to my own challenges or maybe I just am enjoying being present more. Whatever the reason, I am feeling a stronger social connection with my friends, family and those around me. This has actually opened me up to exploring some new ideas and experiences that perhaps I would not have tried before.
I realise that everyone is different, everyone experiences things differently and therefore responds differently. My hope is that my story has helped you if you are going through your own recovery or journey. Perhaps an idea I have shared has triggered new thoughts for you that will help. At the very least, I hope you found my story entertaining. If you have any questions about what I have shared please do not hesitate to reach out. Alex :)