Coming to terms with a seeming unending injury

This past Monday, I fell and injured my back in a new spot. My previous, original injury (a sacral stress reaction) was mostly healed. I was able to walk distances without pain and to work (as a waitress) on my feet for hours at a time without limping. I had deemed my recovery a success and was looking forward to my final doctor’s visit and a clearance to return to running. 

And then my cat decided to wake me up by heaving (a precursor to throwing up) directly over a library book. Not wanting to be stuck with yet another library fine (coffee and books do not mix), I scooped her up with the intention of depositing her in the bathroom, where she could spew at leisure without damaging anything. As I scurried the three feet from bed to bath, she leaped from my arms, and vomited. Directly beneath the spot where I then placed my heel. The result: me crashing bum-first onto unforgiving tile, cat vomit smearing across my back. 

The pain was staggering. I could not stand up unassisted. 

I want to be optimistic that I will heal in time for my doctor’s appointment just over a week from now, but I do not think that is realistic. Even without my stress reaction,  I couldn’t run today. I can’t sit too long, or sit on the floor at all. Bending over hurts, as does laying on my back in bed. Walking hurts after too long. I tried a hop test yesterday, just to check, tepidly bouncing on one foot. Bad idea. The residual pain lasted several hours. 

This break has forced me to come to terms with my relationship to running. Unlike some of my former college teammates, I will not have a professional or semi-professional athletic career. I will probably not qualify effortlessly for the Boston Marathon again. Running will no longer comprise a large proportion of my identity. I know I am restoring balance, but it feels like I am losing part of my self. I am still going through mourning. Right now, it feels as if I will never move past this stage. A permanent sense of loss, like saying goodbye to a lover too early. 

I feel silly connecting so deeply with a sport, but running has been the through line of my life. Without running, I would not be who I am today. I needed running for so many years and it was mostly good to me. Giving up my passion is heart wrenching. 

Nothing will ever replace the lightness, the wholeness, the me-ness I feel while running.

This post doesn’t have a good ending, because the problem remains unresolved. I do not know how I will permanently reconcile this loss. I will keep trying, however, until something feels right. 

Advertisements

Weekend Diversions 2.7.16

My back continues to heal, which is excellent news. My next doctor’s visit is in just over two weeks and I am increasingly confident I will be cleared to run (although, of course, I will do so with emphasis on moderation and mindfulness). I have started adding body weight and range of motion exercises into my routine, and I can already feel my muscles growing stronger. 

I suspect part of the reason I have persistent injuries is muscle weakness, especially in my hips and core. I often neglect this important strength work, because it takes time away from running. But now, having spent almost a year “forgetting” to do the exercises prescribed to me during my last sacral injury, I can’t run at all. Ten minutes of strengthening three or four days a week may mean less running on a daily basis but will lead to more running in the aggregate since I won’t have to take off eight weeks a year for rehab. 

I am learning to focus on long-term rewards. 

And now, for this weekend’s reading.

  1. The Presidential Candidates U-Turn on Addiction: The Fix, a website devoted to recovery from substance use, has analyzed the addiction policies of six front-running American presidential candidates. Substance use disorder is a rampant problem in this county and is emerging as a major political issue. Some candidates favor building a wall between the United States on Mexico and developing zero-tolerance policies, while others support increased availability of treatment medications and facilities. 
  2. Babies aren’t ‘Born Addcited’: A few months ago, inspired by an episode of Law and Order, a friend and I had a long conversation about the ethical implications of mothers who maintain addictions throughout childbirth. We could not decide if using constituted child abuse, since babies are weaned from physiological dependence at birth and the stress of withdrawal can be worse for a fetus than the consequences of continuing to use. Still, encouraging women to have and keep children while unhealthy themselves has the potential to create undue burdens on society. I am uncomfortable, however, blaming women for their pregnancies, especially women whose perceptions may be skewed or who feel pressured to keep babies they don’t want. I was glad to read this article from the Institute for Research, Education & Training in Addictions, which assesses the socio-political risks of criminalizing pregnant women with substant abuse disorders. Many women avoid obtaining proper medical care during their pregnancies out of fear of legal repercussions. Even women who have recently become sober, or are attempting to acheive sobriety in early pregnancy, can be jailed if they reveal their usage to their doctor. This constitutes a much bigger public health problem than addiction, which can be managed, because it can result in fractured families and poor support for infants and children. As always, the most compassionate path is to meet people where they are, in this case that means providing addiction therapy in conjunction with prenatal care to women who seek help. Creating these systems of support will help remove the stigma of addiction and will allow expectant mothers to receive the care they need and deserve. 
  3. The 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials: Who’s In and Who’s Out: On a much happier note, next week is the Olympic marathon trials.  Here is a quick survey from Runner’s World of some of the more prominent race contenders. I will unfortunately be at work during the event, but I hope to watch it when I am done. (I am especially excited because one of my cross-country teammates from college, Sarah Bard, will be competing.) 

Have a lovely rest of the weekend, and a positive start to the week! 

Boundaries and mindfulness

Part of my process for healing and eventually returning to running is learning to be mindful. Mindful of my body, my emotions, my physical state. I realized the other day that many of my runs are done on autopilot; they are not products of joy but of habit. And while habit is not the worst motivator for exercise, for me it has become destructive.

I almost never struggle to find the will to put on my shoes and head out the door. Snow, freezing (or sub-freezing) temperatures, ice, rain, wind, suffocating humidity, scorching heat are secondary to my decision to run. I am not deterred often by pain or sickness, stress or lack of sleep. When in full training mode, I take one day off a week (because I’ve been told it’s good for me, not because I especially want to). 

Although this unrelenting pattern wins me the admiration of non-runners who cannot fathom that level of commitment to the tiring, sweaty slog that is running, it is not admirable. My unwillingness to rest, even for a moment, is foolhardy. It leads to injury, sickness, exhaustion. It can be linked to other self-destructive patterns in my life. It represents adulation of running above else; it does not represent my values. 

Running is important to me, but it is not everything to me. Running cannot replace the love I feel from my friends and family, the creative release I feel while writing, or even the pleasure of a quiet morning spent with my cats and my coffee. 

(You have no idea what a relief it is to feel this truth in my soul. I have spent years working to make this distinction between my self and my running; only now do I see it with clarity.) 

Because I am able and willing to run in any circumstance, I need mindfulness to help me understand when I want to run to fulfill a habit, and when I want to run to experience joy. I wrote a list of questions to ask myself before I run, to check in with my body and determine the reason for my  run. Here is an abbreviated version:

  • Am I in pain?
  • Was I in pain yesterday?
  • Am I afraid the world will end if I don’t run (because it won’t)
  • Do I just want fresh air? If so (and there has been recent pain) will a walk or bike ride be better?
  • Are family stresses at play? 
  • Do I smile when I think about the upcoming run? Am I excited? 

I used the list this morning, with success, to practice yoga instead of riding my bike trainer. I felt energetic and pain-free when I woke up, and was tempted to ride for the third consecutive day, even though I was in pain yesterday. The wheedling, cardio-obsessed voice in my head had a compelling argument against moderation or listening to my pain. As I contemplated listening to the voice, I remembered my list and I knew, hard as it was to resist, biking was out of the question. And now, I am as close to pain-free as currently possible. Positive reinforcement is good.

The list isn’t there to tell me anything I don’t already know but to help me commit to the healthiest option. I was perfectly aware this morning, as I considered a ride, that I had been in pain yesterday and that anything but the most gentle stretching would be counterproductive, yet it was not until I referred to the list that I yielded. The list provides much-needed boundaries. I grow past it, able to intuitively make the decision to run or not, but right now I am not that strong. So I will review my list, and listen to my answers, and learn to respect my body.

What methods do you use to cultivate mindfulness and keep yourself on track? 

Old journals

I thought it would be a really great idea to read through old journals today. It wasn’t. It rarely is. I was super depressing (and depressed) in high school and college. My writing was filled with self-directed obscenities and hatred. I did not like who I was. I did not really like who anyone was -I was jealous of the normalcy I perceived around me and I turned that jealousy into anger. It was far easier to withdraw from and then blame the world for my problems than to risk the shame of rejection. 

I was so convinced that I was unlovable, unlikable, unworthy of receiving compassion that I actively avoided friendships. In many passages, I proclaim  my friends are not true friends; they will not help me when I am truly in need; they will not stand by when confronted with the truth of my instability. I was afraid of being different, weird and abnormal. I was afraid of being shunned for my depression and tendency toward self-harm. I did not want to let anyone become to close to me; I was afraid the truth would frighten them.

I didn’t trust anyone. I didn’t trust myself. I was comfortable by myself because it was my norm, even though I was often consumed by loneliness.

Reading the old entries was hard. I forgot how awful life felt. Even positive moments seemed twinged with doom. 

I am not that person anymore, although I am aware part of her will always be inside me. I am confident in my relationships now. I am confident in my accomplishments. I even enjoy being lonely sometimes.  I am more forgiving of my circumstances. I don’t have everything figured out, but I know I am much, much better than I was. 

I want to give my former self a hug. I want to tell her everything will work out, that she is lovable, that she has worth. I want to give her support, a large cup of tea, a shoulder to cry on and an ear to rant into. I want to be her best friend. 

I know it isn’t possible to go back and rectify the past. And I am certain I would not be myself today if I had not experienced those scary years. 

So why do I hang on to the journals? Why have I moved them across the county and back? And why do I read them if they are so unnerving? I because throwing them away feels like disowning my prior self. It feels cruel. The past sucked and it hurt, but it is still a part of my history and I am not willing (yet) to let go. These journals are my proof that I am strong, that I can overcame rough shit and emerged compassionate and kind. If I could evolve beyond the drama and turmoil of my early life, I am capable of greatness. 

Balance

Today is what my mom and I used to call a “tissue box day.” One in which the tears start flowing and won’t stop, and usually have an inexplicable origin. They are not good days. 

I haven’t had one in ages, so I suppose I’m due. Still, no fun. 

My list of triggers: my impending thirtieth birthday (and my boyfriend’s seeming lack of interest or planning), my exhaustion, my back pain, the lack of time in recent days for concerted self-care, and a knock sustained on my head when I banged into the freezer as I put away groceries. What it comes down to, I think, is an imbalance in my life between energy spent on keeping myself sane and energy spent keeping my house in order (the house always wins). 

When I neglect my self, my emotions eventually tumble out in an unstoppable cascade. My mood regulation decreases, and I swing from high to low in an instant. It is exhausting. And I am still uncovering the best way to maintain balance, especially when life is especially chaotic. When my days are calm, balance is easy. It is in times of tumult that I lost my ability to cope. I guess that is the next thing to tackle, now that I have a relatively good grasp on my relationship to running.

Do you, dear readers, have any tips or tricks for staying sane during difficult days and weeks?