You are going through your life, everything seemingly fine. You of course have some ups and downs, stresses, daily grind. But - all in all, you are good. Then BOOM - something happens that hits you like a ton of bricks, and rocks your whole world. PLOT TWIST!!
The first thing I kept thinking when I ruptured a disc in my low back, was that "this could be so much worse." "you shouldn't be complaining so much." "you could have cancer." "someone you love could have died suddenly." "you could have been shot in a mass shooting." "you could be homeless."
It's funny to me because 1) all of those things ARE true. It could absolutely be worse. but... 2) I spend many days of my career as a therapist telling clients that they cannot minimize their pain or suffering simply because someone they know may have something terrible happening to them. It doesn't mean that their friends' pain is less than, or that yours doesn't matter. But realizing that you DO have pain is important to the healing process. Here I was though--- feeling lost and broken and doing the EXACT same things I tell my clients not to do.
The reason is because I am human. I am empathetic by nature, and by trade, and I would much rather give than receive. I always want to make things better for others, and would rather hurt than to see those I care about hurt.
But I was hurting. I still am on some level. But I am healing inside and out.
I have never had back problems. I have been a late bloomer athlete. Meaning, I was the least athletic person you've ever met as a child and adolescent. I barely passed gym class. I didn't play any team sports (other than little league softball for a couple of years and I ran track in 8th grade and loved it but was average and quit my freshman year when I attended high school conditioning). As my career in fitness grew passionately in my 20's I began running and then in my 30's wanted to become more competitive. So I have spent a lot of time and money too, on my sport and picked up traithon too. I absolutely love it. As an adult, the running and triathlon community give me a sense of community that is very important to me. I have grown inside and out because of the challenges, the rewards, and the friendships. I have become more confident in myself which has been a LONG time coming.
Before my injury, I was having a great beginning to my second full season as a triathlete. My power on the bike was going up almost weekly. My running speed was consistently improving and I was feeling more confident in the pool and with my outdoor biking skills which has been something I have had to work on a lot. I had a great 70.3 on May 19th- hit a shiny new PR - and felt great after the race. One week later though - everything changed when I suddenly started feeling leg pain which I assumed was muscular. Then I tripped outside my front door and immediately felt shooting stabbing pain and couldn't get up. My entire right leg and foot went numb. Long story short, I had a L5S1 disc herniation -- both my sports chiropractor and my neurosurgeon assured me that this was not caused from training or racing -- but likely genetic and just had the perfect storm for things to happen. 2 nerve injections, 3 months of PT and chiropractic treatment, and daily CBD - has gotten me to where I am today. I am still not able to run or race. I am still in pain daily - yet it is much better than it was and my mobility gets a little better every week. The numbness is mostly gone.
The real reason I wanted to blog about this is the emotional aspect. The first 2 weeks after I got hurt -- the pain was unbearable. I would literally lay there and grit my teeth, sweating because I didn't want to scream and scare my kids -- and I didn't want to resort to dangerous pills. No matter what they tell you -- the opioid crisis is VERY real. I did take about 2 weeks worth of Hydrocodone on a carefully monitored schedule until my 1st injection could kick in and I had enough pain relief that I didn't want to chop my leg off 24/7. On top of the physical pain I was an emotional mess. Feelings of fear, self doubt, worthlessness all crept in. "What if I can never run again? "What if I lose all of my friends because I can't do these things?" "What if I lose all of my muscle mass?" "What if I never get to try to qualify for Boston?"
Here's the thing. Some of these what-ifs I can answer. My friends, if they are really my friends, are STILL my friends whether I can swim, bike or run. I have to make more of an effort to reach out to them since we aren't training together every weekend -- but they do. And I do too. Because it means a lot. I don't know what the future holds in terms of my athletics, but I do know I can only control one thing. ME. I can control how much I put into my rehab, how much I put into my daily bucket, and how much I am going to let negative thoughts creep in.
So I get up everyday. I no longer cry most days (sometimes something will trigger it and that is ok!!) -- but I get up. I am no longer feeling worthless or helpless or doomed. Am I still sad? Yes. But it doesn't control me. I have a great family, I am doing well on my rehab and I truly believe I will run again someday soon and be able to plan a race for 2020.
The thing is-- there are no guarantees in life. Nothing. If we spend every day trying to control things we can't, we will at some point be disappointed again. Of course I still have goals I want to meet and I still want to see the Boston Marathon someday, and I will do everything I can control to make that happen. The rest is out of my hands -- and I have accepted that. I have accepted it and changed my thoughts from "I am doomed" to "I have a setback, but that doesn't mean I'm worthless." "It is sad but I got this!" And sometimes when I miss a race I was supposed to race (I have now missed 3) -- I just ask for a hug from my husband, daughter, mom or a friend, and then I am able to feel that compassion and move forward.
I encourage you -- if you're reading this-- that if you are going through something challenging -- allow yourself to feel those feelings. That is totally normal and you will have some days that just feel a little sucky. But don't stay there. I didn't. I don't. I'm a trained clinical therapist, and yet I still completely understand those feelings -- because I have them too! Focus on what you CAN do today. Right now. It doesn't mean you have to be super happy all the time, It doesn't mean you can't complain. I just hope you can use this story as a perspective.
Yes - so many MANY others in this world have things worse off than I do with a back injury. People are paralyzed, held hostage, children kept away from their parents. I feel heartbroken for them .... and I still feel sad at time for me. And that is okay.