It's ironic that I sit here writing this post while being sidelined for the SECOND time this year due to injury. I broke my ankle on Monday night and spent all of Tuesday in the "BITTER" stage of grief. Hold up, just Googled it... "Bitter" isn't technically a stage, but it should be, because I was one HELL of a Bitter Betty. All I could keep thinking about was that I was laid up in a ton of pain because of one person's action... or mis-action. If the member who'd spilled her water bottle on the stairs had only stopped to clean it up... I wouldn't be in this mess. I wondered if she even knew that her careless attitude had such consequences. (Yes, I know it was a female. No, I don't know who it was. And yes, if I did know who it was, I'd want her to know what happened because why wouldn't I?! Maybe it was the same girl who slid a couple of unused plates ON MY BAR IN THE MIDDLE OF MY SET. Yes, that actually happened. You wouldn't believe some of the shit I see in the gym. I'm surprised people don't get injured more often, honestly.)
The next few days brought a little more clarity in a "Shit Happens" kind of way. Following my accident last week, I had a couple of really frustrating conversations with people I shall not name... people whom I am certain had good intentions with poor delivery. I was told, "Don't be frustrated," and, "So you have to stay out of the gym for a few weeks. So what? You're young." I repeated these trite statements in a whiny voice to my dad, and he made the following (very valid) points:
· Most people don't know how bad my back injury was because I didn't complain or talk about it all that much. This is very true. I didn't take any time off work and I mentioned it to people quickly and vaguely because I didn't want to dwell on it. This was a mistake, because when I finally opened up, I realized that talking about it was actually really helpful and reassuring.
· Not everyone can empathize or sympathize with someone who is miserable at the thought of staying home from work and the gym to relax for a week or two. To some, the forced break may not sound that bad or maybe even somewhat enticing. For me, it's hell. I love what I do and not being able to work - or workout - is inexplicably frustrating for me.
So here's the story. Back in August, Ben and I went to Greece for our honeymoon. I have dreamed of going to Greece my whole life, and I was so, so excited. On the second day of the trip, I woke up early and went to the hotel gym. I felt a little off during my workout, but I ignored it and pressed on. Later that day, Ben and I were in a sandal shop and as I sat down on a low stool to try one on, I feel a sharp pain somewhere between my back and my hip. The pain only got worse as time went on, eventually reducing me to tears. I did everything I could think of... I got a massage in the resort spa, tried massaging it myself, took lots of Greek ibuprofen... nothing helped. The worst part was that I couldn't really relay how bad the pain was to Ben a) because Ben's been fortunate enough to never know any great physical pain in his life and b) because I didn't want to ruin our honeymoon with my discomfort.
But unfortunately, in so many ways, it really put a damper on our vacation. Being sick in a foreign place is terrifying. I had no idea what was wrong with me, but the sharp pain stayed with me for the remainder of the trip. Ben and I were planning on an active honeymoon, and I felt so limited. I didn't want to disappoint Ben so I did as much as I could. We embarked on the 3-hour hike we'd planned, but had to stop halfway through to call a cab because I was in such excruciating pain. We took a snorkeling cruise. We climbed the Acropolis ruins to the top. I smiled through all of it. But I was miserable.
Climbing the ancient ruins was not easy or fun, but it was worth it.
I went to a sports medicine doctor as soon as we got home and she told me I'd bulged a disc and it was likely due to all the travel, sitting, etc. I've had back problems in the past (I have mild scoliosis) so it wasn't shocking. My doctor put my on a high dosage of anti-inflammatory steroids, and the pain was gone within a few days (and I haven't felt pain in that spot since, thank God). I did a few weeks of physical therapy and took six weeks off of working out with the exception of the elliptical machine and some corrective exercises. When I was ready to start lifting again, I talked to one of the most respected trainers on staff and she helped me design a program for myself. I spent October and November hitting the gym hard. In a lot of ways I felt like I was starting from scratch. I was focused, determined and felt stronger than ever.
I know that in another six weeks or so I'll have vastly broader, differing opinions on this topic. But for now, here's what I want you to know:
· If you're in pain but not quite sure why or what's causing it, don't be a hero. GO TO THE DOCTOR. Get help. Ignoring or "dealing" with your pain doesn't make you tough, it makes you foolish. Seek a solution.
· Don't stop at the doctor. Do your homework. Research literature on the internet. Talk to other fitness, health and medical professionals. Educate yourself and fill your brain with as much information on the subject as you possibly can.
· Physical injuries don't just affect your body; they can create a real mental hurdle as well. I 100% slipped back into my depression when I got back from Greece and couldn't work out. I was so down. Elle Woods taught us all that working out gives you endorphins, and endorphins make you happy. Life without those endorphins - when you're used to them - is not nearly as fun. My injury was incredibly isolating. I felt alone; I felt lost and I cried a lot. I felt like a failure. I've been dealing with a lot of those same feelings over the past seven days, but this time around I feel slightly better equipped to fight these mental battles.
· Create a plan of attack. Do you have to take time off? If so, how much? When you can return, what will you do? I sought the advice of a seasoned trainer at our gym who I respect the hell out of. She was so helpful and I'm really happy I asked her for assistance. Her guidance and encouragement has made a huge difference in my recovery.
· Don't think about getting 'back' (no pun intended) to where you were. Concentrate only on moving forward. Period!
One of the scarier thoughts I've had over and over again in the past week is that all of the progress I made in the past few months is down the drain because I'm now forced to take another six weeks off from working out. But the truth is that I've worked really hard and even though it may feel all for naught right now, I wouldn't take it back. It SUCKS to be sidelined again, but I have to look at this obstacle as a stepping stone. I have always loved a challenge, and this will be no different. I've learned a lot about the human body, about my abilities and vulnerabilities and my capacity to adapt and grow. The only place to go from here is onward and upward.
P.S. Talking helps. It really, really does. Email me anytime. I mean it.