When she was in the boot, I asked her is she’d write a guest blog post for me on her injury lessons. When I read her words, I though, “I wish someone had told me this stuff when I was spectacularly flailing through my first injury recovery.”
Dr. Lara Latimer and I met after a panel discussion for injured athletes. We met in person and nearly two and a half hours flew by as we got to know one another. We both believe challenges and injuries are some of life’s best (and most unforgiving) teachers; we both love nature (especially unexpected beauty) and being outside; we are on the same wavelength about healthy lifestyle choices and relationships. As much as we have in common, it should have come as no surprise that we share the same birthday too.
Dr. Lara Latimer is a Personal Wellness Advocate who works with individuals to help them change their health behaviors in order to improve their overall health and quality of life. She primarily focuses on helping people find sustainable solutions to health goals such as weight loss, improving diet, and incorporating regular exercise. Lara’s holistic approach is sensitive, yet no-nonsense, and combines mind, body, and spirit. She works with people to help them build the confidence and skills necessary to achieve lasting changes that come from the inside out.
I’m very appreciative of the hours of reflection, honesty, and humor Lara has shared in her guest blog post. Also, Lara took all the nature photos in this blog. When injury forces you to slow down, do what Lara is doing. Notice the exceptional beauty surrounding you.
I don’t really think of myself as an athlete because I don’t particularly enjoy competing, and I am consistently mediocre at most physical activities I attempt. Perhaps I should change my paradigm, though, as most of the injuries I’ve sustained are due to overuse…apparently I’m engaging in athletic pursuits more than the average person. Exercise is my favorite pastime, which is problematic when injuries crop up. Every time I’m injured, I inevitably expend a significant amount of energy trying to figure out how to not feel like I want to jump out of my own skin.
Apparently the previous plantar fasciitis (in both feet at the same time), knee pain, metatarsal stress fracture, tibialis tendonitis, and quad injury weren’t enough to solidify the great life lessons that injury has to offer. I needed a reminder. Clearly the universe was trying to tell me something. My feet had been bothering me for a few months…nagging heel pain that went away within the first mile of a run and mostly just hurt when I first started walking after rest. Not enough to derail me. Then I took a spill. The ground came out of nowhere. I was running in an area where I often run and fell. Hard. On thick gravel. Busted my shins and knees. Blood, cuts, and bruises. I went for a run the next day to “test it out” and felt pain with every step from the bruising, but within a few days I was feeling much better. Of course I thought it was just a fluke thing and was glad that I hadn’t lost any teeth or had to take time off. Perhaps I should’ve taken a breather though, and I am glad I have a scar to remind me to stop and take note of the universe’s messages.
I continued with my regular activity after the fall, and within three weeks I landed in a boot. I set out for a short run and almost instantly felt something wasn’t right. I thought I could run through it, but it was clear at mile 2 that things were not moving in that direction. I turned around to head home and was struggling just to walk. I was pretty sure it was a stress fracture. I had one a few years ago, and the pain I felt was familiar. I went to the doctor that afternoon and was so proud of myself for addressing it immediately (the last stress fracture I had I continued with regular activity for 6 weeks before going to the doctor). The treatment plan was pretty straight forward: Boot. Rest.
I tried to stay optimistic with the projection of 6-8 weeks healing time, but I felt pretty limited activity-wise, relative to my norm. So what to do with so much down time? Enter the frustrating beauty of injury. If you choose to receive it, injury has a lot to offer. The list below highlights things that I was reminded of with my latest injury.
LARA’S INJURY LESSONS
1) Impermanence–For Better or Worse
Impermanence is a core principle I try to live by. It’s something that I find consoles me when I’m in pain and humbles me when I get a little too big for my britches. Situations, people, things–these are all transient. Injury provides another context in which I can practice this paradigm. I love running. I feel most like myself when I’m running. As soon as I’m done running I wish I was still running. Pretty much any time you see me, I’d rather be running. But running is a positive in my life that will not always be there. Impermanence. Perhaps it is only unavailable temporarily (e.g., with my latest injury), but there may be a day when I am completely unable to run again (e.g., due to old age). I can relish in the joy that exists while I’m able to run. I am reminded that this joy is not dependent upon speed or distance. The ability to run is an example of a good thing that is impermanent. On the other hand, my current injury is also impermanent [insert red dress lady dancing emoji] – a less-positive thing that will not last for ever. For better or for worse, I’m thankful for being reminded, “this too shall pass.”
2) My Insides are Trying to Tell Me Something
My body is a crying baby. It is trying to tell me something, but it’s hard for me to determine what. My latest injury has helped illuminate some long-standing coping mechanisms. I do truly enjoy physical activity, but I believe my injuries are (at least partially) a result of my inability to directly and productively face negative emotion. I have fear, insecurity, and anxiety that I feel ill-equipped to handle at times. I can’t face the negative emotion, and then–double whammy–I can’t face the not knowing how to address it. I’m largely unaware of what’s happening as my body moves in autopilot, because my conscious mind just thinks “I want to go run” or “I feel like going to the gym.” When I lose my activity outlets, I’m much more aware of the raw emotion that lurks.
3) A Return to Things that Feed Me
When I’m unable to run, I’m more forced to examine what it is about running that I so love. This examination is a wonderful gift. When I’m able to run, I mostly think that running is what brings me joy. Such myopia precludes me from fully experiencing the richness of running. During this latest stint in the boot, I’ve questioned what it is I miss. I miss the trail. I miss being outside. I miss seeing people in the neighborhood. I miss the sun. I miss nature. I miss the combination of moving my body in an athletic fashion + nature + solitude. I feel fortunate to have been given a chance to look inward and re-discover these fundamentals, because it gives me a chance to recreate them for myself in other areas of my life.
4) I Rock at Adapting
Injury isn’t the only life situation that can provide a chance for me to congratulate myself on my stellar ability to adapt, but it is currently the most salient. I continue to show myself that when presented with disruption, I can figure it out. I believe this is because:
• I stop and take stock in the present when I am adapting. I stay conscious of the steps I’m currently taking to adjust to the curve ball I’ve been thrown.
• I take time to stop and recall previous experiences with adapting. “You’ve done this before. You can do it again.”
• I surround myself with people who help remind me of times when I have overcome something difficult or created a new normal.
• I hold the space for things that are healthy (e.g., still going to the gym even though I couldn’t do much there), rather than filling that space up with things that don’t serve me as well (e.g., food, alcohol, TV).
5) We are All Connected
Walking around with a massive boot sure does drum up conversation. I’m thankful that my latest injury gave me an opportunity to connect with others. All sorts of people talked to me. People that likely wouldn’t have otherwise. They provided compliments (“You may have to wear that big ol’ boot, but your hair looks great”), encouragement (“You’re healing even when it doesn’t feel like you’ve made any progress”), perspective (“I had to wear one of those boots for 6 months after I had been in a cast for months beforehand”), and recommendations (“You should try acupuncture as a healing modality”). My heart swelled with gratitude for these people and re-showed me the common thread that is humanity. I continue to feed off of this positive energy and to pay it forward.
6) Acknowledge Abundance in What Is
Although I was knocked down a couple of rungs on my normal exercise ladder, I began to find the wealth in any activity. Although I couldn’t run, walk, box, practice my preferred yoga, take stairs, or use my standing desk, there were things that I could do. I could swim (love-hate relationship with it). I could do extremely-modified yoga. I could brush up on my leg lifts, a la Jane Fonda-style. I could ride the spin bike. I kept doing the things I could do and tried to focus on the fact that I was still able to move my body. When I got in the pool or on my yoga mat, I would tell myself “what a treat.” I focused on all the joy that the moment held, rather than focusing on the lack of my preferred activities. Don’t get me wrong. I certainly didn’t do this every moment. But for the most part, I took this mentality, as I realize that joy is available to me at any moment, if I choose.
7) Compassion–For Myself and Others
I blame myself when I get injured. I feel like I should or shouldn’t have done something, should’ve known better, could’ve done something to prevent it. I take it personally. While there are always lessons to learn and prevention is a worthwhile endeavor, there is plenty of room to be kind to myself. When I am kinder to myself, I’m kinder to others (this mostly happens in my mind). Even now, as I’m out of the boot but still recovering, I move slowly. I park closer to the door when I go to a store. I take the elevator. I fight against the urge to get down on myself about how these behaviors make me lazy. My negative self-talk that surrounds injury has been largely unconscious in the past. Now I am better about acknowledging that autopilot has taken over my mind and that I can choose thoughts other than “you are lazy.” As I come in contact with others who move slowly, park close to the door, or take the elevator, I am less judgmental. I have space to send them caring and empathetic thoughts, because I have done that for myself.
8) Dividends in the Discomfort
Another principle I try to live by is to move towards discomfort. With injury, I’m reminded of hard things I’ve done in my life. For example, I learned how to swim about 4 years ago. Prior to this, I could only doggy paddle and pray, and I never left shallow water without a life preserver. But I wanted to do a triathlon, so I decided it was finally time to face my fears and learn. I did complete a couple of triathlons, and felt proud of reaching my goal given the deficit I was working from. However, the sweetest reward has been the fact that I can swim when I’m injured. I’ve been fortunate that the injuries I’ve sustained so far have still permitted me to swim in some way. Sometimes I have to get crafty, but I can move my body around AND I get to be outside–two things that I value very much and miss about running (see #3 above). I am a slow swimmer (primarily because I do nothing to address improving speed), and sometimes it feels like I haven’t moved an inch in the water. And then, all of a sudden, there it is again – the end of the pool. I’m amazed every time I touch the wall and I relish this small reward that represents the hard things I’ve done, am doing, and will continue to do. Progress is made even when it does not feel that way.
9) Check-In on the Cling
Injury shows me some holes in my mental game, especially regarding my attachment to external outcomes. This one may be the hardest to admit. With injury, I’m more aware of the pride I take in behaviors I do and that my happiness is contingent upon these. An aspect of my athletic pursuits is me trying to be “good enough,” to prove my worth, but sometimes it’s tricky to tell that’s what I’m doing. Thanks injury, for helping to bring me back to reality. While I think it’s great to acknowledge accomplishments, I take injury as a time to check in to see how proud I am of these and how much of my identity I derive from them. For example, do I feel lesser than since I can’t tout my weekly mileage? How much do I let the changes in my physical appearance affect me? Injury is an ideal time to examine how much I cling to things that I think are “me.”
When I let myself out of the self-imposed cage, when I stop fighting against my body, I feel less restless. When I let go of attachment to ideals–how I think things should be, how long I think recovery should take, how I think things will be in the future–and just ride the wave, I have a chance at peace. For me, a person whose mental anguish from injury is usually more noticeable than the physical pain, peace is invaluable. Some days are better than others, but injuries provide gifts for us if we choose to receive them–I sincerely hope that you are able to see the hidden gems in your own.