Note: Life challenges, regardless of their origin, often provoke the question “why me.” In this blog, you can substitute whatever life challenge you’re facing for the word “injury.” The concepts – and opportunities – are universal.
I met him at physical therapy. He started each conversation with, “I can’t believe this happened to me. I went in for a simple knee scope and ended up with arthrofibrosis. Why me?”
I asked questions, trying to get acquainted with the guy behind the injury, but the conversation consistently stalled with “why me.”
Maybe you’re like him, unable to accept the fact that injury happened to you with no reason why.It’s perfectly normal to ask “why me” post-injury. After all, an important part of your life is now MIA. However, at some point, perseveration must end for recovery to begin.
Here’s a short and practical guide to moving past “why me,” and exploring the opportunities (that’s not a typo) of injury.
How to not get stuck
It’s typical to ask, “why me,” but wallow too long and you risk spectacular mental thrashing. Think of “why me” as a step on the way to mental healing–a stage in the grieving process.
What to do
You have to decide when enough is enough. If you are unable to move beyond “why me,” choose a date and make a promise to yourself–either you legitimately move on by the chosen date, or you seek professional help. I suggest sharing the date with a trusted friend for accountability’s sake. If you don’t want to tell someone, hang a calendar on your fridge and circle a date so it reminds you every morning when you get your Cheerios. This is serious business. Hold yourself accountable.
Your life-pruning opportunity
Imagine your life is a tree, and injury your opportunity to carefully examine and prune. As adults, we rarely have time to pause and take a hard look at our lives. Injury offers a time to pause and decide what habits, behaviors, and relationships serve you well and which you need to bid good riddance.
What to do
1) Set a timer for 10 minutes and write down: attitude shortcomings; neuroses and obsessions that leave you feeling exhausted and drained; and people who don’t add to your life. Rule of thumb: If feeding your obsessions feeds your obsessions, you’ll ultimately have a personality that welcomes obsessions, and that’s not happy or sustainable.
2) Set a timer for 10 minutes and write down: activities within your limitations that make you happy; hobbies you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t had time; things you’ve wanted to learn; and people who uplift and inspire you.
How to prune
Be an arborist to your own life tree. An arborist examines the entire structure of a tree, while keeping in mind the tree’s future structure before deciding which branches to demote (#1 above) and promote (#2 above) via pruning.
Just as a tree grows at varied angles and in all dimensions, so do you. Has the branch growing your obsession with (insert your sport here) prevented you from fostering friendships, going to a favorite concert, or truly relaxing and unwinding? I’m not suggesting you whack the (insert your sport here) branch off your tree, but perhaps it has overshadowed other branches that need a little sunlight.
Your opportunity to help others
Maybe you’re injured right now. Have you shared your frustration with a friend and left the conversation thinking, “that was quasi-helpful, but they really don’t get it”? The truth is, as much as your friends, family and life-or-sport-coaches try to help you through your injury, if they haven’t been in the same hole, their guidance won’t come from a place of true understanding.
It may be that you’re largely on your own here. It’s ok though. Pause. Listen. Your injury (or any life challenge) is teaching you the language of connection, compassion, and empathy. The more you ask “why me,” the more you obfuscate the true opportunity in injury–struggling through and overcoming injury bestows you with a deeper way of relating to other people who are going through a hard time.
After you come to terms with your own injury, you will have learned a valuable lesson. At some point(s) you desperately needed a shoulder to lean on–you needed someone to just listen. Because you’ve been there before, your injury has created an opportunity for you to be that person for someone else.
The more you learn and observe on your own journey, the deeper your connection and the more you can help whoever seeks your wisdom.
Learn so you can help
I have an obscure, chronic, and frustrating knee condition called arthrofibrosis. Here are some practices I’ve adopted that will help you get beyond “why me” and become a positive influence on others.
1) Teach yourself as much as possible about your injury through journal articles, textbooks, doctors, and physical therapists. Your knowledge will give you confidence while offering practical advice and guidance.
2) Keep a daily journal of your physical progress, no matter how insignificant the progress seems. When other people ask about recovery milestones, refer to your progress journal. Encourage friends to realize that slow progress is still progress.
3) Keep a daily thought journal and observe your emotions without judging them. Keep track of interactions, activities, and connections that change your mood, for better or worse.
More than just about anything else, athletes fear injury. Fair enough. What we often fail to examine is the other side of the injury coin–opportunity.
Injury is an opportunity to connect with and guide other injured athletes out of the hole. Allow your injury to teach you connection, compassion, and empathy and use your abilities to help someone else.
Injury is an opportunity to pause and selectively prune branches of your life that warrant further examination.
I’m not suggesting injury is smooth sailing, but it presents tremendously valuable opportunities–should we choose to move past “why me” and capture them.