Thursday, October 2, 2014

injury and the learning edge

Injuries Happen

When I was twenty, I hurt my knee from over training. The injury was bad, I could barely walk, I was on crutches. The sports doctor gave me stretches and told me to cross train. He said "Don't just run or bike, roller blade or swim. Keep all the muscles engaged." But I couldn't even walk and something about what he was telling me didn't jive. I never saw him again. In six months I went from being the best shape of my life ramping up for my first triathlon and feeling strong and empowered to depressed, inactive and my main activity was following my college peers down Santa Barbara's State Street bar crawl seeking out the best happy hour. I gag to admit I even started smoking cigarettes.

That injury was a test of character and I failed - miserably. I fled activity fitness and health, because I was wounded not just physically but spiritually. I felt betrayed by my body. I concluded that my body couldn't keep healthy under the stress I was subjecting it too. I was weak. I took it personally. My body didn't like me, so I punished it. That Logic is akin to a five year old and serious failure of character.

I came back to an active life after I left Santa Barbara and those peers. My knee was always a little tweaky and my commitment level waffled. But I considered myself active and healthy. I shunned gyms, the place I injured myself, and sought out other kinds of activity. I salsa danced, rock climbed, and I fell in love with yoga.

Then, I struggled with tendinitis in my elbow that shot down my forearm and made it difficult to work at a keyboard. But I was angry this time, not just wounded, I didn't want to be stopped from what I loved to do by my body again. That injury taught me something - injuries are a test of character. At that moment I could choose to take on a victim mindset or I could battle it. I attacked my tendinitis with accupuncture, painted and mediated on it. I willed my recovery.

I still have the watercolor hanging in the hallway as a reminder.

Carpal Tunnel 2004 copyright Marika Reinke

Handling Injuries requires choice, choice to empower yourself or give power up. Though my anger hurtled me towards healing, it certainly left me room for improvement because on the other side of anger is perseverance. I lacked preservance, I waited to heal, I didn't train through healing.

Transitions as Injury

It is a universal fact that having kids changes everything. It is difficult to sustain a fit life not just because pregnancy is hard on the body but because raising kids requires energy. Time to self is minimal and intentional work sporadic. After Daire, my second child, was born my fitness life was ruined, I felt ill most of the pregnancy, I lost a lot of blood during the birth and may family was shocked by the burden of an extra child on our relationship dynamics. My fitness life was injured by greater demands and a shifting identity. I hit another fitness bottom.

Why Fitness? And Fear

I subscribe to the banking system model of fitness. I'm investing in my fitness now so I can move strongly forward into middle and old age. It is necessary now, for the life of fitness I want when I'm 60 and even 80. I'll lose it if I don't use it.

I needed a gym. The only time I had was mornings, before kids wake. I willed myself to create the new habit. I got strong, started running again, ate better and my knee stopped bothering me. Crossfit snuck into my life to combat boredom and a plateau. And I always had a nagging feeling "what if I hurt myself?"

And I did get hurt enough to stop me. A bad forearm injury - maybe fractured but not bad enough to go to a doctor. I skipped crossfit one day, feeling wounded and ashamed. Yes, I felt ashamed. "I'm weak, I'm injured. I'm scared I'll have to stop. I'm scared I'll lose the awesome feeling of being fit, of being strong and capable of feeling like there is so much potential for me and so much more to gain in my workouts. I love the daily challenge and the long term gain. I'm scared I'll grow old and weak, not tackle old age with health, but immobility." That is a lot of negative self talk to work through.

I went back to crossfit the next day with an arm brace and a pout in my heart. Instead of being told to stop, I was taught to modify. I learned to kettle bell swing, clean a barbell, wall ball - with ONE ARM. I felt awesome. I was empowered. It was a revelation! It is possible to be safely active while injured! The exercise, I'm sure, was good for the healing. And after a month, I was back to normal.

And now I'm injured again. This time, a real good one. A herniated disc whose effects may haunt me into a old age if I'm not careful. It is an undeniable injury with clear proof on the MRI.

Herniated Disc - not hard to tell which one it is.

I've learned a lot about dealing with injuries. But now I know, the way I take myself into this injury will dictate how I come out of it. I know what I have to do, and I have to follow through on it. I have to change my movement patterns, protect my back and use my butt more. Youth isn't going to heal me, my determination, wits and perseverance are. My character will dictate the extent of my healing, not my body. I must bring myself to this injury fully and intentionally in order to heal. This means not only dealing with physical pain but the psychological scarring, the over-compensation and the potential pitfalls of not taking it seriously enough.

The bottom line - injuries have pushed me to my learning edge and revealed an opportunity to be a better person and athlete. It is up to me to decide where the injury will take me.

Here is a list of what I take into injuries.

1. Injuries are a test of character.

The person I bring to the injury dictates how I will heal not just physically but mentally. Identifying the injury as opportunity and trusting and assisting the healing process expose character, a character that requires perseverance and faith.

2. It is not the end of an active life. Exercise and injury are not mutually exclusive.

Figuring out how I can move safely helps me feel good emotionally during an injury but also helps my body feel strong and capable of healing. And focusing on what I can do, helps me get stronger.

3. Injuries are an opportunity to learn about my body.

For me, they have been a result of improper movement patterns and overuse. I've learned that I abuse my body when I round my lower back, years of sitting and slouching have made my butt weak. I have a strong upper body that overcompensated for glut inactivation. But overcompensation casues injury and sometimes hides larger problems. An injury can become a map of how your body works and doesn't.

4. Injuries are an opportunity to examine my mindset.

First, I have a difficult time admitting injury. I often think I can work through a little tweaky pain, and often times I can. But the long view is necessary to move out of injury. Sometimes a break or lowering weight or intensity is banking on the future. Finding the balance between pushing myself and resting is an artform and should be treated delicately. I do get frustrated, I want to get better, but my frustration will not help the healing. My perseverance will.

5. Injuries offer me the opportunity to become physically stronger.

By staying active and training through an injury, I can still make gains in strength. I'm focusing on evening out my squat and keeping my left leg strong. But I hit many personal records during this injury cycle: 8 strict pull ups, 120 pound push press, 95 pound strict press, 48 unassisted ring dips, and I climbed a difficult 10c using movement, confidence and finesse I've never shown before. It was invigorating, powerful and life affirming and more so during an injury.

6. Injuries help me understand the difference between discomfort and pain and how my mind dictates my perception of both.

Because this injury involves the nerve, I have sensation in my legs and because I want to get better my emotional reaction is to hate the sensation which emphasizes the sensation and in some cases causes pain. Vicious cycle. My reaction is not helping me. Instead, I'm challenged to have an observers mind frame and slow down. I can't ignore what my body is telling me. I can observe sensation and modify my emotional reaction. And I can learn from it.

7. Injuries give my body a break.

All my personal records pretty much involved my upper body during this cycle. Squats, which are my weakness, will not see personal records but they will see improvement in form that will, in the long run, improve my squat stregnth and reduce my injuries in the future.

I believe that my body needed this break, to regroup from the intensity of training I had been wreaking on it. I expect a lot from myself, putting pressure on my weakness (the squat) without understanding or respecting why it was my weakness also created this injury.

8. I am not a victim of my body.

Bodies get hurt. Staying active keeps me strong and when I get hurt, I will be strong going into the healing process. An injury is not personal and it is within my hands to recover using the stregnth and fitness developed during training.

9. Injuries are a critical learning lesson that are absolutely necessary to becoming my best athlete.

Because of the above, managed well, injuries teach about my body, provide epiphanies and will make me a better athlete. It requires paying attention, being intentional and perserverance.

Ultimately, my goal to go into middle and old age, strong, fit and healthy. In other words, I want to be the best version of myself no matter my age. Dealing proactively with injuries, will help me do this because every now and then, a body breaks.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Art. Adventure. Athletics

" I love how artistic, adventurous and athletic you are mom." My eight year old daughter proclaimed this summer shortly after I had stand up paddle boarded (on my knees) down a class II rapid on the Salmon River. To clarify, my legs were burning on that paddle board and I didn't feel so athletic when I fell butt first on my first attempt or barely survived the ugly yet successful second attempt. Secondly, my daughter is a wonderful mirror and can see with surprising clarity. Her statement summed up everything fun and meaningful in my life and suddenly I saw myself with as much clarity as an 8 year old.

And at forty, having just quit a tenured faculty position that defined me for ten years, I'm dead set on stripping the bullshit away and focusing on fun and meaningful. My goal is to build a different kind of life. One that allows me to put art, adventure and athletics at center and the politics and pain far behind me. That was blissfully obvious to my daughter, but to me there is forty years of other peoples blinding expectations to peel away. My daughter must has x-ray vision.

So I'm dedicating this year, which always starts and ends September, to my daughters insight and my insistence that I can have everything.

I will be an Artist.

I will adventure

I will be an Athlete.

"That's funny each one of those words starts with A" she followed up as she kissed me and ran away.

Sometimes the answer is as obvious as the first letter in the alphabet.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

What I'm Going to Do

Since announcing my intention to leave my ten year tenured position at Bellevue College many people have asked me what I'm going to do. I'm serious about taking a break with my kids this summer and dead serious about having more fun. And more importantly, I'm dedicated to creating an environment for myself where I can test out some theories and ideas I have about work, life, creativity, change and leadership. For now, I'm keeping those ideas close; they need to incubate while I focus on finishing strong.

BUT, I can't help thinking about the question "What are you going to DO?" The well-intentioned question, sometimes framed as an accusation (What are you going to do?), sometimes disguised as coercion (What are you going to do?) and other times just from sheer curiosity resonates with me. Of course, I have asked myself the same thing, many, many, many times.  I’m eternally committed to the whast, the ams and the dos for myself.  The answer is that I’m certain of a few things that will carry me forward. 

So right now, in this moment of time, here is how I can answer the question:  WHAT ARE you going to DO?

Of course, as some friends have already guessed, I’m going to travel, write, climb and crossfit.  And I’m going to meet my kids, husband and friends where they are in play, in the pool, the playground or in a handstand. 

And I’m deadly serious about this: Work should be playful.  Without play, creativity and possibility die.  Without play, there is no discovery.  How can ideas emerge and thrive without the opportunity that play gives us? How can work be love if it isn’t playful?

Grow Younger
I will not be creaky, dusty, and/or stale in mind or body. I'm turning 40 this year and as far as I’ve been able to determine after much reflections, there are vast more benefits in reaching this number than deficits despite what our culture tells us. It is age bias that makes us “feel old” not age itself.

Here is a short list of benefits of becoming 40 over becoming 30: 

·         I care a whole lot less what people think of me, and stand comfortably in my own skin.

·         I say what is on my mind and believe solidly in the validity of my opinions.

·         I easily laugh at myself and my own jokes.

·         I’m a lot better at forgiving myself.

·         I’m empowered to believe that I can do anything that I envision, if I dedicate myself to it.

·         And damn what society says, I’m healthy, fast, strong and good looking.    

And doesn’t a healthy child feel about the same way about themselves?

Boss Myself
I’ll collaborate. Nothing is more satisfying than working towards a common goal. I’ll seek counsel and take advice from those I respect.  Multiple perspectives help guide my decision making.

But please don’t tell me what to do.  It just won’t go well.   This is in everyone's best interest. It would be a completely unsatisfying endeavor and leave us exhausted, nuts and miserable.

My best moments are when I have connected with the people.  We plunge into synchronicity and become greater than each individual.  Belonging to a group of strong, like-minded humans working, strategizing and planning towards a common goal is energizing and life-giving.

I intend to continue to seek connection and synchronicity. This includes stalking the moments both small and grand; a conversation, a fleeting moment or a passing exchange more meaningful than an unwise witness may consciously comprehend. 

Ideas are no different.  Connecting ideas means bringing them to life.  Concretely, so they are greater than their original parts and empowering them to have their own life. Guiding and witnessing worthy ideas birth is fulfilling life work.     

Laughter and humor are survival skills. Truth: Laugh every day for mental health.  I adore finding the hidden humor in events.  I hunt giggles, guffaws, belly laughs and joyful tears.  You may think I’m crazy and irreverent, but I’m content.    

Limit Butt Time
No long hours in a chair at a computer please.  I need to move to feel alive.  Whatever is next, I will not be sitting on my ass all day doing it. 

Promote Love, Beauty and Magic
Whatever I do, it will be connected not just to the appreciation of the life-affirming but promotion of it.  The wild spreading of what brings us purpose and joy will be central to my day to day profession. 

Ban Bad Assholes
Truth: Everyone is an asshole sometime or other. 

But I like the good assholes. A good asshole pushes the status quo, cries for change, sees that the world is simply not good enough, calls it out and in doing so makes people uncomfortable. I respect them and the world needs them though some would call them assholes for it. Good assholes are courageous, dedicated, thoughtful, insightful, moral, equitable and even visionary. They are dedicated to their goals, they don't care if you think they are an asshole for it. They need that energy and courage to carry them. I am energized by them and their mission.

Bad assholes are incompetent, rude, condescending, time-wasting and/or dysfunctional and even worse. They suck the energy from you and go out of their way to ensure everything stays the same, stale, tasteless and uninspiring. They like the status quo and see no use in any improvements and often times will go to lengths to make sure everything stays the same.  They are soul-damaging if they are put in leadership positions.

With so many other, inspiring, authentic, challenging humans on the planet it makes no sense to empower bad assholes with my time. 

Push Failure
Fear and failure mark the learning edge.  And the learning edge reaps the most personal and global benefits in all we do.  If I’m not feeling the razor sharpness of my actions, then I’m not pushing myself enough.  And I’m not marking the path to my true potential. I’m going to push failure and feel the fear as a marker that I’m on the right trail.    

Explore because there is more than I can possibly know. Discover the new in travel,  life, ideas, profession, and relationships.  In the process of letting the known go, doors upon doors of possibilities open.  Like a traveler, hitching their backpack and boarding a train to a new destination, the excitement of a new voyage awaits and I’ll embrace the change and journey with the spirit of an adventurer.       

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Personal Mission

Personal Mission
The person I seek to be is and always will be the sum of my intentions as they are aligned with my actions. My mission is to reflect upon my intentions, identify them explicitly then dutifully be guided by their light.

I intend:
  • To walk away from every situation or challenge knowing that I put my best self, at that moment and circumstance, into it.
  • To face and know fear in the moment, understand it and use it to make myself better - as a human, in performance, in relationships.
  • To push my comfort zone and be reflective enough to know when I need another push (or less).
  • To be self-aware and coach myself through my mental challenges and failures.
  • To be my authentic self and always challenge the continual discovery of who that really is
  • To be strong and offer my strength to others
  • To offer encouragement and respect and the tools of my success and failures generously to others.
  • To be honest and direct, while kind.
  • To laugh, to give laughter to others, and always maintain my sense of humor
  • To seek compassionate and empathetic understanding.
  • To seek wisdom in my marriage and friendships
  • To embrace and thoroughly savor everyday magic and beauty.
  • To be curious.
And I intend to update this mission statement as life and time guide me. Because a mission evolves with age and environment and without flexibility missions become irrelevant.
Last updated 3/11/2014