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.

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