On Injury: Getting Past Defeat
Updated: Mar 24, 2019
I believe in being transparent. So here goes nothing.
I’ve struggled with a knee injury for the past eight months. After an intense but short ruck march last August, I found my knee to be incredibly swollen, albeit not painful, the next day.
I rested up for a week or so, giving it time to settle. It seemed to have fully recovered. Then I did a workout with squats and running, and got the same result. Intense swelling and the feeling that I was smuggling a water balloon in my knee.
After waiting it out through a local hurricane, I was finally able to get an MRI. The result was a blow I wasn’t ready for: the cartilage in my knee was deteriorating.
I’ve been injured before, but this time, the stakes felt much higher. It would be a long and slow recovery, and I’m still rowing that boat.
First, I own and operate a business based in fitness and physical performance. My less-productive inner voice said, “how can you be an example to your athletes if you cannot train the way they train? How can you be a role model for athletes when your muscle is rapidly falling off your body after months of disuse? How do you expect someone to trust you if you don’t look the part and walk the talk?”
As a logical person, I couldn’t shake the feeling all those ideas were valid.
But the counter point to all this was (and still is): as a coach and mentor to others, how can I expect myself to continue pushing through what is obviously a necessary rest period? I would tell any athlete going through the same to use this time to recover and heal, so isn’t it prudent to take my own advice?
I think to some extent, we’ve all had these contradictory thoughts, and would be quickly offered our own Oprah-esque daytime talk show if were able to fully follow the advice we dish out to the people we care about most on a regular basis. And yet, we all have to face self-critique as a mixed bag from time to time.
There’s also the conundrum of identity. How we see ourselves and who we are plays heavily into the feelings of defeat when something catastrophic sneaks in to smash us. I went from 3 to 5 workouts a day to just a few a week.
This injury is derailing who I am on this path.
I can’t be me when I’m dealing with this.
What the f*ck do I do now?
Side bar: perhaps the “identity” talk is best saved for another day, nonetheless I firmly believe identity is simultaneously necessary yet self-destructive depending on how we approach it and how much power we give it. For the purposes of this discussion, your identity can be a source of self-doubt.
The crux of the problem is this: how do you quiet your mind long enough to get past the hard times when whatever you’re going through threatens everything you know yourself to be?
Then, finally, some answers came. I saw an incredible video on social media that helped change my perspective.
This is what I took away from it.
Injury is a lesson in patience and trust.
If you choose to ignore these lessons, you’ll work backwards. The physical ramification will be if you continue training in spite of your body begging for time to heal and recoup. Trauma can’t heal if you try to “tough it out,” in spite of what certain organizational cultures have taught us to believe. (Bottom line-there’s a time and place to be tough).
If you ignore these lessons and keep training through it, you’ll probably make your injury worse. Worse still, your tumultuous brain and destructive thoughts will hamper recovery (read up a little on stress and healing). You’ll continue being down on yourself for not training, frustrated by your lack of abilities, and will suffer the pangs of the destruction of who you believe you are.
But there’s hope (thank God, or Odin, or whoever). If you embrace these lessons, and are truly grateful for them, you’ll figure out a few things. You’ll see that this is not the end of who you are: you can still value hard work, dedication, and those lung-splitting moments of physical and emotional struggle that have forged you with fire. You can still be a leader and a good example. You can still grow, and you will, if you can find the patience to trust the process.
It doesn’t matter what you believe in (in the existential sense). Whether it’s God, Mother Earth, the fleet of Nordic gods slinging hammers at Ragnarok, or even just the passage of time itself.
Whatever you put your trust in, trust it long enough to make a difference in your life. Quiet your brain a bit, accept what’s happening, and let healing run its course.
I’m not saying to ignore the circumstances that brought you here. Any number of factors, including overuse, training age, improper technique, stress, and sometimes our own anatomical deficiencies can all have a role in creating an injury. And sometimes they work in concert against us. It’s important to consider these factors to avoid future problems.
Nonetheless, patience and trust are key to moving forward. “Everything happens for a reason” is a cliché—it is also utterly useful at times in life where you feel victimized by your circumstances.
Even as I sit here writing, with one leg hilariously more atrophied than the other, it is a constant and conscious effort to have patience and trust that there is something better waiting for me on the other side of this. For now, it is enough to heal, and to continue finding ways to be value added to my community.
For anyone else out there fighting through an injury, I hope you find your patience and trust.
I’ll leave you with my late grandmother’s favorite saying. It has gotten me through the worst of times...I think it’s from the Bible.