An avid rock climber, nature lover, and fitness enthusiast, I tend to seek counsel through exercise. When I feel as though I could use a good therapy session, I turn to the gym. I sweat, I feel the lactic acid pumping through my limbs, and I find peace within myself. I call it my “zen time”. So four weeks ago, when my husband and I were bouldering at our local climbing gym, I dropped from the wall only to hear that one sound that every athlete fears: Pop, pop, pop. I knew as soon as I hit the ground that something had gone terribly wrong; what I didn’t know at the time, or for three weeks to follow, was how this injury would cause my perception of every day life to shift in an unprecedented manner.
After an emergency room visit, a few appointments with different doctors, an x-ray and an MRI, the verdict was in: I tore my ACL, my MCL, and my lateral meniscus. A tricky injury, not many are able to pull this one off. Go big or go home. When the orthopedist told me this, I heard something different. I heard that my life was ruined, that I was going to get fat and depressed, and that I was an idiot for not having lowered myself more before letting go. Over the next few weeks I watched the atrophy set in, I heard my muscles disappearing (it sounded like an ice berg calving. Big pops, hisses, groaning etc.). I wallowed in my own self-pity and four seasons of Parenthood. I snapped, I argued, I yelled, I wept, I sobbed. I was terrible company. My husband got the worst of it, and one day, in not so many words, he essentially told me to suck it up. After weeks of helping me get dressed and cooking me dinner, he finally was honest with me. I was being ridiculous. I was using my injury as an excuse to be a jerk, and I was being just a tad melodramatic. He was right. I was stunned.
Throughout my three weeks of self-pity, other major events were happening around the world. Surprised? I was. It turns out that a massive typhoon hit the Philippines, destroying vast amounts of property, and people’s lives. Reading these articles, and seeing the heart-wrenching pictures of families torn apart, orphaned children and lost hope, was a monumental moment. How selfish was I? While all of this was taking place, I was too focused on the numbers on the scale and the fact that I couldn’t resume my normal lifestyle for 10 months or so to realize that this was even happening. I stopped myself in my tracks. I was embarrassed and saddened. As somebody who works in animal rescue, who studied human rights, and who prides herself on her charitable activities, I had become so self-absorbed that empathy had disappeared along with my ACL.
I decided to search for optimism, to find it, and run with it. Not an easy task seeing as I had grown steadily accustomed to whining and bah-humbugging, but I put my mind to it. I started by apologizing to my husband. I then decided to focus on rehabilitating my leg as much as possible. Sure I am not scaling crag, nor am I spending two hours on the elliptical, but I am strengthening my quads and getting my leg prepared for surgery. I am attending physical therapy, and using medicine balls and resistance bands like you wouldn’t believe. I also am discovering a new level of gratitude and appreciation. This time however, for the small things; being able to shower without assistance, walking (which I still can’t do well, but I am trying), cooking a meal, carrying things, bending down to pet my dogs, sleeping in my own bed. Everything that once seemed so trivial, is a new found blessing.
It may not seem like much, I still have my moments of wanting to throw in the towel, but I don’t actually do it. I remind myself that this will just be a new start. I won’t ever be able to be the athlete that I was before this injury, but I have a blank slate and a lot of time to begin goal setting. I’ve always wanted to be a runner, so why not start there? I can do fifty squats unassisted right now, that’s huge. It wouldn’t have been two months ago, but who is still living in that time? I’m not. I’m living in the tomorrows and the next years. I’m also living in the present, and taking the time to enjoy every last minute detail. Of course I still miss my routine, but I am making a new one. I have more time for my loved ones, more time for myself, and more time to focus on the future. I may not have an ACL, but I do have a good life that needs to be lived. And I will live it well, no matter what it takes.