Monday, October 23, 2017

Injuries & Surgeries: The emotional component of injury...things no one ever tells you will happen (PART 2)

"People Who Need Help Sometimes Look A Lot Like People Who Don't Need Help."

~Glennon Melton

This blog post really could be addressed to anyone recovering from an injury, who has experienced death in their life, or divorce.  The emotional landscape has similar themes amongst these three pivotal rights of passage (& yes, they are that).  Let me get some things immediatley out of the way that are uncomfortable and disconcerting.  No one told me these things would happen.  They just did, and they were unexpected.  I don't want you to feel the same shock I did, so if you ever experience any of the above mentioned transitions, you can expect one or more of the following to happen to you:

1)  Your heart will break more than any body part ever will
2) People who you thought would help you in your most vulnerable state don't
3) People who you never thought would help you in your most vulnerable state do
4) Your social circle will dissipate
5) You will feel alone
6) You will be scared
7) You will question your capabilities
8) You will transform into a new person (whether you like it or not)
9) You will not look at situations, people and circumstance with the same set of eyes again
10) If you're in the medical profession, you will become better at your job

Remember these things. 

I've always been drawn to male dominated sports.  I was skateboarding with the boys as a kid.  Racing them on bikes.  Tried to join the high school surf club in 1992, and was not allowed to (yes, even in the 90's).  The teacher who was the head of the club looked at me and said, "Oh, I'm sure you have better things to do than surf.  Why don't you join the cheerleading squad?"  So, that's what I did.  I would still bike down to the beach on my lunch break, and watch the surfers with envy. 

Surfing on the Oregon Coast

Here is something that I've discovered for myself, amongst disbelief, heartache, and confusion.  The vast majority of men are what I term "emotionally crippled."  From surfing, to "CrossFit," climbing to martial arts, they haven't done their inner work.  Rarely, do you find one that's "sat with his demons" in therapy, or sought after his own vulnerability.  This is something female athletes need to realize.  If you become one of the "wolf pack," realize that when you become injured, you (most likely) will be surrounded by a group of emotionally stunted "friends," who won't know how to support you through pain.  Often, I've tended to fall into the "sister" role of my "bands of merry men."  Driving "NyQuil" over to their house, at the first sign of the "man flu," checking in on them, when you don't see them in the line up, on the mats, at the gym, or at the climbing crag, etc.  But, as a female amongst a predominately male crowd, the chances of reciprocity are slim.  This is because your vulnerability mirrors their lack of coming to terms with their own.  Your injury reflects the fact to them that, they too, aren't invincible.  This, is something that shakes them to their core.  Its something they squirm with, emotionally, and don't know how to handle.  The lack of support for you will be painful.

The men, that I've noticed that tend to be the exception to this, are men who have been either raised by women, have only sisters, or are in the medical profession.  They've lived amongst and/or tend to be a bit more in touch with vulnerability, and less scared of it.

When my collarbone broke I was already working with a sports psychologist, weekly.  I was focused on training for "Masters Worlds," in the sport of Jiu-Jitsu, and sought out Melinda Halpern from "GRIT Performance."  Melinda's expertise is performance enhancement, and working through any mental/emotional stumbling blocks that can prevent you from performing your best.

I was grateful to already have an established client/therapist relationship with her, when my injury occurred.  Overnight, our focus together changed from performing at my peak, to daily tasks.  In the blink of an eye I went from feeling confident, at the top of my game, ready to bring that game to a competition setting to "What just happened to me?"  Melinda continues to be my weekly foundation of "You can do this."  She also offers a lens and perspective on the insecurities athletic injuries mirror in those around them.  Its been eye-opening.

I had one girlfriend say to me, "Almine, your collarbone is overwhelming to me.  I'm sorry.  I'm going to need some space from you when you're like this."  I was stunned.  Truly.  I couldn't get out of bed by myself.  All I did was ask her to help me out of bed.  She walked out my front door instead.  All I could think was, "Well, thank God, this wasn't worse than a collarbone break.  She would've been running for the hills."

My job as a health care provider is to offer relief, a listening ear, and support for people in pain.   You will find that people you know and trust are comfortable with you as a pillar of strength in their life, but not when you're weak.  Its a rude awakening.  This will act as a "friend filter."  It will clarify, in a harsh, clear, abrupt manner, whose there for you, and who really isn't, when the chips are down.  Its a painful realization, but it distills those people down, who are necessary for our life growth, and those who aren't.

For those of you who haven't been to Bend, Oregon, its an outdoor enthusiasts dream.  It's been called "Little Boulder."  It has some similarities to Boulder, Colorado, but on a smaller scale (& offers more affordable cost of living).  People move here for the year 'round outdoor life.  Mountain biking, kayaking, white water rafting, trail-running, rock climbing, hiking, skiing, snowboarding, etc.  Its all here in abundance.  What that also means is that activity is entrenched with friendship, and vice versa.  You see your friends, because of the sports you share.  When you're no longer able to do those sports, they virtually disappear from you life.  Its lonely and awkward.  They don't know if they should invite you to climb, run, etc., because they don't want to make you feel weird.  But, then you feel left out.  Almost like you did in 4th grade, when you didn't get invited to the birthday party.  Its a no win situation.  You social circle dissipates.  Its gets small.  And your happiness starts to shrink with it.

Climbing at "Smith Rock," Terrebonne, Oregon

This, too, is something I've been grateful to have Melinda to help me navigate, emotionally.  I didn't anticipate to what extent this affected me.  Most of the sports I do take at least you and another person to accomplish.  Climbing is the way, Jiu-Jitsu is this way, etc.  Now, my life consists of my head under the water in the pool, swimming, on a spin bike, or in a Pilates class.  None of these offer the social interaction that I'm used to, and that I value so much in the sports I do.  It is lonely, when you go from socially dependent sports to a "solo sport."  The "rules" change in your life about how to navigate friendship, when everyone else is playing outside.

The last thing I'll share some thoughts on is the pros/cons of social media.  I look at social media like water, like money.  Its neutral.  It can help or harm.  Empower or destroy.  Its in the intent of the user.  Its a beautiful marketing tool for the self-employed (like myself).  Its fast, free, efficient, and can reach large groups of people with the "click" of a button.  The "shadow" side of social media, to me, however, is that it has made humans "emotionally crippled," or "lazy."  We believe, sitting there, staring at someone's posts means that you truly know them.  This is inaccurate.  We all post what we want others to see.  Again, this is good for marketing.  There's nothing wrong with marketing.  Its how we eat and keep our lights on.  But, please make note:  staring at someone's posts doesn't mean you REALLY know them, know what level of pain they're experiencing, and is a lazy way of making yourself feel better that you've "checked in on them."  Know of someone, whose in your "inner circle" of your life whose in pain (for whatever reason)?  Pick up the phone.  Drop by their home.  Ask them what you can do for them (in whatever capacity you're able to help), bring them a meal.  Texting is barely adequate, and a small step up from nothing, but it IS better than nothing.  Don't let yourself fall into the trap of "emotional numbness."

Even saying, "I feel inadequate, and helpless, seeing you in so much pain" is powerful.  Its a friend offering their vulnerability back to you.  You don't have to know what to say or do.  I think someone holding your hand, saying that they don't know what to do for you is more powerful than the emotional "cop out" of saying/doing nothing at all.

All, in all, I would say this has been in the top 3 worst adult years for me.  Its been a powerful in-depth look at areas of my life that were "stuck," or "stagnant."  One day at a time, as I dig my way out of physical pain, isolation from friends and activities, back to re-discovering who I am, I build strength.  The phoenix rising from the ashes is a powerful symbol of what the emotional journey of death, injury, surgery or divorce is like.  You are not the same, with every inch you claw your way out.  You also gain exponential internal strength with every claw mark you make.

The phrase "BE MORE HUMAN" reminds us all that we are vulnerable...no matter how hard we pretend we're not, and that there's no cyber substitute for holding someone's hand, and bringing them a meal.