Hiya! My name is Sam. I am a patient coordinator and a PT tech at the Barton Springs clinic. My blog entry this month won’t offer any technical PT advice because I would feel as though I were breaking the law if I did. It will, however, talk about my experience with a personal injury and how the battle to be won extended further than the physical pain. Essentially, this is an account of how a new physical limitation can upset the balance in one’s personal life, and how it can sour our happiness. The goal of it: To relate to those of us who feel the twinge of depression when we feel the twinge of our pain. So I’d like to start the story with a few words that I needed to hear myself:
You are not your injury.
I say this, though I had become mine. I was a sprained ankle, a burning knee, a crooked back. I was held hostage indoors; fearful I might make myself worse and full of pity because I could not see beyond the imprisonment of a physical limitation. I was to be this way forever. Life sentence, man.
Here’s the thing, I was wrong. Of course I was wrong!
So I write my story as an easy little lesson I learned difficultly over a long time, as silly stubborn folks often do. Here’s the mantra, and I’ll say it again, you are not your injury.
Prior to my injury I would spend a lot of my free time bumming around the out of doors. I also enjoyed jogging as my evening catharsis and I exercised daily. Let’s say I was “active-ish.” I enjoyed freedom of movement. I could climb rocks, sprint, jump, and swim without worry. I was armored and carried kiddish energy at the hilt. Open fields or dense woods or muddy mud were invitations for me to rush across and investigate what lay there and beyond.
It was out there in my own jam, exploring the great Appalachian Trail when I badly sprained my ankle. Ah, the AT had claimed another one.. or so it thought! Yessiree, I hiked another 2 full days with an 80lb backpack. I had to see this hike through, plus I could handle the pain after the swelling filled my ankle when my body began to realize it was walking another 7 hours or so (not a good idea, do not do that.) So if you recall me mentioning something about being stubborn, it was that stubbornness that set all of this into its terrible motion.
This fool writing to you knew nothing about how the body worked. If he had, he may have sought treatment immediately. Since he hadn’t, 8 months of walking around on a clubbed foot had not only knocked his knee out but rotated his hips and weakened his lower back. I didn’t know this, of course. All I knew is that I was in too much pain to go for a half-mile walk. My knee started to click and my back started to tighten and my ankle swelling hadn’t gone down in a few months. Everything was becoming worse. Top it off with the enervating fact that I was currently in between jobs and had no income, I became smothered with the feeling of a total loss of self-worth. It was depression. The rot of my future spread unencumbered, and my mind asked itself sad questions. How could I promote myself to employers if I struggled with the loss of what made me happy? How could I enjoy time with my friends who all love the same activities I could no longer do? How could I feel good about myself when what made me feel good was moving around?
I felt left behind, and it was consuming what seemed like any sanity there was left. With the mind dark, limits only grow. Dr. Seuss said it well in the best book ever written!
Oh the Places You’ll Go!,
You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You’ll be left in a Lurch.
He can sum it up in 4 lines. He’s a darn genius, but those words only confirmed my feelings. They didn’t offer any advice! I was surprised at how easily I lost myself in this mindset, but even more surprised that I couldn’t get out of it. The pain became the definition of who I was to myself and everything around me. I was what I could not do. I was my injury. But I must tell you, it gets better. As it turns out, the Seuss does proffer some encouragement:
On and on you will hike.
And I know you’ll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.
Gosh he just gets it. I didn’t, however. Fortuitously, I found myself employed by our very own Austin Manual Therapy. It was not long, perhaps a week, before I was forced to do physical therapy by my coworkers. I was showing off my lumpy ankle too often I suppose, but it was all for the better. Immediately after the first day I could feel the depression lessen. It wasn’t gone, however. I was just glad I knew what was wrong with me. I became consistently conscious of where the pain was and how to help prevent it throughout my day. In about a month I could walk as long as I wanted. Eventually I could do some light jogging. Then I could hike, I could swim, I could climb. All of these activities were moderated, of course, but I was getting back to my old self nevertheless. Little by little did my injury stop affecting the way I thought about who I am.
I am better now. I am not perfectly put back together just yet, but I am better. Since I had waited so long to help myself, my progress will take me awhile. So far, the journey has been about a year and a half. However, this firsthand experience has taught me that pain is not only physical. Pain is debilitating to us in a myriad of ways. Pain creates limitations to our relationship with the world and with ourselves. We can, unfortunately, be felled by the sword of our injuries. I hope that anyone reading this can relate, and at the very least is encouraged to not waste time like I had. It took me getting a job at a physical therapy clinic to begin healing myself. So if you are reading this, you are way better now at taking care of your body properly than I was. You are on the right track. Always remember, you are not your injury.
Also, it is never a bad idea to read Oh the Places You’ll Go!
Sam Jaklich, PT technician