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The Mental Road to Recovery: Psychic Impact on Physical Injury

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Before my injury—a cycling accident that caused a partial tear of the ligament that runs along the outside of my right ankle, that bony ball that seems connected to nothing and yet everything at the same time—I was familiar with physical limitations. I have a chronic kidney disease that dictates my everyday life, but an acute injury was something I somehow managed to avoid in my 14 years of cycling, and in my lifetime of being a tomboy. I’ve had stitches, a minor concussion, a fractured bone in my elbow that healed on its own, been hit by 2 cars, doored by 6 of them, and yet somehow always managed to walk away relatively unscathed. In fact, when I got injured this past February, I again assumed I’d be back on my feet in no time after my X-rays showed there were no fractures and I was diagnosed with “just” an ankle sprain. In hindsight, having only physically recovered more than 4 months later, I can see that I was headed down a serious and intense road to recovery that I was not anticipating.

Although my ankle was much more injured than my ER doctor had me believe, I  want to focus on the impact that being physically injured had on me psychologically rather than go into the journey of my physical recovery. My injury made me feel like a bad friend, a bad coworker, a bad partner, a bad teammate, and overall a bad person because I physically could not “be there” in the ways I was able to prior, and this constant pain and lack of ability began to seep into the corners of my identity, becoming one with the way I thought about myself without even realizing it. Being injured literally stopped me in my tracks and took away the coping mechanisms that I used to distract myself from the other pains of my life, and took away my daily dose of endorphins that exercising gave me. There was ample time to self reflect, and self-reflecting is something I have been avoiding for many years.

In 2011, my father passed away from the disease that him and I shared. I was 27 and in an incredible amount of pain, and my father’s death caused a ripple effect of events that resulted in a loss of most of the things my life had been previously. Although I went through a period of self destruction, I’m more a creature of “healthy” outlets and in 2012 I bought my first road bike after 7 years of riding a single speed. I threw myself into the experience, participating in a 600 mile, 5 day stage race a month and a half after purchasing my bike, and then a full cyclocross season. I was always on the move, always slightly ahead of the heavy thoughts that followed closely behind.

After my injury, with all my downtime, my focus shifted on to my body, which inevitably leads to focusing on my disease. Since my disease is progressively degenerative, I’m easily triggered by any negative bodily change. This fixation spiraled out of control quickly, and I found myself spending sleepless nights wondering if I was dying or going into kidney failure, and falling down an internet rabbit-hole of medical journals, whose jargon I tried to decipher with the idea that I would somehow, at 3 o’clock in the morning, find a cure for my disease that had managed to evade everyone else. And then I started to relive the memories of my father passing away, and then…suffice to say that when left to my own mental devices for several months on end, my problems caught up to me with a hurricane-like fury.

I found myself feeling like I did 5 years ago when my father passed, which is a feeling that scared me in its familiarity. I was at rock bottom again, but this time, as opposed to the depression I first felt when my father passed, I remembered that this doesn’t have to be forever, because depression can feel final and all encompassing. Rather than resign to that feeling, I decided to take steps to pull myself out of it. I told my boyfriend, I told some friends, I identified my unhealthy thoughts and thought patterns, and I relaxed into the feeling a bit while reminding myself that it’s okay to feel bad. I sought therapy, which is something I thought I would never do again. I don’t meant to sugar coat this too much. Therapy isn’t going great, partly because I can’t afford to see a licensed therapist and am seeing a grad student. I often still have trouble sleeping at night, I live mostly in an air of self-doubt and worry, but I’m trying to appreciate the stillness that my injury has forced me in to, and I’m trying to stay positive by being as creative as possible in my down time.


The Bright Side: 2 projects I was able to do because of being injured


I run from my problems. More precisely, I bike from them. I know that I do this and I allow myself to do this without feeling guilty. I believe that most people have some hard truths in their lives—whether it’s heart break, career disappointment, regret, debt, death, illness, or otherwise trying to be an authentic self without shame. It can take a lifetime to accept these truths, and I anticipate struggling with accepting my disease and its impact for the rest of my life. I can now use my foot again almost exactly like I used to, and sometimes I lean into it with all my weight and savor the strength that it pushes back with. Right now, I’m leaning into my other pains, with the hope that I will begin to feel strength from them as well.


Back on the bike, finally!

One thought on “The Mental Road to Recovery: Psychic Impact on Physical Injury

  1. Great synopsis. Hope all works out ok for you.


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