Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Spiral Road to Recovery

Six months ago, I broke my ankle while playing roller derby. Since then, I've retired from roller derby (with some amorphous hopes of returning as a ref after I finish my PhD) and started the challenging task of regaining my athleticism after the ankle break. I had the help of some great physical therapy, and my day-to-day actions are pretty much back to normal.

What I wasn't prepared for, though, was the mental work of recovery. I was dutiful in doing the stretches and walking through the pain. I focused so much on the physical challenge of regaining flexibility and rebuilding muscle that I didn't stop to fully recognize what a toll this break had taken on my psyche, especially as someone who had only recently felt comfortable calling herself an athlete.

Lately, I've been thinking about the many ways we could look at the word "recover." I hope that somewhere along that lexical journey, I'll find a way to make it all the way around this recursive loop of loss and gain.

(Re) cover- to hide, conceal, or protect (again)

 There is a literal concealment--under baggy clothes, long sweaters, stretchy pants. The muscles that I spent months building before the immobility took no time at all to vanish, and my weight has crept up. Does caring go against my mantra that fitness is more important than appearance? Or am I just frustrated that my current appearance acts as a constant reminder (to myself, if no one else) that the fitness is gone, dormant, slipped away?

(Re) cover- to go over, to study, to learn (again)

I walk into the gym and cross from one room onto the "other" side, the one where the women never seem to go, the one where the heavy weights live. Just a few months ago, I felt at ease here, but now the nervous glances in the mirror are back. Are they watching me? There's only 70 pounds on this bar. Are they judging? I feel the urge to scream "I broke my ankle. I'm working on it!" but no one is really watching me. No one cares. They've got their own confidences and insecurities to battle. They don't need to carry mine, too.

The confidence I had worked so hard to gain, though, is gone, and now I have to fake it until I make it . . . again. I step under the bar and try to look like I believe I belong. Maybe one day I will.

Recover- to get back or regain something lost or taken away

I registered for the half marathon before the ankle broke, and I was too stubborn to just let it go. The entire summer of training was wiped clean, and I was still limping a little when I walked for too long the day I nervously toed to the start line. "Just jog until you can't," I told myself, "then you can walk. It'll be fine. You can walk 10 miles." I jogged the first mile, alternated between walking and jogging the next four, and then I just walked.

As I walked, I watched people twice my age run past me with ease. Later, people would actually
walk past me. For a while, I tried to jog whenever the camera crew was visible, but then I gave up even that pretense. For the final two miles, every single step was a battle. "That was it," I'd say in my mind, "That was the last step I can possibly take." But then I'd take another. And another. And another.

When I got back to my car, I had to turn around backwards and throw myself in. My legs hurt too bad to lift.

Recover- to regain the strength, composure, or balance of oneself

In physical therapy, I stood on one foot on top of a pillow and threw a ball at a trampoline. Over and over and over and over again. Switch feet. Bounce. Catch. Bounce. Catch. Stumble. Rebalance. Bounce. Catch. Bounce. Catch. 

But the real balance that needed to be restored was the one between body and mind. On the way to the emergency room, I told myself "well, I needed some time to work on my dissertation. Now I'll have to slow down and really focus on it." But I didn't. I wrote nothing. Not a single word until I had a boot on my foot and could at least stagger around, but even then the writing was tortuous, slow, and stilted--just like me.

It wasn't until I was cleared to jog again, to go on long walks, to take in the sunshine and the wind that the words started to flow. I wrote forty pages in a week. I read two books in four days. When my body couldn't move, my mind couldn't either. It was the hardest realization.  
Recover- to regain a former and better state or condition

I will never be the person I was before my ankle broke, but I will also never be the person I was when I was ten years old or, for that matter, the person I was at 10 o'clock this morning. We can't recover our past selves because we've seen more than them; we've done more than them; we are new versions.

This will not be the last time I have to recover in my life. There will be other injuries, other setbacks, other failures. I will lose abilities and gain new ones. When I can stop comparing the person I am today against the one I thought I was yesterday, perhaps I will have truly recovered. Until then, I will continue to cycle through these various meanings of the word, hoping to come out on the other side in some way renewed.

Photo: Infomastern,

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