One and a half years ago I hurt my knee badly, snapping ligaments and tearing tendons and muscles. It affected my whole being at the time, not just my physical body. Yes, that may sound dramatic but it’s honest, and my injury has continued to impact and influence my daily life.
My injury caused a never-before-experienced amount of physical pain and mental anguish, particularly as I realised the little impacts on my life. I cried a lot and often (in between moments of trying to be light-hearted and philosophical) as reality kicked me in the butt over and over in the following weeks.
My injury affected many relationships. The relationship I had with myself changed as I was forced to adapt to different expectations of my body and what I could get done in a day. Not being able to spring out of bed and do all the things I previously took for granted was all of a sudden in sharp focus.
Relationships with friends and family changed; some strengthened, some diminished as I felt varying levels of empathy or distance.
I have learned a lot about myself in the last year and a half. My eyes were opened to how this kind of challenging situation protrudes into all sorts of emotional and psychological dimensions. I went looking for support and more information and talked to many people and found the injury statistics quite astounding. As I looked further I was disappointed with the limited knowledge of how injuries affect people long after the wounds may have healed.
Many questions came up? How do people best cope? Do people find an inner strength? Do they grow as people, appreciating the good things a little more each day? Do they make new friends, bonding through their experiences of adversity?
I believe that many people (not all of course!) long carry aspects of their injury and their recovery into their futures. Many people are forever changed.
Photograph via GraphicStock
Some people I have spoken to have felt, even five years on, that their old injury affects their physical movement and they are more prone to anxiety about future injuries. Some people, like Jeff, have gone on to work with others suffering disability, through training to become nurses or rehabilitation staff.
For me, one and a half years on, every day I am aware of my knee to some degree because it, simply, feels different. Sometimes it aches (particularly after big gym sessions!) and sometimes it clicks in very strange ways. It is definitely not normal!
My quadricep and hamstring muscles are also still noticeably smaller and weaker. Despite all the hours in the pool and gym and working with my physiotherapist. But they are so much better than they have been of course; I still remember when I had no strength nor coordination to walk! I hope I can get these muscles being back to strong again because I want to be able to run and do aerobics, and, more importantly not worry as I get older that my leg is unstable. With the fact that adults over 30 (yep that’s me) lose about 3–8% of their muscle mass per decade on my mind too, I know I am going to have to work hard and I’m up for it.
The scar I have from surgery (roughly eight months ago) is still tender. If I bump it on the table it hurts like hell. Sometimes cuddles that include an accidental kick can hurt ;). I still can’t jump around on sand, cross my legs or squat down like I see so many people doing to talk to children and animals.
I can, though, sit for longer without stiffening up, stand on one leg (handy in the shower to wash feet), jog, walk long distances and climb up stairs. Just a few weeks ago, I scrambled around in ancient temples and trekked up lots of thousand-year-old stairs. Angkor Wat and other temples near Siem Reap in Cambodia were spectacular and I’m so grateful I could travel there!!
“Whenever I am out and about at events or social occasions with friends, I am grateful that I can be part of the outside world as I remember what it was like to lack the energy to leave the house.”
Back to more basic things, turning over in bed and lying in almost any position is now a breeze and I’m grateful for that. Ahhh I do appreciate my sleep…
Mentally, my thought processes are different. I see potential obstacles in our streetscapes and landscapes a lot more clearly now. I also notice (and help where appropriate) people who are coping with mobility challenges. When I hear in the news that people have been injured in car accidents or violent attacks, I am acutely aware that the anguish, recovery and self-learning may go on for decades after the news headlines have been forgotten.
Whenever I am out and about at events or social occasions with friends, I am grateful that I can be part of the outside world as I remember what it was like to lack the energy to leave the house. It was absolutely exhausting and tedious to tackle steps and any kind of transport while on crutches.
Learning about physical pain and the way that our headspace can affect how it manifests has been enlightening and these lessons will serve me well in the face of future pain. Being with my emotional pain—acknowledging it, sitting with it and treating myself kindly—has taught me a healthier approach to dealing with life’s ups and downs. Realising that I had been a blocker of emotional pain and ‘negative’ thoughts rather than honouring that they are just bubbles in our heads and not a reflection of who we truly are has been valuable. I see thoughts and emotions now as just a natural part of the emotional kaleidoscope we all have as humans.
I’ve also made jokes about my situation because, you know, shit happens in life and all you can do is make the most of it. (See below my down-vote for entering a competition at a local shopping centre to win a ski holiday…)
The relationship with my now-husband (yes I walked down the aisle five months after my surgery) has changed on many levels I think. When I first damaged my knee, he saw a vulnerable and troubled part of me that he had never seen before and that enabled us to connect on a different level. I saw his tender side even more as he struggled with the fact he couldn’t support me how he wanted to in the early weeks as he had to go overseas for work.
He also committed to the process of understanding and bearing witness to my fears about surgery and frustrations with rehabilitation. And he used his enthusiasm for the gym to encourage me to keep putting my sneakers on when sometimes I couldn’t be bothered. Even though I used to find the gym challenging, I’m grateful that I could go. Thankfully he has always loved my body and so that has helped me forgive my own feelings of feebleness and to not dwell on them.
The support from friends, including those around the world in Facebook groups, has lightened my load over this journey and I have eternal gratitude for them. So, while I have many dark memories, I also have amazing memories of the friendship and love that others showed me.
The experience opened my eyes to many aspects of challenge, patience and achievement. And prompted me to want to help others by sharing this experience as well as lessons I’ve learned that may help to make their experiences easier.
Cheers to a year and a half of recovery and strengthening.