My injury story:
Last year I began practicing yoga. I have always been intrigued by yoga and I finally just said “what the hell”, signed up for a beginners course and fell totally in love with it!
The trouble is I didn’t understand what yoga could do to my body. Sure, it made me stronger, leaner, helped my back pain and headaches, centred and grounded me, but it also caused me great agony.
I am hyper-mobile, which basically means my joints are very fluid and can often move further than my muscles, tendons, and ligaments, making me prone to injury and pain. However, it can also make me look super capable and flexible on the mat – I could seemingly go further and deeper into postures that only way more experienced yogis could.
It also fills me with a false sense of capability and even superiority – “look how far I can go! This is great! How deep can I make this stretch…oh THAT deep, woah look at me go! I’m doing so much better than the person next to me!” Yup, that is a relatively unknown and little talked about side effect of hyper-mobility: smugness. Ick.
As a result, I pushed myself too far one day and felt something “go” in my right shoulder. I ignored it: this would happen sometimes in various parts of my body and usually result in a tiny injury that would work itself out in a few days.
Journey to recovery:
However, this one didn’t go away. For someone who has experienced a lot of injury and chronic pain in my life, I did what a normal, headstrong person would do: I practiced yoga for about six months more before the pain got so bad I couldn’t even be on my mat for longer than five minutes…and only THEN did I decide it was time to get some help (urgh…smugness struck again making me think I could do this on my own…)
Turns out I tore the cartilage in my shoulder. It is called a SLAP (Superior Labrum Anterior and Posterior) tear. It took a few of physio and doctor appointments and an expensive MRI to get this diagnosis.
It was agonising. I had a cortisone injection to lessen the inflammation enough that I could start rehab since I couldn’t even move my arm at that point. I couldn’t sleep on my right side, write, type, cook, lift, open doors, carry anything heavier than an apple…you get the picture. My rehab started with 15x shoulder shrugs 3x per day: that, and physio treatments, were all I could handle for several weeks.
The process has been agonisingly slow. I couldn’t even go for walks because the movement and “bouncing” action of walking for long distances was too much to handle. AND I was barred from one of my favourite things in the world: yoga. The withdrawal was horrible. I felt unbalanced, ungrounded, less in control of everything (most importantly my emotions!). I felt resentful towards anyone walking around with a yoga mat and yogi photos on Instagram upset me.
This is a pretty grey picture, but I have learnt so much from this process and for anyone experiencing injury or dealing with a loved one who has an injury, here is what I have to say about my own experience:
- Injury is not the end. Most injuries heal. Some injuries (like mine) will never actually heal but can certainly be managed so long as you work at it.
- Injuries are hard effing work. They take a moment to occur, but can take weeks, months, years! to heal. The healing process can only occur if you put the hard work in – do your exercises, listen to your carers (doctor, surgeon, physio etc…), eat well, keep moving, stay positive.
- Injuries are frustrating as all hell. The exercises my physio gave me looked just plain silly. The movements were so tiny and seemingly insignificant at first I couldn’t believe they would help me. Rehab processes are long and tedious. However, each month I would unknowingly improve. It is so important to track your progress and celebrate small wins eg: being able to do 5 minutes more of Pilates than last time; being able to walk that extra 500m than last week; being able to do something you couldn’t so since your injury (for me, this was as simple as being able to open a jar!). Recognise it is frustrating but don’t give up! Each tiny step is a step closer to recovery. Allow and recognise your frustrations, but don’t let them derail your recovery.
- Injuries are stressful. The effort, time, stress, financial investment, and commitment it takes to recover can be enormous. It is important to recognise this and factor it into your life. Let other people know what you are going through so they understand that sometimes you can’t keep up or do the things you would normally do in the time you are recovering.
- Injuries require support. You simply cannot recover from an injury by yourself. Injury can effect your whole life and this can be extremely difficult to deal with alone. You need professionals to guide your recovery, but you also need a personal support network. You need to be looked after and helped. You need someone to listen to your fears and stresses compassionately. You need encouragement. It is so easy to get bogged down in negative thoughts when you are injured: “I will never recover”, “I will never be able to do the things I did before”, “I will always be in pain”… You of course need to help yourself, strengthen yourself, but it is impossible to deal with it all by yourself. Ask for help, accept help, and, most importantly, take the time to appreciate the help you receive.
- Injuries make you give up. I know that sounds weird and negative, but there are times where you just fall flat on your face and give up. It’s too hard, it’s too painful, it’s too frustrating. The important thing is to always, always, always, pick yourself up again and get on with it. Be determined, show your body who’s boss, and keep on with it. Every time you give up, remember that you can get back into it and you can return to and renew your recovery. Don’t be stagnant. Kick your own butt but remember to be gentle with yourself too. Sometimes you just need to take a break from recovery, eat some ice cream and watch crappy movies for a couple of days feeling sorry for yourself. Forgive yourself, be gentle, but don’t give up entirely – that leads nowhere good.
- Injuries demand acceptance. Accept that you are injured, accept you cannot do the things you could before. Accept that you will feel angry, lost, frustrated, alone, hopeless, stagnant, fearful, depressed. The sooner you accept that being injured sucks, the sooner you can get on with it and start/continue your recovery, and the sooner you can accept that you are stronger than you think.
When the going gets tough…
All good things take time. I was injured around May 2013, I started my recovery in January 2014, and I finally got back on the mat for my first post-injury yoga class in September 2014. That means it took me nine months to recover (seventeen if you count from the moment I was injured!!) enough that I felt I could trial going back to yoga (though I was super gentle and took things very slowly, listened to my body, and spoke at length with my physio and yoga teacher before I stepped on the mat).
So don’t be disheartened if you feel like you aren’t progressing fast enough – you will get there and it will be in your own time! At the other end, after recovery, you will look back on that time and think, “I got through it. I did it. It was hard but I won.” Ryan Gosling wisely said “Be better than the Gap”. Well I’m telling you, “Be better than your injury.” Don’t let it get the best of you, don’t ignore it, and don’t tell yourself lies out of laziness/disbelief/frustration/anger/resentment. Just keep going and relish in your achievement at being amazing and healed and know that it was you that got you there!