I was sorry to read about your recent mountain biking accident. I had a similar one myself and I’m really having trouble navigating the emotions during my recovery. Can you share tips on how to recover after a life-altering accident? — Laura
Thank you for your sympathy. I broke my wrist while mountain biking and now have a plate and screws holding it together as I heal. No injury is ever easy, and the ones that stop us in our tracks can be the most challenging on the psyche.
I’ve found the following seven steps particularly effective for navigating the rollercoaster of emotions I've gone through while recovering from this injury. They have helped my athletes stay positive and focused, and now they are helping me on my own journey back to health.
Step 1. Plan and execute a pity party. I had just gotten home from a successful summit of Mount Rainier and was on a short recovery ride when my tire slipped on a tree root and the rest of my fall trail season went to pot. In order to move through emotions, it's important to feel all of them and carry on. After leaving the hospital, I cried, swore and complained for three hours that evening. Getting hurt sucks, but it isn’t the end of the world, and if you stay in this place too long, it can suck the life out of you and your loved ones. Get it out and move forward.
Step 2. Find gratitude in your life. Everything seems awful until you begin to look for the lightness in your life. There’s nothing that will pull you more quickly and easily through an injury than a healthy dose of gratitude. For me, I felt grateful that I hurt my non-dominant wrist, that it was after my big climb, that I can walk and hike through the fall season and that I have my overall health. Challenge yourself to look for the bright spots in your life and stay in that light. It will ground you in an optimistic energy that will help you heal.
Step 3. Create a new mantra. I was terrified of surgery. My brother passed away post-op, I have two genetic blood-clotting issues and it was my first experience with surgery. I found solace in three sentences I repeated during pre-op and continue to use when things get rough: “I am calm. I am strong. I am healthy.” Carry a powerful mantra on your journey and it will keep your mind focused and fearless.
Step 4. Create new goals. Let’s face it: Runners love a good goal. Goals keep us motivated and let us know when we’re improving. The key when injured is to think smaller. An activity you once did without thinking (like tying your shoelaces) can become a chance to achieve a goal. I call them summiting moments, or micro-activities that feel epic when achieved. A few of my summits over the past week have been getting through the day without a nap, taking my first one-mile walk, tying my shoelaces and getting off the big pain meds. Set realistic micro-goals and take great pride in checking them off as you achieve them.
Step 5. Document it. I’m a visual learner so when I can see things, it inspires me. I’m making a video log of my daily therapy sessions as I heal. This serves as a tool to keep me motivated as I see my progress in time, stimulates my creative side, and allows me to share my progress with my community of active friends. Like a training log, keeping track of your progress will keep you inspired as you look back at how far you’ve come.
Step 6. Trust. Learn to let go, ask for help, and connect with others who are there for you. One of the great challenges of injury is losing our independence, but learning to let go and accept help is the reward. Trust the process of healing and let the time be what it is. I had plans to ride my mountain bike, hike and dirt-bike ride this fall; now this season is all about healing and hiking and enjoying the foliage a little less actively. I don’t have an exact timeframe on my journey, nor do I have a race ahead of me. Keep your road clear of stress and expectation to allow the full process to take hold. Trust in the healing journey. In most cases, there are many new lessons to learn along the way.
Step 7. Learn from others. On the day I started my physical therapy, it was a triumph to get my splint off my swollen fingers. A woman sat across from me finishing up her final therapy session after the same injury. She gave me tips, told me it would be all right and shared what I had to look forward to. I learned a ton in those 10 minutes and left feeling optimistic about the future. Connect with people who have been on your journey and soak up their knowledge of experience. Every story will empower you to better health and future runs down the road.
Focus on all that you have, set new goals, and connect with a community. There is an art to healing and when you find your new flow, it will carry you forward.