Sunday, November 8, 2015

ON BEING INJURED

They say write what you know, and I know quite a bit about being injured from experience, so here we go.  For those of you just checking in, on 10 Oct I ruptured my ACL, tore my lateral meniscus and fractured where my patella and tibia meet on my left knee.  This is the first major injury I’ve had in a while where I could no longer “suffer in silence”.  Before, I dealt with muscle and soft tissue injuries that, though painful, I could hide from the outside world, but now I had something that was affecting basic movement function and forcing me to limp, which in turn forced me to have to explain my injury to a lot of folks.  Here are some of the lessons I have learned in this experience.
1: People want you to be more hurt than you are 



Especially Mike Tyson
This was probably the most shocking and upsetting part about this experience.  I’ve had many injury role models through my training career, 2 most significant ones being Dave Tate and Matt Kroczaleski, and both spoke infinitely about the power of positive thinking as it relates to injury.  Matt even talked about how, a week out from the Arnold he was on crutches due to a severely swollen IT band, and essentially “willed” it to heal in time for the meet.  I’ve taken the same approach, talking about my next contest that I was going to compete in, planning my recovery training cycles, and ultimately still staying as absorbed as possible in my lifting.
It turns out that it was absolutely for the best that I did this, because I received very little in the way of positive thinking from any of my peers.  The most common response when I tell people about my ACL is “oh wow, that sucks, you’re going to take a LONG time to recover”.  Oh hey cool, thanks for that asshole, like I didn’t have that thought running through my mind a few thousand times a day.  Glad you took the time out of your busy day to educate me on ACL reconstruction and recovery.  Other sentiments include how I’m probably done competing, how it takes a long time to recover from the surgery (which is also just plain wrong), how I’ve probably stopped working out by now, etc etc.


I must surely be wasting away, sitting on the couch eating Cheetos

I’ve actually even encountered people that were upset that I wasn’t “taking this seriously”, talking about how I should be more concerned about my injury, quit making jokes about it, and basically dictating how I should react to my own tragedy.  Essentially, people are upset that I’m not reacting to this the way THEY would, which is to say, to lay down, die, and wallow in self-pity.  Why is this you ask?  Well because…
2: You are a reminder of other people’s failures

You become something of a pariah for being injured for 2 reasons.  The first is that someone getting injured is a small reminder of our own mortality.  Much like how, in many cases, the death of a loved one is tragic not so much due to the loss of a person as it is a reminder that one day we too will die, witnessing an injury/knowing an injured person is a reminder that we’re all mortal and run the risk of getting hurt.  In turn, people will turn into personal injury lawyers and detectives, trying to find the exact reason why you got hurt so that they can assure themselves that it was all your fault and they’ll be totally fine.  It’s funny, but in many cases your injury will panic others far more than you.
However, the second reason you become somewhat reviled for being injured is due to the fact that, should you keep positive, stay active and recover quickly, all you’ve done is point out the inadequacies of others.  People LOVE to use injuries as an excuse to finally stop working out.  You hear it all the time; “I used to lift weights, but then I hurt my back/knee/elbow/shoulder/foot/cranium/pineal gland/etc etc”.  This was their get-out-of-jail-free card that finally allowed them to sit on the couch and eat Cheetos like they always wanted to in the first place.  Some folks even just develop phantom injuries that no doctor can diagnose (because they don’t exist), skipping past the pesky actual “getting injured” part, in order to fulfill this need.  Meanwhile, they see you limping between stations at the gym with a knee brace on and it instills within themselves a righteous sense of shame.


I will admit, I have been abusing this joke on my own
And allow me to stop here and clear the air: I don’t feel like I am better than anyone else because I lift weights.  That’s so stupid.  I could be using this time to do something productive for society, like volunteer at a soup kitchen or something.  It’s a very selfish thing that I do, and I do it because I like it.  However, it just so happens that the thing I like to do (and really, I more just like the getting stronger part of it, and lifting weights is what I have to do to get there) is something that other people feel OBLIGATED to do because it’s a part of being “healthy”.  This is what creates the rift: people see me doing whatever it takes to continue to pursue my passion and interpret it as simply me doing whatever it takes to be healthy, while they deprioritized health in order to use that time/energy to pursue THEIR passions.  It’s a matter of shifted perspectives that create tension, but you need to be prepared to encounter this static as an injured athlete who is going to recover.
3: Care and Feeding of an Injured Athlete   
So, having now been in the shoes of a visibly injured athlete, I’ve learned how to treat one (or at least, how I would prefer to be treated). 
-Nietzsche talks about how pity is one of man’s greatest sins, and in this situation that holds absolutely true.  The last thing you want to do to an injured athlete is pity them.  Though possibly well meaning, this just emasculates them, treating them like a cripple or a leper or some sort of weak defenseless animal.  Instead of saying “I feel so bad for you”, tell them about how they’re going to bounce back quickly.  This isn’t “making light” of the injury: it’s providing hope and re-assurance.  The athlete most likely has already gone through whatever mental anguish you’re trying to share with your pity, and offering more isn’t doing anything but making them resent you.  Be positive for them.

-As the athlete, stop whatever it was you were training for and find something else.  Preferably, something really different that you have no frame of reference for.  For me, I went full tilt into a real deal bodybuilding program.  Specifically, I followed the detailed bodybuilding program in Matt Kroc’s “Insane Training” book.  This was so outside my wheelhouse that I wasn’t able to notice a lack of strength or ability in any of the lifts, because I wasn’t DOING any of the lifts that I was familiar with.  You still have to work within the limitations of your injuries, yes (I’m not doing Crossfit or weightlifting), but finding a new training goal as quickly as possible will allow you to still train and not go crazy.


Unless you NEED to go crazy in order to train I suppose

-Even when you comeback, make things different.  The hardest thing to contend with is knowing your previous strength and watching yourself be unable to realize it in your current form.  One of the ways around this psychological angst is to instead use variations of the movements you set your PRs with so that you aren’t quite doing what you did before.  If you always deadlifted with a deadlift bar, switch to an axle when you get back into deadlifting.  Always squatted with a straight bar?  Use a safety squat bar.  Benched with a barbell?  Go swiss bar.  Etc etc.  The strength you build with these movements will still carryover back into what you did before, but you’ll be chasing and setting new PRs, rather than trying to reclaim old ones, which will be far less distressing and more rewarding.
Remember: time heals all wounds.  You’ll get better eventually, and it’s the people who keep coming back after injuries that stand out as the great ones.  Keep strong and focused, and no matter what you’re dealing with now, it’ll blow over.

4 comments:

  1. Great post.

    I have injured myself sooo many times and i dont even lift that heavy.

    The torture at the physiotherapist, the ongoing niggles etc are totally worth it and active recovery is part and parcel of the journey.

    I GOT THAT from you. Get back in there and do something.

    The funny thing in all this is that the greatest dangers to health stem from a risk averse sedentary lifestyle.

    At almost 46 aches pains and challenges with recovery are inevitable. Health deterioration, loss of strength and muscle and getting fat are optional.

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    1. I appreciate the feedback, and it makes me happy to know I've had that sort of impact on you. You're absolutely correct that avoiding risk is far more risky than taking calculated risks that have a great reward, something a lot of folks don't understand.

      Like they said in Fight Club: On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone becomes 0. We're all going to die, not all of us are going to live.

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  2. Hi emevas

    Hope you're doing well with your recovery. I recently broke my leg, which is not nearly as bad but I can empathize with what you wrote.

    I'm sure you'll recover quick and be right out there.

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    1. I appreciate that Mathias, and wish the same quick recovery to you. These are always just good reminders to slow down and work on weaknesses.

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