Dear Blog, it has been 206 days since my last entry.
I’m finally ready to tell you why.
Two nights ago, on Thursday, I got the first stripe on my blue belt. There was something strange in that timing, getting that recognition the same day I had earlier decided that it was time for me to start writing again.
My last post was about how grateful I was to have amazing training partners at WNY MMA. And honestly, that’s what this post is about too. But I have a different perspective at this point.
Being injured sucks. Like, seriously, sucks. It affects your body. It affects your mentality. It affects aspects of your life that you didn’t even know were connected in any way to your injury.
I have spent the whole first stripe of my blue belt figuring out how to deal with my injury. How to deal with the feelings of embarrassment and, frankly, incompetence that accompanied that injury.
That imposter syndrome I felt when I got my blue belt somehow seemed to be confirmed by being hurt. I looked around and other people seemed to handle their injuries so coolly and with such confidence that they would be back on the mats after X-weeks or could simply train through the injury.
But for me, I didn’t have that certainty and training through was scary. I felt like it was inevitable that I was going to reinjure myself – because that’s what kept happening. Until I had a major realization.
I realized that I couldn’t handle this on my own. I needed help. And that was really hard for me to admit.
Anyone who knows me at all is going to be absolutely shocked when I tell you that I’m an incredibly independent person. I’m a trained researcher. I can find answers to problems. I can come up with solutions. That’s what I do.
But I couldn’t fix my injury. And that hurt. A lot.
Since then, I’ve had to reach out to and ask help from many people. I got a new primary care physician who does sports medicine (which I mentioned in the last post) but, when I went in for my visit, I didn’t even see the actual doctor. I did get a script for PT though.
My PT is a good friend and she helped me figure out what was actually wrong. Some disc stuff. Some muscular stuff. She worked on fixing some things and gave me exercises and stretches. PT was expensive though and wasn’t a something I could do long term. And, even though it was helpful, I still felt like I was sliding backwards down the recovery hill. I still couldn’t confidently roll or lift or run.
While I could go to classes and participate in technique okay, I was constantly afraid when I rolled, which led to a ton of anxiety about going to class. Not being able to work out (plus, among other things, the stress from my job search and the stress from Nate’s potential, and then actual, job change) did not make for a great combination with my tendency towards emotional eating. Between inactivity and bad activity, I ended up putting on around 15 lbs.
For anyone who has gained weight from an injury (or other equally frustrating circumstance) you know how terrible it feels when you realize that it’s now Fall and none of your pants fit, the belt that tied around your gi fine before seems to have increasingly stubby ends, and whatever muscle definition you had seems to be disappearing faster than any progress you manage to make.
I tried going vegan for three months in the hopes that it would make me feel better physically (and alleviate some ethical anxieties that were compounding all the other anxieties). But, even as I liked a lot of things about plant-based eating, I experienced a lot of unanticipated social pushback about eating plant-based and, on top of that, there didn’t seem to be any tangible forward progress.
It was extremely frustrating and demoralizing to be constantly trying all these different approaches and not finding the one that was actually going to help.
And that’s the reality of recovery: sometimes it takes more than one try. Sometimes it feels like two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes, one step forward and two steps back.
Around Thanksgiving, I finally broke down and told Nate that I needed to do something differently. That this wasn’t working. I wasn’t feeling better.
When I had been having knee pain in Cleveland, I worked with a personal trainer for a few months and that had completely eliminated the pain and the source of the problem. Plus, he’s the one who made me fall in love with deadlifting. So, Nate and I decided that was worth trying.
We knew a bunch of people at LA Fitness, so in spite of how…corporate…that gym is, we joined and I started working with an amazing trainer who totally understood my issues, was also into BJJ, and instilled in me complete confidence that we could tackle this injury. I felt practically high with relief.
But then, two weeks after I started training with him, all the people who I knew at LA Fitness got tired of the corporate bullshit and left. And I was locked into a training contract. Cue re-entry of all those dark dismal clouds.
After trying to tell me that my trainer had been promoted to a different location (seriously? of course, that person isn’t there anymore…) LA paired me up with another trainer. I was not excited about this. I was tired of being shuffled around. I was tired of feeling like reaching out to other people for help was pointless. I was tired of feeling like garbage.
But this new trainer was enthusiastic and empathetic and didn’t mind if I texted him my workout summary every time I worked out, even when we weren’t working out together. We’ve been building up reps, building up weight, and turning that corner back in the direction I want to go. His real desire to help people balances out the corporate awfulness that turned me off about LA Fitness as a chain.
In the meantime, I forced myself to be more honest with people on the mats. I went to class but didn’t do positionals or roll. I stopped trying to pretend that I felt okay when I didn’t. And I did my best not to feel embarrassed about it. I had a choice: I could stop training or I could train as much as my injury would let me.
As I became more honest, I also talked with other people who were or had been injured. And that helped. They’d ask how I was doing and mark the little milestones with me. I appreciated the lack of judgment they expressed as I slowly worked my way back to where I was a year ago.
Because, essentially, that’s what’s happened. It’s been a year—more really, if we count the off and on leading up to when things got serious. I wasn’t writing because I was embarrassed, because I felt like I didn’t have a right to talk about training if I wasn’t training hard. And that’s not really a good answer.
So what the heck is the point of this post? Why I am writing again?
I’m writing again, especially this post, because I don’t want someone else to feel the way I did. I don’t want someone else to feel like they are less valuable of a teammate because they can’t train as hard as they want to. You just need to train as hard as you can. And, as someone told me, to heck with anyone who isn’t supportive of that.
The point is that injuries (and other bad shit that happens) can make us feel like we’re alone. We feel isolated, tired, demoralized. We feel frustrated that we can’t train the way we want. We maybe even feel like others are judging us for not training hard enough.
But we aren’t alone—that’s the point of being part of a team. If we feel isolated, we’ve got to be honest with the people who care about us. And we need to pay attention when people we care about might need some extra support. That’s what it means to be part of a team.
Recovery, for anyone who has had to walk that long road in any of its many forms, rarely happens exactly as we envision. But, motivated by empathy, we can help each other and then (to put it as elegantly as I can) at a minimum, when shit sucks, we aren’t alone.
Last night, I rolled for an hour at open mat for the first time in nearly a year. I’m back to doing positionals and rolling after class, and—while I’m still careful—I’m not carrying the same fear that I was. I’m back to feeling happy on the mats.
The last post that I wrote was an effort to find a silver lining, to stay positive, and to convince myself that I was okay. Some things take time though. And help.
Every time I put on my belt, that first stripe is a reminder.