Thursday, June 14, 2018

Life File: How To Deal With Injuries


I haven't talked much about my running injury here (is not something I like to focus on) but some of you have been asking about how I'm dealing with it and if I have any tips that help with the frustration. I won't lie, as much as try to stay positive and enjoy other activities that thank goodness I'm allowed to do, this has been one tough ride. More than the actual foot pain (I have plantar fasciitis) is the mental struggle and the sense that I've lost my identity. I've been a runner for more than 15 years. Running is my life. Running is me. Running is my therapy. Running is my fuel. Running has defined my lifestyle and without it my whole mental health has been sabotaged. I'm still on the road of recovery, and this whole process has taught me numerous lessons (more on that on another post) but here are (in my opinion) 8 important tools to help you cope with an injury and the sense of loss.

ACCEPT: There's no question that the first thing one must do when facing an injury is to accept it. And it's not just accepting the pain associated with it, but the consequences. The only way you can start your healing process and move forward from an injury is to accept what you have and what it means. You can't step into recovery if you don't accept you need recovery. Failing to do so will only end up in sabotage. Thinking that you're not injured or that you can still perform as usual will only extend the period needed to fully heal. So, accept that you need to recover, accept what that means and focus on what you can do about it to be back to your regular self as soon as possible. By not accepting that you're injured, you will only prolong how soon you get treatment, plus you can easily make it worse by not listening to your body and thinking that you can still perform when what your body needs is exactly the opposite.

STAY POSITIVE: I believe that the best mind-set for no matter what circumstance you are forced to face in this life is a positive one. How do you stay positive? Well, it's all about perspective. When you don't have the power to control a particular situation you basically have two choices: you either focus on being the victim or you make the best out of it. Nothing good comes from negativity so don't waste your time there. Negativity won't change the situation in which you're in, positivity on the other side, will give you some extra tools that are key for moving forward.

BE THANKFUL: Before you say anything, I'm not suggesting to be thankful for the injury, no, no, no, no, what I'm saying is that there's always something to be thankful for, so, as bad as being injured might seem, I'm sure there's something to be thankful for. I remember when I first acknowledged my injury I thought to myself "well, I still have my legs, I didn't loose any limbs, this is temporary, I can seek treatment, I can heal, and I have options to stay active". Being aware of your blessings is part of staying positive and taking for granted or failing to appreciate what's on your side will only make you more miserable. 

KEEP UP YOUR FITNESS LEVEL: If your injury allows for slight adjustments to your fitness routine or if you're able to try new disciplines you should definitely take full advantage of it to keep your cardiovascular strength. I find that on top of the obvious health benefits for your mind, body and soul associated with exercise, having a way to release energy is key in keeping yourself in good moods. My particular type of injury only allows me to bike and swim so I've been taking soul cycle classes and hitting the pool to stay active. I've been a swimmer since I was a kid (nothing pro!) and I've always tried to incorporate some swims as part of my weekly training so that wasn't new for me. Soul Cycle on the other hand, was completely new to me and I've been loving it. It definitely pushes me to go beyond what I think are my limits and I certainly leave the studio with some sort of "runner's high" so that's been KEY in keeping me sane in this whole process. I also just recently got a road bike so that I could enjoy the outdoors, something I absolutely LOVE and was missing terribly. If you can't do high intensity workouts, then try low intensity ones. Try yoga, try rowing, try pilates, focus on strengthening, weight lifting....as long as you're not interfering with your healing process do your best to stay active, one way or the other. The gains from these "new" disciplines will balance a bit that sense of loss and the newness will keep you distracted and entertained.

SEEK DIFFERENT OPTIONS FOR TREATMENT: It's important that you keep your options open and explore them all. What might work for someone might not necessarily work for you and you won't find out until you try it. Having said that, explore and try it all. Besides going for physiotherapy, I've done my own research and I have tried basically everything that is suggested to treat plantar fasciitis. If you feel something is not working then try something else, or simply add something new to what you're already doing. 

LISTEN TO YOUR BODY: You must listen to your body so that you can identify what's working and what's not working. Having said that, be patient! Nothing changes overnight, so allow some time before you jump into conclusions. Also, if possible, keep a log of how you feel after a particular treatment, activity or even food you consume. I remember feeling particularly sore after a few days in New York and because I keep track of my steps (on my Garmin watch) my physiotherapist was able to identify the cause (too much walking) and "prescribe" an ideal number of daily steps for me so that we wouldn't sabotage my treatment. Same with the shock wave therapy I've been doing lately. On the first two sessions my foot was feeling really sore for the first 3 days after the treatment, so by being in tune with my body, and keeping track of how it was reacting to the treatment, my physiotherapist was able to identify what was working and adjust the treatment based on how my body was reacting to particular frequencies.

ALLOW YOURSELF TO FEEL: Probably one of the biggest lessons of this whole ordeal has been recognizing how deeply this has been affecting me and allowing myself to feel. Because I'm a positive person by nature I didn't realize I had been shoving strong frustration feelings deep down inside me. It wasn't until my very first running trial when I faced the joy of doing what I love the most that I realized 1. how happy running makes me, and 2. how badly I had been ignoring the effects of not being able to do so. I remember when I got on the treadmill and how the tears would come down on my face. Right there I understood how bad I had been at dealing with my emotions, and how mistaken I was for believing that allowing yourself to feel frustration, anger, and pain had to do anything with being positive. Acknowledging your emotions and letting yourself to feel will not make you a negative person. Allowing yourself to feel is important because the sense of loss we "athletes" feel is no joke. And if you neglect to identify what you're feeling inside it will end up manifesting itself one way or the other. I've always believed that letting yourself feel sad or frustrated for particular situations that in the big scope of things are not that bad was some sort of lack of perspective, but I learned that regardless of your blessings, feeling, and most importantly, allowing yourself to FEEL is not just normal but important for your mental health. I feel sad, I feel lost, I'm frustrated, I feel I've lost my identity, I'm mad that I have done EVERYTHING to treat this injury and I'm still injured. Today, I accept those feelings, I accept I need to acknowledge them, I accept that acknowledging them doesn't make me ungrateful, it just makes me human.

LEARN AND MOVE FORWARD: Lastly, like all experiences, there's a lesson to be learned, and on the very surface, without going deep down on what an injury can teach you, is to learn the cause and avoid it for the future. As simple as that. I made the mistake of going for a run on shoes that were not appropriate for my gait. I honestly didn't think that one run could make so much damage, but it did. Lesson learned. Won't do it again and will continue to stress the importance of getting the right shoes if you're thinking of taking up running.

I truly hope not many of you had to read this because that would mean you're injured, but if you did because you are too, I hope it was useful. Don't forget, a minor setback can pave the way for a major comeback, so stay positive, stay strong, focus your energy on getting better, stay active and make that comeback an epic one!

* Photo by Nike Toronto

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