Whether you’re an athlete, an exercise fanatic or a casual gym-goer - your injury is a loss.
Perhaps a loss of motion, a loss of time, or a loss of function. With all loss follows grief. Understanding your emotional path to recovery can help you physically get there faster.
We’ve all heard of the 5 stages of grief… Here is how they may apply to your process of recovery:
You suddenly can’t do all of the things you used to - life isn’t quite the same. You may still attempt your old patterns - like trying to take that crossfit class or hitting the pavement, which may cause increased pain, frustration and further set backs. It becomes normal to rationalize overwhelming emotions during this time and avoid the reality of the situation.
You’re pissed! And rightfully so. You’ve lost time towards the goal you were working on, you're in pain and feeling stuck and impatient. You’re not getting better as fast as you hoped and you’re angry… Angry at yourself for getting injured, angry at your doctor because you’re not better yet, or angry with your friends who are still engaging in the things you aren’t capable of right now… and the worst part is, you can’t exert the physical energy needed to get that anger released like you used to - which makes you even more angry. It’s a downward spiral and you have been sucked right in to it.
You may feel helpless and vulnerable. You struggle to regain some sense of control. With this, you get caught up in the “If only’s” or “What if’s”… If only you had sought medical treatment sooner, if only you didn’t push yourself so hard that day, what if I only exercise lightly once a week, what if I come in for an extra PT session this week… Sound familiar?
Depression comes in all shapes and forms. You may feel more fatigued, withdraw from friends, change your eating habits, have decreased motivation, start to give up on goals, or feel an overwhelming sense of sadness. Depression can also come with negative thoughts… “I’ll never get better”, “I will never be as strong as I once was”, “This treatment isn’t working!” All of these thoughts are part of the normal process of grieving, but can slow your progress.
Once you’ve allowed yourself to flow through the emotions, this is where you need to be. Accepting your capabilities in the moment. This is right NOW. Building trust in your treatment plan, taking care of yourself and setting reachable goals will move you in the right direction and lift some of the clouds that have been following you around since you got hurt.
Strength and fitness are physical, of course, but it also takes a high percentage of mental focus and clarity. Trusting in the process of your physical therapy can be the most important part of recovery. The goal is to recover, yes, but also uncover hidden reasons that caused your injury in the first place to get you functioning even better than before. Once limitations are cleared up, you will likely be able to obtain a level of strength and fitness than you were ever capable of before your injury.
Be mindful of your emotional state during your recovery. Understanding where you’re at can help move you towards where you want to be!
Jes Caruso, LMSW, SFG