This morning I hit an all-time low.
It felt like the pinnacle of proof that I’m having a particularly emotional, as well as physically painful journey, as a result of rupturing my ACL (cruciate ligament, it’s in the knee) two months ago.
As I lay sobbing on my bedroom floor, reeling from what my surgeon had told me the evening before, I doubted in those moments that I’d ever make it through the long road ahead. In moments such as these, when you hit rock bottom, it’s pretty much impossible to see a way out. The pain, fear, grief and confusion I felt was all consuming. You may recall a time of ever feeling like this, too?
It’s in difficult moments such as these (this one lasted about 3 hours) that I now see it’s both important and indeed interesting, to observe oneself. And if you can, separate yourself from yourself, as if watching from above. It’s what people talk about in the process of meditation. “Observe your thoughts”, so that you separate them from what is ‘the real you’. There’s no doubt that this is something of an enigma if you’ve never tried it. But once you have, you’ll find yourself moving more frequently to being in the place of the observer . And if so, you’ll find too, that it’s a hugely helpful and beneficial place to be. It helps you make sense of the emotion; you feel it, yet you’re able to distance yourself from it, too.
I’m going through a really bad time, there’s no doubt about it. I’ll look back on this and remember it as a particularly painful period of my life. And this morning I felt entirely overwhelmed by it all. I felt trapped by an impending operation, one I was due to have in a week’s time, yet apparently (so the surgeon said), one I was not entirely, physically, prepared for. I had a week of hard work ahead of me, one where I had to overcome my fear of learning to walk again without crutches. I just didn’t know how to even begin. And to make matters worse, if I didn’t overcome this fear within a week, they’d need to force my leg back into the position it’s supposed to be in before they’d operate. Not a pleasant thought by any stretch of the imagination (or indeed, stretch of a leg 😉
I felt panicked, trapped. Yet I’ve come to discover that when these moments of all-time-lows hit, whilst hugely painful, they can often lead to greater clarity and lightness when you eventually make it out the other side. And that’s exactly what happened to me today.
I don’t know about you, but I make excuses for what I’m feeling. I berate myself for feeling low. I tell myself it’s not as bad as having a terrible illness such as cancer, or dementia, or having someone close to me, die. I always put my sadness and grief down, trivialise it, tell myself there are people far worse off than me — because, of course, there are. Doing this is actually not that helpful. Rather than feeling what you feel, you push it to one side and try and diminish it. And this has the opposite effect to the one you most desire.
When I first fell and damaged my knee, I must say, I dealt with it rather well at the time, giving myself a really big pat on the back for being so accepting of the damage and the consequences. Within a week of rehab I was walking about. Too much as it happens, and I had a second fall, which turned out to be much worse, both physically and mentally, than the first. That was four weeks ago. Four, long, weeks. I must admit, I’ve never paid much attention to people on crutches until now. A momentary feeling of empathy, perhaps, but thinking about how it has affected someone’s life is not something I’ve ever thought too much about. Yet it’s totally debilitating, not being able to get around as normal. You can’t do anything. Your days of independence are on hold and you enter into a phase of life where vulnerability is the norm. On one crutch it’s bad enough, but at least you can carry your dinner to the other side of the room. On two, unless you have a rucksack on your back, then forget it. My life had shrunk considerably in order to accommodate my new disability.
The lows I’ve experienced since my falls are numerous, more than I could ever have imagined from a relatively common-place injury. But this morning felt like I was staring up the path of a very long, steep, dark and treacherous mountain. My life, now lived out by the degrees of a physiotherapist’s protractor (I don’t think that’s the technical term ;), has become all about whether I can move my feet a few degrees further towards my arse. And if the angle of my knee isn’t right, guess what happens? The surgeon forces it backwards, and that’s just before making several holes in my leg, pulling out two of my hamstrings and using them to recreate a new ligament which is drilled and screwed up into my thigh bone. All rather magnificent technology if you’re not the one facing it!
And I am facing it.
I’ve been through so many emotions these past two months, not only linked to the operation itself, but also the fear of walking I had after the fall — the fear of falling again, the pain, the vulnerability, the regret, the disappointment and the loss of independence. I knew the thing to do was to step right into the fear and in doing so, release it. But that’s easier said than done and I found myself playing at this, scratching the surface, thinking I had done the work on myself. But I hadn’t, not really. I hadn’t gone deep. And it’s when we get stuck in our pain that it becomes detrimental not only to our wellbeing, but also to our development. We begin to close ourselves off and if we’re not careful, become resentful of our situation and of others who are going about their daily lives, when we cannot. We feel left behind.
We try very hard to avoid being hurt again. I was trying very hard not to be hurt again. I was stuck in the pain of that fall. Most children, left to their own devices, shout and cry as a way of expressing their emotions. Tears leave as quickly as they arrive. Yet as we get older, we learn to keep our emotions at bay, bury them, ignore them, hide them, deny them. It sounds ridiculous, but we may even get used to the pain and fear losing it. If you think about it for a moment, I’m sure you’ll know someone doing this right now, it may even be you? But holding onto these emotions takes an enormous amount of energy, negative energy. We need to feel them, really feel them, and then let them go.
I had no idea. And so it was this morning, as I broke down, I mean, truly broke down, I faced my fears head on. In those moments I felt trapped, trapped on a road I couldn’t get off. I feared that if my rehabilitation or the surgery didn’t go well, that I may never get off this merry-go-round of suffering and never recover. I’ll be left behind, forever. How did I get here?
I kept asking myself what I was fearful of, what was my biggest fear? I knew that if I kept asking why, then eventually there would be nothing left to fear. Initially I thought it was the pain and the thought of what the surgeon would be doing to my knee. But then I moved beyond the pain to my fear of not doing the rehabilitation correctly and ending up with a bent leg for the rest of my life. Then I asked why I was fearful of that.
And the answer came — that I would no longer be able to do the sports I loved, or go on adventures, do any kind of activity. For these are the things I most love in life, and even better, when they’re done with others. All I could see was a future of inactivity, middle to old age spent on the sofa, forever looking out the window instead of running across the hills, swimming in wild lakes, riding a muddy bike across open pastures.
That was it, standing clearly before me. That was my biggest fear. And as I claimed this as my ultimate fear, the atmosphere in the room, and in my head, changed.
It was at my lowest point that something absolutely shifted. Until today I have struggled with walking unaided, entirely fearful of losing my crutch that has not only been a physical support, but has also become an emotional one, too. 4 weeks leaning on it, trying not to lean on it, looking for it every single moment of every f*** day. Putting it down, picking it up, like a child without its dummy I’m panicked without it. Yet today, as I left the physiotherapist for my penultimate session before my operation, I walked out without using my crutch. I still have it by my side, but it’s no longer touching the floor and balancing out the side that, until now, has feared to tread.
I walked from the treatment room and out into the gym, head held high. I put Drake on my headphones on. It was loud, clear, invigorating, momentous and served to blast out any remnants of this morning’s episode. It felt so, so good to be alive.
So, I write to make sense of all this. I also write to share it in case it’s useful to you, too. If you find yourself in a vulnerable period of your life where you don’t know where to turn for fear, or pain, don’t be afraid to feel it. And I mean, really feel it. Living on the surface of our emotions, only serves to increase the time they remain with us.
I know this isn’t of the end of my emotional roller coaster. Next week, I shall lie on the operating table, quivering like a lamb to slaughter as they put me to sleep. I know it will all begin again as I wake up to the reality of 9 long months of rehabilitation and learning to walk again, for the third time in 3 months. Yet, after truly facing all my fears this morning, the shift that has occurred has served to strengthen me beyond what I could ever have imagined. I have learned from today to be brave enough to collapse, pick myself up and embrace life with all the beauty, lessons, experiences, gifts and precious insights it serves to offer us. If only we take the time to listen.