Getting Through the Pain

My current mood is one of slight agitation. It is bubbling just below the surface. I am writing this from my couch with my leg wrapped in ice and propped up as high as I can get it comfortably without losing my laptop off my lap. It is not the most ideal writing position as every key stroke makes my laptop wobble and I can barely see what I am writing. It might sound like I am suppressing, but it feels to me as though I am utilizing rather than having my emotions utilize me. I am proud that it hasn’t risen to the surface because I now know that it won’t (well maybe for a moment if this laptop continues to move like the Darth Vader bobble head on my dashboard) because I have purchased some “tools” for my mental toughness toolbox. The tools I purchased cannot be bought with money, they are only paid for through the work. I am confident in my ability to not only deal with my underlying emotions but utilize them to continue to move me forward rather than hold me back.

So here is how I got to this space in my head…

I consider myself an athlete. I train every day and I train hard. I was running close to 40km a week, biking about 150km, playing basketball once or twice a week and weightlifting at least 4 times. I don’t take days off. Then I had an ankle injury, ok screw it no running or basketball for a few weeks but we can pile miles on the bike. I proceeded to up my bike km to almost 300km a week. As the ankle got better and I didn’t address some of the imbalances that had crept in, my return to basketball and running was less than stellar. Quickly I developed a nagging calf and then a groin/lower ab issue. I dealt with them as they came but at times it felt like the universe was knocking slightly harder on the proverbial door of my brain telling me I needed to pivot for a minute, maybe a break was due. I started doubting myself and I was having some major bouts with frustration (ok, maybe a little north of frustration into the land of anger). There is nothing quite like the frustration of wanting your body to perform in a certain way and it just not responding. Overall I was in a rut for the better part of 12 weeks physically, but I was mostly unaware of the rut I was in mentally too. Especially with the return back to basketball after years off. I did not realize how much playing brought me back to an old headspace, a headspace I had moved on from the last 2 years. This tied with the injuries was most definitely creating some cracks in the mental fortitude I have so studiously crafted.

Remember that knee at the start I mentioned, the one I was icing? How about the door being knocked on? Well the universe kicked the proverbial door wide open. I went up for a layup in our basketball game and came oh so unceremoniously down to the floor. My knee completely buckled in, big crunch, far too loud scream (a little embarrassing) and game over. Some may not call it luck but there are 2 physios on our team and one on the other team as well. What are the chances? They all had their turn taking a look and as I sat on the bench for the second half of the game somewhere between agony and feeling sorry for myself all of the frustration I had been feeling flooded back. It felt like all of the work I had put in was for nothing, like I was heading back to square one and if you have known me for a while that was going to be a long way back. All I could think of was oh god please don’t let this be where the story takes its turn for the worse and I go back to all of the bad habits I had worked so hard to get away from. Being brutally honest with you this is still a huge fear of mine and probably in some way shape or form always will be. I never want to be that Clint again and I work tirelessly for that reason. So with my thoughts racing and my knee throbbing my incredible men’s league team literally carried me out to a waiting car and one of the boys drove me home and practically carried me in to my house. The second the door closed I crumpled to the floor, I sobbed knowing full well the road ahead was going to suck. Although I have had a ton of ankle injuries I have never injured a knee before. But having played basketball my whole life I know a torn knee ligament can be the death knell for an athlete, especially one at 35. Depending on how serious the injury was it wouldn’t just spell the end of basketball but maybe running and lifting too. At least these were the thoughts swimming through my head while the pain was fresh in my knee. I am not exactly sure how (with some super human help from my wife is actually how) but I got showered and into bed.

Worried I would wake up in a worse state physically and mentally I did the best I could in between my fitful moments of sleep. I prayed, a lot. I talked to myself in a positive way. I told myself all of the good I had done and the things I was grateful for about the moments that had led me directly to this spot. I reminded myself of the things that were in my control. I realized that there were many and while doing this nothing actually happened. Often it will sound like these things happened overnight and people have these epiphanies out of nowhere, they don’t describe the hard parts, the embarrassing pieces that helped them realize what they needed to realize. It is rarely pretty coming to a big life realization, especially for someone as incapable of learning lessons as I am. The reason nothing happened when I just talked to myself is because there was no action. There was work to do. My realization didn’t hit me until today and it isn’t like I woke up with an epiphany, I struggled to get out of bed today, remnants of feeling sorry for myself keeping me tied to my bed. It was a slow burn as the day went on, a culmination of maintained habits since the injury that showed me I wasn’t going back to who I used to be, this wasn’t a slide it was just more adversity to go through. It wasn’t “god” or whatever you choose to call it telling me to take it easy or to take a break, he was telling me to go through the fucking pain. To feel it and not just push it down, to embrace the adversity not just try to smash it to smithereens.

I definitely went through it over the last 10 days wrestling with my ego, with the fact that I couldn’t do the things I wanted to in  the way that I wanted to do them. I felt like I had let people down, at work, on my team, even my wife and kid (one of the absolute worst feelings for me was telling my daughter there would be no more “shoulders” for a little bit) but everyone was completely understanding. My daughter blew my mind, she “doctored” me every day and brought me crutches, passed me my water and grabbed me anything she could help with. If you’re a parent you know how much pride this gives me.

This is where I diverge from the normal thoughts people have around an epiphany. I know today the realization that I am tougher than I was giving myself credit for and that like I have said before I just needed to go through this pain not shy from it dawned on me. That is all it did, it dawned on me today, But it would not have if I didn’t put the work in, well before the injury but right after it too. In the past I would have just wallowed, sat in bed with my leg propped up and made poor Tam do everything for me and then probably bitched at her for doing it wrong ( I say this because this is literally what I did when I sprained my ankle about 6 or 7 years ago). I didn’t do this, did I stay in bed longer? Totally, I literally had to hop around the house on one foot or slide down the stairs on my ass, which my daughter so graciously showed me how. But I got up, I set myself up downstairs (with some assistance for sure) and I attacked my rehab as best I could. I didn’t just sit there and use that as my excuse though, I made sure I still got what I could done, using the counter to help myself around I got Katie’s breakfast and snacks ready, I unloaded the dishwasher. I did whatever I could to be useful knowing full well over the next few days Tam would have to do a lot more. This unlocked something in me and I know now that making myself useful and not just succumbing to my injury was incredible for my brain. I even did a 10 minute workout in the afternoon. It hurt like hell but I was able to do 100 1-legged push-ups and 100 sit-ups. It wasn’t much but it was another habit held, I had put a check mark firmly in the box  labelled mentally-tough and disciplined. I proceeded to do that every day. I found a way to be useful at home, at work and to myself. I maintained each of my habits that were so important to me and attacked what I could from a rehab standpoint like my life depended on it. I didn’t tell myself I had purpose and it was all going to be ok and most importantly I didn’t wait, I did what I could to continue to move forward even if I was literally crawling on the floor to do so.

Now I want to make sure you understand the diagnosis was not as bad as initially thought, I had not torn anything and it was just a severe MCL/ACL sprain. Some people may read “just” and write me off, but if you have ever injured these ligaments you know it is unnerving. I cannot get my lower quad to engage without staring at it and even then it seems like it is only about 75% engaged. I still can’t walk down stairs more than one at a time. It feels like all of the strength I have accumulated just vanished overnight. I am literally struggling to squat 40lbs and I can’t even get to 90 degrees. It is emasculating to say the least. I also want you to understand that it hasn’t all just been realizations and gritting my teeth. I have punched a few walls because I can’t do something, I have thrown up because I tried to do something I shouldn’t and it induced far more pain than I was ready for. I have cried, felt sorry for myself, beat myself up and absolutely wallowed in the last 10 days. I just only did them for a moment, I caught myself far better than I ever had in the past and told myself the way things actually are rather than broad stroking the most negative picture possible. For this is what I am truly proud of. If anyone ever tells you they don’t have dark moments, run, or tell them to fuck off and don’t buy anything they are selling. Real mental-toughness, confidence or whatever you want to call it is wrought from facing your demons, from catching yourself and not letting your initial feelings drive your next actions.

All of these things have been great realizations and they came to me over the last few days for sure, but the actual epiphany I had was not these. No what blew my mind is something I have said at many points in the last 2 years but hadn’t actually internalized. Today was the first workout I blistered. I went fucking hard, like I had something to prove and in a short video after that I took the words just popped out of my mouth “you have to go through the pain”. I have said this too many times, but never had they hit me in the way it hit me today. I have not gone through some of my pain recently. I have been shying away from it, finding things to keep me distracted and today had me fully realize that all of the injuries in the past couple of months were a representation and manifestation of this point. Whether you choose to believe in the law of attraction or not it is there and it is definitely real. My body is living proof of this on both sides of the coin. I thought prior to today that going through the pain was just dealing with it. What I learned today was that I have to embrace it, be grateful for it, maybe laugh in its face a little but respect the hell out of it, grit your teeth and then fucking push anyways. This is the only way through and this is where most get stuck. I know for a long time I wanted it to be easy, to not hurt or not push me. Those were all fantasies.

Most people will disagree with this and I am not for most people. I am not saying that you need to just hammer away at an injury and pretend it isn’t there, that’s stupid. Speak to your respective doctors, psychologists or whoever for the issue in front of you and when you understand what it is, realize it is time to do the work. The work is not done at the doctor, that is the lesson. The practice happens in the dark of your own mind or in my case basement. But no matter how good we feel leaving the lesson it does not translate if we don’t do the work ourselves.

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