The Long, Long Journey Toward Recovery

It all starts with deciding to begin.

It all starts with deciding to begin.

(This is post is about much more than just my torn Achilles injury. Trust me.)

I wasn't going to write another post about healing from my torn Achilles injury but I think it's important for me to document this past week so that not only can I reflect on how I'm doing, but I can also help others have a true sense of what it's going to take to recover from such an injury. A quick recap: I tore my Achilles on June 26, 2014 and I'm writing this on September 20, 2014. I'm nearly three months into the recovery period. If you want to read the entire saga, I recommend that you start back at the beginning so that you have a true sense of what you're up against in recovering.

On Monday, I hit a major milestone. I went back to my doctor for my evaluation and I was expecting to learn that I would have another 4 weeks in my airwalk boot, but that was not to be. He gave me the great news that my injury had healed fine and that I would no longer need to use the boot. He told me to wear an insert in my shoe until the end of this month and then come back to see him in mid-October so that he could evaluate my progress. This was fantastic news. Wearing the boot had been more painful to me than 6 weeks in the cast. The boot was made out of a solid metal frame and it was heavy. My heel hurt after walking around in it all day and I had a good amount of swelling in my ankle.

I asked a few questions of my doctor and learned the following:

  • Yes, I could go biking now. Just needed to take it easy and ice any swelling.
  • In about 4-6 weeks, I would probably be strong enough to walk a 5K.
  • Although my injury had healed, now I needed to build my strength back up in the leg so my doctor suggested I continue physical therapy 3 times a week for the next month.
  • My return to running would still be in January - February of 2015 and that realistically I would be starting from nothing. I would need to learn how to run again and take it slowly.

All of this was good news, but if you look at it, there's lots of time there. Even with my injury healed, now I need to train and strengthen my left ankle. It will take my body months to build back up again. This is a really crucial point I want to make:

No matter how much I want to speed my recovery up, the reality is that it's going to take months yet. Slow and steady.

I think this is why I want to write this blog post the most. It's just as much for me to process and come to terms with the reality that I have lost all the work I have done on my cardiovascular system. I will need to learn how to breathe and run again. I did it before and I will need to learn how to do it again. It will be hard, it will take time and I will need to make time to do all of this work along with my full-time job, family, other responsibilities and making time to write my next novel.

This is my reality. I can't "alter time, speed up time or teleport off this rock." So I have a choice. It's the same choice that I had when I had to come to terms when I first injured myself:

I could be angry and say "woe is me."

or:

I could work hard and strive toward my goal.

I continue to choose the second path. This might sound all easy and fantastic, but let my put this in perspective. I want to share a personal story with you. This past Wednesday, I woke up, started getting ready for work and took a shower just like billions of other people do in the morning. But I realized that I no longer needed my crutches to balance myself into the shower and that, for the first time in months, I didn't need the shower chair to clean my legs. I had built enough muscle up on my injured leg that I could stand on it and lean against the shower wall. This was amazing to me but I do understand that this is an activity that most of us never think about. But for me, at that moment, it was as though a miracle had happened. I could stand on my own, take a shower and then get out of the shower without needing a crutch.

I had been given clearance not only by my doctor, but I could feel in my leg that when I put my full weight on my left ankle that it didn't hurt. My leg wasn't swollen up like a grapefruit. I was well on the way toward a full recovery. To get to that point, I had:

  • Used crutches for week and a half
  • Been in a cast for 6 weeks
  • Worn a boot for 4 weeks

Now I had another 12-14 weeks before I could START to run again. This is the reality of recovering from a torn Achilles. For those of you who have never had such an injury, or are saying to yourself that none of this matters to you, I would posit this idea:

What goal have you wanted to achieve but realize that it's going to be a long, long road toward achieving that goal?

I'm also on another long road. I decided more than four years ago that I would embark on the journey to be an author. I would stop allowing other people to tell me that it was too hard to make it as a writer and that I should just do the sensible thing and work hard at my day job. I listened to that advice for a long, long time but a part of me held onto the dream. I never forgot it though I often neglected to do any work. Just like physical therapy and conditioning my body to run again:

I need to practice my writing and train my self-confidence to become a successful writer.

And that, my friend, is why I'm writing this. Success has never fallen onto me from the heavens. It never has and never will. Success has come to me because I've worked hard, studied hard, practiced, learned, failed and kept going. I have a long, long journey toward recovery. I do. All of this sounds so straightforward, but there's the missing layer that many people don't like to talk about: There's the psychological/emotional/spiritual aspect.

I'm on this journey toward healing and I see it as consisting of three layers:

  • Physical (my body [walking/exercising])
  • Mental (learning, practicing, writing)
  • Psychological/emotional/spiritual

I believe that you will never succeed in achieving your goal unless you believe in yourself. To believe in one's self, is to fail, fall from grace and to then rise up from the ashes and continue again. We have all gone through this: We stumbled because we were angry, frustrated or struggled with self-confidence in achieving our goal. It's normal. But this is where choice comes into various layers: We need not only to exercise our bodies, mind, but I also believe our emotional cores--our spiritual side.

Some believe in God, some believe in finding a connection through meditation or yoga. This is the part of the process that I am referring to. I'm not going to label what is right for you or what you should do, that's not going to help advance my argument by trying to categorizing this extremely important layer. Instead of telling you what is right (which I can't do because I don't know what's right for YOU), let me tell you a story.

My son has been stressed out from transitioning to middle school. He's been really upset because the change has been hard for him and he's had struggles with walking the mile to school, problems with a broken locker and in learning how to build self-confidence in himself.

I took him aside this week and promised him that I would help him by teaching him what I do when I am stressed out. So each morning around 6:15 am, I stop my writing and we do some yoga and some relaxation techniques. We go through the steps, deep breathing, stretching, visualization and to focus on bringing the light in, surrounding ourselves with good and confident thoughts and exhaling out all the darkness, doubt and fears. In a small way, I'm showing my son what works for me. He's told me that it's helping him and I'm happy with that. My hope is that he will learn his own techniques to help him deal with his own insecurities in a positive way and that my teaching him what works for me might help start a conversation between us.

How many people self-medicate with alcohol, food, sexual obsession or some other drug to fill that void within? The journey toward recovery could mean anything: Healing from an injury, working, writing, training for a marathon, whatever. The point is: What techniques are you going to use to help you deal with the day-to-day stress of life and keep you honest with yourself?

I have gained more than 7 pounds since I've been injured. I'm eating more and haven't been exercising as much. I need to change that. The work that I do and the struggles that I encounter are all along the road of my life journey. "The journey is the destination" many say. And I believe in that. There will always be another hill to climb, a work problem to deal with, stress to overcome or obstacle to surpass. But how we overcome, is the key to our success in life and our attainment of happiness.

What can I do today to change this path that I'm on to help me overcome the obstacles in my life?

  • What physical challenges can I make? (Weight, injury, disability, challenges?)
  • What mental challenges? (prejudices, short-sightedness, skill gaps, moral/ethical blindness?)
  • What emotional/psychological/spiritual challenges? (Avoidance, burying feelings, denial, fears?)

Overwhelmed? Don't be. This is the beauty of life:

We can only deal with today. And today, can be a good day, if we choose it.

It's the long, long journey that we're on. We may not be able to write the entire book today. We may not be able to start the business that's wildly successful today. Or we might not be able to take a shower, standing on two feet today. But what we can do, is to choose and accept the journey that we're on and take that leap of faith, that first step, on the long, long road to recovery and happiness. And that's what I'm doing now. My 8 a.m. physical therapy session calls. I'm off. I hope everyone has a good day. Be easy on yourself. You deserve some happiness.

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Ron Vitale is the author of the Cinderella's Secret Diaries series who hopes that his own children will overcome any obstacles in their way and find their own happily ever after.