When dealing with health issues, it’s not always easy to have a plan to deal with injury or sickness. What I’ve learned over time is to follow the Golden mean philosophy. Aristotle might have lived a long time ago, but I think he hit the nail on the head. Simply put, the Golden mean, is to live a tempered life and not one to extremes. And when I apply this philosophy toward my health, I need to remember to have balance in my life: What I eat, drink and when to (and not to) exercise.
But all of this went out the window the day I was on a family vacation back in the summer of 2014 and was seriously injured. Let me take you back and set the scene:
I turned toward my wife and said, “Watch this.” And with that, I imagined myself jumping up, twisting my torso and smashing the ball back toward the wall with tremendous force. Memories of playing racquetball with a friend in college washed over me. But in reality, I went to jump up, the tip of my left foot caught and dragged across the floor and a shooting pain shot up my leg.
I came down hard on my left leg, and just like that, I had ruptured my Achilles tendon.
At the time, I didn’t know what had happened. I tried to shake it off, but walking did not help and I had a difficult time concentrating while blocking out the pain. All I knew is that my family and I were on vacation and I had just injured myself severely. After a visit to urgent care, lots of ice and a set of crutches, I went back to our vacation rental and realized that I had done a really stupid thing: Trying to show off to my wife about how “great” my sports abilities were, only to mess up my leg, probably wasn’t a good idea.
The road to recovery after my ruptured Achilles tendon took about 6 months. I know that my injury does not even compare to some of the challenges my readers have shared with me, but I thought it might be a good way for me to talk about health since dealing with health issues was a major topic that readers shared with me during the “How to Solve Your 3 Biggest Problems” post.
When I realized that I would be in a cast for six weeks and could put no weight on my left leg, but still needed to get to work and have meetings, reality sort of smacked me right in the head like a wet fish across my cheek. I'll be honest. I was also afraid because I didn't know how I was going to do all that I needed at my job and around the house.
I work at a university and needed to walk about two blocks to get from the parking lot to my office. Doing that on crutches when it was the hottest part of summer, was a heck of a lot harder than I had imagined. I've run marathons but found it really challenging to use crutches for two blocks in the summer heat. And over the full time it took for me to heal, I had to deal with pain, fatigue and frustration. I wanted to just get right up and walk but had lost the ability to do so. Simple tasks such as (pardon my candor) going to the bathroom in the middle of the night, taking a shower or going up and down stairs became major problems.
I can’t remember what inspired me to do this, but on day 1 I decided to tape a note to my computer monitor at home that simply had on it: “Be Positive.” I understood that if I wanted to get through the rough times that I would need to accept that I was injured and I needed a way to help me, on the most simplest of levels, to deal with failure. I had screwed up and needed to let that go and move on.
Yes, I’m not proud to admit that I kept trying to go upstairs with crutches (stupid of me!) and nearly fell once, but eventually the thought sunk into my thick skull: I needed to let go. I needed to accept that I had a serious injury and would need help. That did not mean that I would abuse my being hurt and wouldn’t help myself when I could, but it did mean that I needed to accept how my body now worked.
Do the Work
After I came to terms with my injury (and trust me, this didn’t happen overnight), I didn’t waste time complaining or second guessing what had happened in the past. I made a mistake, hurt myself and that was that. Now I needed to be smart and do the work to heal myself.
This meant I needed to learn what I could and could not do. For example, making a sandwich for myself was easy, but carrying it over to a table with a drink, while on crutches, wasn’t something I could do. To solve my problem, I got a backpack and wore it around the house and used a cup with a lid that wouldn’t spill if dropped.
Amount of time you'll want to do the work.
When I needed help, I would ask, but I wanted to learn how to go up the stairs myself (on my butt, pulling myself up one step at a time) or how to take a shower and keep my leg dry (I bought a shower stool and I wore a plastic cover with a rubber seal on my leg). The point is that I didn’t give up. I accepted that I had a problem, but then learned how I could best help myself and did the work that eventually let me to figure out how to get a knee crutch so that I could kneel onto a crutch and then have both hands free instead of using crutches all the time.
I took the opportunity to learn from my experience and simply shifted my expectations. Yes, gone were my days of running so I used the time to write more.
Don’t Push Yourself
The problem though that I came up against was the reality that I had seriously injured my leg. Walking around on a knee crutch going food shopping could be done, but it also tired me out. I worked a full day, came home and tried to do the wash, clean dishes, and all the normal things that I was used to do.
I have an extremely clear memory of cleaning my bathroom floor by lying on my stomach and wiping the floor with a sponge in my hand. I could do certain things, but when I tried to push myself too hard, I nearly hurt myself more. Instead of sitting on my butt and dragging myself up the stairs, I tried to take the “easy way” and use my crutches to walk up the stairs. I nearly fell backward and would have severely hurt my head as well as my back.
The harder I tried to push through to achieve a victory against my injury, the closer I came to hurting myself again. It’s a fine line between being self-sufficient and stupid. But after two weeks, I accepted people holding the door for me or my then 10 year old son offering to carry a basket of clothes up to my room. (And have you ever tried to hang up shirts and pants while on crutches? It’s really challenging. Thankfully, the knee crutch helped alleviate many of those issues for me.)
For people who have chronic illnesses and will have deteriorating conditions over time, they could speak more to this than I. My injury only took 6 months to recover. Yet I did learn the importance of patience. When a setback comes (and they did with how long it took my leg to heal), I could have given up or lashed out, but I took to focusing on acceptance and embracing patience.
I knew that I had only a matter of months until I could return to walking again. One of the secrets to living a healthy life was simply being patient and not giving up. Some of you have much heavier burdens to bear and are fighting diseases and challenges that you will not recover. I can only say that I am humbled by your strength.
Patience did work for me because I needed to continually assess what I could (and could not) do each day.
Make Small Changes
Once I had figured out the extent of my injuries, the parameters around it (couldn’t put any weight on my left leg for 6 weeks), I decided to focus on the small things that would make my life easier:
- Visualize my success
- Embrace flexibility
- Accept help
When I had purchased my knee crutch, I needed to learn how to do use it. I watched YouTube videos and then, slowly, learned to walk upstairs with it and then down (down was always harder for me because I felt like I was going to fall face forward).
I took baby steps (pun intended) in learning how to use crutches and then the knee crutch. I would try, and when I failed, I’d ease off for the day. But I knew that if I could not visualize succeeding that I would only be setting myself up for depression and failure.
One time I was coming into the house with my crutches and there was some spilled water in the kitchen. I didn’t know that and wiped out on the floor. I fell forward and caught myself with my hands, but hit the floor hard. Thankfully, I did not hurt my leg and only acquired a few bruises (and a bruised ego), but I pulled myself back up and went on with my day. The small change I made in my head was to simply accept that I had fallen, picked myself up, dusted myself off and kept going. I allowed myself to feel hurt and took a few minutes to process the fall, but then I got back up.
Treat Your Body Well
In growing up, I went to a Catholic school and there’s a phrase that was drilled into my head by the priests and nuns:
I was taught that the holy spirit is within us and that since God created our bodies then we needed to respect the vessels we were given. No matter if you believe that or not, I think back to that and have taken a stance on what to put in my body, how to treat myself and take care of my physical form. The body that I have is all that I am in this physical world. Some things are outside of my control while others are not.
For example, I am tall. Because of how tall I am, when I run, my back hurts if I do not stretch properly. So I make certain that I take care of myself and ensure that I am doing the work I need in order to keep my body healthy.
Over the years, I’ve made certain that I don’t take drugs, abuse alcohol, smoke or anything that could adversely hurt me. I’m not a vegetarian, but my doctor has suggested, and I’ve agreed, to be on the Mediterranean diet. To break it down, I eat lots of veggies, chicken and fish. I rarely eat red meat. Will these sorts of things make a difference in my long term health? I hope so, but I won’t know for sure.
Still, I am happy that I have made certain decisions: I never got into smoking (though I spent many, many years around second-hand smoke because everyone I knew smoked) and I try hard to make good decisions now. I don’t eat at fast food places, bring salads with chicken for lunch, but I do have pizza on Fridays so I’m not perfect in following this, but try really hard to make a difference overall.
I have found that when I eat well (a really good salad and some protein) then I feel better. I work hard on exercising several times a week (I put in about 160 - 200 minutes of running a week, depending on where I am in my training cycle for a half-marathon) because I decided right before I turned 40 that I wasn’t doing anything but sitting in a chair all day and working.
I wanted to feel better so I made time to start slow and began running.
Recently, I wrote an article for exercising tips for seniors and suggested chair yoga. For me, it doesn’t have to be a monumental change, but I wanted to make certain that I treat my body well. Just like I want to keep my car running well, I want to make certain that the mechanical parts I have keep functioning. Without good rest, eating well and exercise, I don’t know how that would work for me. Sooner or later, my body will start to break down. I hope and pray that by treating myself well now that it’ll help me in the long run.
Heal the Heart, Body and Soul
No matter if I’m dealing with my physical health or not, ensuring that my psychological and emotional well-being are also being taken care of is critical. I could exercise until I have body of an athlete, but if I’m not taking care of myself both psychologically and emotionally, then trouble could be afoot. There are warning signs that my body gives me that, if I ignore them, well, then I’m going to be setting myself up for a fall.
I learned a long time ago from a counselor:
- Eat when you’re hungry
- Sleep when you’re tired
- Express how you feel (sad, happy, angry, frustrated, etc.)
When I push myself too hard in the physical realm (working too long, not getting sleep or eating regularly), then my emotional and psychological states suffer. None of us are robots who can just keep moving onward without rest and relaxation. And what I find to be relaxing, probably won’t work for everyone.
I like to read, find some quiet time, clean around the house and drive alone listening to loud music. A simple walk on the beach, listening to the sound of the crashing waves, will do wonders to help me recharge.
When recovering from my ruptured Achilles (it took a lot longer than I had expected), I struggled through frustration, self-doubt as well as physical pain and fatigue. Having the physical, psychological and emotional issues all hit me at the same tired was difficult to overcome. But I had a plan. I took care of my body and let it heal, I focused on visualization techniques and meditation to help me calm my frustration and I talked with friends to help offload my feelings about how I felt.
Maybe some of these same techniques will help you, but if they don’t, experiment and be mindful of what’s not just going on with your body, but also with your heart and mind as well.
Ron Vitale is the author of the fantasy series Cinderella's Secret Diaries who believes in living a healthy life filled with introspection, fun, friends and sharing. When not writing, he's often writing but not usually about himself in third person because that just seems odd. Be sure to check his other blog posts out or books.