For those of you stumbling on this page first, I'll recap: I tore my Achilles and am in a cast for 6 weeks. Week two is done. I've been thinking about what to write this week and I want to be open and honest. There's a catch phrase that I've used throughout the years when I was going through a rough time: "Life sucks and then you die." It's my attempt at a joke and allowing the negativity within me to get out. At the core, that's what I want to focus on in this post: Negativity and how to overcome it.
This was a long and difficult week. I'm in a cast for four more weeks and the experience that I'm sharing is about how I have felt. Yet there's some key points here that I believe can transcend my pitiful little problems. I'm in a cast for a good while yet and then will have go to physical therapy to learn how to walk/run again. Other people are dealing with cancer, their children are sick and a whole host of other issues. In the grand scheme of things, Ygritte would look at me, shake her head and say, "You know nothing Jon Snow." I get that. I totally do.
With that being said, it's still been a rough week. I need to say that and own it. I think what's sunk in is that I have a temporary disability. I am hindered and unable to do activities as I normally would. I cannot easily do my wash, take a shower, cook, go to the bathroom in the middle of the night or carry things. I'm in a cast and am either using crutches because I cannot put any weight on my left foot or I'm using the iWalk (more on that in a bit). Unable to do the activities that I normally could means that either: A) I don't do them at all and let them go. B) Ask for help.
I really hate asking for help. I like being self-sufficient but that's not possible in some circumstances. The challenges of getting around (up and down stairs), going to work, getting to meetings, etc. is wearing on me. It's eating away at my self-confidence and dealing with fatigue in trying to do things that take me three times as long is a pain in the ass. Putting my clothes away on crutches sucks.
But I did mention that I'm using the iWalk 2.0. It's basically a knee crutch. I kneel in it, strap it on my leg and on my way I go. What's surprised me is the amount of people who feel free to comment on me as I'm walking by: "Hey, that looks painful." Or: "I've never seen that before. You look like a pirate now." All sorts of people come up and make comments as though I'm their best friend. I've thickened my shell up and explain what it is and lumber on my way.
Yet having to keep dealing with people who come up to me (as I'm slow as hell trying to get along) does get draining. I'm having a hard enough of a time just trying to get to my car. I'm not really in the mood for a conversation.
The negativity of this week and of my injury has coalesced itself into a little ball and it's been a challenge to shake that negativity. I have my note in front of my computer at home:
I will be okay. One day at a time. Be positive!
Yes, it does help and along with the Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation bracelet I'm wearing to remind me that kids are dying of cancer and they're still moving forward puts my situation in perspective. But the negativity is still in my head and I'm tired, beat and weak.
I've made a conscious choice to work on accepting the negativity and dealing with it. I could allow my inner voice to win and agree that life sucks and then you die or I can choose to be positive. To be honest, I've walked down both paths this week. There have been moments in which I'm trying to get to bed at night and look at the stairs as I sit on them and drag myself up them and just want to quit. To curl up on the ground and just throw in the towel and wake up in the morning and say, "Fuck it."
But that's not the whole story. I am working on getting my schedule back. In the morning I am alternating the days between writing and exercise. Sunday I will exercise, Monday write, Tuesday exercise, Wednesday write, Thursday exercise, Friday and Saturday write. I want to keep moving forward because I know that sitting back and allowing myself to have a pity party isn't going to solve my problems. Instead I want to focus on options that will help in moving forward. And that's what I want to share here.
I have a three step plan that has helped me move on. Ready?
Step 1: Admit How I Feel and Share those Feelings
Almost 20 years ago I wrote my thesis for my MA in English Lit on a Jungian interpretation of the works of Margaret Atwood and Alice Walker. I showed how the main characters in their books overcame difficult situations (rape, abuse, major family dysfunction dynamics) by telling their story, admitting their feelings and letting go. Here, let me try it now.
I feel helpless. I'm frustrated and tired of being on crutches and the iWalk. I want to be able to do things with my kids that I can't. I'm trying to be patient, but it's hard.
There, I did it. The key in this step, that I have learned, is to set a limited amount of time for this phase. If we get caught in The Loop (coined by Karen McGrane in here fantastically awesome talk "I suck! And so Do You!"), then we'll spin our circles and never get anywhere. When I was in therapy many years ago, my counselor told me about broken tapes in our head. There's a song playing and it keeps getting stuck on certain parts. If we allow ourselves to fixate on that part and never move past it, we'll be stuck ourselves. To overcome that, he recommended that I gave myself permission to allow the negative thoughts to roam free in my head. Start at 10 minutes, then focus on stopping them. Then maybe later in the day 5 minutes, then stop them, etc. Overtime I'd be learning to exercise my willpower and would learn to overcome the negative thoughts.
And for me, that's the key. My wife and I often get into discussions about this: She tells me that I'm often negative and I would argue realistic. The outside world sees me as positive, someone who doesn't give up and keeps striving to move on and do better. But my wife gets to hear my negativity, partly because I trust her and need to release the negative energy, embrace my situation and then move on. Sometimes it takes me longer to let something go. Broken relationships took me years to get over when I was in my 20s. The scars marked my soul and hurt me deeply. I trusted people with my most intimate self and was hurt and betrayed by them. Yet now I look back and realize that I was able to let that go. And a new thought has replaced it: Those relationships didn't last for whatever reasons (I wasn't mature enough or they weren't able to commit, whatever), but I can now say to myself: It wasn't worth investing my precious time with them. They didn't want to spend time with me and it wasn't worth my energy investment. I can choose where I spend my time and share my love. I'm not the victim.
And that's the key point: I am not a victim in being temporarily disabled to bring this back to my current situation. I had an accident, it happened, and it sucks, but what am I going to do about it? Fixate on it and complain all the time? Give up? No. That's not the best way forward.
Step 2: Get off My Ass
Once I admit how I feel and then let it go, now it's time for a plan. I already mentioned it early: I set a schedule for writing and exercising. There's a couple of reasons for why I did this. I've promised myself that I was going to start my next novel on coming back from vacation (6/30). I didn't know at the time that I would be in pain, a swollen foot and on crutches. I had a couple of options here. I could have blown the writing off and settled down when I had more time, felt better or when the green fairy would shine her light on me to awaken my muse. All of those excuses would be bullshit so I started writing. I was trying to write everyday, but found it hard to have time to plot, come up with ideas, and to juggle other things in my life. I started working exercise into my schedule because I wanted to work on strengthening my arms, stretching my back and to work on my core. Doing this in a cast is hard. Talk with your doctor about what you can and cannot do. Be sensible.
I'll be honest in that when I started my next book there have been days in which the writing was good and several that it just sucks. The scenes are flat, I don't know what the characters are saying or doing and I'm just going through the motions. But I'm not giving up. I'm writing through the hard parts and taking the off days to focus on exercise so that I can have time to not think about the writing. This off and on schedule helped me write the Cinderella's Secret Diaries series and I'm hoping it'll help me get through this next book (a science fiction one!).
Getting off my ass means that I stop having a pity party for myself and to focus on activities that I can do. I want to help around the house. I have cleaned bathrooms with my iWalk 2.0, gone food shopping by myself (just did that this morning in between writing this blog post and you never noticed I went away for a bit) and took the kids to several stores to go shopping. I will admit that none of this is easy on the iWalk. Yes, I can do it, but I have to be careful that I don't misstep and fall and that I'm balancing okay. I can't go fast, and if I'm on the knee crutch too long, my left knee starts to bother me a bit.
But the other option is that I get nothing done and sit around like a lump and I don't want to do that. I want to help myself and be helpful for my family. There are no house elves who come and clean up the house. Yes, I can't do everything that I would like and there's work, kids in camp, dinner, cleaning, wash, dishes to put away, trash to take out, watering the garden, mowing the lawn and lots of other domestic chores that have become the bane of my existence. But I try and can do some of the chores. My wife is doing some, my kids and our morning and afternoon babysitters. Work is getting done.
But here's a story: Last night my son was tired. It was near 9 pm at night and he wanted to go to bed. My wife asked him to go downstairs and transfer the wash into the dryer. As resistance and fighting was taking place, I walked downstairs on my iWalk and slipped the last two steps, landing, somewhat, on my hurt ankle. I've read blog posts from others who remember when they had fallen and landed on their bad leg. Well, the first time for me was last night. I should have just waited for my son and wife to work things out between them. I should have not gone down the stairs. Now I'm going through the process of beating myself and getting back into that negative loop. I can only let that go. I fucked up. I made a mistake. I tried to be superman on a crutch and could have gotten hurt really bad. Thankfully, I didn't (the leg feels okay today).
There's a balance between getting off my ass and trying to be a super hero. That's a hard line for me to balance because there's so much that I'm used to being able to do. Knowing when I'm tired and need to rest and being careful so I don't fall, can be a challenge. Something that seems simple, can be really difficult (walking to my car because the sidewalk is on a slight slant). The inner voice inside my head sometimes says: "Stay in bed, rest up, it'll be helpful for you." But at other times I hear, "Get up, do some writing, you're not helpless." Finding the balance between the two is an ongoing challenge for me. It's not easy. Some days I fail. Some days I do okay.
Step 3: Let Go and Be
I can't write a novel in a day. I can't magically jump up and have a healed leg. I can't solve all the world's problems. But I can learn to let go, ask for help, learn what I need to learn during this time and to share what I learn with others. This injury that I'm healing from is a bump in the road. A small bump but one that I'm learning a lot about myself and about those around me. I'm a writer. I can take this time and use it to feed my creativity and to also look around and share with others what I'm going through. Maybe someone might read this one day and be helped in a small way. Maybe not. I don't have a manual for living life. I screw up, make mistakes and all the rest just like everyone else, but I have found that these three steps help me get from "Life sucks and we all die" to a different place.
A place in which I can look at my life and see that I'm on a journey. Emerson wrote that "Life is a journey, not the destination" and that's so true. I don't know how long my journey will last and what I'll live through, but I can take stock of where I am now, today, and be thankful for that. I am writing a book, my fifth, and I look at that and am happy. I wanted to be a writer since I was around 8 years old. I'm 43 now. It's taken me a long time to get to where I am, to fall and pick myself up off the ground so that I can keep moving onward.
I know what my doctor has told me the date is for my cast coming off, but I'm not counting on that. I know that others who have had this sort of injury had to be in casts longer. I'm not looking at the finish line because I don't know what it all entails (how long will physical therapy take)? Five to six months before I can run again is a good amount of time. What am I going to do for exercise and to deal with the frustration I will encounter along the way? I don't know yet. What I do know is that I have family and friends who have offered to help me.
What I've learned during week two of the cast is that the biggest battle to be won is not the physical one, but the one inside my head. Negativity can pull you down. It can eat you up inside and crush the light out of your life. That's not good. I have chosen to fight against that and to use the skills I've learned from counseling many, many years ago to help me out today. I don't know what next week will bring. Honestly, I don't even know what the rest of this weekend will bring. But that's okay.
We'll see what happens next week, but I'm doing my best to go with the flow. My biggest challenge is finding the balance between giving up and working too hard. I need to work on that. Sometimes it's better to put my leg up and just read rather than to push myself too hard an exercise. I need to work on listening to my inner voice and to give myself what I need so that I can heal and get better.
I wanted to share all of this because I'm hoping that maybe someone who has a similar injury might stumble upon this post and it'll help her. The journey that I'm on isn't really about me, but it's what I can share with others. Yesterday a colleague at work sent me a book by Karen McGrane. I recognized her name and remembered that I follow her on Twitter. I googled her and found her "I suck! And so do you!" talk and it was the right amount of kick in the butt that I needed. I thanked her for the honesty in her post and she wrote back:
"Hey, it makes me really happy to hear you got something from it. Thanks for letting me know!"
And that's the point of all of this: We can share and help each other. I like that. I like that a lot. Now I'm off and we'll see what week three has in store for me. Should be interesting. It always is.
Ron Vitale is the author of the Cinderella's Secret Diaries series who hopes that his own children will find their own happily ever after.