At the beginning of April, Noel and I dropped the kids off at school and went for what was supposed to be a quick trail run. As we ran, I got caught up in doing one of my favorite things with one of my favorite people and didn’t pay as much attention to my feet as I should have. About a mile in, I tripped and fell to the ground. I screamed out and Noel who was in the lead, stopped and turned around. For a minute I just sat there in shock trying to figure out what happened. Noel asked if I was okay and I said, “Yes, just give me a minute” and immediately burst into tears. After I’d collected myself Noel helped me limp home. It was of course a day where I had made more than one commitment I needed to keep so I limped around with my swollen cankle. People that knew me well asked what had happened, but there were several people who didn’t even seem to register my gimpy status. Over the next few days, the swelling went down, but a dark expansive bruise appeared. I’ve sprained my ankle before and knew the drill. Ice, elevate, give it time. I figured I’d be back on the trail in just over a week, but I wasn’t. A week later I chaperoned Cooper’s field trip to the zoo. Walking around the zoo for a few hours left my ankle sore and swollen and I decided it was time to swallow my pride and go to the doctor.
It was ruled a high ankle sprain. They’re more rare than regular ankle sprains and can be more difficult to heal than a fracture. I would have to restrict my activities for at least 4-6 weeks – nothing that involved running, kicking, jumping, or twisting. No Running, no aerobics, no swimming, no dancing, and even no high heels. As a cardio addict, I felt broken down and frumpy, but most people weren’t even aware there was anything amiss with me. The limp was gone the bruise was fading, but I was still very much injured.
Even though this was only temporary, it was hard to say goodbye to something I loved. Cardio, especially running, keeps me sane. I felt depressed and limited and at first I didn’t do much. I realized this wasn’t healthy for any part of me and with some urging from Noel I began to create new workout plans around things I could do. Swimming is something I’ve added to my workout repertoire in the last year and I decided it was something I could hold onto with modification. I’ve never been the fastest swimmer at the pool, but now that I was only doing pulls (only arms, no legs) I was being beat out by the small number of elderly persons I formerly could compete with. One morning, I found myself sharing the pool with what Noel and I have deemed the “swim team.” They all have abs and swim miles without needing to stop and catch their breath. On a good day they make me look like a cat that got thrown in the deep end. Their mermaid fins carried them back and forth across the pool and I slowly clawed my way through the water. I wanted to shout, “I showed up today and I think that’s a pretty big deal!”* When you aren’t at your fastest or your strongest sometimes showing up and trying is the best you can do. I explored other things I could do to stay fit as well. I put miles on my road bike and took up rowing which has been a balm to my cardio loving heart. I also did my rehabilitative exercises to strengthen the injured ligaments and tried my hardest to be patient with my healing process.
I am just now trying to get back to my normal exercise routine. As hard as taking it easy was, this is almost harder. My first run was 1.2 miles. The exercise felt foreign to my injured ankle and I moved along with the slow cadence of a peg-leg. Something that had once felt so free was awkward and difficult. It frustratingly didn’t bring the same joy it previously had, but I knew I needed to push on in order to get back to that state. Still, the pushing phase is an incredibly delicate balance. Push too far and you risk reaggrivating the injury and setting yourself back even more. As I’ve begun to feel stronger and more normal, there are still things that trip me up now and again. If I pivot too quickly or run too hard, the weakness is there giving me a glimpse back at the pain.
Grieving has been a lot like recovering from a high ankle sprain.** Initially there was the shock followed by the deep pain. At first everyone noticed and sympathized, but as the bruise faded and the limp disappeared people forgot even though I really wasn’t any less injured. Grief has been surprising in the ways it limited me. So many times I wanted to shout, “I showed up today and that’s a pretty big deal!” when I’d drop my kids off late to school, teach a mediocre Sunday school lesson, or show up to a party, but withdraw in the corner. As I’ve worked through my grief and sorted through the trauma, I’ve begun to feel stronger and more normal, but there are still things that trip me up now and again. Grandparents day at school, coming across Glenna’s chair in the storage room, or a straggling bill addressed to her in the mail. The pain isn’t as intense as it once was, but it’s still there just beneath the surface.
I don’t blame other people for forgetting or being clueless. I previously had no idea how difficult and long lasting something like this could be. I’m definitely guilty of forgetting someone’s grief or figuring they’d moved on or assuming they just didn’t want to talk about it.
I recently was listening to a talk by Glennon Doyle Melton titled “First the Pain, then the Rising.” In it, she referred to grief as “love’s souvenir.” “It’s our proof that we once loved. Grief is the receipt we wave in the air that says to the world: Look! Love was once mine. I love well. Here is my proof that I paid the price.” As much as I have wished Glenna’s death hadn’t affected me so much, it has indeed taught me so much about love. Her love, my love, the love of my friends and family, the love of my Savior. Glennon also said, “Grief and pain are like joy and peace; they are not things we should try to snatch from each other. They’re sacred. they are part of each person’s journey.” In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have chosen the sprained ankle and I definitely wouldn’t have chosen caring for my mother-in-law as cancer overtook her, but I’m trying my best to own the experience. I’m trying to rehabilitate and be stronger than I was before. I’m trying to make myself more resilient to setbacks. Most importantly, as I find my footing again, I’m trying to be more perceptive about the limps and bruises of others so I can offer them my love and support as they follow their own rehabilitative process. Ankles heal and so do hearts; we just need to be patient.
*I should note that the “swim team” is made up of incredibly nice people. They don’t hog lanes (I’ve seen them fit 21 people in 3 lanes) and they’ve even invited Noel and I to join them despite our clear lack of talent.
** Noel says breaking an arm is also a great analogy, but he’s not writing the post I am.