Finding Peace in a Serious Injury. ~ Maya Richards

Via elephant journal
on Feb 10, 2012
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A first-hand account of suffering from and learning how to come to terms with major setbacks.

No human body is built perfectly, and if you’re an exercise nut, you’re bound to face some sort of injury eventually. And if you’re not into exercising, you’re probably more prone to injury than the healthy people, so all of you, listen up. I have a story to tell.

My aha moment came during my training for my first marathon. I was smack dab in the middle of a 14-mile early-September run when I felt a sharp pain in the left side of my lower back that caused me to slow down and eventually come to a screeching halt. When I tried to walk again to start my long drag home, I found that I couldn’t put any weight on my left leg because the pain had suddenly become excruciating.

So there I was, stuck in the middle of a heavily wooded area that I wasn’t familiar with on a rainy morning, terrified by my eerie surroundings, nearly 7 miles away from home and barely able to walk. I had to call my (thankfully helpful) boyfriend to come and pick me up, and I immediately put in a phone call to my doctor.

Two weeks later, after X-Rays, MRIs and several trips to various doctors, the diagnosis was a sprain in my lower back, the facet joint to be exact, which was causing my muscles to spasm and pull my spine out of alignment. The sprain was pressing on my sciatic nerve, and that compression was sending shooting pains diagonally down the front of my left thigh. Yeah, not fun.

The worst news of all: I wouldn’t be running in the marathon I had spent all spring and summer training so diligently for, and on top of it, I had to miss a significant amount of work time because of the pain.

At one point in my life, I was an elite athlete. I swam competitively for 16 years and took a full scholarship to a highly competitive Division I school for swimming in one of the biggest collegiate conferences in the country. I beat my body to death growing up, and did so nearly injury-free. I always had the best athletic trainers on-hand to turn to when I suffered the slightest ache or pain or tickle in my throat, and now suddenly, there was no one around to help me. I felt lost with a serious injury.

I got so frustrated with myself for getting injured on that run that I stopped exercising altogether. After about a month more of pain, I knew that the problem wasn’t going to get better anytime soon, so I lost the motivation to continue eating well and I stopped dieting. I completely let myself go and fell into a major funk. I had nothing to get out of bed and look forward to going out and doing anymore. My run every day was my escape, my joy, and suddenly it was taken away from me.

I spent the next several months moping around and complaining about my back pain instead of trying to do something about it. (I’m 24 years old and at times I sounded like a 95-year-old woman ‑ oohhh my back! My back!) Long story short, it came to a point where I knew I had to come to terms with my injury and face it head on. I couldn’t keep letting my health and fitness slip away like that. And besides, I was really starting to annoy my friends, family and boyfriend with my constant negativity, and that’s just not who I am.

It wasn’t until just recently that I began setting goals for myself again. New Year’s resolutions, actually. I did an extensive amount of research on dealing with my injury and started considering what else I could do to help myself get back on track. I’m an athlete at heart. Not being physically active sinks me into a depression that I can’t dig out from without gearing back up and getting moving.

I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but a lot of overcoming a major injury is psychological.

I re-trained myself to set more realistic goals. Instead of running a marathon, I just wanted to do some kind of physical activity again, anything. Visualization is big, too. I started seeing myself injury-free come summertime. I learned how to breathe correctly. I learned how to relax and accept my injury.

My next step was to finally get moving again. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to immediately hit the streets and start running again. I had to find something else that worked for me. I did some research on yoga practices, only to find that while it works well for many people, it’s not an appropriate fix for people with certain injuries, like mine. I also discovered that I would need to strengthen my core to counteract the muscle spasms going on in my lower back, and I would need to correct my posture to regain proper alignment in my spine.

Done and done. I replaced my desk chair at work with an exercise ball that forces me to sit up straight and tall while keeping my core engaged while I work at my desk. I also researched some exercise options and found that my best bet would be  a workout program that utilizes my own body weight that I could do easily from home, in case I ever get hurt again.

Photo: Jesse Bezz

Bringing peace and balance back into my life was the next challenge. I’ve done yoga before, and I do enjoy it and like how it makes me feel. I felt that it wouldn’t be right for me with this injury. I had to re-learn how to find peace in the little things in my every-day life, like going to get a coffee after work, or taking a bubble bath with some candles or lying in bed with a book. When I feel discouraged or overwhelmed by my injury, I practice my deep breathing techniques.

Nearly five months after my injury, I am happy to report that I am starting to see small improvements. Yes, small. When you’re used to training at maximum effort for four or five hours a day like I am, it’s hard to step back and realize that you might only be able to do 20 minutes or a half hour to start. I don’t like set-backs. I like challenges. I’ve learned to look at this as just another challenge, and I encourage anyone who ever suffers from an injury to do the same.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to run again, especially that marathon that I was so hoping to have under my belt before I turned 25. But I’m spending more time with my family and friends. I’m not snapping at my boyfriend anymore out of frustration. I’m doing things that I enjoy again. And what I have learned is that an injury does not literally have to cripple you. An injury may try to stop you, and if you’re not prepared, you will let it cripple you. That’s what happened to me, and that’s what I can safely say will never happen again.

I have come to peace with my injury, and accepted it as a part of who I am and something that I may need to deal with for the rest of my life. And I know how to make it improve – I just don’t know if it will ever disappear completely. But instead of being discouraged by that, I accept it. This injury threw a wrench in my entire life it seemed, and I am beating it now. I am bigger and stronger than the pain. And I know that in my own way, I will beat it.

 Edited by Kate Bartolotta



Maya Richards is a writer and workoutaholic. She loves long runs on the beach and holding hands on the boardwalk (no, really, though). She works closely with The Life Divine, a Martha’s Vineyard-based retailer who sells inspired jewelry and gifts that follow in yoga practices and beliefs.


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7 Responses to “Finding Peace in a Serious Injury. ~ Maya Richards”

  1. Anna West says:

    Spoken like a 24 year old." but a lot of overcoming a major injury is psychological," NOT. Many many injuries can not be overcome, but accepted like you are doing. The fight, fight, that friends and family will pester you to do can not only be harmful but prevents you from embracing the new you. Even using the term "major" can be problematic because what many people need to look at is: permanent? Can it heal? Surgery? Pain medications? How to exercise the rest of you? and how to be useful to society. My disease strikes young people and they all start by saying the same thing…Marathon runner, peak athlete, bla, bla, bla. Sadly those people have made their body their everything and since their ego is so attached to what they perceive is their right, what they earned by being in charge of their health their minds are preventing them from moving forward.. Yes, you can exercise, eat right–but you are never, ever, totally "in charge" of your health. Remembering that will make you a better person. Hoping you heal completely but carry a bit of this ego crusher in your soul.

  2. cathywaveyoga says:

    This article came at a perfect time for me. My situation is different re pain, difficulty and training BUT it is the same in that I am human and struggling wiht thoughts, feelings and courses of action to recover from an injury. Publishing blogs opening up ones inner world and hopes helps others to understand themselves and others better.
    I disagree a bit with the comment that much of overcoming an injury is psychological, because I know there are many choices and injuries which may require medical care and thoughtful targetted physical therapy. HOWEVER, in this writer's life and mind overcoming this injury and moving on.. making the decisions to be at peace with much less physical activity and to persist is psychological. And a major triumph. Thank you for this reminder. I truly wish you good healing. I am in my 60s and as I rest a shoulder I reread some old journals.. as an athlete from time to time I had injuries, felt more emotional stress at loss of being active and managed to find new ways to heal and return to athletic being.No doubt in mind that you will also.

  3. Maya says:

    Finding new ways to heal is exactly what I'm in the process of right now. Trust me, I've been to my fair share of doctors, chiropractors and physical therapists, and at one point convinced myself that they weren't doing anything to help me. But they really were – I was just frustrated at the slow healing time. I was injured in September and am still recovering. That's the psychological speed bump for me.

    I'm glad that you appreciate reading others' accounts of dealing with injuries – I feel the same way. You read one story about one person who overcame something so significant that you can't even believe it and you feel inspired and uplifted to keep pushing through whatever it is you're dealing with. There are always people out there who have it worse, and I definitely understand that, and I am inspired by those people. Persistence IS the psychological part – it's the most difficult first step. Once you're ready to persist, you can overcome anything.

    I wish you all the best with your shoulder – I know that those injuries can be crippling. Stay positive and keep doing what you can to overcome it and you will!

  4. Kate says:

    I have a huge issue with this essay. I know three people who were able bodied and became quadriplegics in their twenties – car and diving accidents. I know people who have lived with chronic pain for decades, rather than months. I understand that your athleticism was extremely important to you, but you were able to enjoy that talent/skill for many years, and get a free ride to college for it, to boot. You are college educated, can still walk and have a whole life ahead of you. You are much better off than so many people – have a grateful heart!

  5. Maya says:

    Kate – I know how lucky I am, and I never take the fact that I have a whole, (hopefully) long life in front of me for granted. I sincerely feel for everyone who has a worse injury than I or who has been permanently disabled from a major accident. I cannot stress that enough – I know how much worse it could be and how much worse it is for many other people. I am so beyond grateful that I am still able to communicate and walk and live and love and all of those things.

    This is simply my personal account of how I have been dealing with an injury that I struggled with – and this is a yoga site, so I know that some people here might be able to get something out of my story. I'm speaking to other athletes, because I know so many who have dealt with similar difficulties.

    There are so many injuries that cannot be recovered from – and they may literally destroy peoples' lives. But for anyone who has ever been injured, no matter how serious it may be, it FEELS for a moment like nothing could be worse. You have to change everything you do – and it can be a scary experience. Of course many people, myself included, have the luxury of knowing that they can recover from whatever injury they are suffering from with the right mental focus and get back to maybe a new way of life. And for those who do not have that luxury of knowing it will get better, I truly pray for them to somehow find peace.

    My aunt has had chronic pain all over her body (neck, knees, hips, back) for as long as I can remember as a result of a car accident way back. I know that I am lucky that hasn't happened to me. And I apologize if I have offended you and the people you know in any way, but my article was written in hopes of speaking to those who CAN recover from an injury and get back to a normal way of life but might not know how. That's all.

  6. […] Sciatica is nasty. Back, hip and leg pain made most postures uncomfortable. I had to walk upstairs like a toddler, putting my “good” leg on a step and then dragging the “bad” one up to join it. Articles I read said that sciatica would soon “go away by itself.” […]