Two weeks before a move across the country, I sprained my ankle.
This wasn’t just a little twist with a couple days of limping. This was a full on sprain complete with screaming on the ground, baseball sized swelling, bruises up the side of my leg and crutches for weeks.
I dealt with a range of emotions including stress, frustration, humor, fear, gratitude and self-pity. I learned a lot of things from such a relatively minor incident.
My joints aren’t made of titanium, it turns out. Who knew?
Here are a few examples of what I realized we can learn from physical injury.
1. Self care—We have to take care of our bodies.
Our bodies are intricate, complicated, beautiful systems with an intelligence of their own. We don’t need to think about breathing, walking, seeing or pooping. It happens all on its own. Our bodies do this for us, and with its innate knowledge, we are already prepped for success.
All we have to do is take care of them. This means being aware in our bodies (for example, not walking down cement stairs in the black of night while thinking about some trivial nonsense. Yes, that’s what happened, but if anyone asks…I was fighting dragons.)
Be mindful with your steps, and allow your eyes and feet to graciously connect and work together as you move through your day. Keep your bones and joints healthy. Listen to what your body needs in the moment, whether it’s rest, cardio, yoga or a little self-massage.
2. Gratitude—Most of us are damn lucky.
The vast majority of those reading this no doubt have two working eyes, arms, legs and feet. We can move around unhindered. We can dance, run and play. We can ride bikes. We can go hiking.
Having only one working foot has given me incredible gratitude for usually having two. Not only this, but there are plenty of people who are in physical pain all the time, every single day. I know, because I’m friends with some of them.
Experiencing the extreme initial pain of the sprain reminded me that I’m a person who sails through most of my life with limited physical pain. This is an honor and a blessing.
3. Vulnerability—It’s okay to ask for help.
This took a little getting used to. At first, the favors were minor, like asking someone I lived with to bring me a glass of water or something to eat. Now that I’ve moved to a new city, I find that my favors have gotten bigger—such as asking for rides to and from job interviews.
I’ve had to ask people I barely know and It’s difficult sometimes to not let thoughts of pride or embarrassment get in the way.
For me, the biggest obstacle is feeling like I’m a burden. I’ve quickly realized that people generally want and like to help. It’s in our nature as humans to help each other and show a little kindness. This becomes apparent not just with people in my direct life, but also random folks on the street. Any door I attempt to enter is opened for me.
Any drink I order at a coffee shop is delivered to my table. I don’t ask for this—people just do it. It also helps me to remember that just because someone doesn’t look injured on the outside, they may be on the inside. Everyone can use a little kind compassion.
4. Stillness—It’s time to slow down.
After an injury, one can get pretty restless. I know I have.
It can be frustrating when the mind and body don’t agree on the same level of activity. There are a lot less things I can do. There are a lot less places I can go. Everything takes a really, really long time.
This is a great opportunity to slow down and give into the restlessness. This time can be used for activities that we enjoy but don’t always give ourselves time for, such as writing, painting or catching up on a good book.
It’s also a great time to practice mindfulness, and becoming aware of every move we make.
If going to the kitchen to prepare a cup of coffee takes me 20 minutes, I might as well enjoy every one of those minutes in full awareness. I can tune into the sound of the beans grinding, the smell of the deep aromatic earthiness and the warmth of the cup in my hands.
5. Perspective—It can always get worse—and sometimes—it does.
Often in stressful situations, it’s easy to trick ourselves into thinking that it couldn’t be any worse.
It’s easy to think that we have climbed to the peak of the dung mountain.
The couple of weeks prior to falling down the sta—er I mean, fighting the dragons—my mind was filled with anxiety and dread about moving across the country and taking my cat with me. I had a bad experience doing this in the past and it sounded like the least fun thing I could possibly think of. Albeit, this is a pretty minor situation, but for me, it was cringe-inducing to think about.
A week before leaving, I got to hear my ankle pop like a kid jumping on bubble wrap. Now, not only was I about to fly myself, a giant suitcase and a maniac feline across the country with me, but I was on crutches as well.
If you think it can’t get worse, it probably can. This isn’t meant to be a downer, but a reminder that the situation you are in will be okay. You can get through it, I promise. And if it gets worse, you can get through that, too.
6. Patience—Everything is temporary.
Here’s a little reminder from the delightful Pema Chodron:
“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Renee Anderson
Apprentice Editor: Melissa Tamura / Editor: Renee Picard
Photo: Tim Evanson at Flickr