Lately I have been doing research on how athletes recover from injuries. There is a lot of information out there about how to handle the aftermath of an injury and how best to proceed. The common thread among most of the articles I have read is dealing with the emotions involved. I can attest to the fact that depression will try to take hold of you after you are forced to stop doing what you love. I am not a doctor, so I am not going to discuss solutions. However, I would like to discuss how all this research has affected me and mine.
My children are, by definition, athletes. My oldest son is a competitive gymnast. My daughter not only dances, but does it 3-4 days a week and is passionate about her future as a dancer. My little guys are all bundles of energy – alternately trying gymnastics and dance on any given day of the week. I see in them some of the struggles I faced as a young child: flexibility issues, lack of skill or talent, lack of focus… but mostly what I see is fear. Some of their fear is justified. I don’t think there is a person alive who hasn’t experienced a twinge of fear when trying something new – especially when it is physical. It all comes down to how you handle that emotion and whether your let it charge you or cripple you.
As for me, I suffered a rather significant injury last summer. Endless doctor’s visits, physical therapy and thousands of dollars later I am able to walk without limping. I no longer have to medicate on a daily basis. I did, however, envelope myself in a blanket of fluff to protect myself in the future. I realized I was using my weight as an excuse to keep from pushing myself too hard. I could use it to dismiss my dancing, blaming the weight and not my lack of talent, or even my injury. I would have even used it to avoid the spotlight, literally, and refuse being in performances until I was asked to be Mrs. Stahlbaum in the Nutcracker this past December and I didn’t feel I could refuse. I will be honest and say I was embarrassed to be in a ballet, on stage, in a significant role, and carry the additional weight. I then found I was caught up in a vicious cycle. I used the injury to blame my weight, and the weight to blame my lack of quick recovery. It all basically came down to the fact I was putting myself in a position where I stopped caring about pushing myself physically, and was coddling my emotions.
I floated along like this for a few months, until I started seeing some of this attitude in my son, the competitive gymnast. He, too, suffered an injury awhile ago and had to go through doctor’s visits, physical therapy and copious amounts of money. His skills were deteriorating even further after coming back, joining a new gym with a phenomenal coach, and getting back into competitions. His coach grew concerned. I found it nearly pure agony to go to gymnastics meets and watch my boy, who was a great competitor last season, barely make a skill set. I was helping him to excuse his failure – reminding him he was young, he was coming off a severe injury, he was on an all new team and jumped a level. In retrospect, I fear I may have hurt him emotionally by doing this.
It was because of him that I started doing more and more research. All of a sudden it dawned on me that I was exhibiting the same mental deterioration that he was. It is hard to deal with the fact your body isn’t working the way you want it to. It is hard to deal with the constant pain of an injury, while watching your friends continue on – getting better and better at the very activity you want so badly to do. What is really hard to deal with? Is the fear of injuring yourself. You almost want to move gingerly, worried that you will set yourself back if you push too hard. At some point you realize that if you don’t push yourself, you might as well give up. The sad aspect of this is, that realization doesn’t always come within a given time frame. It can take people days, weeks, months and even years to come this conclusion.
My son and I are working hard together to be a team. He knows I have his back. It has also meant some heart to heart talks lately, where we finally have come to grips with the fact that this is and will be a problem until we face it. We have had to evaluate where we are physically, deal with the pain and face the embarrassment that we have not really been trying our hardest. I think the biggest thing we are realizing is that making or finding excuses is just hurting us more than facing the problem head on.
The current gymnastics season is almost done for my oldest son. He has a month until his state meet. His coach doesn’t really think he will make it to Regional’s, but we have both seen a shift in his attitude and ability. The Mom part of me wishes we had figured this out earlier, giving him more of a chance this year – but the practical part of me says that it is better late than never. I think what has really helped us?? Knowing we aren’t alone.