How I Broke Myself and Where I Found Help (A Meditation on Injury and Recovery)

This post is an experiment.  In the past I’ve tended to stay away from things I’ve deemed too personal, preferring to share The Good in public and deal with The Hard in private.  In this case, even tho I felt there may be value for others in the sharing of this experience I found myself reluctant to do so because I felt it would expose vulnerability.  Fear is one of the worst reasons to keep quiet about anything.  So here it is – Let me know what you think.

About 8 weeks ago:

I am walking back to my flat from a hard training session carrying a heavy pack.  It is dark and I am spent.  Suddenly I feel a sharp pain in three different places on my right leg.  Not good.

I limp the rest of the way home.  I know I’ve damaged myself, but not yet how badly.

Present time:

Turns out, quite badly.  The first three weeks I couldn’t walk.  Doctors say that tendon damage is the likely culprit. There are X-rays, then physiotherapists, then different doctors who inform me that rehab may be a lengthy process.

Now, bypassing the fact that I had since birth assumed myself indestructible, I should mention that: I meditate daily, am in fairly good shape, and have studied philosophy for most of my adult life.  So the story I’d been telling myself was that I was more than prepared for any and all calamities life could send my way.  I mean, I had read and studied the Stoics the Buddha and the Tao Te Ching.  When the shit went down others may go to pieces but I would be ready.  Yes Sir.  I would deal well.  Maybe even with an enviable ease and an understated yet enlightened flair.

Turns out this story was a crock of horseshit.

Because in reality I reacted to the injury as I think pretty much anyone else would; by cycling between periods of: acceptance, hope, denial, fear, anger, frustration, depression and back again.  Somedays I would think I was healing well, others I’d be convinced that I would never walk again.  My mind would compile unasked-for lists of all the things I had definitely lost forever.  Long walks with my beloved, gone.  Mountains, gone.  Trail runs, goneMountains….Jesus!  I’d catch myself quasi-obsessing about ultra-helpful questions like: would I be able to stand onstage or would I have to sit from now on?  Would I be able to walk without limping or would I have to use a cane?  If I had kids, would I be able to play ball with them, or was I just ‘broken guy’?  And on, and on.

At this point you may be thinking: ‘Really?  Come on dude, it just sounds like you have a hurty leg.  Suck it up!  There are people with waaay bigger problems in the world.

And you would not be wrong.  But even so, there were times when it got real dark for me.  I’m not proud to admit it, but it’s the truth.

And yet…

…I also found that it wasn’t all bad.

As time inched inexorably on I couldn’t help but notice that there were some unexpected positives arising from the situation.  For starters, not being able to train, go to the mountains, or even really leave my flat freed up an awful lot of time.  Time I was to pour into my work – one of the main sources of joy.  My body started responding well to the rehab movements and I realized I was shoring up some holes in my training I’d been previously unaware of.  I started getting up earlier, and found that I very much liked working in the predawn hours.  So I got up even earlier.  Until I settled on waking up somewhere around 4:00 A.M.  I found I had a lot more time for reading, for listening, and for conversation.  Friends I hadn’t spoken with regularly for years, I was suddenly speaking to daily.

But by far the most important thing was the greater sense of empathy I began to feel for those who found themselves injured or broken in some fashion.  I was at first surprised, and then ashamed to realize that before my own injury I had been more apt to judge than to sympathize.  This stark realization about the shortcomings of my character was painful, and it was humbling, but not in a bad way.

It is in the times when we have experienced some kind of significant failure or loss that we are most open to change and growth.  We become much less picky about where we find our advice because we just want something that works.  Personally, the thing that has helped me most was a throwaway comment from Sharon Salzberg (a Buddhist teacher) during a recent interview.

In response to a question about meditation practice she said:

The practice was not at all about what was happening, but was only about how you were relating to it.  About how much compassion you were able to bring to the process.

She was talking about Buddhist meditation practice, but I took it as relevant to my whole life experience.

Now, maybe you’re the sort of person who, when they read the words ‘Buddhism’ and ‘Meditation’ thinks: ‘New Age Purple Crystal Woo Woo Alert!’  I hear you.  I sometimes think that too.  But even so, these two lines genuinely helped me.  They gave me a filter through which things have been made easier during the darker times.

And I think this is probably because:

When a man is drowning he doesn’t care what the float looks like.

I hope you got something from this post, and I wish you well,

– J


This post was an experiment and I’d really love to know what you thought of it.

If you have any thoughts, comments, questions (or just want to say hi) please use the comments box just below, I’d love to talk with you.

So let’s do that.


One Last Thing:

One of the things I am doing with my abundant free time is resurrecting the monthly letter to my mailing list.

This is a short letter containing the very best of what I’ve: read, listened to, seen, and made in the month gone past.  I work hard to make each one a little piece of art and they are quite beautiful. The next one is due to be sent out very soon.  If you’d like to try it you can sign up here.  It is (and always will be) free, and there is zero spam.

Big hug ((()))

127 Replies to “How I Broke Myself and Where I Found Help (A Meditation on Injury and Recovery)”

  1. Hey James, I just came upon this post and first I want to say thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your hard times. I’ve learned through Brene Brown that vulnerability equals strength, even though it is scary as fuck. I can’t imagine what it felt like on every level not to be able to walk, and not know your future. I’m sorry you had to go through this experience. I liked how you talked about getting up early; it sounded like you found peace in getting up earlier. I bet it was frustrating to go to all those doctors and hear all different things, but I imagine the scariest place was in your head. I’m glad you are better and I’m glad you are working out again and doing the things you love. While I was away I experienced lyme disease for the 3rd time. I did a lot of hiking over the summer and into the fall. I have a best friend who got me into hiking and I loved it. I even craved it. In October of 2017 we did our last hike before the weather changes. Around January, I started having symptoms of aching hands; it felt like I had the flu in my hands. They hurt so badly; I lost my grip strength and I couldn’t open my medicine. Then it progressed to body aches; I figured it must be a virus. A month later I could hardly walk on steps; I had to walk one step at a time, one foot at a time because of the pain in my knees. I took a lot of advil and it wasn’t helping. So my doctor does blood work and then sends me to a rheumatologist and she takes some x rays an then I see an orthopedist and he does xrays and mri of my knees. I couldn’t get a straight answer. I have arthritis in my knees for years but this was crazy. He said the mri didn’t match my pain. So I went back to the doctor and she gave me doxy. A week in my hands stopped hurting and I was so happy. My knees stopped hurting; I could work out again. But when we finished, all the symptoms came back; we did 2 more months of doxy and it helped immensely. Then I saw an infectious specialist and he said I have viral neuropathy and he tested me for lots of stuff; everything came back normal. Since the treatment I am much better; I work out every day (you know I gotta look good for Johnny, who I will be meeting in August for the 4th time!) My hands hurt sometimes; my knees hurt like they used to; I can walk up and down stairs normally. I was so happy I cried. At night my hands would hurt the most and I used to cry and I felt scared because I wasn’t able to live how I was living and I was in pain.

    I believe I got bit hiking, but who knows. I had a bulls eye two years ago and I had lyme then too .Unfortunately, I don’t know if I will ever hike again. I had a friend who was a huge runner and hiker and she had lyme so badly that she had to get IV medication. I watched her infuse herself. She said she would never go into the woods again, and I thought that was crazy. Well now I understand; I didn’t have it that bad, but that was my fear; I used to tell my doctor I don’t want that to be me. I believe I went untreated for 6 months and the infection took over my body. When I had lyme in the past with the telltale signs, we killed it right away before it could take over my body. It even took over my mind; I could n’t think straight and I was very irritable. So I’m good now; I work out every day and yeah my knees hurt because I have mild arthritis in my knees for years. Sometimes my hands tingle on and off, but before doxy they tingled all the time, and would feel numb. I prayed and I tried to trust that this was happening for a reason. I rested a lot and I slowed down for months. Of course I put on weight, but it’s gone now.

    Thank you for being vulnerable and trusting that you could say what happen to you. It’s hard in the beginning, but you did it! Yay!!! The more you do it, the easier it gets. But I also learned from Cheryl Strayed that not everyone is deserving of your vulnerability and your story; you will know who is and who isn’t. And that’s great you reconnected with your friends too. Maybe you started talking to your friends regularly because they saw this new honest, real James, who is willing to share his darkness and listen to theirs. Yes I just referred to you in the third person, I think. I always got confused with that in school even though I majored in English Literature!
    Hugs times 10,
    Traci XO

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are beautiful and amazing.
      Your message made me smile, and I thank you very much for it.
      I am so sorry to hear of your troubles, I think most everybody has issues with their body at some point in their life – so you are not alone. Even tho it must have been hard, your positive attitude shines thru, even in a simple message.
      I am glad things have gotten better, and I wish you all the best.
      Big, big hug, x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks James. Beautiful and amazing, I will remember that. I think I have to move to Scotland! lol
        Thanks for taking time out to respond to my messages; I know you are quite busy working on your music.
        Have a great day!
        So glad you and I are back on the grid :)
        Yay!!!
        Traci………. xo

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hm. I’m a little late to this party.

    I loved this post. We all think we are indestructible…until we’re not. I’ve had my own physical, mental & emotional struggles. There are those in the blogosphere that will tell you to never blog about yourself. They will say “no one cares”. I disagree. Sharing ourselves is innately human. Even those that suffer “extreme self importance” eventually get the message. Life is a balancing act with all the frustration that implies.

    Sorry that I arrive too late to hear your music. But, keep talking. We hear you. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Better late than never ;-)
      I’m really glad you liked it, and completely agree with what you are saying here.
      Your comment means a lot, and I want to thank you for it.
      Pleased to meet you, have a good one,
      – J

      Like

  3. do this more. showing fierce vulnerability is the bravest will
    writing it all out unlocks thoughts you never knew were there and there they become unscrambled or maybe even re-scrambled into a more organized chaos to keep you intrigued

    Like

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