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. James! It is so good to see you back again, despite the situation you have been in. First, I am so sorry to hear about your leg and the pain you have been subject to, not to mention the inconvenience. But as you point out these times give you a chance to reassess, to understand, and to empathise. This is a blessing in itself. I have spent the past year in pain and major suffering by proxy. My dear wife fell and shattered her shoulder about two weeks before Christmas, and for many reasons couldn’t have a reparative operation for six months. It has been both pleasure and pain to nurse, encourage, cajole, reassure, and love her through that, through the operation, and subsequent recovery – still incomplete. It has changed my life, her life, and we both now look forward in an new way. Nothing will be the same again. I can now understand your vulnerability, your reluctance to put it onto others, the way that you have had to find patience and calm in the midst of it all. In all this one gets a glimpse of our own mortality, ghat is inevitably a shock. It brings a maturity that comes with passage through these times. I wish you rapid improvement; this too will pass, and remember what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Hugs to you too….. Tony

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Tony,
      First, it is really lovely to hear from you – I’ve missed you too!
      Second, I am very sorry to hear about your wife, it is true that there can be good in these situations if we choose to find it, but they also suck ;-)
      Your comment humbled me, thankyou so, so much.
      Keep in touch dear friend, I am back on the blogging frame, and the best is yet to come!
      Big hug ((()))

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s frightening to discover we are not invincible. It’s hard to deal with any type of incapacitation. Your experience is a good example of human adaptability. I enjoyed reading this , it is helpful to know we are not alone when struggling to overcome a physical or mental roadblock.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know, right? I was so sure that I was (invincible, I mean) ;-)
      I am really glad you enjoyed the post – thankyou for taking the time to write to me, it means a lot.
      I hope this finds you well and healthy.
      Big hug ((()))
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I really enjoyed your post, and not for the part of you breaking, but more so the part of you exposing your vulnerability – it’s something we all need to do more of.
    I’ve found that by practicing happiness and gratitude, I often fall harder when something goes wrong in life… I am especially hard on myself, because I think ‘I should be better than this, I should practice what I preach!’
    And I do – I’ve come to realise that just because I generally think positively, it doesn’t make it a bad thing, or me a bad person, to get upset at things not going to plan, or simply put, turning really shit. We’re all allowed to have dark thoughts and dark days – and then get on with it. :)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes! This is totally it. It was the ‘I should be better than this’ that was the real grind.
      It is a great thing to maintain a balanced, positive outlook, I commend you for it.
      Thankyou so much for reading, and for taking the time to comment, it means the world.
      I hope this finds you well, big hug,
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, isn’t it amazing how messages come to you just when you need them most!
    Just yesterday I watched a TED Talk by BrenE Brown about vulnerability. Her message is that you can’t get emotionally close to someone unless you show them your vulnerability and trust them with it. Thank you so much for this lesson in revealing your insecurities. It takes huge courage. I hope to one day be so brave.
    Your experiment is a great success!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love that TED talk, it is one of my favourites.
      I am sure that you are much braver than me. Thankyou for being so kind, for reading the post, and for taking the time to respond.
      You made me smile.
      Big hug, big love,
      – J

      Like

  5. To every dark cloud there’s a silver lining! Every circumstance/incident/accident/event et al leaves behind a learning of some kind or the other.Well that’s what i feel. You found your learning during your recovery stage. It unfolded an altogether different perspective. Of course piece is personal yet gives out a message.There is a positive side to every thing in the world :)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for this post. Vulnerability is scary, but it is freeing too. It’s nice to see that you were able to find a positive outlook from something that interfered so drastically with the life you were used to live.
    Thank you for your honesty and I wish you lots of success on your way to recovery.

    xx

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I like this post and I’m sorry that you broke. You’re human is all. And I can totally relate. For me, it’s painting and reading that filled the physical void – and a new found patience and calm. An understanding that things will return in their own time and that, if I do give them a wee shove in my chosen direction, it should be gentle and respectful of what my body has endured. Right now I miss a lot of things I did ‘before’ but I’m working on creating an even better ‘after’. And that is exciting. I hope you heal well x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am woefully human. ;-)
      Painting and reading are not bad ways at all to fill the void. You are beautiful and an inspiration. I am sure that there is much goodness in store for your future, beautiful artist. And be prepared for the day I commission a work from you – you are one of the few I would gladly hang on my wall.
      Big love, big hug, you too xx

      Like

  8. I like these kind of posts, because showing vulnerability makes another person feel more real to me and their lifes wore relatable and their words more meaningful to me. Like you already noticed: It’s difficult to feel empathy for something we don’t really understand and people in bad situations usually refrain telling others about it, out of fear to be judged for it, since that is often happening when the situation is unknown/unrelatable to others.
    In a way, you just traded “invincibility” with “being approachable” ;)
    Because of this post, I felt the need to write something, to give you some more acknowledgement than clicking a like button, because I know how it feels to put something out in the world that is considered as making oneself weak, when I think it really is the opposite of it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I really love this comment and find it incredibly heartening. Thankyou.
      I am happy with this trade ;-)
      I am very glad you felt the need to write something. Your words brightened my day.
      You are awesome. Hope your Monday is amazing.
      Big hug ((()))

      Liked by 1 person

  9. First, a big hug to you – to further the healing process! And belief is an entire force in itself. Not a lot of people would believe without the examples or personal experience, but that is how scientific it needs to be for us to put our faiths. And being calm, and meditation always helps with the cellular healing.

    Feedback: It was a good post.

    Liked by 2 people

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