10 Lessons I’ve Learned From Being Broken

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In order to appreciate what I’m about to tell you, you have to understand how I got here.  Some of you already know this story, so bee patient (pun intended…you’ll see why!).

Back in July I did something that I rarely do: I weeded my garden. I deeply regret my poor decision to partake in this activity, and I have already promised myself never to do it again. Under the best of circumstances, weeding is a mundane and terrible task. On this particular occasion, however, my garden weeding actually changed the course of my life.

I had been weeding the flower beds in front of our house and I was nearing the end of the final bed when I decided to pull up a clump of dead/dying flowers/weeds (Don’t ask me what the plant actually was because I know next to nothing about plants. It was ugly, though, so I decided it had to go.). I was in the zone (which is code for I was trying to get this horrendous chore over with as quickly as possible), so without thinking–or even really looking–I stepped into the garden bed, reached both hands down to the base of the plant, and pulled as hard as I could.

Now, usually what you would expect to happen next is that I pulled up the plant and went on my merry-little-weeding-way.

But that didn’t happen.

Not exactly.

You see, when I pulled up the plant it did dislodge from the ground. That part was fine. What wasn’t fine was what else I dislodged from the ground when I pulled that plant with all my might. Specifically, an entire nest of (very disgruntled) ground wasps.

Before I even knew what was happening I had an entire colony of wasps attacking me (Which I really can’t blame them for because I would do the same thing if a giant came and pulled up my whole home with all of my buddies in it.). The wasps started stinging me and chasing me and stinging me again. And again. And again.

So I did what any rational adult would do in this situation: I ran flailing through the yard yelling obscenities while I stripped off all of my clothing. My children, who had been playing nonchalantly in the yard, were witness to the whole wasp escapade. I’m pretty sure we’ll now have to take them to therapy for PTSD after what they witnessed on that fateful day. Thankfully we captured the whole thing on our surveillance cameras, so if paying for the therapy becomes a burden I can always submit the videos to AFV and use the prize money to pay off our bills.

All said and done, I had been stung close to 20 times. My entire body swelled up for a week and I developed a close relationship with Calamine Lotion and ice packs.  But I’m a fighter, and I pulled through The Wasp-pocalypse of 2019. I am a survivor.

Which brings me to my present predicament. You see, when I was flailing my body through my front yard trying to ward off the wasps I actually did some damage…to myself. Somewhere between karate chopping the evil bugs and twisting out of my t-shirt I managed to pull some muscles in my back.

I’ve had back injuries before (basically non-stop since babies decided to inhabit my womb and pull all of my joints out of place), but this time was different. My back pains before had come and gone with enough time and rest, but this bugger wasn’t ready to move on.

By October, 3 months after the Wasp-pocalypse, I was still experiencing chronic back pain. It hurt to stand. It hurt to sit. It hurt to move. Heck, it even hurt to think about moving. I’d tried resting and stretching and thinking good thoughts, but nothing was helping.

So, finally, I decided to take action. 3 weeks ago I started Physical Therapy (PT) to *hopefully* build back up some strength and get along with my life. My PT journey has been fun so far, mostly because literally every person in my family (Mom, Dad, sisters, even a cousin) are PT’s and I finally get to see things from the other side of the workout room.

But it’s also been hard. And uncomfortable. And not always fun. It’s a lot of work building yourself back up when you’ve been broken. Through my being broken I’ve learned a few things about myself and the process of building myself back up. Wisdom I will now share with you, my friends:

  1. Give Myself Permission For Healing
    This was the hardest thing for a long time. I’m so used to taking care of others and attending to their needs that it was difficult to allow myself the time and space for my own healing. I figured if I brushed my own needs aside for long enough, eventually they’d take care of themselves. Not true, and not what’s best for me.
  2. Admit I Need Help
    I tried (haphazardly) doing things on my own. And when that wasn’t enough, I had to humble myself enough to ask for help. In my case, this was professional help from PT’s who have spent 5 or more years of their lives learning how to put broken people like me back together.
  3. Patience
    Healing takes time. I’m definitely a subscriber to the immediate gratification model, so this one is difficult for me. But I’m learning. I’m learning to do what I can do now, with the hope that a payoff will be coming. Some day.
  4. Don’t Sweat the Setbacks
    One of the activities I want to return to is running. I’m a former marathon runner who literally can’t even make it a mile before I’m doubled over in pain. So when my PT told me to try incorporating a bit of running again I decided to go jog a few miles. Not a good idea. In fact, a very bad idea.By the time I’d hobbled back home I was in so much pain I didn’t know if my back was even still attached to my body. But I didn’t let that deter me from trying again. After resting for a couple of days I tried again, this time just running for 1-2 minutes at a time and then walking. And do you know what?! It worked! It still hurt and it was still incredibly discouraging to see the failings of my body, but I made it. And I’ll keep trying until I finally get it.
  5. Allow Myself Rest
    Oh, this one is the actual WORST! Sometimes I view rest as a 4-letter word in my mind, and it is so so hard for me. On an intellectual level, though, I know that rest is one of the parts of my program that I need in order to heal. So I do the most Type-A thing you could do and I literally schedule rest into my calendar. I even have an alarm on my phone. In fact, as I write this post I’m sitting on a chair propped up by pillows with an ice pack on my back…hey, whatever works!
  6. Be Kind To Myself
    This process has not been easy or pretty and nothing is happening on the timeline that I would like it to, but I’m trying to think positive. I’m being my own cheerleader and I’m encouraging myself. A huge part of healing is mental, and I’m going to use that to my advantage.
  7. Consistence + Persistence
    I have to do my exercises every. Single. Day. If I slack for a day, the losses start to compound very quickly…and the only person this hurts is myself. Consistency.And consistency requires persistence, even when it’s not easy or convenient. Sometimes this means I have a preschooler stretched out on my yoga mat with me during my exercise block. Sometimes this means sacrificing 2 of my 4 “solo hours” a week while all 3 kids are in school at the same time to go to my PT appointments. Sometimes this means saying no to an activity that I want to do because I know that it wouldn’t help with my healing right now. Healing requires persistence, one small decision at a time.
  8. Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself
    May the truth set you free.
  9. Accept That Things May Never Be The Same
    As much as I want things to be “back to normal” I’m quite aware that I may never be able to return to some activities or perform at the level that I once did. Whatever my new normal is, however, I can adapt and embrace it for what it is.
  10. Find Joy In The Process
    I’ve tried to find small ways to make this awkward process more enjoyable. I watch cheesy TV shows while I do my exercises (Did you know that Randy on Say Yes To The Dress is finally designing his own bridal gown collection?!). I pretend that I’m at the spa while I’m getting (incredibly painful) deep tissue massages at PT.  Heck, I just think about the ridiculous way I got myself into this predicament and I can’t help but laugh. And when all else fails, I remind myself of why I’m doing this, and it makes it all worth it.

Whatever brokenness you’re healing from–be it a wasp-related injury or something more profound–I wish you the best on your journey. Be persistent, be kind and, above all, find joy in the process.

Too Old For Tutus

ballet3A few weeks ago I turned 35 and, now that I’m officially in my mid-thirties, I’ve noticed a few changes in my life. I’m more experienced, more confident of who I am in my own skin, more driven to achieve personal goals, maybe even a bit more wise. What I am not, this week has proven with certainty, is more athletic.

In my teens and twenties I was at the top of my physical game: I danced, I competed in gymnastics, I ran marathons. There seemed to be no limit to what my body could do with enough training and mental fortitude. But then something happened. I turned 30, popped out 3 babies, and my body decided that it had had enough. D.O.N.E. Done. My glory days are over, and it is time to settle the heck down. Old habits die hard, though, and I continue to think I can still act and do and move like I did a decade or more ago. Which is how I came into my present predicament.

Yesterday I decided to try out a new extreme sport: Mommy and Me Ballet.

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Mommy and Me waiting for our ballet class to begin

Why, you might ask, is Mommy and Me ballet an extreme sport? Isn’t that just a playful class of tiny dancers and their mommies twirling and hopping around a dance floor? Why, yes. Yes, it is. But somehow–somehow–I managed to turn this most innocent of toddler experiences into a death-defying physical battle and I ended up leaving the class in crutches.

How on earth does this happen? Well, let’s just say I’m too old for tutus.

The ballet class started out about as adorable as 8 little blonde two year olds in pink tutus can be. We twirled around the room to Disney music and practiced hopping on colored dots scattered across the floor. All fun and games so far. When we moved to the ballet barre, however, it all went downhill (for this nearly-over-the-hill mama, at least).

We were asked to raise up to our tippy toes and then plié…up, down, up, down, up, down. Basically we were doing pretty calf raises. As we were doing our pretty calf raises, however, I heard a strong snap in the back of my right leg–almost like a sudden and severe charlie horse that wouldn’t go away. By the time I got down from my tippy toes I realized that this was bad. This was very, very bad.

I spent the remainder of the class hopping around on my good foot since I couldn’t straighten my right foot or put any weight on it. And, because I was too prideful and embarrassed to sit out for such a ridiculous injury, I carried on. After all, I have over 10 years of advanced ballet dancing under my belt and I should be able to finish out one measly toddler ballet class, even if I am too old for this mumbo-jumbo. I managed to struggle through the rest of the class while Hannah had the time of her life twirling with scarves and bopping out to a Frozen medley.

When we got home I knew that I’d messed up my leg in a “not getting over this any time soon” kind of way. I texted Jon and let him know that he should plan on bringing home whatever he needed to work from home the next day if I was still immobile. I also sent out an SOS to my go-to guy in these situations: my Dad.

Lucky for me, my dad is a Physical Therapist with 40 years of experience helping people recover from injuries such as Mommy-and-me-ballet-induced torn calf muscles. Within an hour he was at my door, crutches and an air cast in hand. He taped up the offending calf and gave me instructions for proper icing, and a few hugs for good measure. If anyone ever tells you that you’re too old to need your parents, they are absolutely 100% wrong. I’ll remind my children of this often.

Doctor Dad coming to the rescue!

So, here I am: an invalid in my own home. Jon took the day off of work today so he can help drive the kids to their activities and make sure our family doesn’t fall apart while Mommy is out of commission (I’m sure he had a comical conversation with his boss explaining why he had to miss work today). I’m getting around alright with the crutches my dad left me with, but I’ve discovered that it’s actually easier to crawl than to crutch. I repurposed Ace bandages as knee pads, and I’m good as gold. Now if that’s not ingenuity, then I don’t know what is!

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Crawling: it’s what the cool kids do

I’ve learned an important lesson about not pushing my (limited) limits, and today is already the “someday we’ll laugh about this” day. Perhaps they’ll write me up in the newspaper for being the first person ever to suffer such a fate from a toddler dance class. At any rate, it’s quite the story! And now if you see me on crutches this week you’ll know where my battle wounds came from.

Tutu or not, I am a warrior!