A broken leg is a pretty serious injury for anyone, but for my friend, who is exceptionally active -- cycling, climbing, lifting weights, dancing on a daily basis -- this injury was especially upsetting. Being told she couldn't walk for at least two months felt like a prison sentence. OK, that's a tad dramatic. But in the moment, when her pain levels were soaring and her leg was throbbing? That's how it felt!
Alex and I have had series of email and phone conversations throughout her recovery -- she's healing beautifully and feeling so much better, now! -- and I thought to myself,
"I bet there are a lot of people out there, dealing with frustrating injuries and issues who could use some reassurance and love, and who might find comfort in Alex's story."
So I asked my friend if she'd be willing to do a Q&A interview for my blog. She said,
If you are currently injured, dealing with physical pain or any kind of physical limitation -- this post is for you.
I hope it leaves you feeling uplifted, stronger, and ready to conquer the challenges ahead. You can do it. You are stronger and braver than you think...
A conversation with Alex:
Alex, you are typically very independent. For a while, this injury robbed you of independence and shook your world. (You couldn't even transport a cup of coffee across the room without spilling it all over yourself.) How did this experience affect you?
I consider myself to be a pretty strong, self-reliant, positive person -- but this experience definitely rattled me in ways I did not expect!
After breaking my bone, I needed to get a metal plate installed to help it heal properly.
I completely underestimated how challenging it would be to recover from surgery, both physically and emotionally. Plus, the pain meds that my doctor prescribed left me feeling foggy and completely uncreative, like all the energy had just been sucked out of my cells.
I usually rely on exercise/fitness to give me a daily mood boost. Without that regular flow of happy-endorphins, I felt really, really low.
Basically, my brain just fizzled out.
It took several weeks before I even felt capable of writing a simple email or responding to my voicemails. Everything in my life slowed down to a complete halt. I resisted it and felt guilty at first ("Why can't I just get back on track?!") ... but eventually, I surrendered to the experience.
My biggest lesson:
Sometimes, you need to slooooow down and allow yourself to do nothing except rest.
Don't try to fight it. Just allow it. Sleep. Eat good food. Allow people to take care of you. It's not easy, and your ego might resist it ("I'm fine! I can handle this on my own!"), but try to soften and allow yourself to receive care. In some instances, you may not really have a choice!
What have you learned about pain, and pain management, from your injury?
I can't speak for everyone, but for me, physical pain is extremely "distracting."
As a professional writer, I found that it was nearly impossible to focus, generate creative ideas, and do my work when my pain levels were very high.
I literally couldn't seem to get the ideas out of my head and onto the page. That was really tough for me. I kept thinking, "C'mon, Alex. Get it together!" I couldn't walk. I couldn't write. For a while, I felt... worthless.
Pain medication did help to take the "edge" off, although I chose to stop taking the pills after about two weeks. (My physician prescribed me enough medication to last several more weeks, but I didn't like the side effects, like drowsiness, so I weaned myself off as quickly as I could.)
Other things that helped with pain management: music, meditation, funny TV shows,books, and movies, laughter (in general!), and spending time with people I love. My mom came to visit for a few days and being with her helped to divert my attention away from the shocking, electric-eel feelings in my leg. It's hard to be sad when your mom is joyfully recapping the past six episodes of Scandal at lightning speed, or showing you her favorite new hats!
Society tends to see the physically (and mentally) challenged, as somehow "less than" when compared to able-bodied people. Yourself, reliant on crutches for sometime now, what message (if any) would you to give to society about their attitudes towards the physically and mentally challenged?
This is something I've been thinking about a lot. I feel that -- as a young woman who is "conventionally attractive" by Western standards -- I have been granted a lot of privileges that others do not receive. Total strangers will see my crutches and leg brace, smile at me, open doors for me, and ask how I am doing with great concern.
I appreciate this care and concern, of course. It is very kind.
Yet, then I will see a disabled man coming down the street in his wheelchair -- someone who is older, perhaps looks a bit scruffy, or just less "appealing" and "cute" by conventional standards -- and nobody even bothers to make eye contact with him, greet him, or ask how he is doing. Where is all the love for him? He gets nothing! This bothers me.
I think most of us (myself very much included) need to remember to extend care, compassion, and common courtesy to all human beings, not just "a select few." Regardless of age, circumstances, or abilities, we all deserve recognition and respect.
You are fortunate to have a wonderful partner. Was it tough, as a typically, highly independent person, to allow yourself to reach out to your partner for help, now that you found yourself in such a dependent (needy) position?
Oh my god. YES.
For several weeks, I was reliant on my partner, Brandon, for pretty much everything -- and he stood by my side through some pretty rough, unattractive moments.
He watched me sobbing because my pain was so intense and comforted me, telling me that it would all be OK.
He dashed out to the pharmacy to get laxatives for me (Fun fact: some pain medications cause extreme constipation! Ugh).
He went to the grocery store, made sure I had plenty of food available, assembled a wheeled cart so that I could push various things around while on my crutches... so many acts of service and care.
I was so grateful for his support, but at the same time, I hated that I had so many "needs." I just wanted to get "back to normal" and be able to take care of HIM, too! It was tough to remain patient. (Still is.)
One thing that helped me was asking myself, "What can I do to make Brandon's life a little bit easier?"
Once I started feeling more like "myself" again, I began to look for small things I could do to help clear some responsibilities from his plate.
I found a grocery service that delivers to your home -- check! Something Brandon doesn't have to do anymore.
I hired a housekeeper to come do a deep-cleaning -- check! Another task cleared away.
I wrote little "thank you" notes and left them scattered around our home, just to remind Brandon how much I appreciate all of his efforts.
Doing these little things helped me to feel empowered, like I could "give back" to Brandon despite having some physical limitations. Oh, and last night I gave him a long foot rub after he finished up a crazy sixteen-hour shift at the restaurant where he works -- because both of my hands are still functional! :)
Some relationships don't survive the stress of a change / injury such as you experienced and the demands it places on each partner. Has your relationship changed (for better / worse) because of your injury? How?
I believe our relationship is stronger than ever. We both know, now, that we can survive a pretty dramatic event that challenges both of us and move through it with our partnership intact.
I always knew that Brandon was a kind, caring man, but through this experience I have seen the depths of his kindness. I know that he's not the kind of person who is going to "run away" at the first hint of unpleasantness. He stayed right by my side, even when I felt miserable and was really not much fun to be around!
However, my injury is only temporary. My limitations are not permanent. But what if I had become permanently disabled? Paralyzed from the waist down? Or something equally catastrophic? Would our relationship have survived, even then? The honest, difficult truth is: I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not. My heart breaks for any couple facing that kind of situation -- it's not a simple one. I am a total romantic, and I like to believe that love can conquer any challenge, but that doesn't mean that things are simple, black and white, or easy.
What I do know -- what I've learned from you, Suzanne! -- is that your first responsibility is always to love and care for yourself. With enough self-love, you can weather any storm, whether you have a romantic partner in your life or not.
If someone who is reading this is battling an injury, one that has caused a total life change, what would be the most powerful words you could say to them?
Don't fight the change. Let it happen. Let yourself be reshaped by this experience.
Traveling changes you. Studying changes you. Starting a new job or business changes you. Injuries change you, too.
Whether you are dealing with something as minimal as a sprained wrist, or something far more debilitating, the reality is: after experiencing an injury or illness, you will never be the "exact same" person as before. This is a good thing. Welcome the transformation with open arms and try to remain open and curious about where it's all "going."
I had no idea, for example, that breaking my leg would rekindle my passion for kinesiology and exercise physiology -- subjects I loved in my teens and early twenties, and that I set aside for many years. Now I am about to start studying to become a certified personal trainer! I have no idea where this new passion will lead me, but I am incredibly electrified and excited to begin. I doubt any of this would be happening if I hadn't gotten injured. Who knows? Ten years from now, I might look back and think, "I shudder to think where I'd be today if I hadn't broken my leg!"
You just never know. There are secret miracles hidden in the midst of every challenge. Trust in that. Rest. Heal. Let life march on...
I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Alex!
Last but not least: If you (or someone you love) is dealing with a frustrating injury, here are a few resources to help make your life a little easier and less painful, and bring some brightness and hope into your heart...
Find qualified, background-checked helpers to assist with all kinds of projects -- from housekeeping to organizing to yard work and furniture assembly, and more. [not available in all cities... yet!]
On-demand delivery. Order on your phone and a friendly Postmate will grab your groceries, pick up dinner from your favorite restaurant, even pick up prescriptions, or any other supplies that you need. [not available in all cities... yet!]
Stylish, functional accessories for your crutches, walker, cast, brace, and more! (Alex got a crutch bag to hold her keys, wallet, phone and water bottle right on her crutches -- brilliant!)
If you are a senior (60+) and / or living with limited mobility, this organization offers a nutritious meal, a friendly visit, and a safety check around the home for a small cost, or in some instances, no cost at all.
Resources, encouragement and support for people who are caring for others. Caregivers need care, too. (Related resource: my e-book/audio book, The Life Guide On How To Care For Yourself -- When You're A Caregiver For Somebody Else. Listen to a short audio sample here.)
Sometimes, you just need someone to talk to. If you're dealing with an injury, illness, or serving as a caregiver for someone who is, my heart -- and my office doors -- are always open to you.
Learn more about how to hire me for a coaching session (via phone or video) right over here. I have 28+ years of experience working in the realm of emotional health, and it would be my honor to help you heal, grow, and flourish. With the right support and tools, you can turn this challenge into something beautiful. I'm here to help.
. . .
Dr. Suzanne Gelb is a clinical psychologist, life coach and family law attorney.
She believes that it is never too late to become the person you want to be. Strong. Confident. Calm. Creative. Free of all of the burdens that have held you back -- no matter what has happened in the past.
Her insights on personal growth have been featured on more than 200 radio programs, 200 TV interviews and online at TIME, Forbes, Newsweek, The Huffington Post, The Daily Love, MindBodyGreen, and many other places.
Photo credit: Alexandra Franzen