injury + recovery
I have been running for 24+ years, since I was 14. It is my lifeline and my sanity in many ways. It makes me feel at home in both body and mind. When I move somewhere, I go running in order to learn my town and feel grounded. On a trip, I explore new routes. I have vivid memories of running in Niagara Falls, in Hyde Park in London, on a beach in Mexico, in many, many races, each race a story.
Now, I’m injured. I have been for almost two years.
I’ve done everything the doctors have said. I’ve taken time off. I’ve been to months of physical therapy. I’ve done all the exercises and yoga. It’s not a terrible injury, just a nagging right hamstring pull, and if I don’t run, it doesn’t hurt. It’s one of the most difficult injuries to rehab, I’ve been told by runners and physicians alike, but it’s not dramatic or debilitating at all, unless I want to run.
And oh, how I want to run.
I have made an identity out of pushing through pain. When I was diagnosed with clinical depression in high school, I kept going. I wanted to quit. I even tried, once. But I knew from running that you push through what hurts. And so I did. I went to therapy and took medication and went on to college. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, but I finished. I recovered. I ran a marathon and it helped me to let go of the thoughts that plagued me. Sometimes running is only the body. Sometimes that can be bliss.
The new hardest thing happened five years ago, when my son was diagnosed with autism and anxiety. I still can’t write about it properly or without tears. I woke up every day unable to breathe with the weight of the sorrow. I wept when none of my children could see me. I ran. I ran and ran and ran. At night, I couldn’t sleep. I felt like I was no longer a person, except I knew I was because I loved him so much. He was in agony. He screamed and wept and was miserable. None of us—therapists, teachers, doctors—could reach him. His psychologist, who specializes in autism and anxiety, was flummoxed too. Sometimes, he injured himself. Sometimes, he injured me or others.
It was at this time that someone I loved and trusted turned on me with vitriol and anger. This was the same person who years ago had made fun of me and told me I was embarrassing when I had depression, who mocked me publicly in front of our mutual friends. I had forgiven her and moved on. But then it happened again, when I was at my new lowest point.
I was already injured, far more than what she could do alone. My child, his suffering, that was agony. But this was pain on top of pain and I staggered under the weight of it.
Not long after, my leg began to hurt when I ran. I ignored it for months. It got worse.
“You’re getting older,” the physical therapist said one day. “This might just be how it is from now on.”
She hurt me. He is suffering. I am wounded, too.
There has been no one moment when I felt myself come through the refiner’s fire shiny and gold. Sometimes I feel that I am all ash and char. Breathe on me, and I will blow away. I will scatter to the wind.
Except I have a core. As many women do. It is the ones I love. For me, it is my son, and my other children, and my husband. I am where they warm themselves and I refuse to stop burning.
I set boundaries. I trust only those who treat that trust with respect. I look at the hikes I have gone on in place of the running I would have done and say Thank you for these views. I let go of the books I might have written and remind myself of the flawed stories I did manage to tell. I see other moms of kids with special needs and we look in one another’s exhausted, knowing eyes and see great depths of pain and joy. Sometimes we look at each other and burst into tears. Sometimes we look at each other and we can’t stop laughing. I think of how far my son has come and the people who continue to help him get there.
I will not lie and say that I would choose any of these things again. Depression, seeing your child struggle, injuries physical and emotional. But the moments of recovery—the claiming of what is good and true in your world, the communion with people who know your heart—these are so many sparks in a dark and beautiful night.