I’m one month into recovery from my second hip arthroscopy to repair a torn labrum and to resolve the impingement caused by the not-perfectly-round shape of my femur head. With the benefit of prior experience (this is the other hip….thankfully I only have two!) I came into this procedure with a solid understanding of the short and long term progression of recovery. I expected the initial two weeks of discomfort and pain killers, limited movement, and dependence on other people for all manner of tasks. The small things like getting a glass of water or a cup of tea, the big things like getting groceries, and the insane things like putting on clean underwear. I also knew that around three to four weeks post-op, as I began to taste independence again, urges and emotions would begin to stir, that I’d be pulled to the edge of control and that as an athlete that edge could represent danger if I wasn’t prepared to enlist the important self-management skills of mindfulness, presence, and acceptance, while simultaneously caring enough about myself to cut myself some slack.
This edge of control during injury recovery, is where we athletes can fall into a pressured mental and emotional state that can lead to us to do things aren’t in the ultimate best interest of our body and our being. This sort of thing can be fueled by feelings of low self-worth, sadness, and even grief and loss which are natural when we’re not able to do the things we normally do. It can also be triggered by a taste, no matter how small, of those endorphins that are so comfortingly familiar. Just a small taste can remind us of the joy we’re missing and can lead to just a little more, then a little more after that, and so on. When athletes’ brains and feelings go on like this unmonitored and unregulated they can lead them to do myriad things with their bodies that may serve an immediate need but that may have significant consequences for the future.
Mindfulness and presence, two concepts that we on Team Pursuit frequently discuss, become really important during these times, as does acceptance.
Mindfulness or awareness of the feelings and thoughts that have come up for me during my recovery has allowed me to recognize when my spirits are low, when I am thinking about what I would be doing if I wasn’t in this situation, or if I start to lament some possible future event that I might not get to do. The ability to see and feel those things happening and then noting what they are—thoughts and feelings, underlying fear, maybe a little boredom—gives me the chance to let go of them. Thanks to my meditation practice I know that I have the ability to let thoughts and feelings go as easily as they arise. That’s not to say that it is easy to actually do this…but I have the foundation of practice to know that it will happen if I let it.
In combination with letting thoughts and feelings come and go, I am actively practicing acceptance of my present situation. It does not serve me to fight where I am, to deny that my body was broken and that I underwent a not insignificant procedure to get fixed, or to be angry and mopey because instead of going out running on these beautiful pre-summer mornings I’m spinning with no resistance on a wide-saddled stationary bike. Accepting and even embracing where I am and what is true for me right now does not mean that I am giving up on my future athlete self, that I’m giving into laziness, or that my prior accomplishments have been erased. Instead I accept that I need to heal, and I am giving myself unconditional permission (even if that happens several times a day) to do so while truly living in the reality of recovery with all of its ups and downs, occasional frustrations, and the opportunity to rebuild myself stronger, and with care and kindness.
While I can’t say that I’m perfectly present, mindful and accepting at all times I can say that I give it my best shot every day. I firmly believe that allowing this process to be what it will be and to let my body progress as it will, is the best thing I can do for my future athlete self. I have come to see these as core functional skills that are critical to the recovery process. And just like we practice our functional physical movement so that our bodies draw upon them naturally in training and racing, practicing these mental and emotional skills regularly strengthens them so they’ll fire when we need them.
So, even if you aren’t in recovery from injury, think for a minute. Are there areas in your life where you could practice additional mindfulness, presence, and acceptance? Areas where your thoughts and emotions might be pushing you toward something that might be risky to your general wellbeing? What would be the worst thing that could happen if you tried letting some of that go?