Injury lessons

A few months ago, I injured my shoulder. All my friends know about it, because I complain about it every five minutes or so. Sometimes I look at them with sad puppy-dog eyes when they’re doing handstands or muscle ups or wall runs, which I am sure isn’t at all incredibly irritating.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been injured. I tried parkour back in about 2010, and hurt my shoulder then. It put me out of training for a year or so. When I tried again, I ruptured my abdominal wall (yes, really). That put me out again for well over a year, and was an all-round horrible experience. I think I came close to a mental breakdown. I restarted parkour in October 2013, and lasted until this summer before my shoulder was wrecked again.

I’m a really slow learner. It’s taken this many injuries to actually get my head around the fact that it doesn’t have to stop me from training.

Every time I’ve been injured before now, I’ve made a few serious errors (besides getting injured in the first place). Error number one was not working around the problem. With an injured shoulder, there were plenty of things I could have been doing. With the abdominal tear it was a little different, but let’s focus on the shoulder, since that is what I’m dealing with right now.

I can’t go to parkour classes, because I feel like I’m going to be in the way. I can’t do anything that relies on climbing actions, pulling or swinging. Hell, even regular old pushups are out. Coaches are really good about coming up with alternate activities, but I feel bad about taking up that much brain space. Also, I feel very tempted to push things too far in a class environment. I have issues, okay?

I also can’t go climbing. This is major social activity number two for me, and was quite a blow. I used to love going to the climbing wall with friends on a Friday night. Clawing my way up colourful handholds on a weirdly-shaped wall while loud dubstep plays in the background was pretty much my version of clubbing, and that’s gone.

Most weightlifting is out. Clean and jerk? Yeah, not a good idea. Snatch? You can got to be kidding me. This was gutting, because I had just become hooked on it and started to make gains, and suddenly I’m out for probably several months.

The psychological impact is worse than the actual injury. This isn’t the same for everyone, I know. People have injuries far more serious and debilitating than anything I’ve ever experienced, and handle them far more calmly than me. I’m not suggesting that if all your limbs fall off, you should cheer the hell up and stop whining. But in my case, injury hurts me mentally more than physically.

I’m one of those people who needs to be physically active to be happy. It’s pretty common knowledge by now that exercise has a positive influence on mental health and well-being, and there’s a dark side to that. If I go from an active lifestyle to an inactive one, I fall into depression that seems so deep that it’s frightening. The whole world seems to slow down. Everything seems oddly flat. Sometimes when people talk, it feels like they’re far away. I wouldn’t even describe myself as feeling sad – it’s like not feeling at all. Even thinking about it gives me the shivers.

I couldn’t face that again. So this time, I sat myself down and came up with a list of things I could continue to work on, including backsquat, precisions, footwork, strides, box jumps and some simple vaults. That’s a reasonable list. Looking at these activities, I could even set goals. Many of them are also areas I’m quite weak on, so there was room for actual progress. Given the choice between limited progress on rail balances versus several months of crushing depression, I’m going to opt for the progress. Your mileage may vary, but if you’d prefer the depression, you’re really weird. What the hell is wrong with you? If you are broken, don’t let yourself fall into inactivity. Work out what you can safely do, with professional help if needed, and get to it.

I think it’s pretty well known that not being able to train, or being severely limited, has a psychological impact. However, I don’t often see the social withdrawal mentioned. Now, maybe I’m just kind of sad, but an awful lot of my friendships revolve around training. Not all, but a lot. Even back when I first hurt myself and stopped, the regular classes and jams I was going to had become my social life, despite how shy I probably sometimes seemed.

Every time I have been injured until now, I have done something really stupid. I stopped talking to the people I had been training with. I let myself feel cut off. Not only did this make me miss everyone, but it got to a stage where I felt like if I went back, people would be angry at me because I had quit so easily. This time, I did one really simple thing instead. I asked if anyone would do balancing with me, or have a go at slackline, or precisions. It was a bit of a long shot, but I didn’t want to cut myself off again. And someone said yes, he would like to do that. And then so did some others. And they did it. And I’m still not recovered enough for classes. And they’re still hanging around with me and doing stuff.

I love you guys. Just saying.

Because I was still training (although not classes) and doing stuff, I came across other people in the same boat. Many of them had more serious rehab to do than I did. Some were recovering from surgery. Just seeing other people doing rehabilitation, and knowing that it wasn’t just me going through periods of frustration and unhappiness and excitement at little bits of progress and boredom with the grind of it, is amazing. So don’t break your friendships when you’re broken. Try reaching out instead.

Speaking of rehab, I am also seeing a physiotherapist. You know how people are always saying that you need to do rehab and prehab and mobility and all that boring, serious-sounding stuff? Well, looking at my cycle of getting into training, wrecking myself before checking myself, being miserable and then getting back into training to repeat the process, it slowly dawned on me that perhaps there was some truth to that, and that maybe some professional assistance wouldn’t go amiss – I had always dismissed the idea because I thought physiotherapy was for serious athletes, and I didn’t make that grade. Don’t make that mistake. Injuries won’t leave you alone because you’re not a “proper athlete,” so don’t hold back on seeing a professional. In fact, it turned out that without serious work on my shoulder position and rotator cuff, I was heading down the road of serious and permanent dysfunction and injury.

Injuries aren’t fun, but if you are going to train a lot then at some point, they’re probably going to happen. It’s not going to be sunshine and roses, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world either. Stick with people, get the right help, do your rehab and it’ll all be okay. Honest.

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