Injury lessons 2

I sprained my ankle last week. For everyone asking “what happened?” the answer is basically “roller derby.” I’d like to pretend I did something totally badass, but I basically just fell down like a twat.

Everything indicates that it’s a pretty simple and low-grade sprain, as opposed to the really nasty ones, which can be just as bad (or worse) than an outright break. As ankle injuries go, mine is pretty much the least that could possibly happen, particularly as someone else actually broke their leg in three places the day before. I was bearing some weight on it before I even left the hospital. It has still been an educational week, though. These are the things i have learned so far.

  1. Don’t go skating when you’re not 100% well. I was still a bit off-colour from a kidney infection, and hadn’t been able to eat properly for about a week, partially because of the amazing side-effects of my superstrong antibiotics and partially because of basic unwellness. Yes, I know it’s entirely my own fault. Don’t worry. I’ve had plenty of alone time to reflect on exactly how much I screwed that up and remind myself how stupid that was.
  2. Roller derby people are really, really pro at first aid. I went down on a track full of skaters weaving around each other in both derby direction (anticlockwise, in case you were wondering) and in counter-direction, heard a nasty crack and experienced pain. About 30-45 seconds later, I was off that track, had the skate off, had been assessed and had an ice pack on. Within about two minutes, someone was getting my stuff and someone else was changing out of their kit so they could take me to A&E (thanks!) Within about ten minutes, I had been moved out of the building and was en route, without ever having inadvertently put weight on the ankle and hurting it further. At no point did anyone lose their cool, or allow me to lose my cool. I was not left alone at any point – the person who took me to A&E stayed with me until a parkour buddy arrived to take over (thanks, Denny!)
    It’s not just the first-aiders/coaches who are pro. I have been in situations where someone hurts themselves in a parkour class and the other participants invariably stop what they are doing, turn around, stare and comment, sometimes quite audibly. This is not meant badly, but it’s beyond unhelpful. Imagine it. You’ve gone down, you’re on the ground. You’ve heard something – maybe a crack or crunch. You’re in pain and vulnerable. A group of people is STANDING OVER YOU. They’re excited and frantically asking if you’re okay. Are you okay? OH MY GOD, WHAT’S HAPPENING?
    I’ve actually had well-meaning people crowd me in an acrobatics hall when I got accidentally kicked by someone and needed a minute to control my breathing. This took me from a slight bruise and needing a minute to chill out to having a full-on panic attack in a corner, curled up in a ball and hyperventilating because I couldn’t escape from all the people.
    In roller derby, you’re taken off the track, or if you cannot be moved, you’re blocked off. Nobody crowds you. Someone calmly assesses you, and some people are assigned to get your stuff, take you to get checked if needed and so on. Everyone not assisting gets on with training and skates around as normal. This is not callous. It’s pragmatic, and actually helps to keep things calm.
    By all means, do help if someone goes down at parkour or somewhere. I’m not saying everyone needs to ignore someone screaming on the floor. If you are the first-aider on scene, start helping as appropriate. If you are a first-aider but not responsible for people in a class, make sure someone is getting the coach or responsible person. If the casualty is already being first-aided and you are not doing anything useful, back the hell off and give them space. Stay in earshot if you think you might be needed, but otherwise, just get out of the way. Do not stare.
  3. B Team definitely exist. Not only that, they are capable of picking me up and carrying me across a track full of skaters even when I’m informing them precisely how many kilograms I weighed that morning and how heavy that is because I’m such a huge weightlifter. Thanks for not squatting me. I wouldn’t have enjoyed it at that point.
  4. A&E is really boring and you will wait for a long time. This is not a complaint – even if the leg is actually broken, you won’t die. Other people coming in with mystery abdominal pain, breathing problems and their heads falling off are more urgent than you, and that’s how it should be.
    However, feel free to make your own entertainment while you’re waiting. If you’ve just come from skating, a fun game is to wear your helmet while being wheeled about. Make sure to tell any hospital staff you pass that you’re really great at rollerskates. It’s fun for you AND for them!
  5. People who don’t do a high-impact risk-bearing sport can be extremely unhelpful. This isn’t true for everyone, but it is a thing. On my first day back at work, I had someone approach me and cheerfully ask if “this was it for skating now”. He then went on to inform me that skating is entirely for teenagers (this is pretty awkward, seeing as roller derby is for 18 and up – there is a junior version, but I get the impression it’s a lot gentler) and heavily imply that I shouldn’t be doing it at all. I was informed by someone else that “at a certain age” it’s extremely difficult for injuries to heal (I’m 33, by the way, and healing perfectly fast, thank you) and the parting shot on Friday by coworker number 1 was to remind me to not skate this weekend, not because I was still on crutches, but because I’m not a teenager.
    I honestly have no idea why people believe that teenagers are basically Wolverine, and the minute you hit 25 you must simply stop moving and live attached to your office chair like a barnacle that has settled onto a rock at sea. I also have no idea why they find injury almost funny. I don’t need outpourings of sympathy for a sprained ankle, but the guy assuming I would have to quit skating seemed actually cheerful about it. If I did have to quit, I would be absolutely devastated. There’s almost a sense of schadenfreude about it, like I should never have even tried.
    This is all for a grade 1 sprained ankle. They didn’t amputate my leg. It’s not fatal. It will take a few weeks of rehab before I can skate even non-contact, but it’s an incredibly minor and routine injury. I cannot even imagine what the reaction would have been if it had actually broken – which happens to skaters a lot, by the way. And no, they don’t just automatically quit.
  6. Stuff seems pretty much pointless, even with a minor injury. I eat at intervals because I have to, I make myself go to work because I have to, and other than that there doesn’t seem to be any reason to really do anything. If I didn’t have to go to work, I’m not entirely sure I’d even have had a shower this week. About 90% of my non-workplace social contact is based around training, and the other part (Zen) is based around being in a small area with too many people for me to cope with right now, so I don’t hang out with people much. Even blogging has seemed too hard, so I’m pretty much no use to myself or anyone around me, especially as I am currently rehabbing my shoulder as well. This is 100% my own fault, so I’m not complaining, and I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on exactly why I am dead weight. It’s not fun, though, so sometimes I watch DVDs or play Sudoku instead.
  7. Crutches actually require skill. Also upper body strength, so if you think you might hurt your leg at some point, start training your triceps now. You can use the edges of the rubber stoppers at the bottom to gain and direct momentum and get some real speed up. It does tire you out, though, and you do have to be careful to not slip and accidentally impact your wrecked leg. You also can lose feeling in your hands. Learning how to do various things with them is actually quite fun, though, and you will be motivated. Getting a cup of tea from the kitchen to your room pretty much becomes a Crystal Maze challenge, without the fun parts. This is on easy mode, too – I was partially weight-bearing from the start, and the pain was really slight.
    It may seem odd I’m using crutches for an incredibly minor injury. The trouble with an ankle sprain is that simply walking around repeatedly loads the currently-unstable joint with all 55 of my kilograms, which isn’t particularly helpful for healing. I’m down to one crutch already, and can walk normally for short intervals, but breaking into a jog or stumbling could cause a resprain, which is bad news.
  8. You have to use your words. A lot of people volunteer to give me a seat on public transport. A lot of others do not. I am absolutely not going to stand on a moving vehicle and risk wrecking myself further, so I ask them to let me sit down. There’s no need to be a dick about it – people may appear physically able when they are not, so don’t get accusatory, but anyone who is able to stand should be letting someone on crutches sit, and I approach them with that mindset. Say please, say thank you, but definitely express that you need to sit. The chances of an entire bus or tube carriage being occupied by people with invisible disabilities is pretty damn low. Someone can get up for you.

All in all, I’d give mildly spraining your ankle a 3/10 for fun activities – it’s not enjoyable, but it’s pretty damn minor and provides useful crutch training for worse injuries. You also get to work on your assertiveness skills, and develop your problem solving abilities. Always a silver lining, right?

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The Comfort Zone: An Experiment

It’s now six months since I fell into a Black Pit of Despair (BPOD), which you can read all about here if you feel so inclined. Incidentally, it’s the third most popular post I’ve ever written. Go figure.

Since that pretty miserable time, I’ve learned a few things. I learned that sometimes you need to regain the magic of training, which I wrote about here. I also learned a little bit about how much pressure I can put on myself, and what that does to my enjoyment of training and ability to learn, and you can read about that (and about how fun skating in circles is) here.

But there’s something else I learned that was even more important than these things.

When I was in the midst of feeling really low, lots of friends gave me great advice. One friend sat down with me and made a few suggestions that changed pretty much everything for me.

In any fitness or training setting, you will hear all about your comfort zone. Your comfort zone is, apparently, not where the magic happens. There are no gains to be had in it. You won’t progress if you stay in it. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking that your comfort zone is a horrible trap designed entirely to ensnare you and keep you miserable, weak, slow and pretty much incapable of anything, and that the entire purpose of training is to escape this trap into a wonderful world of fear and pain that will forge you into some kind of superhero.

There’s a seed of truth in there. If I had never pushed out of my comfort zone, I would never have tried parkour. I definitely would not have returned to it after injury, and I wouldn’t be typing this while looking at my LRR Fresh Meat graduation certificate (I know, right?! They let me through to wreck league! They must be crazy).

I am very willing to push myself. This is not as impressive as people often seem to think. My comfort zone is so damn small that if I didn’t step out of it, I might not even leave the house in the morning. That’s not a hilarious exaggeration, by the way. I do frequently wait to leave my room because I heard a neighbour outside and it makes me anxious.

So since the very first time I walked up to a bunch of strange guys on a dark and freezing cold November evening with my guts churning and my legs trembling, I have trained outside of my comfort zone, and I had seen that as an entirely positive thing and a requirement for learning.

When my friend sat down with me, she suggested I try training within my comfort zone. This was a brand new idea that was the opposite of everything I’d heard, and after considering it, I realised that I did not even know where my comfort zone actually was. Every obstacle I approached in every session was an object of fear. I’m not saying I hated parkour – this was often controllable fear, and I was quite used to it. What I was doing, though, was causing myself huge amounts of stress. I face fear quite often (it comes up a lot when you’re as twitchy as me), but if you ALWAYS face fear, it’s going to take a mental toll. I now believe that I was feeling this toll, and if I had kept going in this direction, I would quite probably have walked away from parkour entirely within a few months.

My first task, then, was to figure out where my comfort zone actually was in terms of parkour. I’m going to be very honest here – after testing myself on some really small objects, it turned out that the only obstacles I did not feel a little spark of fear at were around mid-thigh height. This was shocking, fairly embarrassing and also shed a lot of light on some of my vault difficulties – if I was already scared running up to a hip-height object, how could I possibly throw myself into it enough to learn the most basic of vaults, particularly as most obstacles I was training on were higher than that?

My second task was to work within that zone. No, it didn’t look impressive. Yes, I did feel like a twat basically hopping over tiny walls. But for around six weeks, I did it. I deliberately avoided group parkour training, and I stayed with tiny obstacles that caused no fear whatsoever. And my stress started to dissipate, and I actually started to enjoy the movement. I came up with little variants – I’d side vault, then try to pause right in the middle of the vault and hold myself up there as long as possible.

And then things started to change. Ever so slowly, things started seeming a bit easier to learn – not being under constant stress allowed me to appreciate what I was actually doing, and the time spent doing low-pressure stuff allowed me to actually focus and enjoy it. There were no overnight miracles here. I’m not Jump London material. I’m still fairly slow, I’m still not great at vaults – but when I got back to a place where I felt okay to test the boundaries of my comfort zone, they’d grown out a bit. Obstacles looked much smaller to me than they had previously, and I was moving with a lot more confidence and willingness. I went back to parkour classes, eased myself in slowly, avoided too much pressure and gradually got back to feeling okay about training.

And then there was a moment at a women’s jam one Sunday, where we were all vaulting a rail just about my hip-height, and someone stopped, looked at me and asked me how I managed to get it so easy-looking. I’m pretty sure “crushing depression followed by hopping for hours and hours over really small objects about the height of your knee” was the answer she was looking for, so I just mumbled something about practice and wandered around in a happy daze for the rest of the day.

I don’t think leaving your comfort zone is a bad thing, and it’s completely necessary if you want to try new stuff or see how far you can go. But pay it a visit occasionally. It’s a nice place to recharge, and it might even help you see things differently.

All credit for this comfort zone experiment goes to Charlotte Blake, who runs Free Your Instinct and knows how brains work far better than I do. Thanks, dude!