Fitness Struggles: Coping with an Injury (Part I)

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Since my injury, I have been focusing on building my strength and flexibility. This will hopefully make the recovery process easier as I strengthen the muscles in my legs, arms and core rather than losing muscle mass. 

At the end of January, on a Saturday morning, I went to the gym and trained my legs and lower body. That night, I went out with some friends, had no more than two drinks and danced the night away. On the Sunday morning, I woke up bright and early and went to an Iyengar yoga class. Later that day, I went to meet my friend Joolia and noticed that with every step, I felt a mild-to-moderate pain and discomfort in my left glute area. On Monday, I noticed it as I walked to work and realised that I couldn’t run, not even jog, barely even speed-walk. On Tuesday, it was a full-on pain and I had to give in and take some painkillers, which I only use in emergencies. On Wednesday, I cried on the way to work as I struggled to walk without feeling like someone was stabbing me in my lower left back. On Thursday, I managed to get a physio appointment and received the verdict: a Grade 2 Tear in my psoas muscle/ hip flexor (on the left side).

Stage 1: Emotional Wreckage

My life came crashing down. Fitness is my entire life, my passion, my everything. It keeps me (somewhat) mentally and emotionally balanced. I had worked so hard during the past twelve months and had come so far. I had constructed my social life in London around running clubs, fitness classes and everything health-related. I had just signed up for the Clapham Common half marathon. All of that was destroyed when my injury happened. For a week, I sat inside every evening, ate junk food, cried and felt sad and frustrated. My physiotherapist politely described this as a “strong emotional reaction” to the injury, but I would have just described myself as a “limping, chocolate-covered shit-show.”

Stage 2: Assessing the Situation

Ok. So, I can’t run at all but what can I do? I started out by walking 45-90 minutes per day, just walking through the pain. At times, this made the pain worse and more intense. I was too scared to go to the gym.What if I made it worse? My physiotherapist encouraged me to go back to the gym and carefully test out some exercises to see what I was capable of. I tried rowing but this irritated it immediately and I had to stop. I tried walking on an incline on the treadmill but it was too painful. Then I tried the elliptical, and on a steep incline, it was totally fine. After a week passed, I tried doing burpees and that was OK. A week later, I tried some weighted lunges and split squats, but I felt my stability had been massively weakened, so I had to drop the weight a lot. I tried some gentle ski jumps and these were OK. I really miss the explosive, vigorous training but I know I’ll get back to it eventually. I just need to be patient.

Stage 3: Panic, Anxiety and Frustration

Two weeks ago, I did a big legs work-out and then walked around London for a prolonged period of time in wedged sneakers (idiot). This irritated the injured muscle and it flared right back up. I was in copious amounts of pain again for two days. The irrational thoughts crept back up, “I’ll never exercise properly again,” “I’ll never run again,” “Maybe I’m disabled now,” “I’ll get fat, lose all my fitness, and I’ll just die alone and obese.” So I may have jumped to some pretty extreme conclusions, but I was scared and I still don’t understand a lot about the muscle that I have injured or how badly I tore it, because the physiotherapist says it’s a difficult one to diagnose. Imagine working out religiously every morning, doing the same type of training (HIIT, cardio, weights) every single day and then all of a sudden, it all stops. Your body has become so accustomed to producing certain types of hormones during and after the exercise, and then suddenly, it screeches to a halt. My hormones were out of whack! They still are to an extent, but I’m working to regulate them again.

Stage 4: Just F***ing Deal with it

This injury is out of my control, and unlike my previous injuries (tendinitis in my biceps tendon and a strained rhomboid muscle), I can’t just work through the pain. This was a tear, slightly more serious, and running was not an option. I have had no choice but to listen to my body, gently try and reintroduce exercises bit by bit and see how my body responds. For the last two weeks, I have been doing 30-45 minutes on the cross-trainer each morning, which I HATE but it has helped me release some of the same endorphins as I would have got from running and has kept me (somewhat) sane because at least I have been moving and sweating. However, this week I am hoping to try a spin class and do some of my own HIIT workouts in the morning to add some variety to my workout routine and gradually build back up to my normal training routine.

Stage 5: Understanding the Behaviours and Reactions

Inevitably, as a result of this experience, I have gained weight. The comfort-eating during stages 1 and 2 was me defaulting to an old unhealthy behaviour from when I used to be fat and unhappy. Without any exercise, eating that many calories meant that the pounds began to pile on. I am now half a stone heavier than when I moved to London, which has been very difficult to deal with. The mental battle has been a struggle. Every time I caved and ate a cookie or a pastry in the office, I felt an intense anxiety as I knew that I was going to go over my recommended calorie intake. I have watched my weight creep up every week and it has been extremely distressing. My mind has plagued me with thoughts of self-hatred and despair. BUT… this week, I have fought these thoughts away and indulged without comfort-eating or boredom-eating. Previously, if I over-indulged, I knew that I could run it off or exercise to burn the extra calories. Now, this isn’t possible so I have had no choice but to take a step back and ask myself, “Why are you eating this junk when you know it’s bad for you and it’s going to add layers of fat to the body you have worked so hard for?”

All humans develop habits and some are harder to break than others. My life in Belfast became quite boring and monotonous. I would come home on a Friday or Saturday night and either go to the movie theatre or get snacks on the way home and watch Netflix all night long. Eating in front of the TV and having pic n’ mix at the cinema became habits and I would diet all week to prepare for my “treat” nights, which weren’t even treats because they were virtually the same every week. When I moved to London, I promised myself that my life would not continue this way. I began filling my evenings with running clubs and fitness classes to ensure that I stayed occupied, happy, and social. When my injury struck, I fell back into my old ways. But this does not have to be the case. Last week, I spent my evenings with friends, researching fun things to do in London, working on my Instagram and I even bought a mindfulness colouring book. I suppose I’ve learned that you can’t control every aspect of your life. Some obstacles in life are bigger than others and you a choice; throw in the towel and crash or deal with them and fight on. After working so hard to get to where I am today, my only option is to fight on.

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