No Matter What You're Recovering From, Recovery Isn't Linear
This is going to be a long story. A story of self-discovery, a story of real tests of my strength and ability to fight the bad stuff. This is also going to be a story of hope, one that I pray will reach others and help them come to terms with their reality.
I had surgery last summer: ankle surgery. After an initial injury in June of 2011 and years of constant reinjuring, I had surgery to correct the problem. I had the Broström procedure done, which is when the surgeon reattaches and/or tightens the lateral ligaments holding a person’s ankle together. For almost 10 years I was walking incorrectly. Every step I took felt like I was walking on ice skates, and when I was actually feeling comfortable while walking, it meant that it felt like walking on ice skates but right before you actually get on the ice. Wobbly and unstable. I could fall at any moment. One wrong move, or even no wrong move at all, could send me falling to the floor in pain. Most people only acknowledged my injury right when it occurred in 2011 — after getting hit by a car while riding my bike (that’s a whole different story). After a few months, everyone thought I was better. I was up and walking, I even spent that summer lifeguarding at a sleepaway camp. I was no longer bruised, the swelling in my leg had gone down (albeit not completely), so clearly I was fine again! All fixed. But I wasn’t. And so last summer I finally had surgery after my ankle just gave up. It had had enough, I could not just fall and then get up and keep going like I usually did. So I had surgery.
It’s been 15 months since my surgery. I was going to physical therapy even prior to it, as well as after (until the insurance decided I was “better,” of course). When I restarted PT in August of last year after being immobile for most of July, I was super anxious. My ankle was literally just cut open, how was I going to walk? How would I do any of the prescribed exercises? But I did. I was slowly regaining strength. My entire lower body was a wreck as a result of both my immobility as well as years and years of a modified way of walking. My muscles were weak. My feet did not know where to go when told to walk in a straight line. I essentially needed to relearn how to get around correctly. And I was getting there… until I wasn’t. Some days I had to skip half the exercises because my body just could not take it all. I had lasting nerve damage from my nearly decade-old injury and it terrified me when I could not feel a thing when my physical therapist touched certain parts of my leg and ankle. I was not able to do a simple forward lunge because my legs would quiver and my leg muscles burned. I could not stand on tip toes for more than five seconds because my entire body felt like it was up in flames. I still could not walk for long periods of time without getting extremely fatigued. I felt like a failure. I would sometimes cry during PT, expressing that it’s been so long, why the hell wasn’t I doing better? Every time I expressed discomfort around my family, they would give me a frustrated look and ask me why I had the surgery in the first place because it seemed like I was worse off now than before. At first I got annoyed with their question but soon I started to ask myself the exact same thing. Was all this effort worth it? Was all the hard work going to pay off eventually? When?
I’ve thought about that a lot, and I’ve tried to reframe the way I think about it. The surgery did indeed fix my problem. The lateral ligaments of my ankle are now back where they need to be. Recovery from this kind of thing takes a long time, and it is most definitely not linear. For years I was walking incorrectly, for years I was favoring the other side of my body with everything that I did. Of course this was going to be difficult. Obviously there would be days that sucked, days I’d wonder if any of it mattered anyway. What was I expecting, a quick fix? A quick fix for something I’d been dealing with since I was 17? Thoughts like that are just unrealistic and ineffective. This was going to take time and patience and a lot of self-compassion and perseverance.
I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2010, when I was 16. My struggles obviously did not start on that day in March, but they were finally given a name. All my behaviors, my thoughts that I had always believed deemed me “crazy” actually had a name. Receiving any kind of diagnosis is always scary, whether it be a physical illness or a mental illness. Let me tell you, a diagnosis of BPD basically slaps a “difficult and unhelp-able” label on your face right then and there. It causes clinicians to refuse to even meet you just because they see those three words on a piece of paper. They sound uncomfortable on the phone when you call them, almost like they want to just hang up out of fear of any legal liability.
My battle with borderline personality disorder has been a lengthy and difficult one. For seven years I struggled with self-harm. The thoughts still linger, even having not hurt myself for five years. I’ve been bounced from doctor to doctor, I’ve felt like such a guinea pig because of all the medications I’ve tried. One clinician, after three months of me being under her care, decided I was too difficult and dropped me as a patient. I was too high-risk. All they did was see me as a risk, one they were not willing to take on, meanwhile all I was trying to do was advocate for myself and get the help I so desperately needed. I’ve seriously thought about dying. I have gone through periods of such self-hatred that it felt like the thoughts alone would kill me. I’ve cried myself to sleep. I’ve pushed away and hurt people I cared about so much. I’ve isolated myself. I’ve succeeded in taking steps forward and then just fallen down a whole flight of emotional stairs. I’ve trudged through some of the thickest quicksand that exists.
It’s almost the end of September 2020. At the beginning of this year, I was not in a good place. Every day was a chore and I wanted to disappear. My entire body hurt and I thought I was dying. It got really scary. People were worried. I could barely leave my therapist’s office because I was so scared of myself (I’ve been with my current therapist for more than five years and she is a godsend). It got to a point where I knew I had to commit to myself or else I really would disappear. So I’ve been focusing on myself. I’ve been getting healthy, in both mind and body. People in my personal life have noticed the difference, my therapist has been proud of me. I am proud of me.
Just like with physical therapy for my ankle, I was getting there… until I wasn’t. Recently, a wave of panic came over me. I can’t really tell you if it was over something concrete and specific, but what I can tell you is that all of a sudden I was lying in bed in tears, frantically texting my friend, terrified of my mind. I felt that pit in my stomach, one that had been a stranger for months. I felt impulsive. I was in crisis mode. I was transported back to January/February time, when everything was crap and my life was falling apart. I did not know what to do. I did not know how to respond in a healthy and effective way. Were all my months of hard work worth it? Did all the soul searching and mind exploring even matter? Was it all over?
Since that scary night I’ve been trying to reframe the way I think about it. Recovery from this kind of thing takes a long time, and it is most definitely not linear. For years I walked around as a shell of a person. For years I struggled with such self-hatred and unexplained panic and desperation. For years I was living just because I had to. Of course this was going to be difficult. Obviously there would be days that sucked, days I’d wonder if any of it mattered anyway. What was I expecting, a quick fix? A quick fix for something I’d been dealing with for half my life? Thoughts like that are just unrealistic and ineffective. This is going to take time and patience and a lot of self-compassion and perseverance.
Life is not linear. Recovery is not linear. My experience is not linear. I am finally working through years of pain and despair. I am really delving deep into myself and my experiences, with the help of my incredible therapist. I spent years living a certain way, thinking it was all I deserved. I modified the way I thought, the way I went about my days. But I am finally seeing that it does not always have to be like this.
There are going to be days that my ankle gives me such grief and frustration. There are days when overall panic and depression will make an appearance. But, as with my ankle, I am nowhere near where I was years ago. I am fighting. I am working damn hard. And the fact that I acknowledge that means that I am succeeding.
Photo by Stewart MacLean on Unsplash