Carefully Healing

Twenty days ago I twisted my ankle while stepping off a stair. It is the stupid sort of injury that sometimes happens with an action that should not be injurious. I wasn’t even doing anything interesting enough to make it a good story. Surely if I suffer this much I should get a good story out of it, right? And maybe I am now, I mean, I’m writing it up. Except the story isn’t the misstep nor the alarming popping noise inside my joint. This story is about healing as a process.

Within minutes I was fairly certain nothing was broken. It hurt, but I was able to talk and to limp my way back into the house. Elevation and ice packs were the story of the first twenty four hours. The four days following were an ankle brace, swelling, cautious limping, and sitting down a lot. It was when the swelling started to go down that I started thinking about how swelling is the body’s natural immobilization protocol. My brace was an aid to that natural process, but as the swelling receded, I began testing the available motion in my ankle. I was finding what motion I could regain, what motions were uncomfortable in a stretchy way, and which motions were instantly painful in a way that said “Don’t do that!”

Healing was steady. It felt slow as I was passing through it, but in hindsight twenty days is not that long. Within two weeks I had stopped needing to move carefully through my day to adapt for my ankle. The swelling ceased around the joint, but there remained a stiff swollen feeling to the joint itself. I realized that I could choose “good enough” and just live with that residual stiffness. Instead I chose to pick up my yoga practice again, deliberately stretching and moving to find the edges of which motions were stretchy and which were hurty. Day by day I discover that a motion which was hurty yesterday is only stretchy today. Slowly my hurt ankle is coming back into alignment with the capabilities of the uninjured ankle.

It has been a deliberate and slow process of listening to what my ankle is telling me about what it can do, what it shouldn’t do, what feels uncomfortable now but will create capacity later, and what might create new injury. At the moment I write this, there is an ache in my ankle from the yoga stretches I put it through this morning. I’ll go easy on it until the ache subsides and tomorrow we’ll decide again how much to stretch.

My ankle isn’t the only injury I carry. I’ve been working on my annual One Cobble book where I pull together public blog posts, private writings, and journal entries into a written record of my year. This process helps me evaluate the year I’ve just had and lay it to rest so that I can start a fresh year in January. I stalled out on the process by the August writings. I found myself tired, knowing what was coming and not sure I wanted to wade through all of it. I’d found “that might cause reinjury” for emotional wounds that felt remarkably similar to the “don’t move that way” messages from my ankle. I paused for several days, gave myself rest. I carry emotional wounds from my medical adventures that are very similar to my sprained ankle. The events didn’t seem like they should cause injury, and yet I have odd over-reactions, stiffness, and avoidance happening in similar ways to my limping gait around my house.

Then there are the larger, deeper, and older injuries that I still carry around motherhood experiences. They’re getting stirred up now from watching my daughter have her first baby. I find myself wanting to warn her of things that might be coming in much the same way I’ve been telling people to watch their step as they go down stairs. I stepped wrong once and am still dealing with painful consequences. As the ankle stops hurting, the impulse to warn people about stairs will also fade. The impulse to warn tells me I have something unhealed, a residual stiffness or pain that I haven’t worked all the way through. I do my best not to spread the contagion of my anxieties to my daughter. She is mothering a baby and has a sufficient supply of her own anxieties. She doesn’t need my unprocessed emotions even if they’re couched as helpful warnings. (An actual warning of an imminent possible harm is a different thing.) She has her own joyful, painful journey to take. She is growing so much from it, they all are, parents and baby together. Which is a beauty I lose track of when I focus on what might hurt.

I created a careful yoga regimen for regaining use of my ankle, perhaps I can do the same for regaining access to the joy I felt while parenting or to allow me to participate in my ongoing medical care as a routine part of life instead of an ongoing trauma. I just need to figure out the emotional equivalent of finding the motions that are stretchy but not hurty. Writing this post is one of them, but I can’t simply re-write this post each day. I’m considering whether outside assistance might be required. I’ve managed my ankle injury without needing a physical therapist, it feels like my emotional processing is of a similar low-level injury. I’m emotionally sprained, not emotionally broken. Yet I’m holding the idea of seeking out professional therapeutic help as a possibility.

Honestly, If I could just grant myself rest, that would resolve most of it. I’m tired. The first and most urgent need for an injury is always rest. My ankle is always worst at the end of the day and best after a night’s sleep. My review of 2023 shows me a year where I had transition after transition after transition with no stabilizing spaces in between. Working on event organization pivoted to Kickstarter fulfilment pivoted to major convention prep pivoted to medical adventures piled on top of writing conference, followed by Kickstarter funding, followed by my daughter having a baby, and another convention, and holidays. On top of that, the whole year had a soundtrack of omnipresent financial anxiety and urgently needing to create more. And here I am. Tired. Depleted. Depletion is also a sort of injury requiring slow and careful recovery.

The first few months of next year are not going to have fewer things in them, but perhaps I can turn off the anxiety soundtrack. I can definitely put some slow and deliberate practices into my life (yoga, scripture study, reading, walking, gardening) that will rejuvenate me and help me build strength and resilience. At the beginning of this year I caught the idea of wanting to be able to do handstands. I began doing some skill building exercises into my yoga practice. My practice was very sporadic and often neglected. Yet I managed an unsupported headstand yesterday. Even a sporadic and often neglected practice can create strength and skill. Perhaps next year I’ll sporadic myself all the way into a handstand. Perhaps I’ll sporadic myself into healing and joy. Perhaps life and injury always go hand in hand. Maybe hurting is part of wholeness. We’re always healing from some hurt. To live and to walk is to exist with the possibility of a sprained ankle. There is a thought there that I want to tease out further, but this ramble has been long enough I think. For today I’m going to be kind to my ankle, and my tired brain. I’m going to make sure I rest both.