27 Jul What Getting Injured Taught Me About Myself
In the fall of 2017, I returned to school after having had the most amazing summer of my life where I had been going climbing, surfing, and hiking as much as I possibly could. I found so much joy in these activities, and I made these activities become a large part of my identity. When I was introduced to people I was introduced to them as a climber, as a surfer, or as ‘really adventurous’. These had become the core of who I was. I continued to ride this wave through my time back at school and things seemed amazing. These activities weren’t as easily accessible in Michigan, but I still took any opportunity I could to stay fit and train for when I could get outside and back to my sports. I had become obsessed.
Then it happened. I was playing volleyball with friends and I went up to spike a ball. When I landed, it didn’t feel right. I took a break, and I expected it to feel better again in 5 minutes and then I could keep going back at my usual pace. But that 5 minutes turned into the rest of the night, and the rest of the night turned into the next week. And it wasn’t getting better. I knew something had to be wrong with my knee, and the thought of that terrified me.
The next month and a half involved a lot of different nurses wrongly diagnosing what would eventually be identified as a bucket handle tear in my meniscus as an LCL sprain. That month and a half was really hard because an LCL sprain is supposed to get better with time, but my knee never did. This was a period that involved a lot of false hope and missed expectations. When I finally got the diagnosis that my meniscus was torn and that the only way I would ever feel better was an invasive surgery, there was a sense of relief that I finally knew what was going on. But there was also a new and overwhelming sense of fear that I may not ever be the same person I was before my meniscus tear.
I had built my identity around my athletic ability. My athletic ability and the activities it allowed me to do were what gave me my confidence, where I felt at home, and how I relaxed. My athletic ability introduced me to new friends, it’s how I got the attention of the opposite sex, and it’s what led me to cool places and new experiences. When I tore my meniscus I had all of that taken away from me. I not only lost a piece of my meniscus, but I also lost a large piece of myself.
I considered myself a forward-looking and positive person, but I kept thinking to myself “What if I had never played that game of volleyball.” “What if I just had landed better?” It was so hard for me to accept the fact that I was injured.
The whole foundation of my identity was crumbling. I felt lost again. I felt like I lacked direction again. The way I thought my life was going to be was challenged, and I needed to think of alternatives. I realized I was more insecure in myself than I had thought before. I began doubting myself in ways I hadn’t for a long time. “Will people still want to hang out with me if it’s not during a sport?” “Will girls still find me attractive?” “What am I going to do with all my time?” “What do I even like doing?”
During my recovery, I felt as if I had a choice. I could be miserable until I got better, change nothing, and leave myself susceptible to this mental torment all over again if I got hurt. Or I could find a way to be happy and like who I was WITHOUT my athletic ability.
The next few months weren’t initially easy. But I approached the situation with a positive and very proactive attitude. I knew it was going to take work, and I knew I had to take charge of it. Sitting alone in my room wasn’t going to help me feel better. I had to go out, I had to try new things, and I needed to approach new hobbies with an open mind.
I started growing relationships with the people around me more, I took more advantage of social opportunities, and I took a more proactive approach to my mental health. By the time that my injury healed and I was back to my normal athletic self, I was a whole different person.
Instead of creating an identity that was built on such a fragile foundation as athletic ability, I instead built a stronger foundation that couldn’t be as easily shaken. Not to say that after my injury I had completely figured myself out, later challenges in my life sparked a similar change in how I viewed myself. But this injury in particular created largest and the most impactful change in my view of myself, and I came out of it so much stronger. If you are going through something similar, then talk to someone about what you’re going through!