Be Less Crazy About Your Body, Injury Edition

Twenty thirteen got off to a pretty productive start for me. January 1st I slept in after a late New Year celebration, but January 2nd I got up at 5 am to meditate, do some yoga, and write. I’ve had this kind of routine before and it works beautifully — I love the feeling of heading to work knowing that I’ve already accomplished some goals for the day.

And I’m excited about my writing projects — this blog, columns for The Hairpin, and my next book, Be Less Crazy About Love. So it’s great to block in lots of high-quality early morning time to work on them.

For about a week, this was all working perfectly. Then, last Monday, around 5:15 am, before my first cup of tea, I stumbled on the edge of my yoga mat — irony!! — and dislocated my shoulder. Aaaaah! I got it back in after a few minutes, but Lord did it hurt.

My shoulders used to come out all the time when I was younger. In fact, genius that I am, I used to do dumb things with my hyperflexibility on purpose, to impress people, I guess? Sigh. There were probably better ways. Anyway, I haven’t had any problems with them for about ten years, which is great. But this dislocation was worse than the ones I did on purpose. More painful, for sure.

Even harder to handle than the pain, for me, is the anxiety that comes along with it. I have known people in my life for whom getting injured is not a very big deal, but I am not one of them. When I hurt myself, I have a tendency to feel extremely disconcerted, to get stuck in ruts of thought that are all about how weak and clumsy and stupid I am.

And most especially about how vulnerable I am. In every moment, so many things can go wrong … I could twist my ankle on that hole! I could trip and knock my shoulder out again! Anything can happen!

Which is always true, but hurting myself forces me to acknowledge that it’s true. And it wigs me out, more than a lot of people I think.

Why are you smiling?!? Don’t you know that your arm is broken, and that human life is tenuous?

I’m not sure why — it might be because I lost people close to me when I was young, and so have a bones-deep understanding of how quickly life can change for the worse. Or maybe it’s just because my imagination has always been a lot more active than my body.

At any rate, the last week has not turned out the way I was picturing. I have not been getting up at 5 am; I have not been abstaining from alcohol the way I’d planned. Instead I’ve been wearing a sling and popping Advil and watching lots of episodes of The West Wing.

But I am dealing with it better than I have in the past, I think. So far I’ve resisted the urge to cry and feel sorry for myself and what have you … I haven’t gone down the wormhole of worry and wigdom. Once again, my craziness avoidance techniques are coming through for me.

The most important thing is the simplest and the hardest — to notice when the anxiety whirlpool is starting to gather speed. Just noticing it gives me a little bit of power over it, because looking at it positions me outside of it. I’m not trapped in it, so I can see what it’s up to.

At that point I can pour on lots of reasonable objectivity, and sometimes even flip the situation to realize how lucky I am. Because having an unstable shoulder is not the worst thing that’s ever happened to anyone — heck, it’s not even the worst thing that’s ever happened to me! Not even in the top ten! And, boy howdy, could it be ever so much worse than it is. Like, orders of magnitude worse. So that’s something to be grateful for, something to anchor me.

Something else to appreciate: I have had shoulder issues for a long time, and right now I have both insurance and a reason to get physical therapy, so I can finally deal with those problems. Ameliorate or even eliminate them! Which is actually pretty cool.

Replacing my upsetting thoughts with reasons to be grateful — plus a certain amount of sweet sweet distraction — has really helped prevent a lot of craziness from happening. And the more I practice, the easier it gets.

Yesterday I had my follow up orthopedic appointment, and the doctor told me that I’d be fine after a bit of physical therapy. And as it turns out, contrary to what I’d feared, I haven’t actually done myself any permanent harm with the genius shoulder-popping hijinks of my youth. Which is great!

So, though I am still feeling a little bit disconcerted and sore … I’m on the upswing, and I’m not wigging out. There is an inherent danger in being alive, but it’s useless to focus on it, because what can I do about it? It’s just one of those harsh things that is 100% true: humans are incredibly vulnerable.

Also 100% true: we are resourceful as hell, and we tend to survive a lot of messed-up things. More than that, we have the ability to learn from them, to decide what they mean for us, to spin the straw of distress into the gold of hard-earned, useful knowledge. That is the part to focus on. This injury is not only giving me a reason to sort out my shoulders — it’s also helping me sort out my mind.