Running Dreams

I had my first running dream in quite some time yesterday. When the injury first happened, these types of dreams were more commonplace and I’d wake up and return to the disheartening reality of crutches or a boot. Six months later, I guess my subconscious tabled my identity as a runner and those types of scenes stopped cropping up. I’m guessing that yesterday’s big milestone of successfully sneaker walking in the woods at the park allowed the hopes and sparks of possible future running finally sneak their way back in again.

I’ve been running competitively for more than half my life, even considering the time off for all of the various injuries, so that vision of myself is nearly as cemented as my own name at this point and it’s painful and jarring to imagine it may not be something I’ll be able to enjoy again. The truth is, that fate is somewhat unknown at this point; with my degenerative connective tissue disorder, this ridiculously temperamental injury, and my overall increased propensity for injury over the past couple years, running may be entirely unfeasible or at least not recommended, and certainly would need to take on a different feel and intensity to remain a viable activity for me. I’m not in a position to even assess or decide yet since I’m still not healed enough to run, but I know it will be an important but difficult decision to face when the time comes.

With that said, my little trail excursion yesterday must have taken a key to this padlocked box with my running aspirations and loosened the lid to allow some of that pressurized passion to seep out and plant itself in my dreams. I was running. I was laughing and running along the deck of a ship, wildly swinging my arms and pumping my legs like a freed child at recess, running without restraint. An entire football team was chasing me and singing 80s pop hits while I hysterically and gleefully circumvented various obstacles along the decks. Interestingly, my left foot still seemed markedly hindered, as every hard corner I took, I’d hop twice on the right to avoid weight bearing on the left during the turn, then would regain an equal bipedal stride once I’d hit the straightaway. I woke up laughing at myself, instead of being instantly saddened by my still injured condition, as would have been the case months ago.

While I hate unknowns and hate waiting even more, I’ll continue to try to maintain hope but exercise the most patience I can bear to see how this foot heals and how my running future will look. I’m working hard to cultivate more balance in my self-image and find and nurture other interests that help me find fulfillment and purpose.

 

 

Simple Joys: Shoes!

After nursing this foot injury and exercising every last muscle of patience in my body for six months, I finally had my breakthrough step yesterday: no crutches, scooter, wheelchair, or boot; two sneakered feet hitting the pavement. I was shocked, and slightly disheartened, by how strange and difficult it felt to freely move both ankles and walk unencumbered by a big, heavy, rigid plastic boot. I felt wobbly and unsteady, and yet so light. I told Ben the feeling could be modeled by making a stick figure out of uncooked spaghetti and then just dipping the ankles in boiling water, turning them into wiggly noodles. But that model would fail to capture the deepness and endurance of my smile. Like a baby, my whole body beamed while I walked. Although I can probably count the number of times I have cried from happiness on one hand (it’s just not a reaction I get with that emotion), tears of joy welled up as pain-free steps took me further down my road. It took nearly ten minutes of a slow, steady, somewhat braced gait to gain confidence in my stability and ability to walk without any accoutrements, and I didn’t want to overdo it, but by the time I had completed my loop and was back in the driveway, my body felt more like a graceful gazelle (or at least a well-adjusted deer) than a newborn fawn. My mind, however, retained all of the qualities of the newly birthed animal, full of wonder, thrill, pride, and elation. I lifted my arm triumphantly upon my arrival back inside, like when I would win something as a child.

And that’s exactly how I felt: like I won. I beat my mental demons telling me I’d never walk again without at least a boot, I beat the pessimistic prognosis from negative doctors, and I beat the intense anxiety I had preventing me from lacing up the shoes and trying for the past week or so, too afraid the pain would still be there or I’d set myself way back again on the road to healing. My smile lingered until bedtime and it cropped up a few times in the night too, when pain-free steps carried me to the bathroom. I feel good this morning as well; it doesn’t feel like yesterday’s short excursion see me back!

Image may contain: shoes

I’m not out of the woods yet and I still have a long way to go towards full recovery, but these literal steps were a huge figurative one. At physical therapy the other day, we measured the atrophy in my calf. We compared it bilaterally (to my right leg) and also to my measurements back in February when I first went, before the orthopedist told me I needed to be fully non-weight-bearing. Compared to its original circumference, my calf has shrunk almost 3 centimeters, which is more than an inch. It’s also about an inch smaller than the healthy right leg. Most striking was the change in ankle size (and corresponding strength and stability). Compounded with my SPD-induced poor proprioception and balance and my connective tissue disorder-related joint wobbliness and instability, I have a lot of work to do to rehabilitate this ankle and restore safety and function. Yesterday, I finally got to start. Since I wasn’t cleared to do any single-leg work on that side, I haven’t been able to even attempt many strengthening exercises, let alone stabilizing ones. It’ll be a slow process, with bumps and setbacks along the way I’m sure, but this hurdle I’ve cleared fills me with so much more hope, confidence, and genuine happiness that I think it restored my bone-dry patience tank enough that I’ve got the mindset and mental fortitude to be positive and patient, the two critical ingredients to get me where I want to be as quickly and healthfully as possible.

 

Update on the Foot Saga

There are conflicting opinions about my foot. The doctor I’ve been seeing since February about it thinks it has not healed at all. Last Monday, in what can only be described as a bizarre and upsetting appointment, he told my husband and me that there is no evidence of healing and that surgery now is no longer an option. It was as if he was completely reneging on his prior assertions that surgery would be the only way to get it to heal, now he was saying because there was no healing, he was not going to do surgery. This paradox and contradiction completely confused both of us. Ben took the mature higher road and tried to ask very basic clarifying questions to ensure we understood his flip-flopped opinion. I sat there melting down with tears and sobs fretting that “I’ll be in a boot until I’m 40!” The surgeon completely ignored me and only shrugged at my husband’s questions. Ben, seeing that I was unraveling, said, “yeah so I mean if it doesn’t heal in another year or two you still wouldn’t do surgery to fix it?” He stopped shrugging, paused, then said, “maybe after another year.” Then he said he’d see us in another eight weeks and walked out. 

Like a barnacle on a sea rock, I clung to Ben and wailed about my frustrations and that the doctor didn’t want to help me. Although my response was emotionally over-dramatic, the stress of the appointment, diabolical nature of the doctor, and his unwillingness to answer our straightforward questions met at an overwhelming head. Even calm, cool, and virtually unperturbable Ben said, “this guy isn’t our doctor. He wouldn’t even explain anything.” Then like a mother duckling, he led me out of the office, trailing behind in residual sniffles and tears. 

I spent the rest of that afternoon trying again to find other viable specialist in the area. I made a couple of appointments and tried to table my anxiety and frustration for the rest of the day. Not easy. As usual, I could barely sleep.

I received a phone call from one of the offices I had contacted by Tuesday afternoon. She had a cancellation on Friday in Connecticut, a distance I felt reluctant (but able) to drive. Friday, I drove myself down and met with the new doctor. He had a vastly different opinion and equally different mannerisms. He took the time to explain things to me, actually evaluated my foot with clinical tests instead of solely relating on imaging reports, and a contrary treatment plan. “It’s basically healed,” he asserted. “There’s still some residual swelling in and around the bone but it’s essentially undetectable.” He encouraged me to start weaning out of the boot and resuming low level activities. He even said he thinks I could be back to running within a month, quite a contrast to the other surgeon’s prognosis which was, I wouldn’t be running again for a year or so, if at all. After all, he didn’t think running was a healthy activity for anyone. Armed with a more optimistic prognosis, I headed home in much better spirits. 

Unfortunately, that night while lying in bed, my foot had a more pronounced ache than normal. I had not even removed the boot for walking yet and it already seemed worse. As anxiety consumed my thoughts, we called the answering service (something I never do). To my pleasant surprise, the operator connected us with the doctor right away who assured me this is somewhat normal because he “really firmly manipulated it to assess the function and clinical symptoms.” He recommended icing it, taking anti-inflammatories, and keeping it in the boot the next three days and then resuming his purported plan. This made sense to me since we did do aggressive assessments after the conservative evaluation revealed nothing painful or abnormal. With the connective tissue disorder I have, it’s also normal to have tendon and ligament dysfunction coupled with extremely tight muscles, so he hypothesized that some of the calf raises and foot mobility against resistance had merely aggravated my muscles and tendons in the area.

I am optimistic about the treatment, care, and plan and delivered by the new doctor, but at the same time, my hesitation to remove the boat and start walking is rational. Not only has it taken so long to get to this precarious point of potentially healing, but the blatantly contradictory advice begs the question as to who is right and whom to trust. The answer lies within me. It is my responsibility and within my control to carry out whatever I deem best. It’s my foot and I’m the one who is experiencing the injury. More so than ever, I must listen to my body and pay close attention to my symptoms and needs. I plan to try carefully weaning out of the boot as instructed all while directly focused attention toward the area to monitor the physical response. I must strike an informed balance between heeding caution and restraining my anxiety so it doesn’t pollute my assessment. I pray that it has healed and can handle incrementally more sneaker time, but I am mentally prepared to dial it back if need be. This entire injury has been one of the most trying exercises of patience, maintaining faith and hope, and discipline. There have been more than many moments where I was ceded that I’d never walk again, let alone run. The future is still enshrouded in mystery, but the ominous gray cloud that used to conceal the bleak outlook portended, now looks lighter and brighter. My fears and worries are not gone, but they are better balanced by optimistic hopes for restored function, painless miles, and endless smiles.

Strength Training

I have been lifting weights again and strength training for exactly two months. Although this has nothing to do with autism, when I started my blog, I decided not to put constraints on myself regarding what I needed to think about or write about. This blog tends to be a space where I can simply mull over and express some of the many thoughts and experiences that confuse, frustrate, excite, scare, or otherwise impact me. As mentioned, strength training also has been a big bear I wanted to retackle, after going cold turkey post-attack for a couple years. Once a huge part of my identity and an integral source of joy in my life, it became one of many things I could no longer face. Except for running, I became a voyeur of the fitness world, as the mere thought of strength training made my stomach flip.

Not anymore. I’ve been training. I wouldn’t necessarily classify this training by tacking on any adjectives like “hard” or “serious,” because I’ve tried to take a low-key approach (and I have a broken foot!), but I would say my practice has been dedicated, courageous, and empowering. And fun. For as much as I’ve been trying to hold my ground above the depression abyss, any little source of happiness must be coveted like prized possession. Plus, it’s been effective. I’m actually back up to all of my old benchmarks and lifting at least as much—and in some cases even more—weight than in my prime strength training days in NYC as a full-time trainer. I never thought I’d get my body back up to that level of physical strength because it just hasn’t seemed as resilient anymore and I’ve had so many health problems, not to mention I was basically working out all day then through my job. 

It’s interesting because I have also mentioned that I avoid looking in the mirror. While I’ve gotten better and continue my daily practice of positive self-talk, this is just to the reflection of my face. My body is a different story: I don’t look at it. Until very recently, the weather had been cold enough that I was always bundled up anyway, so I never even really “accidentally” saw it. Sometimes I feel like this is actually healthier than it sounds for me personally, because I’ve hated my body unwaveringly for so long that it can be more beneficial to ignore its appearance altogether than risk critiquing it and hating it. I hope this is not the case for most people. I even shower in the dark. 

With all that said, I’ve looked at my arms lately. In fact, I not only looked casually at them, I decided to flex them. Boy there’s a lot of muscle trapped in a little arm! My scrawny atrophied arms of the past couple of years have reverted back to my healthy and muscular arms of my younger twenties. I’m not sure how it makes me feel, maybe surprised, maybe partly (ashamedly) nervous that my attacker’s words will ring true (that having muscles and a strong body made me attractive, and thus a target). Most of the time, my logical brain assures me this is not true, but I still have to fend off the occasional worries. The good news is that I’m not repulsed by my changing appearance, so that’s a start. I hope that confidence finds her way to quietly seep in, gathering a groundswell presence while I’m busy focusing on other things, until one day, she is big and loud enough for me to notice her secure hold in my mind. From there, she can slowly open the gates for the self-hatred, fear, and trauma to begin to recede and my mind, heart, and body will start finding more peace.

Prognosis

I’m crutching all around the hospital today. For some reason, they’ve designed it so that the orthopedist is in the basement in a small office that’s only reachable by snaking through several very long hallways. The radiology department—where he sends nearly every patient to get an X-ray after first seeing him—is upstairs at the opposite end of the building, in an entirely different wing, down another set of long, zig-zagging hallways. Thank goodness that I’ve been doing my strength training and have these triceps in gear!

After crutching for what feels like 30 minutes, I’m sitting back in his office waiting: waiting for him to come back in, waiting to hear why my foot is not getting better, waiting for an action plan. I start working myself up into an anxious state, flirting with a full-blown panic attack. I have my huge headphones on to drown out the rattling of the heating unit that seems to be situated in the wall behind his office rooms. I wear my noise-blocking headphones without exception when I go on most errands, unless I’m certain the place is very quiet or I’m accompanied by someone (in which case, it would be rude). I’ve also been wearing my winter beanie basically as part of my daily get-up since November (at least I have three!). It not only keeps me warm, but it tamps down my little flyaway curls that otherwise blow as I move—a guaranteed fast-track to throwing me into sensory overdrive.

The thick hat and the enormous headphones are quickly sending me into overheated territory. Thermoregulation and body temperature awareness are significant challenges for me with SPD. I seem to have to no idea if I’m trending towards becoming too hot or too cold until I’m beyond the point of easily reversing the situation and re-establishing comfort. This is one of those moments. It seems I am still dressing for January and it’s in the 60s outside. I begin to sweat. Anxiety is indubitably contributing to this heat flush, but my down coat isn’t helping. This doctor makes me nervous and so does this injury. I have a premonition it’s not going to be a favorable prognosis. My foot throbs as if to remind me, yes, I’m here and I really hurt. I don’t need the reminder but the throb won’t be silenced.

For some reason, once I’ve identified that I am, indeed, too hot, I do nothing to remedy it. I keep waiting.

I wish Ben was with me. He’s at work so I send him a text telling him I’m bored. I’m sure he knows to substitute in the word scared or lonely. I do multiplication problems in my head while I wait; over the years, I have found this to have a mild relaxant effect. 243×77

Finally, my doctor enters after reviewing my x-ray. Even though I struggle to interpret facial expressions appropriately, his is a clear tell.

It’s not good news.

I need surgery. He will insert an intermedullary screw, which is essentially a screw that gets drilled longitudinally into the metatarsal bone marrow. It will help my fracture heal.

The word surgery doesn’t jive well with runner or anxiety-riddled—both of which are equally understated adjectives to describe me.

So that’s where I am today: just wrapping my head around this next hurdle and working on convincing myself that I’ll be fine and this will ultimately be the best treatment. I will and it is.

I’m sure that I’ll have a lot of thinking and writing to help me digest this but I’m actually feeling like the depression might be lifting a little bit. Even though this is a scary proposition, it will ultimately help me heal. April 25th sounds like a good day to have surgery anyway, right?

 

Face-Planting

I face-planted today. I was at physical therapy trying to walk with an iWalk, and I literally toppled prone onto the floor like a stiff board. (I probably should have been in the parallel bars while testing it, right?)

Let me back up. I recently broke my foot and I’m to be non-weight bearing for 8 weeks while it heals. I’m on day 3. As an avid runner and someone whose coping mechanisms involve movement, this is not a brief nor welcome prognosis. I’m already falling off the rails a bit. Because of physical issues, I get injured a lot, but this is different because the world becomes much more limiting on crutches. So, the doctor suggested an iWalk. As I mentioned, I clam up and become nonverbal in appointments, so I was unable to ask any questions about this device. While I can certainly see how it would be a useful ambulation aid for most healthy adults who are able to balance, it could not be a more mismatched tool for my safe mobility. The Amber-iWalk incompatibility stems from three six crucial issues (all of which could have been addressed had I advocated for my needs and asked questions at my appointment!):

  1. Balance: you have to have normal to good balance to use this thing. Essentially, it’s like a prosthetic lower leg that sits on a small foot with a platform for the injured foot to remain perpendicular to the ground. Since the base of support is smaller than one’s normal foot, it’s hard to control. As I mentioned, one of the primary issues with sensory processing disorder (SPD) is significant difficulty with balance.
  2. Size: it’s meant for adults 4’10”-6’5″. While I do fall within this range, albeit close to the minimum, it’s still too big for me. We were unable to tighten the straps sufficiently around my leg without maxing out their available adjustments. The therapist tried sticking a towel in there to bulk up my dimensions, but the thing still kept rotating around my leg. That doesn’t work when you’re trying to control an artificial leg. Take it from me: I spent two years earning my MS in prosthetics & orthotics, a degree that I don’t use for my vocation, so I might as well apply it to my own life situations! Prostheses need to have as intimate of a fit as possibly for control and comfort. This loose fit resulted in a device that was neither comfortable nor well-controllable!
  3. Body control, kinesthetic awareness, and coordination: sensory processing disorder issues manifest in poor coordination, and proprioception, body control. I’m somewhere between a pinball and a snowball rolling down a big hill. The laws of inertia do not necessarily seem to apply to my movements. I tend to go faster and faster with unintentional reckless abandon once I get moving and I can’t seem to control the movement of my limbs or coordinate limbs and trunk. The one exception is running. Running seems to iron out my kinks and turn me into a relatively graceful, well-oiled, unified machine. It’s always been my magic.
  4. Lack of interoception: (so, I guess there’s another reason; this is now #6). I mentioned in my first post that I have difficulty with detecting and processing internal body signals like hunger, temperature regulation, and when I have to use the bathroom. Females, or anyone wanting to sit when using the bathroom, can’t really have the iWalk on. It doesn’t allow you to comfortably flex your knee and hip appropriately to squat down. It’s also not that easy or quick to remove. Therein lies the problem. The operating window of time that I usually have between realizing I need to use the bathroom and when I will start peeing hovers around 90 seconds to 2-minutes. This works well for someone who is home and can ambulated normally, but strap on a device that’s stubborn to remove, a broken foot, and a big open physical therapy gym with a long walk to the bathroom and you’ve got yourself a free two-minute slapstick comedy show. While everyone watched the panicked and desperate struggle of two PTAs and a tech careen my awkward gait like a baby giraffe, all the patients at their respective tables or exercise stations stopped and watched. Once inside the stall I yelled, “I made it!” Ah…why do I exacerbate mortifying situations? I hate when I get anxious and blurt stuff out.

After I face-planted trying to walk with the iWalk, I lay silently on the ground thinking to myself: Wow, can this be any harder?! I have all these challenges and pains and now my foot kills, I can’t run, I can’t even walk, and more and more is taken away from me like I’m on some sort of slippery slope to doom. Thankfully, the pity party of one lasted less than two seconds. I rolled onto my side and got up using my arms and my good leg in a strong single-leg squat before the PT was even able to catch up with me.

“I was going to help you up!” She exclaimed.

“I know, thanks. But when I fall, I get back up.”

And I do, and I will.

The iWalk is getting returned. Some tools are just not suited for a particular job. You wouldn’t use a staple gun to saw a board! It turns out my insurance immediately agreed that a knee scooter was medically necessary, given my risk factors with using the other standard devices and my injury. I’m sure that’ll be another adventure, but I’m up for it.

Just like the strong callus that forms over the fracture line of a healed broken bone, strengthening the new bone beyond that of the original bone, I become stronger where I was weakest. I fall and I rise up braver, tougher, wiser, and more determined. Sometimes it takes just a second or two; other times it has taken a couple of years, but I commit to myself that whatever is thrown at me, I will face, I will fight, and I will overcome.

 

Lifting

This is a tough one for me to write so I’m not sure if I will stay on topic or even get through it because I’ve started and abandoned it several times over the last few weeks. I think my best bet is just to try to remain direct and speak straight from the heart. Someday, hopefully, I’ll look back on these entries with little to no critical lens and just be glad that I documented some of my thoughts, challenges, and triumphs.

I’m putting the meat of this entry into that last bucket: I’ve finally started lifting weights again. It’s only been a couple of weeks so far, but I’m confident that I’m back into a habit that will stick. For anyone that knew me as a young adult, this probably comes as a shock. I’ve always loved working out, especially running. While I certainly have not abandoned the running and it continues to be a big part of my life, strength training has completely ceased for about 3 years. I can’t think of something more ironic (and shameful!) than a personal trainer refusing to lift or spend time in a gym. In fact, my previous blog was entirely fitness-based and a place where I shared exercise tips, information, and motivation for my clients and friends. Removing my content and deleting my site was just surface stuff; I also stopped my fitness routine outside of quite a few weekly road miles.

Why?

I don’t have a reason that likely makes sense to anyone but myself (and in hindsight, it makes little sense to me too) but it’s my reason so I’m going to own it and share it: I felt like strength training played a role in my attack and I thought that by stopping such activity, I would be safer and avoid another rape. My opinion is that some sexual assaults or violent traumas make us do things that don’t make much logical sense and that have certain faulty thought patterns and decision-making processes behind them. Trauma seems to aim its tranquilizing dart at some sort of rational thinking center in our brains, muting their normally helpful messages. Things that may make sense to a healthy person or even to that same person pre-trauma, no longer seem like the best course of action and instead, “fear-brain” is born and all she does is recognize rather noxious stimuli as anxiety-riddled situations and the only message she gives, she screams, and that is that everything is scary and you are hurting, you are broken, and you are at fault. Therapy alone doesn’t tame her. Support from family and friends can quiet, but not silence, her wrath. Time and unduly caution can take her dictatorship down a peg, but doesn’t get her to abdicate the throne. I can’t speak with authority on what does; unfortunately, I’m not there yet.

She still breathes when I breathe, she still regularly plays violent flashbacks of that morning no matter how many new memories I create, she still makes my heartbeat triple when I hear someone at the door and makes my ears ring as I fight passing out when someone surprises me from behind. And she still does her best with her domineering nature to prevent me from feeling “normal” and free.

As incorrect as the logic may be, I became afraid to work out because I didn’t want to get raped again. I knew the man that attacked me. In fact, I’ve heard this is often the case and in one survivor support group I was in, all but one of us did. How creepy is that? I think at least some of those other women didn’t choose to let that person into their life initially. It’s not their fault at all. It may have been a family member, a babysitter, a parent’s boyfriend, etc. Me? It was my choice. This person was someone I talked to at the gym, someone I worked out with, someone I gave fitness advice to, someone who told me I was attractive because I was strong and lifted. And there you have it.

While I thought nothing of that comment at the time and completely dismissed it, it clearly worked its grubby little hands into my subconscious. Once the acute aftermath of the trauma had subsided and I was pretending to go on about my life, that little message would not stand to be silenced. All of these months later, I still have been heeding to her crippling advice. I have not lifted a weight, not done a push-up, and denied myself from the strength training I enjoy in the hopes that my weakness will make me ugly (I should say uglier since I’ve never felt pretty), and protect me in the ways my muscles and strength did not the day I was so horrifically attacked. I think that’s another reason that lifting (and even personal training) has been so unappealing to me since that day. I felt like a fraud. I had this self-image that I was a strong, fit young woman certainly able to defend her body. But I wasn’t. When I needed to call upon my strength, it failed me. He did pull a knife on me, so “logical brain” says I couldn’t have defended myself because I couldn’t try, but “trauma brain” tells me I did try and I failed hard. I can’t say that she’s right because I couldn’t fight back, either from paralyzingly fear, shock, or the drawn knife blade but part of me still listens to her and hates my body for letting me down. That part has gotten its time in the sun for too long. And so, I choose to be courageous. I choose to lift.

While my emotional and mental strength has grown since that day, my body has weakened. I am nowhere near my old benchmarks, which is humbling and somewhat humiliating, to say the least, but I’m doing it, I’m loving it, and I’m taking back control.

I wish I could say that conquering this milestone has put evil “trauma brain” to rest and extinguished her fire. It hasn’t. It’s barely just the start. I’ve been working hard in therapy for a couple of years now to shake her but she’s clinging on. Hopefully, this step is one of many and someday, she’ll fade out like the last candle on the cake that stubbornly keeps flickering back up with each blow, finally ceasing in a silent little curl of gray smoke, carried upward and blending into the clouds like a tiny whisper of powerless vapor.