My injury didn't ruin my life. It improved it
Injuries... the word that makes me shudder from the inside. The word that no athlete or artist or human being wants to hear. The word that comes after that "pop" sound, the crack, the flame of pain and leaves our mind in a space thinking, oh god no this cannot be happening.
Injury can be defined as something that damages or hurts and funnily enough most physical damage leads to emotional damage or hurt. My focus in this article will be physical injuries and some tips on how to manage these, and deal with them emotionally to avoid further injury.
Sometimes i envy those dancers whom have a) never suffered an injury or b) at most had a rolled ankle for a few days . Unfortunately injury is no new concept to my body. At age 8 I tore my posterior tibias when i landed on a box after a barre routine at gymnastics. I felt it go and spent some furious weeks on crutches- though I must say at that age and using them for the first time I did enjoy all the special attention at school (of course i did ) . When I was 11 i was diagnosed with Osgood schlatter Syndrome- a knee injury which 13% of young girls are affected by. It is caused when the tendon attaching the quadriceps muscles to the shin bone becomes tight and causes inflammation and micro-fractures in the tibial tuberosity. It causes immense pain in its first years any time you run, squat or jump and in some rare cases the bone may become partially dislodged (partial avulsion fracture) leaving behind a larger than normal bump. I was one of the rare cases and still to this day have an extreme bump that makes me feel insecure on the front of my knee- I still can't kneel properly and if I simply bump it I act as if you smashed it into pieces with a hammer. I have learnt to adapt so that to the viewer - there is nothing I can't do in dance- but theres lots. This then lead to shin splints where It got to the point where my shin bone was about to split in two. I should have stopped and rested earlier but my teacher ran the school like an army and enjoyed abusing our bodies through overwork so it wasn't until I stood up to him and said No- copped the back line and verbal abuse that it began to get better.
When I was 14 my best friend, thanks Bree, jumped and landed on my foot breaking my pinky toe into a spiral fracture- something so small that actually causes immense pain and trouble - no pirouettes for me - but I did the whole concert anyway with the help of my new best friend - nurofen. At 15 I dislocated my knee on stage and spent some weeks in physio and on crutches and at 18 I tore my ACL in half requiring an arthroscopy and two months off- this was the injury that felt like my life was ending. I missed the City of sydney Jazz Finals ( you full timers know what i mean) and grad was approaching with solo selections- but I heard a fellow full timer say how happy she was I was out because that meant I wouldn't get a solo. So much support right ?! Well I'm not sure she realized but that one remark sparked a fire in me to work harder than ever. I learnt a lot about how much i loved dance, how important it was to take care of my body and I came back dancing better than ever ( just ask renee Ritchie- I now knew how to contract). The two months went quickly- only two friends reached out and were there along the way but I came back to claim that main solo not the mash up solo section and to also book my first week of X factor including a solo performance on National Tv- say what ?! Take that mean full-time girl !!
The next 6 years my ankles decided to fail time and time again during my national Tour of Grease with many weeks off and in physio but other than that this body held itself together really well... Until October 2016- when i tore my ACL completely and had to fly home from LA to have a reconstruction surgery. Here I am today writing this blog from my balcony at 3.5 months in to recovery.
Ive had many young dancers and strangers going through the same or similar things and friends whom have all had knee injuries right after me reach out for some words of encouragement, or tips on what has helped. In turn I have also spoken to many friends who have had career threatening injuries that turned their world upside down for their advice (next blog i will share some of their words).
- First things first- CRY IT OUT. If you feel like it is destroying you- let it all out . There is no point holding it in, acting "tough" and pushing through because it will come out eventually and its best at the beginning so that you can filter emotions, accept the situation and move forward into recovery with your mind at its best. Of course there will be many moments of tears along the way but the first is the most important!!
- Take time out - time off meaning you miss out on training, rehearsal or having to say no to an opportunity is any athlete or performers nightmare. We are used to pushing our bodies past our boundaries and training and working constantly without a break. To take time off our mind tells us " we are weak" "we aren't professional" and many other self sabotaging stories. However, we must listen to our bodies and acknowledge that rest and time with our feet up is actually best and aids the body to heal faster. No matter what your heart and head is telling you, think of the bigger picture. Yes maybe you missed one opportunity- but think of the long running career you desire !! It isn't worth it pushing yourself because that one push may lead to thousands of steps back .
- Do your research- you only have one body and it is your tool. Research the injury, treatment options, doctors, others that have gone through it. Get second opinions, shop around- it may cost more time and money but you want the best treatment possible and the right one for you !
- Open up to support- Speak to family and friends, let them know what is going on and allow them to give you a shoulder to fall on. If i didn't have my friends around in La when i got the news I can't even imagine how I would have dealt (Thanks Megan for letting me slobber all over you and loose my shit ) . Don't be afraid to get professional help also. The first weeks leading up and post surgery I felt my first surge of depression in many years and thanks to my awesome father set up some therapist sessions. Her sessions allowed me to see the other side through the darkness, control my anxiety and demolish some old destructing habits and replace them with new boundaries.
- YOU time- Rehab will take up most of your time now, but remember to find moments to do the things you love. Most might not be achievable with this new injury but sit down, get creative and find things that you can do! Even with an immobile leg i could read a book, see the sunshine, drink a good coffee and blog! Make time to connect with friends also- its pretty easy to lock yourself up and cease to exist but it will only leave you feeling crazy and alone.
- Listen - to your body and your physio/doctor. The most important thing is to take it slow and steady. You want to recover to the highest quality not in the shortest time! Your body will tell you if it needs a rest, and if it does - listen and don't feel guilty for having a day off and lying in bed watching the OA. It took me a long time to accept this because i am impatient and a perfectionist. I wanted instant gratification and instant results and felt terrible doing "nothing". But i was healing, my body needed it and it had to take its time. Don't rush into things if your doctor hasn't advised- it could land you back where you were with one wrong unprepared move !!
- Don't compare - Yes "Susie" may have had the same surgery at the same time, but you are not her and you don't have her body. Every human being has a different body and will react differently to trauma and rehab. When someone ticks a goal before you, be happy for them instead of jealous (as hard as it is) and then flick your focus back to you. What goals do you need tick off ? What do you need to work more on ? What will get you back to doing what you love ?!
- Set goals- Sometimes when we have our eye on the end prize e.g dancing back in LA, the recovery process can seem immense and impossible. Focus on setting your self small goals so that you constantly feel your progression and can celebrate triumphs along the way. It may be as simple as walking for the first time, sitting in frog, running hands free, squatting in the kitchen, lifting your arm over your head to grab something. Write a list , aim for them and celebrate when those days go by it will make time feel like its flying .
- Open your eyes - This time healing may mean you cannot do what you have always done. Instead of sulking over it the whole process- why not take this time to focus on things you always wished you had time for, learn new skills, create new relationships or maybe even start your own business!. Work consumes our daily lives and when our work is our passion- it leaves little time to find other things that also make our heart sing. Get brainstorming and write another list !. This time off for me has meant more quality time with my family which I never get (make) time for, time to find new recipes, work on my blog and writing, work on ideas for my company, assist people and grow my skills in other areas of the industry and most of all Learn so much about myself. Reflect on lessons, decide who I want to be, see all my dreams, see the beauty and wonder in my everyday life and adventure across the globe and in my country a lot more- and NOT FOR WORK !!
I hope to write a lot more about injury recovery physically and mentally as time goes on and i learn more and more through each new wave of this process. Feel free to write to me if you have any ideas or comments as i love hearing from people and seeing into others minds :). If you are going through a long recovery or about to head into one I hope you learn and feel as free as I have. Once past the first bump I can truly say i have never known such a deep happiness. A Happiness not derived from anything extrinsic such as thriving career but merely from myself, my daily interactions and experiences. It may be a once in a lifetime chance to see your life from a different angle , a second chance to make things right- your thoughts, your intentions and go after your dream life with more purpose, meaning,and courage than ever !!!!!!