This blog post is going to be difficult to write because it isn’t about being at my best. In fact it is about being at my worst. Everything in social media is how everyone is succeeding, jobs, children, partners, travels. Rarely do we see anything about struggle or heartbreak or being broken. And if we do I feel it’s hard to read or hard to give a shit. Regardless of your reaction I just want to write this to show you that the struggle is real and what you see on social media isn’t always the whole picture.
In March of this year, 2018, I was skiing before work, it was a powder day it was beautiful out and I wasn’t doing anything extraordinary like dropping into Corbet’s Couloir. Check out the insane video below to understand what I am talking about.
So there I am skiing my usual run to work and there were all these skiers lined up at the top of the run. I stood there for quite a while trying to figure out what they were doing, was someone hurt, were they told the run was closed. I finally decided to go and just skied a tighter line close to the trees. Everything was perfect until I think my skis crossed under the powder and instead of just taking the fall I tried to correct it. As I corrected the fall and just fell back on my butt I heard the pop and I knew I had done it. I had done the thing so many skiers before me had done. I had torn my ACL. But I sat there, petrified that I may have to call ski patrol, and told myself I just pulled a muscle, no big deal. So I stand up, put some weight on my leg and find I can ski, but I cannot turn. I traverse a little bit staying perpendicular to the ski run and I am fortunate enough to find a groomed portion of the run. I start to ski down and find that in fact I can turn and I pick up a little speed and confidence and am convinced I just pulled a muscle or sprained something. I get to the chairlift, which is a two-person lift, and load it. I think, phew, I made it. Now to work and finish out the day. Less than a minute into the eight minute ride the weight of my boot and ski on my leg take its toll and I am in so much pain I start crying and praying for the lift to speed up. I get to the top crying in my goggles and slowly make my way to the locker room, and change into my work clothes. I could not stop crying, the tears were just flowing without me even really knowing what was happening. My co-workers and boss took one look at me and asked what was wrong. I re-capped the story and they told me to go to the clinic. I left the top of the mountain on the gondola and went straight to the mountain clinic. I’m there less than twenty minutes and I leave in a straight leg brace, refusing crutches. I was informed I needed to make an appointment with the orthopedist within the next three days because she was almost positive I tore my ACL. I still wasn’t convinced, I kept thinking she’s wrong, it isn’t torn, and it’s just a sprain.
I was lucky enough to get into Teton Orthopedics another hour later and have an MRI and X-rays. The verdict, I tore my ACL and if I want to ski next year I should probably have surgery. The thought of not having surgery didn’t even cross my mind. I need an ACL to ski and that’s that. I had one-month left of work and within that month I needed to heal and reduce swelling before surgery. My mind went into overdrive, I need to work, I can’t be out of work a month before off season, how will I pay all my bills, how do I take care of myself, I don’t know what to do or where to start. I cried pretty much all day.
That day was one of the lowest points of the next four months. I have never felt more alone in my life than I did that day. I had no family nearby to help me, and my friends were busy with their own work and lives. On top of that, my job requires my body to function well; losing the use of a limb is like losing everything. Not just your job or money, but your very existence your dignity and humanity. You never realize the feeling of loss when you have an injury that affects your immediate future. Living in a ski town doesn’t help much either. Everyone and everything keeps moving around you. Nothing slows down except you, and you feel pretty worthless. But after about a week when my knee started to heal and I was starting to do normal day-to-day activities my spirits rose and I was getting back to the grind. I finished out the work season and I planned the next two months around my surgery instead of my scuba travels. My mom was coming to help me after surgery and my father after that. It was all coming together and everything would be ok.
After surgery, however, the gloom returned. I was in so much pain, my mom was freaking out because I was taking narcotics (as prescribed), and I couldn’t go anywhere farther than the bathroom from my bed. I was in PT before and almost immediately following surgery but all the swelling I got down before was now back, my progress was slow, and felt like it was going no where. My physical therapists saw me cry more than I would like to admit because this cloud settled over me that I would never get my leg back. Fortunately, I had booked a counseling appointment for after surgery, I knew that I would need some help mentally to wade through this tricky time. I am so thankful I had an outside source of support because I didn’t want to talk about my struggles with my friends or family. I didn’t want to burden anyone with my issues, and frankly I was super negative and didn’t want to be told again that everything is going to be fine. I didn’t really make headway mentally until I did physically. One day as I was doing wall slides, trying to bend my knee, the physical therapist saw me crying and said “there’s no crying in baseball”, A League of Their Own reference. I laughed through the tears and felt that in that moment we were in this battle together. Once I could bend my knee and start walking normally I felt and saw the light at the end of the tunnel.
Socially I kept in touch with friends and started getting out of the house more. My goals for the summer changed though. I wasn’t going to hike the Grand, or bike 100 miles, so I bought a stack of books I’ve always wanted to read and made that my goal for the summer. This helped ease the anxiety of feeling like I wasn’t doing anything. In Jackson if you aren’t doing something you feel lazy and worthless, because no one in Jackson ever sits on the couch, most people are outside with endless activities and objectives to complete. With my book goal I was able to spend hours reading and feeling as though I accomplished something. It may not have been a 20-mile bike ride but it was a great book. Basically, I needed my leg to heal and I needed to give myself a break. As far as social media is concerned no one was the wiser. Only people nearest me knew what I was going through and the rest of the world just didn’t really hear from me.
The future looks good now, except I am petrified to ski and scuba dive. I’m terrified of stepping on a dive boat with all my equipment and slipping. I am so scared of re-injury, of that loss and feeling of worthlessness. But if I don’t ski again and I don’t step in the water with dive gear again, then the fear wins. My loss becomes my life. Instead of overcoming the fear the fear becomes who I am. I refuse to let that happen. I will always ski and scuba dive, because I am an athlete it is a part of who I am, it is not just something that I do.
I tell my story not for your pity or pats on the back. I want people to know that we all deal with loss differently, whether it’s a breakup, death, job, or physical ability among other things. And what worked for me may not work for you. But letting the social noise go, seeking help, and making different goals for myself changed my perspective and improved my health. Where I live you have to be back in it immediately, no one allows time to heal. Everyone is hardcore, you can’t show weakness, and you push through the pain. I always thought that everyone here is a hardcore athlete and I was just active outdoors. But living here and listening to my therapists, I’m an athlete too. I may not run marathons, climb everyday, bike across the state, ski Corbet’s Couloir, but I am an athlete. I am active outdoors and push myself every season to be better than I was the last. Listening to the pressure of the social norms, or society would have only brought me more pain. I listened to my support group and I took care of myself, physically and mentally, and not because I am weak but because I am strong. These past five months have taught me to not take your health for granted, that once you lose something you realize how much you need it to survive, and making different goals to take care of yourself is the most important. It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing, you have to take care of your needs first. Social media is great and I use it a lot to promote my trips and diving, but it doesn’t always tell the whole story. We have times of weakness, sorrow, destruction and we have to remember we are all human and life isn’t always unicorns and rainbows.