Six Months In

Six months in from the shoulder injury I am looking and acting like a normal person again. The darkest days are behind me, but I’m not totally out of the woods. There is darkness that hovers below the surface. A fear that this is as good as it gets. Friends tell me it gets better still, but I am human, so I have doubt. (For more background read Anatomy of Injury)

There is so much more to healing an injury than the mechanics of it. The whole mental game must be played. The stories we tell ourselves about our self-worth are so wrapped up in places we don’t even realize until they are taken away. I had so much self-worth wrapped up in being a kayaker and trying to be a really good kayaker. Finally, I am learning to tell myself a different story. A story about the many parts of my life that make me an amazing person. A story where I could take out certain parts (like kayaking) and replace them with others and still be amazing. One of the hardest parts of this process is stepping out and discovering how other people see me and what story they have about me. I have been selling myself short. I’ve been belittling some parts of me because they are not the parts that I want to be known for, even when others think they are great. But all those little parts still make up me and are worthy of me recognizing them.

Along with the body healing, the mind has to heal and adapt too. For athletes this is probably the greatest challenge because it is not something we can muscle our way into. It takes the courage of being vulnerable, of sitting with ourselves and looking deeply within, of being still.

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Columbia River Gorge                                                           Photo by Adam Long

My shoulder moves at about 80%. That last 20% feels far away. I wonder if it is lost. There is no guarantee that our bodies can ever return to a place they were in the past. And it is a given that they will change in the future.

Our bodies follow Newton’s first law of motion. When in action they tend to stay in action. When in stillness, well, it can be really hard to get off the couch. At first, I had to force myself to slow down because of the injury. Once my mind was depressed it was easy to sidetrack away from motion. Now I want to be in motion again but it has fallen out of my routine and the lingering pain and lack of endurance and strength are discouraging once I do get going. Throw in a few other health complications and depression and anxiety sit in wait around every corner. They jump in at the first signs of self-doubt. I am working at finding new stories to tell myself each time that doubt creeps in.

I have paddled a handful of days, climbed a few times. I’m in no hurry, I just want to play without the pain, without feeling held back by fatigue, without fearing repeated injury. There is so much impermanence in life that I don’t want to get attached to any outcome. This is both a good and not so good thing. It’s freedom from disappointment, but it’s a lead in to self-defeating actions. If I don’t assign hopes to accomplishing a task (like physical therapy), then when it doesn’t happen I can too easily write it off by telling myself I don’t expect much out of it anyway.

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Photo by Chrissy Wilson

People are rooting for me and that feels amazing. People are still my friends when I can’t paddle or climb, this is amazing too. Thank you to all the people who took super slow boring walks with me, called, messaged, asked how I was, and even those who just liked a progress picture on facebook. This may sound like a weird thing to people who don’t associate with a group of people focused on a singular interest, but it’s a thing. When you drop out of the routine activity where you see your friends it can take a lot of effort to actually see them. So, I celebrate all those who call me friend! I have managed to surround myself with great caring people.

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South fork American River

Even with my slightly gimpy shoulder I have continued my education as a kayak teacher and completed the American Canoe Association Level 4 whitewater instructor certificate. In a few weeks I’ll continue my teacher training in Idaho. I’ve paddled Chili Bar three times! I feel the burn, and hope it’s a good burn. I’ve furthered my art practice and brought more beauty into the world. And I’ve been able to spend time with family, including my Auntie Gene who turns 100 this month!

Moving my body is a blessing, even when it’s adaptive movement. And for all of the steps to get here, I am thankful.

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When I can’t be on the river… my other happy place

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