I recall the seven stages of grief I experienced when I first got injured - I've never reflected upon this life-changing injury using this psychological model, but it is quite fitting for all of the emotions I'd experienced at the time:
1. Shock and Denial - The day I tore my ACL, I had no idea it was as bad as it was. I forced myself to believe that I had twisted a ligament in my knee since I was able to walk home (later I realized that this was due to the huge amount of adrenaline racing through my body because I couldn't walk after I'd cooled down). As soon as the ER doctor showed me his scars, I couldn't believe I'd done anything that damaging to myself. I was having none of it.
2. Pain and Guilt - My shock and denial of actually injuring myself wore out as the first week passed. I started feeling guilty for practicing TKD, even though I loved the martial art. I kept thinking, "If I hadn't gone to practice that day, I wouldn't have gotten hurt. Now I'm going to be a burden on everyone who has to care for me because I'm unable to do it myself." I couldn't cope very well at this stage.
3. Anger and Bargaining - I started getting angry at myself for hurting myself. Of course, I couldn't rationalize that it was an accident at the time, and blamed the worn-out mats at the dojang, my poor form, and my weak body (even though it was none of those things). I couldn't accept that this was happening to me and I began lashing out at people who tried to help me. It was an emotional roller coaster. I kept asking, "Why me? What did I do to deserve this?" I was so very irrational.
4. Depression, Reflection, Loneliness - At the time of my injury, the summer was just starting and I was in between my undergraduate and graduate programs. I knew that the summer was lost, being immobile and unable to do anything during the last break I'd have before the real world. I couldn't work my night job at the sort, and I was essentially a cripple at my day job. I relied on my siblings to drive me from one place to another because I couldn't drive myself (since I drive a standard), and as time wore on, they were visibly getting frustrated at having to take time out of their schedules to help me. I began reflecting on all the different times that I helped people and started to feel depressed that I was the one who now needed help. I didn't feel like I could depend on anyone without feeling a burden, and began to feel lonely because I knew very few people who had a similar injury. I became lethargic, unmotivated, and down.
5. The Upward Turn - About a month after my injury, I had surgery to replace the torn ACL. At this point, things were finally turning up again because something was being done. I had to restart my physical therapy again and practice my exercises while bedridden, but I no longer was waiting for something to happen. I began connecting with people online who've experienced this injury and writing was an enormous release of stress and built up tension. I found myself and moved out of my depressive state.
6. Reconstruction and Working Through - I went to my physical therapy sessions twice a week with a positive attitude, knowing that all the work I was doing would help me get back on my feet. My surgeon was understanding and did a great job with the replacement surgery. My physical therapist was relentless in pushing me to get back to the shape I was in before my injury. I expected to be walking a month after my surgery; she'd had me walking within 2 weeks of the surgery (even though I had a limp). She was a great motivator and without her, I wouldn't have been able to drive myself to get back into shape. After my physical therapy sessions ended I still kept up my exercises, with her voice in my mind as guidance.
7. Acceptance and Hope - I finally came to terms with the fact that I'm not superwoman. I am not immune to serious injuries (unlike the naive young person that I was prior to getting hurt), nor am I immune to emotional and physical pain. I accepted that my knee was never going to be the same again, but I also accepted that I could strengthen the leg and get myself back into peak physical shape (within my new limits). With support from my friends and family members, I ended up testing for my second degree black belt six months after my surgery and passed the test. I also made sure I maintained a consistent exercise regimen and surrounded myself with people who understood my situation and would be there for me when I needed them.
It's been almost eight months since I last updated my blog with my progress. So I figured this was as good of a time to get to that as any.
Almost three years later, I finally have feeling below my kneecap again. My surgeon had explained that it would take some time for the nerves to recover and that it was different for everyone. The "aha" moment for me came when I was finishing a yoga class and was stretching out on my knees. With my mind sort of wandering as I stretched, I brought attention to my legs and noticed that I didn't have the telltale numbness that was leftover from the surgery in my left leg. I practically jumped for joy after the class was over, but remembered to hold onto the calm that my yogi advised us to capture. It was such a good feeling to feel like I had my entire body functioning again!
I hadn't been able to kneel, squat, or sit cross-legged without favoring my right leg/knee. However, keeping up with yoga and Pilates helped me improve my flexibility, hip/knee/leg strength, and allowed me to start having mobility in my knee again. The swelling has nearly disappeared, and my flexibility is even better in my left leg now than it is in my right.
Weight training has helped greatly; the squats and lunges with weights have helped strengthen the quad and calf muscles significantly. I feel more stable balancing on one leg now than I did prior to my injury, and that is all from the physical therapy and incorporating those exercises into my workout regimen. In addition to weight training, I keep up with cardio through the elliptical and through kickboxing classes, as well as boxing and TKD. The cross-training through each of these cardio styles has helped me build lean muscle and maintain leg strength (not to mention overall health).
I decided I'm going to keep a general log of the typical workouts I do on any given day here. I also have started updating my DailyBurn Tracker again - let's see how long I keep this up for this time around!
Below was the workout I did at home today:
Warmup (5 min)
- jumping jacks
- series of jabs
- kickboxing style: jabs, hooks, uppercuts and combos - 15 minutes
- front kicks, roundhouse kicks, sidekicks, turning sidekicks, jumping front kicks - 15 minutes
- squats and shoulder lefts with weights: 2 sets x 15 reps x 5lb
- squat flies: 1 set x 20 reps x 5lbs
- tricep kickbacks: 2 sets x 15 reps x 5lbs
- single leg lifts: 2 sets x 15 reps x 10lbs
- inner thigh leg lift: 2 sets x 15 reps x 10lbs
- outer thigh leg lift: 2 sets x 15 reps x 10lbs
- sit ups with weights (2 sets x 15 reps x 5lbs)
- scissor kicks (2 sets x 15 reps)
- body weight leg lifts (2 sets x 15 reps)
- oblique twists with weights (1 min x 5 lbs in boat pose)
- oblique sit ups (2 sets x 15 reps)
I incorporate a lot of the concepts I've picked up from yoga, pilates, kickboxing, boxing, and TKD into my combination workouts at home. On the weekdays I typically take a Total Body Blast class that incorporates cardiio with weight training, Pilates with props, yoga, Bootcamp, and practice forms at TKD.
I've found my motivation again and I hope to keep all of this up as the year goes on. I hope everyone out there does the same and finds their path again too after such an injury.