That which does not kill us makes us stronger ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
January. Winter, West Coast style, involves rain. Lots of rain. And dark dreary skies, most of the time. It often comes suddenly, and out of seemingly nowhere and catches me off guard. Off guard, every year. Although I always say, I don’t have to shovel rain. And as Nietzsche points out “that which does not kill us makes us stronger”. Thanks Nietzsche. I’m sure that idea is meant to bring peace, to make me feel better in times of struggle. But honestly, right now, in the middle of struggle, it just feels like salt in the wound. And quite simply it just pisses me off.
Mid October, walking home from work, I began to feel that familiar unpleasant sensation, known as sharp, unyielding pain, in my left foot. The kind that gets worse with every foot fall, causing me to limp unwillingly, desperately trying to spend as little time and put as little weight on that foot as possible. Part of me knew, right then, standing outside of the post office waiting to pick up my Aritzia package, that it was broken. Denial is strong. My desire to pretend all was ok, even stronger. The pain turned out to be the strongest. Defeated, I went to see my physician. And within a week, I was diagnosed with another stress fracture and back in the tragically misnamed “walking” boot. Dealing with an injury that quite literally knocked me off my feet has been no easy task, especially for someone like me. Someone who is super-, perhaps over-active, someone who’s coping strategies all involve some type of physical activity of varying levels of effort, from yoga and meditation to flat out, all out, efforts leaving me and my body depleted, air hungry and satisfied. This was the worst possible outcome. This also may explain the “stress” fracture. Was this my body’s way of telling me enough is enough and something needed to change?
If I was one to believe that everything happened for a reason, I would believe that this break happened to let me know that there were elements in my life holding on by a thread and ready to crack. Two years ago, while running, the break was like a sniper shot to the foot. Quick, sharp and devastating. As was the free fall that occurred shortly after; quick, sharp and devastating. I had recently returned to my home town after living abroad for 2 years, ended a long term relationship, was setting up a new house, buying new furniture, starting a new job, reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. I was starting all over again. I was running six days a week and pushing my body to the limit in bootcamp. I was struggling for balance and calm. I was struggling for sanity and stress-relief, the only way I knew how, run, move, sweat, push. When I broke my foot, my very newly formed relationship also ended and my new job and new home were isolated and lonely. I felt like I got shot by a sniper, not just my foot. Fuck. It all fell apart, quickly, sharply and devastatingly. It became very clear that I did not give myself the time or space or kindness to settle in. I did not give myself permission to adjust. To mourn. To not have my shit together. Being born in England, I was always taught and believed, “Keep Calm and Carry On”. There was no time to fall apart, feel sorry for myself, or flail. Keep my shit together and keep on going. Head down.
This more recent injury occurred more slowly, came on subtly, and my foot finally just cracked. Fuck. This time the free fall was slow, subtle and instead of a devastating snap, this was more of a crack. A glimpse of what may be cracking and fracturing in my life. Illustrating that elements of my life may just be holding on by a thread. My ability to cope was seriously impaired. This fracture was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It brought to light everything else that was holding on by a thread. Were those struggles always there? Or when in an acute struggle or crisis, such as broken body parts, all other concerns become bigger, brighter and in colour? Work satisfaction, money concerns, finding and living my passions, family and interpersonal relationships. Was the broken foot the proverbial last straw? It seems more likely that the injury, bringing its own set of difficulties, just made everything else much more difficult to handle. I was overwhelmed. Even getting groceries or vacuuming seemed like monumental tasks, nevermind the larger, life changing, existential challenges I had previously been pondering. Was I still abiding by the “Keep Calm and Carry On”? Fuck that.
According to Google and PsychAlive, 44% of Americans report more stress than they did 5 years ago, I failed to be able to tell if this statistic was acquired before or after Trump became president. They did allude to our lifestyles wearing us out with access, excess and ease of communication bringing on increased expectation and extra pressure to do and accomplish more. More. The article suggested some practical strategies for increasing our ability to cope with increased stresses, pressures, feelings of being overwhelmed and “needing” to do more. The first was to practice mindfulness, a common buzzword, that at its core is simply a stress reducing activity. Meditation actually helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system instead of the sympathetic nervous system; which puts us in a state of healthfulness, or “rest and digest”, instead of stressfulness, or “flight or fight”. Meditation and mindfulness are scientifically sound ways of living in the moment, or staying present.
The second was to enhance hardiness, which is a form of resilience, and expressed specific characteristics we can develop to become more emotionally resilient or “hardy”. These included seeing problems as challenges, not as threats, taking action to stem the feeling of loss of control, and commitment or feeling motivated during difficult times. Being hardy is being brave.
Finally the third strategy was to engage in self-compassion and to quiet the inner critic. The inner critic perpetuates stress and feelings of being overwhelmed by its self-sabotaging talk and undermining. Self-compassion is practicing self kindness and being easier on ourselves. Being kind.
What I have learned through all of this is that being the hero, plastering on a smile and pretending everything is ok, telling myself things could be worse, is a temporary fix. It makes others in my life more comfortable and less awkward, but undermines the ability for me to ask for help or accept support and assistance when I really need it. And it sets me up for a sharp, devastating crash, freak out or breakdown. Instead of pretending, of smiling and denying, I determined that I really needed to just get in there, wallow and flail, with sleeves rolled up. Making small motions forward. Just before the holidays, faced with many tasks and events and visiting and traveling, I was barely holding it all together. I sat down with my Breath of Fresh Air (BOFA) and we made a list. We listed everything I, and we, needed to do and get done in preparation for time off. We decided what needed to be done now and what could wait, and we divided up the tasks. He really is a BOFA. I accepted his help, no easy task for this fiercely independent woman, and I accepted that I could not do it all myself. I felt less overwhelmed, I felt a little more centered and I felt a little more like my broken foot was on solid ground.
Recognizing my struggles early, identifying them, talking about them with BOFA, strategizing (if possible, sometimes I just need to talk, thankfully BOFA is a great listener) and being present, brave and kind have been my tools and techniques to getting through, increasing my resilience and well being, and most importantly, removing the straw from the camel’s back.
When we’re looking for compassion, we need someone who is deeply rooted, is able to bend and, most of all, embraces us for our strengths and struggles ~ Brené Brown