The Five Stages of (Running Injury) Grief

 

The mind is powerful. So powerful indeed that it cannot be replicated. While progress has been made throughout the years to understand how our mind functions when resolving conflict, solving problems, and making decisions, the research of how and why we do what we do has not proven to be an exact science; suggesting we still have so much more to learn about the human psyche.

In college, I first learned about the Five Stages of Grief developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss medical doctor who spent time working with individuals facing death. In her time with these patients, she recognized terminally ill people share a cycle of emotions which became to be known as the Grief Cycle. The emotions of the Grief Cycle though, may be also relevant to the various experiences we can face in our day-to-day life, such as an impending divorce, a forced career change, loss of faith, and in my case, a running injury.

Denial

It was Monday, day one of my 17th week of Eugene Marathon Training. Something was awry with my left foot, but I ignored it believing it was due to fatigue from Saturday’s 20 mile run (training week 16, which I have yet to post). When Wednesday rolled around, and I barely finished what was supposed to be a very easy five mile run, I should have made the decision to skip Thursday’s scheduled 8 mile run. 

On Thursday, I woke up determined to redeem myself from Wednesday’s treacherous run. I spent the entire morning reciting positive statements, and I spent 20 minutes doing yoga moves that really made me believe my foot pain was just a fluke. When I laced up my shoes and set off for my 8 mile run, the first 4 miles told me I had made the right decision and confirmed Wednesday’s run was just an “off” run. 

When the fifth mile rolled along, I immediately felt overjoyed thinking my blog post for marathon training week 17 would be filled with a story of redemption. Except, the vision of redemption turned blurry on mile 5.35, when something in my left foot collapsed. Still unwilling to accept that something was wrong, I yelled to myself, “Your foot is fine!” Instead of stopping immediately, I told myself to continue running until I reached 5.5 miles. I was unwilling to accept any kind of running injury after 16.5 weeks of diligent training! With less than 5 weeks remaining until the Eugene Marathon, I was not going to entertain the idea something was wrong. Denial, according to my thinking, was far better for my mental health than coping with the scary reality of an injury. 

Anger

When I reached 5.55 miles, and felt significant pain on my arch and around the outside edge of my foot, giant rage-filled tears flooded my eyes. Not only was I hurting, but I could barely walk. I hobbled to my tub and soaked my feet in frozen water. I began sobbing uncontrollably and cussing at my deformed feet. I despised them for being so weak. Unkind words and thoughts consumed my mind for believing I could actually be capable of finishing a marathon in a less than stellar time. The tears got hotter and rolled down with much strength thinking about my blog and how foolish it was of me to blog about my marathon training journey. I was an ordinary person trying to complete a distance in an ordinary time. My rage served as an armor to protect what was the inevitable.

Bargaining 

I should have listened to my body on Monday.”

“Perhaps it would have all been different had I not gone through so many different pairs of shoes.”

“Was I too ambitious with my training and pushed too hard? Maybe I should have been more conservative with my training?”

“Please God don’t let this be serious. I promise if you heal this right away, I’ll stop running for a month.”

Many should haves, ifs and maybes rushed my mind all at once as I stood in the shower, refusing to surrender to the thought that all my hard work was going down the drain. Perhaps there was still a way to salvage it. I made secret deals with God about buying less shoes, or not entering any more races after the year was over. I promised him I would be a better wife and mother, and I would be more humble with others in return for an opportunity to continue training.

I strongly felt I could change what had happened and go back to the Monday that set off the series of events. If I could just get a second chance, I wouldn’t have to face the reality of what was happening.

Depression

I spent the entire day Friday crying, feeling hopeless, and sorry for myself. Had it not been for my daughters present at home, I probably would have spent the entire day sleeping. I tried to remind myself I was blessed, that people were in far worse situations than the one I found myself in. However, logic could not help me shake off the sadness and disappointment entrenched within my spirit. Up to this week, marathon training had fully consumed me. At night, I would rest my head with visions of crossing the finish line in under 4:20. In my vision, my hands would raise up in the air to demonstrate the feelings of triumph and disbelief. Now though, I felt insipid for my conjuring such a vision. My path was muddled and I could no longer see where my training was headed. Furthermore, it was clear at this point I was not going to be able to put in the 17 miles scheduled for Saturday. To make matters worse, the two podiatrists in the city were not available until Wednesday. The walk-in clinic was closed, and I could not access a primary care physician unless they had a release of information from my previous doctor. So here I was, sitting on the couch, depending on my 11-year-old daughter to help me get through the day because I was completely useless. When 9 pm rolled around, I was ready to sleep for as long as the night would allow me.

Acceptance

It was still dark out when I opened my eyes. I dreamt of Jonathan Knight, who is a member of a 90’s boy band known as New Kids on the Block (NKOTB). I was so infatuated with NKOTB, I’d get into verbal spats with anyone who dared say anything negative about them. 

NKOTB Rule according to adolescent me!

The dream must have awaken me because I recall hugging Jon and forgiving him. What exactly I was forgiving him for I could not tell you, but it must have been something that really hurt me because I recall feeling relieved. 

When I reached for my phone, the time read 3:08 am. As I lay still in the darkness, there was a spark within me that lit up my soul. Perhaps there was some symbolism to the dream, because I went back to bed with hope and a plan. Even though I would not be able to run 17 miles, I was still capable of doing other things to cross train. I decided I was going to row 20,000 meters. I was done feeling sorry for myself. Yes, my foot was hurt, but the rest of my body was intact. With four weeks of marathon training left, I still had the opportunity to recover. Maybe I won’t be able to finish my marathon in 4:20 like I initially wanted, but I could still finish mentally and physically strong, which has been my goal all along.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

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9 thoughts on “The Five Stages of (Running Injury) Grief

  1. Really sorry to read about your foot injury, Luisa. 😦 Your approach to continue your crossfit workout is smart and will hopefully give your foot a chance to mend and stay conditioned. I hope the injury isn’t too serious and the podiatrist will have positive news. Take care.

  2. I’m not thrilled about the fact that you are injured, but I sure enjoyed the way you dissected your injury and how your mind has coped with it over time. I am very familiar with the five stages of grief and it sounds spot on with what you went through as you recognized an injury and learned to accept and move forward in a healthy way. You are smart for not staying in that denial stage – I think a lot of athletes get stuck in denial and don’t move on until it’s too late. Way to listen to your body.

    That being said, how are you feeling? What happened? How is your injury? I really hope it is only temporary and that you are able to overcome it before Eugene!

    • I’m feeling a huge sense of disappointment. The kind of disappointment that is so deep, it makes you cry with just how much it aches. In the past, I’ve been able to at a minimum, come close to achieving a goal I’ve set out for myself. On this occasion, I was stopped dead on my tracks, so it is beyond upsetting.

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