before 1000 days

I finished my journal on the last day of November, so I went back to the first page (written in 2018, four years ago). What I found was a summary outline of my life  before a page of new goals and intentions. I could read the hope waiting between the lines. It brought me back to the those days cloaked in momentum before I eloped, before I broke and dislocated my shoulder, and before the pandemic.

Mentally moving back to that time, it's even more obvious why the last two years felt like moving through a bog filled with quicksand. Even when you can see the steps you need to take ahead of you, taking those steps under certain internal or external conditions is exhausting. It's incredibly frustrating when you can see where you're going and how you'll get there, yet you can't control the conditions that surround you and your journey.

Nothing will break your momentum like fear of yourself, fear of the unknown within you. The day I broke my shoulder, I had gotten out of work early. It was a beauty of a summer day, so I figured I'd head for the bike path instead of checking laundry off my to-do list. Sitting on my bike at that mental crossroad is a memory that remains incredibly vivid. At the time, I was in the process of incorporating positive, tiny habits in my day... incrementally working towards my goals in ways that created confidence and momentum. Riding my bike to work was one of those tiny habits.

I was riding fast and joyously as I had when I was young and wanted to fill the time after school. Due to the narrow width of the path, the weaving around slower paced groups was a bit tricky with the amount of traffic in both lanes. I had this moment where my pace was going too fast for the lane I was in (blocked by a walking family taking the full width), but there wasn't a window for me to weave around them due to whoever was coming towards me from the other side. I decided to veer off the path to avoid any issues with braking or colliding. Well... taking that quick of a turn with my heavy backpack didn't go as well as I forecasted. My bike hit the sliver of a  canyon between the sidewalk and the grass and dumped me onto the cement. 

While I remember the moments of decision making, I don't remember the moment I hit the cement. I remember my body stiffening in anticipation like cement must the second it turns from wet to dry. I probably wanted to forget this moment I lost trust in myself, in my intuition, in my decision making.

When I was in eighth grade, I broke my left clavicle in a similar way. I fell off my bike at the bottom of my parent's suburban driveway. When that happened, I picked up my bike and brought it inside. It wasn't until my mom came up to me and asked me why my favorite shirt was ripped that I knew something was wrong. It wasn't like the hundreds of sports injuries I could play through and still win. It was an unfamiliar kind of pain. I remember Master and Commander with Russell Crowe was playing in the emergency room while the nurse cut my arm out of my shirt. Thoughts were running through my mind of how poorly timed this surprise was. School was almost out for summer, and I wouldn't be allowed to play dodgeball or basketball at recess. I wouldn't be able to ride my bike all summer as I usually did. All the things I valued suddenly lined the highway of my mind like billboards.  

Ten years later, I found myself sitting on the cement sidewalk with my bike laying over one of my legs again. This time, however, I couldn't get up. I couldn't move my bike. I was in a state of confusion when an unknown man came up to me to ask if I was okay and help me with my bike. Another person came to me, and she helped me with my backpack while the other moved my bike into the grass. She stayed with me as my mind raced and arm throbbed with pain. I called my husband, who had been biking to the rock climbing gym, and another friend, who had been driving home from work. They were the only people I could think of that were closest in proximity and ability to find me.

While I waited for them to get to me, the message "I can't move" rang against my skull, growing louder and more often. It was stuck on repeat like a broken track I couldn't turn off. While I tried to keep my appearance calm, my internal state was blaring unwanted, worried noise. My mind was running races around the world while I sat... stuck sitting in the grass, holding my arm against my chest. 

Once my people got to me, the familiar voices helped draw out my internal voice. My friend told me my shoulder was dislocated. She could have performed a closed reduction to put my shoulder back, but she didn't want to take the risk in case something else was off. K, my partner, locked my bike and drove me to the emergency room while my friend drove behind us. She was a surgeon and felt like her presence during check in would help the process. About ten to fifteen minutes had passed in the grass and another twenty would pass in the car. 

Being in the car in this condition quickly became unbearable. We were driving through Chicago side streets, which haven't been smoothed in years. Every variation in the street heightened the pain. K was trying his best to remain calm, which was causing me to split. One part of me was crying out in pain, crying for immediate help (for all the variables inflicting pain to stop) while the other was trying to focus on this "it will be okay" energy coming from the driver's seat.

I thought the emergency room would bring instant relief, so when I got there and found another hell to endure, I wanted to scream. This wasn't like the suburban hospital my mom brought me to a decade ago, where I was quickly seen.

The emergency room asked for my insurance card, but I didn't have one. I actually tried to give them my credit card because I didn't know if they would see me without an insurance card in hand. As I waited, anger began to rise from my gut. What's taking so long? Why can't they give me something for the pain while I wait? When will the nausea stop? Why didn't you just do your laundry? Now I'll miss my California surf vacation... Now my whole progress is halted... Now summer is going to be wasted... It better not be broken... This better be fixed soon...

By the time I was given a bed, taken to x-rays, and seen by a doctor, hours had passed. I had been incapable of moving my shoulder for hours. I had endured that pain for hours... I had lost another of my favorite tees (this time a Zion shirt from Parks Project)... only to hear worse news at every step. Your shoulder is not only dislocated, but it is also fractured. 

Multiple men came to the left side of my bed and tried to reduce my shoulder. It was absolutely rigid. Loosen up, relax... this wasn't possible, no matter how many times they asked. I tried, but I consciously couldn't do anything for this arm. Eventually, they decided I'd have to be put under in some way. They asked if I wanted K to stay while they reduced my shoulder when I wasn't fully there, and I let them know that this was the only way I would agree to taking ketamine. 

After they briefed me on what to expect, the IV was inserted, another one of my fears coming toward me. I counted down from ten still in disbelief. Next thing I knew, I was seeing blurry lights and shadows above me, while I was filling with relief and gratitude. Thank you, thank you so much. I kept saying this until I realized these were the same faces that had surrounded me before I had gone under. K let me know that it was pretty gnarly to watch them handle me in that condition. Even after losing consciousness, my shoulder had remained stiff, and it required multiple people with rough handling to get in back in the socket. 

The clock struck midnight at this point, marking an end to that crazy day, so I told my parents what happened and let them know I'd be recovering at home for an unknown period of time. 

I had been so focused on the physical pain being solved that there was no way to foresee where the quicksand portal I was falling through all those hours in that emergency bed... where it'd take me. 

This wasn't like that clavicle break in eighth grade... where I just had to wear this backpack-type strap, where I could move my arm, where I still played kickball at recess (although, against doctor's orders). Now, I had to keep my shoulder and arm immobile. I had to sleep upright on the sofa chaise with this foam triangle supporting my back. I felt like I wasn't allowed to move, which mentally stripped me. I was devastated. I couldn't hold a baby, I couldn't ride my bike, I couldn't learn how to surf, and I couldn't afford to do much else besides physical therapy. 

My mom came to bring me flowers and encourage me to shower. She'd wait if I needed help, but I didn't want help. I wanted to take a damn shower on my own without causing myself deep pain. My dad came to take me out of the house, to go for a walk, to try and bring some light to the day. This was difficult for me as I didn't want to be seen in this condition. I didn't want to change out of my robe. I didn't feel like myself. I felt like anywhere I went people looked at me with pity.

When children I loved came to visit me, tears immediately filled my eyes. They told me the truth with their behavior. I, my spirit, was unrecognizable to them. I had become a foreign body to myself and to others. Who I was had been lost

I no longer recognized my self. 

I grew hatred for my body, for indecision, for time, for age, for quicksand.

In order to go to doctor appointments and physical therapy, I'd have to drive myself. I began to look forward to getting in the car and moving at the speed I wanted. The initial month of physical therapy was a mixed bag. I had tried a couple different places like accelerated, which felt like the athletic training program I did in high school, and Illinois Bone and Joint (IBJ), which felt like my grandmother's nursing home. My mind was telling me that I didn't belong there, and I wasn't seeing an improvement... especially when it came to the rigidity and resistance. 

I decided to make a switch to acupuncture and manual therapy with this woman who was recommended to me by my hair stylist. I'd go to her home, with her blind dog, and follow her to her basement manual therapy room while her kids were getting ready to read Harry Potter before bed. She really listened to me. The questions she asked were different and acquired the full story from bike path to emergency room, sofa to conventional physical therapy. She'd heat the massage table so it welcoming before we started the dry needling, cupping, and manual therapy. The process was so relaxing that I'd have to keep myself from falling asleep. At the end, she'd put me in her infrared sauna before I went home to sleep. 

This person shifted my entire attitude when it came to healing. In one day of therapy with her, the needle of progress (range, rigidity, mobility) went from zero to sixty. This was a drastic change from the barely perceptible, incremental progress in weeks of conventional physical therapy, which had left me feeling defeated and hopeless. The difference in cost between the two was twenty dollars. 

I felt incredibly lucky to have been connected with this manual therapist. My hair stylist told me about her, saying that she had helped his shoulder after all the hours cutting and drying people's hair. Without her, I don't know how long it would have taken for me to reach (almost) full range of motion in my shoulder. 

When my shoulder had regained function, she suggested I restart movement by joining a hot yoga studio. It was December of 2021, and I was excited to start moving daily. Hot yoga was helping me to bring me back into my body, and I was excited to keep up the practice. 

And then... Coronavirus came to wreak havoc on the world. Everything changed. Everything was postponed or cancelled. Suddenly, there were new anxieties, fears, concerns, and challenges. Priorities changed, daily life changed. What we hoped would last weeks.. ended up lasting years. 

Bringing it back to the beginning of this story, that journal I finished in November 2022 covered the main events of those four years (2018-2022, elopement to broken shoulder to pandemic and recovery). When I finished the journal and remembered these times, I found myself wishing I had journaled daily. 

Since I was going through a difficult time, I decided to dedicate myself to a journalling practice. I thought about using Gordon Byrn's 1000-day model I'd heard about on the Rich Roll podcast. Journaling would be the first small habit that I would adopt. I'd give myself grace if I missed a day, but I'd truly aim for writing one page, each day. 

Since that moment, I've filled two journals with my daily thoughts, intentions, and hopes. I've seen the impact that this small change in my day has had on my year, my life path, and my relationships. It's helped me through anticipatory grief, the loss of my dog, and the navigation of my life path. 

And I want to share those stories with you in my next post... 

 

 

 

 

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