Regardless of the magnitude of your injury, there is a process of coping with the loss of function. Whether the loss is temporary, long-term or permanent there is a process to come to terms with the current status quo and how it will morph and change over time.
Where the injury is temporary and relatively quick to repair and you know you will eventually be able to return to your regular activities, that loss is often just seen as an inconvenience. You may miss a few games of your sport or have to delay training for a goal or manage using crutches or some other brace or cast for a few weeks but all these necessary accommodations are temporary. In the long run, these issues have only a small impact and they are relatively easy to get over and move on with your life. Often it takes approximately three months of ‘inconvenience’ and you are back to near normal.
The next level of injury lasts longer: one or more broken bones that have both the inconvenience mentioned above, plus a concussion, whiplash, or other soft tissue injury that has some lasting effects that take longer to heal and rehabilitate. In these cases, the sense of having lost something can be immediately present. These are injuries that can remove you from your sport for a full season or more and can require a lot of hard work to get back to playing. They often result in your having missed work or school, and the impact they have on your overall wellness is more intense than just being inconvenienced. At this point you have experienced a loss of time, physical and emotional wellbeing that takes a little more to work through. These injuries tend to take a toll on personal relationships, because after the first few months it becomes harder for those closest to you to be as supportive as they were in the beginning. We also need more support as time goes on, because even if your prognoses suggests you’ll get back to 100% of your previous level, the longer it takes the more impact the injury has in all areas of your life. This is where having resources like counsellors and a team of healthcare professionals to rely on is particularly valuable. If you read our first blog post in this series ‘Road to Recovery: It’s a bumpy ride!’ you would know that your team can help keep you focussed on the long term small wins instead of getting bogged down with your immediate frustration and pain.
The next category of injuries are the ones where there is permanent change to your level of function. Where, due to a brain injury, surgery, damage to muscle or connective tissue etc. you will have to learn to adjust to a new type of “normal”. The sense of loss in these cases is profound and impacts so many areas of normal life. And there is a very normal sense of grief that goes along with coming to terms with a change you did not choose. Each person has to experience that grief, anger, frustration, and depression in their own way and in their own time. It can be a touchy subject because it is not always immediately apparent that there will be a permanent change, it only becomes apparent over time that the initial injury will have a lasting impact.
Permanent injuries have a serious impact on our relationships and sense of well-being and independence because each person has to shift their thought process to accept that there has been a significant change. However, accepting that there is a change does not mean you have give up on making the progress and improvements that you are going to able to make. Not getting back to 100% does not mean the same thing as not improving at all. This is difficult to understand, the difference between creating your new 100% and comparing it to your old 100%. Your limitations can often become your greatest strengths if you learn to look at them in a different light. If you have heard or read professional athletes’ stories of life changing injuries they often state how they are so grateful for what the injury taught them about themselves, like, NBA Star Jay Williams' life changing story. Listen to Super Soul Podcast with Jay Williams.
Just remember that it is important is to let yourself grieve the loss, let yourself be angry and frustrated and then find the power to focus on your small successes and move forward. Surround yourself with people that can help you move forward each day with a focus on conquering today's goals. Explore the journey with determination for the future.