According to my mother, I began walking shortly before my first birthday.
Yesterday, about a month after my forty-first birthday, I learned how to walk again.
I had a 9:00 am physical therapy appointment with Cody, my long-time therapist and injury wizard. He was expecting another patient in thirty minutes, so he decided we would work on walking since I could now put more weight on my right leg (not my full weight, but more than fifty percent), and then I could do the exercises I already knew on my own.
I’ve been getting around on crutches for the last two weeks and wear a big leg brace most of the time. There are right ways and wrong ways to walk on crutches, and Cody insisted that I work on re-learning to walk the right way to build muscle memory. I had a quadriceps tendon graft for my new ACL, so I’ve lost a lot of strength and muscle tone in my right leg, and right now it’s difficult to bend my knee more than about 80-90 degrees, less than that when my leg stiffens up.
“Heel toe…deliberately bend and lift your knee…as if you were stepping over a flower and you don’t want to crush it,” he said encouragingly as we strolled (as much as one can do on crutches) to the opposite side of the clinic. This side, flanked by large windows letting in the morning light, had a hard floor as opposed to the carpeted space I’d been in for my last few sessions.
The last time I was on this side of the clinic several years ago I was jumping over small hurdles with one leg and ending my hurdle series with a jump snap kick.
Now I was relearning how to walk. Cody had me slowly and mindfully walk down one side and the other. Heel-toe, lifting my leg to get the leg used to bending again, heel-toe…Cody advised me to use two crutches when I was out for appointments and needed to walk a lot and try using one crutch or occasionally just the brace at home. He had me circle around toward the elliptical machines at the front of the clinic.
“I want to go fast so badly!” I said with a laugh. “I’m used to rushing everywhere.”
“You have to go slow to go fast,” he reminded me.
The beginning of this year had me running at hurricane wind speeds–I had a huge work project with a looming spring due date (that was ultimately delayed thanks to COVID-19), lots of editing and publishing work on my memoir, and in taekwondo I was getting into competitive board breaking and training for, or at least thinking about, testing for third dan. Even when COVID-19 forced me and my coworkers to work from home, I excitedly began my not-gonna-lie-much-longed-for remote life with a packed schedule of activities and expectations that eventually mentally burned me out.
Still, I pushed myself and refused to slow down. I didn’t even let myself enjoy the week I took off around my birthday last month. I was up at 5:30 or 6:00 am, feverishly doing a deep clean of the house (based on a schedule I’d written out for the rest of the year) and working on writing and publishing stuff. I didn’t spend any leisurely afternoons at the pool, didn’t watch anything in my Netflix queue, and I barely read anything other than right before I went to sleep each night.
Then I tore my ACL at the end of that week and HAD to slow down. Apparently something had to give. I’d already experienced mental burnout, and now my body said, “Okay, we’re done, you’re going down.”
After surgery I spent two weeks rehabbing my knee every day for hours on end with a continuous passive motion (CPM) machine as ordered by my doctor. I couldn’t do anything but read or write in my journal since I was stuck in one spot. No more rushing around with a dust rag in one hand and a laundry basket in another. No more early morning grocery runs or Saturdays exercising sometimes twice a day.
At the end of those first two weeks I was able to change my bedsheets unassisted and felt happy and satisfied. That was the only household chore I did that day, and it felt like a milestone. The CPM machine has gone back to its owner, and I have my office back. I’m feeling better, stronger, and more mobile, and also have a very long way to go. I feel something like the opposite of the icky adage of the frog being slowly boiled alive before it realizes the mess it’s in. Rather, now the heat’s going down, I’m feeling less exhausted and more mentally sharp, and I’m feeling more optimistic.
But…I don’t really want to go back to my tendency to rush everywhere and do everything at once. It’s exhausting. It’s punishing. In a weird way, I sometimes used my need to control and organize and clean and plan everything as a way to procrastinate fun activities like reading or working on my non-memoir writing. I couldn’t let myself slow down.
Now that I’ve had to slow down and take everything day by day, it’s kind of nice.
Yesterday was my first day working at my desk rather than on the floor attached to the CPM machine, so I set a timer to move around and stretch my right leg. Using one crutch I took slow, deliberate laps around the condo, lifting my knee, and rolling my heel to my toe as I set my right foot down. Slow, careful, and totally out of my nature. It was agonizingly boring for the few minutes I did that, so I’m not going to changing my mindset in a day. Mental recovery and re-learning is happening along with physical recovery. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s what I need to do to physically heal and apparently it’s also what I need to mentally slow down and take the pressure off myself.
I’m never wasting a week off on chores again.
Slow to go fast. I think, if I keep these lessons in mind, my version of “fast” is going to look different for me in the future. Hopefully less busy and more focused.
Stay tuned for my upcoming book– “Kicking and Screaming: a Memoir of Madness and Martial Arts” published by She Writes Press. Coming to a bookseller near you April 20, 2021!
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