July 24, 2021, was the one year anniversary (or “ann-knee-versary” if you will allow me one pun) of my ACL reconstruction surgery. I had a fun day lined up to celebrate my progress and mobility: a morning yoga class, an afternoon swim, and dinner at my favorite neighborhood Italian bistro. I thought the day would run as smoothly as my repurposed quadriceps tendon.
My knee had other plans.
When I rolled out my yoga mat and set up my trusty blocks (now a staple of my yoga practice) I knew my knee was not in a good mood. It ached and felt more tight than it had in days. God help me if I had to do a child’s pose. I inwardly rolled my eyes at my ornery joint and clumsily followed along with the instructor’s commands.
As I winced at the pain and tried to breathe more flexion into my leg I thought about my year long journey. I have lived with some kind of pain and discomfort every day for a year. Sometimes I feel frustrated and exhausted. Sometimes I long for a light at the end of the tunnel, a deus ex machina, a sudden whirlwind change that grants me perfect, pain-free full extension and flexion. Sometimes I feel stuck and don’t see an end in sight.
Yoga has a way of teaching us lessons, and my lesson for that day was to examine another situation in my life the same way I saw my knee surgery recovery.
There’s another situation in my life where I’ve felt stuck for a long time. Sometimes I’ve been frustrated and exhausted just thinking about it. Sometimes I long, even ache, for a sudden change that turns it upside down and takes me out of my current discomfort. I feel stuck and don’t see an end in sight.
What I haven’t allowed myself in this particular situation is self-compassion and a reminder that it will eventually pass, as impossible as it seems. On the other hand, on most good days, even the irritating ones, I am more forgiving of my healing knee.
So what do we do when we’re in a long-term situation with no end in sight?
Here are a few tips:
1. If you truly can’t get out right this instant, give yourself some grace. Knee rehabilitation is about patience and perseverance. If I push myself too hard at the wrong time I could end up causing more damage. Same with my other situation–if I change drastically right this second the risks are greater than the rewards. I don’t need to be angry at myself for not being able to solve the issue immediately.
2. Remind yourself that this, too, will pass…even if you roll your eyes and feel totally annoyed doing it. It will end or change in some way or another. Everything does.
3. Find a healthy distraction. My Saturday yoga practice involved my entire body, not just my right knee. I shifted my focus to the rest of my body and adjusted when my knee called for it. I still walked out of class feeling refreshed and rested. And wouldn’t you know, my knee felt a little better too without me obsessing and fretting over it.
4. Or…lean into it and notice where you are making progress. I’ve definitely progressed since my 2020 ACL surgery and my June 2021 arthroscopy. Sometimes when you’re mired in the pain and daily grind of getting through your situation you aren’t able to look up and see what’s changed. As for my other situation — I’m in a better place than I was last year, the year before that, and the year before that. Progress is happening, even if it’s not as fast as I want.
5. Express gratitude for what you’re gaining in your current situation. My knee injury forced me to re-prioritize and re-think many areas of my life, including my disordered relationship with my body. I’m grateful for that. I’m also grateful for many things about my other situation.
6. Get over being perfect. Life is a lot easier when you’re not slamming unrealistic expectations onto yourself. Think about the situation where you are stuck. How much pressure is from the situation (other people, circumstances) and how much pressure is self-inflicted? Letting go of your perfectionism may not immediately solve the problem, but you’ll feel less miserable.
7. Keep planning and strategizing, but don’t forget to rest. It’s okay to keep working on your exit strategy, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Sometimes you just have a crummy day. I do plenty of fun things outside of taking care of my knee and dealing with my other situation. That way I don’t get tunnel vision on what frustrates and bothers me. In yoga I reminded myself of the mantra that came to me during my first post-ACL surgery yoga class: “You don’t have to solve it here.” That allowed me to be present and enjoy the moment.
I still enjoyed my Saturday yoga class, and I didn’t let my tight, irritated knee ruin my afternoon swim or celebratory dinner. Two days later, my knee feels much better than it did on Saturday, and some things happened with my other situation that made me feel more optimistic about it. That doesn’t mean I won’t have more crummy days, but the good days and even small triumphant moments are proof that things can get better.
We can do this.
My book, Kicking and Screaming: a Memoir of Madness and Martial Arts is available wherever books are sold.