Disclaimer: I am not a medical or health care provider of any kind. These articles are written from the perspective of a patient. Please follow the instructions of your health care provider.
So it happened to you. The infamous “knee blowout” they talk about in sports or dance movies but never show in detail. You felt the pop in your leg and were on the ground before you knew what happened.
You have a torn ACL. Now what?
Congratulations! You’ve now joined the elite club of ACL Warriors.
Ten years ago, on April 1, 2013, I started taking taekwondo lessons again after a 20+ year hiatus and began a journey that changed my life. I am a different (and hopefully better) person thanks to the triumphs, challenges, and lessons I’ve gained from taekwondo. It inspired me to start this blog nine years ago, publish a memoir in 2021, connect with the online martial arts community, and continue to grow as a human.
So let’s celebrate nine years of my blog with my favorite posts from the last year:
I mean, some might argue that I still am, but I was worse.
After a refreshing yoga class last Saturday, I reflected that my pervasive perfectionism had at one time made its way into something I’ve done for the last twenty-five years. Before my injury and eating disorder recovery I had to look thin and fit in the mirror at all times. I had to be the most pliable person in the class. I had to do the poses perfectly. And blocks? Those are for people who aren’t as good as I am at yoga.
Give me a break. Now I never go to class without at least two blocks ready to shove under my legs when my right knee feels tight.
And don’t get me started on Body Combat. I’d wriggle my way up to the front row and throw in spin kicks, jump back kicks–I was a show-off. Thank God my ACL didn’t blow out there or I’d never be able to show my face at the gym again. These days when I occasionally take a class I’m happy doing a light jog when others are doing jumps, and I keep my kicks grounded.
That show-offy-ness? That purported gracefulness? All of that came from a place of deep insecurity and body hatred. I couldn’t even appreciate the healthy, strong body I had because I hated it and myself so much.
So when I was knocked off my feet with a serious injury I learned to be more patient with my body. It also helped me be less judgmental about other people’s bodies and abilities.
I also recovered from anorexia in 2021, and, due to not severely restricting food for years at a time, gained a certain amount of weight. While that might sound troubling at first in our diet/looks-obsessed culture (and I had my moments of doubt) I’m fine with it: (1) My body was finally being nourished properly and amazingly, my mental health improved (2) I had way too many clothes to begin with so it was nice to do a closet purge of items that no longer fit me and (3) I had the hard realization that I’d put way too much stock and value into my looks and the supposed value that gave me. I still very much enjoy putting together a fashionable outfit, but I just don’t care about how thin or perfect I should look. That’s incredibly freeing and much more respectful to my poor mind and body that I had abused for decades.
So yeah, I’m heavier, I’m slower…and I’m a lot happier.
Enjoy this month’s article from Martial Journal! After taking a year and a half off to recover from two knee surgeries, I’m back in taekwondo and feeling great. Returning to your sport and avoiding re-injury takes some thought and planning that is well worth the time and effort. Click the link to read my tips on returning to your sport, and of course, consult with your healthcare providers.
I had a great weekend using my reconstructed and rehabbed knee. My partner and I swam in our pool Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. On Saturday after my first post-op Body Combat class, we walked about half a mile to a local pub to play pool, have drinks, and eat delicious street tacos, and we did strength training on Sunday before our afternoon swim. Unlike this time last summer, I was not recovering from another arthroscopy. I haven’t reached 100% flexion and extension, but I’m so much closer than I was a year ago.
Despite the current state of the world, I’m feeling more relaxed and optimistic about my future than I have in a long time.
I had plenty of moments of feeling pretty bad, but overall I did take the advice I shared in last year’s article. I learned to be patient with my frustration and not get caught in an emotional spiral. I worked on what I could control. I very slowly let go of the need for everything to be perfect and “right.”
The most helpful and yet most infuriating factor: time. I just had to keep doing what I could do to stay sane and get more physically fit and let things work out in time. The deus ex machina I prayed for never came other than a big change at work, and even then, that has required several months of learning and adjusting.
My old therapist Ramona, who is mentioned in my memoir, used to say, “One day at a time…It. Will All. Work. Out.”
So, how to get unstuck? Go back to last year’s article and read the tips. Do what you can, give yourself grace when you can’t, and be patient.
Two weeks ago I saw my orthopedic surgeon for a six-month check up. We wanted to see my progress after I’d returned to taekwondo training, took up strength training (not the first time in my life, but the first time since my injury), and continued deep tissue massage treatment from a chiropractor. The possibility of a third surgery to remove additional scar tissue still hung in the balance.
He was so happy with my progress he shook my hand and all but released me from care unless I just wanted to visit the office again.
The following week the counselor I’d been seeing shared she was leaving the practice and wondered if I needed to continue sessions with another counselor. We’d gotten down from sessions once a week to once a month, and I admitted to feeling much better overall about my personal and professional woes. I still have lingering depression sometimes, but I am much better at recognizing and addressing it.
We decided to end my therapy knowing I could always come back if I needed help again.
Today I saw my chiropractor for more torment–I mean treatment, and he reduced our visit cadence from every two weeks to once a month.
In that post I wondered if the “down for maintenance time” was necessary for rest and renewal. I spent so much money on healthcare last year that I was able to get a tax break. Was it worth it?
Nearly a year after I wrote that post I have to appreciate how far I’ve come: I DON’T need another scar tissue surgery and am finally seeing more movement with knee extension and flexion–scar tissue build up has been the bane of my existence since ACL reconstruction in July 2020. I don’t hate my job or my life any more, and when I do feel down I have better ways of coping. I’m NOT starving myself any more and pretty much kicked the habits of a thirty-year-old eating disorder.
Life is good. I’m doing well and am able to fully enjoy being back in taekwondo. Third dan test, here I come.
You guys…for the first time in eight years I forgot to do my anniversary post!
My blog turned eight on April 15, 2022. Since I began my blog I have made new martial arts friends, shared both my triumphs and struggles, and have been able to promote my first book and many media appearances!
I also started writing for the online magazine Martial Journal–you can find links to all my featured articles here.
Thank you all for your support.
As is tradition, here are my ten favorite posts from the past year:
The lower ab muscle definition I’d longed for and gained nearly overnight in taekwondo (what with the kicks and all), has finally disappeared. While my ACL injury happened in an instant, it took about a year since my last taekwondo class for the muscle definition to fade away.
It’s hard to chamber my kicks because I still don’t have full flexion, and my second knee surgery slowed down my ability to snap a kick into (almost) extension.
My left leg kicks are limited. Pivoting and turning on my right leg is still a little precarious, at least at faster speeds.
My right quadriceps muscle still doesn’t match the left.
It seems I’ve lost a lot over the past year and a half due to my ACL injury. Not only did I lose muscle tone and physical capability to execute taekwondo moves, I lost my built-in community (at least in person) and activity to look forward to each week.
But…of course there’s a but.
But…what I’ve gained in recovery for both my injury and my mental health has been invaluable.
I learned that I am more than the martial art I practice. I learned how to respect and honor my body. I learned that I need to put my mental and physical health above my ego or aspirations.
Now that I’m back at the dojang, at least part-time, I’m rebuilding my technique and getting back in touch with my community. I’m retaining the whole and more balanced sense of self: body, mind, and spirit.
I’m thankful for what I have gained rather than dwelling on what I have lost. (Who needs an ab V when you have a healthy mental state?)
This is a short post, and that’s okay. That’s all I needed to say to my dear readers this time around: when you have gone through something difficult, focusing on what you’ve gained rather than ruminating on what you’ve lost helps you stay strong in your journey.