39 weeks. Hard to believe.
I can walk, run, jump (well kind of) and lift weights. Yet, my body is not the same as it was the day before my Achilles snapped. It is a bit stiffer, the left calf is a bit smaller and I seem to have lost that sure, strong connection between my feet and the ground. On the positive side, my patience has expanded - by sheer necessity.
So once again, this post focuses on the space inside our skull versus the tendon that connects calf to heel.
Barbara Frederickson, the renowned social psychology researcher, writes in her latest book, Love 2.0, that the quality of the “micro-moments” of connection we share with others makes a significant impact on our mental and physical health (especially Vagal tone - which indicates the functioning of the entire parasympathetic nervous system - “rest and digest”). This connection can be to anyone and it can be brief. It needs to be real time - face to face or voice. We also need to feel a true sense of connection - our eyes meet, we share a smile or knowing look. Be it in line at he drug store or waiting for PT we can find these moments.
While web support is fantastic for information and problem solving, reaching out to those around us can actually boost our mood and potentially increase our pace of healing. So how do we reach out when we really want to burrow our head under the covers?
Surprisingly, Frederickson and her colleague have discovered that Loving Kindness Meditation, an ancient Buddhist practice, is one of the most effective was to build the muscle that makes us willing to reach out. Search YouTube, Loving Kindness Meditation and the teacher who is credited with bringing the practice to many, Sharon Salzberg, and you will find options to guide you through the simple meditation.
Take 5-10 minutes, turn off the TV, shut the computer and give it a try. And . . .
May you feel safe
May you be happy
May you be healthy
May your life be filled with ease
I find the most important part of my body to care for on this recovery journey is my mind.
Like many of us, my injury came at a time when I was experiencing a great deal of the joy in being active. I recorded a PR for a sprint triathlon in June 2013. During the year I joined Rock Creek Crossfit and discovered a passion for intense exercise and the pay off of increased strength.
And then . . . in August I decided to show off waterskiing for a LONG TIME behind my brother’s boat (“being in my 50s is just like my 20’s” – famous last words). Back at Crossfit two days later I landed a burpee to the sound of a nauseating “snap.”
Keeping sane without my usual activity level loomed immediately post-injury as a daunting challenge. I felt confident my left heel would re-attach to my calf but I was even more confident the rest of me would end up fat and depressed.
Fortunately, I had been studying with Rick Hanson www.rickhanson.net and others who leverage the latest neuroscience research to refine mindfulness approaches that develop greater resilience and well-being.
These techniques have been life-savers during my recovery and I would like to share a few with this community over the next few weeks.
The first practice is a daily gratitude list.
I recommend you write down least five things you are grateful for each day. Try to find things that are different each day and include a mix of large items and the type of small details that might just pass you buy.
Here is a sample of my gratitude list the week before my rupture:
- Paddle board yoga with Carlo, Michael and Rebecca
- Walk and bike ride in Irvington
- Kayaking on Carter’s Creek
- Chocolate covered strawberries
- Back squatting 115 pounds 5 times
Here is a sample of my gratitude list the week following my rupture:
- Jonathan and Paul sharing their Achilles recovery stories
- Humor in OR
- Coffee and animal cookies after surgery
- Winning 2 suit spider solitaire on my ipad twice (and Carolyn teaching me to play)
- Margaret visiting me with food from Whole Foods, mags and her SMILE
- Cardinal in the front yard
- Exercising with weights that Carlo brought upstairs
- Less pain around incision
- Learning to really move on my crutches (thanks to AR blog friends and kind woman in Bethesda who helped me)
I do this list almost daily, rain or shine on my iphone when I am drinking my first cup of coffee, reviewing the previous day. If I miss a day – I go back and fill it in. I will admit that the day following my injury - August 7- is blank. Every other day for the past seven months has at least five entries.
Why does this help?
First, a brief bit on the neuroscience:
Just as our bodies are built from the food we eat, our minds are, in part, shaped by connections strengthened by where we place our attention.
Unfortunately, from an evolutionary perspective, our ancestors survived by focusing on the bad. We descended from the nervous critters who lived to have offspring because they constantly scanned for danger. The laid back types who assumed the tiger was not in the bushes often ended up as the tiger’s lunch and their lineage ended there and then.
While few of us encounter tigers on a daily basis, our brains continue to be anxious, alert and scan for danger. Our brains have a negativity bias. While research shows our actual experiences over the course of typical day tend to be mostly neutral to positive, we focus on the negative - we worry, fret and get wrapped up in concerns about what might be coming our way tomorrow.
These neurons then “fire together and wire together” – the synapses connecting our worries and concerns become stronger and we tend to view our lives and experiences through the lens of what might cause harm or stand in the way of our recovery.
The good news is that we have control over where our minds rest - by intentionally focusing on positive experiences by using tools such as the gratitude list, we counter this negativity bias and re-wire our brains to be more positive, stronger and resilient.
Rick Hanson calls this intentional strengthening of pathways “self-directed neuroplacticity.”
Let me be clear. This practice is not about living in denial. Life’s more challenging experiences, such as Achilles ruptures and related injuries, teach us. It is essential to recognize, not suppress, the more challenging emotions that arise. Paying attention to pain, fear, sadness, anger and regret mean we are heeding the signals our emotional and physical bodies are sending our way.
The point of intentionally balancing our minds is to make it possible to move through these challenging experiences and emotions in a free-flowing state versus getting stuck re-living and anticipating them.
Give the gratitude list a try for a week and let me know what you notice.
If you are in early recovery you are on your butt anyway – so you know you have the time.
I reached my goal of skiing December 22-28, a little before I hit the 5 month mark. I had to take it easy - turns with my left foot downhill felt a bit unstable. Definitely felt high speed turns were out. Really enjoyed the hot chocolate (heavy on the chocolate and cream with no yucky sugar powder). It was great to be out on the slopes in Italy with my family. Nothing beats bombing down the mountain but the relaxed approach has a silver lining!
Following this victory I relaxed to much. I kept going to crossfit a few times a week and graduated from PT appointments but did not keep up my daily at home PT regimen.
My recovery stalled and my limp came back - especially in stiffer boots. I am back to heel lifts, massage, balancing on my left foot and jumping every day. What a difference. I also had a Reiki session that really seemed to help. I am trying accupuncture next week - will keep you posted.
I did run two miles a few weeks ago and signed up for a sprint tri September 7 - so I have a goal.
November 19, 2013 · 1 Comment
Hi everyone -
Recovery is mainly going well.
Lots of flexibility, scar well healed and staying active at crossfit. Do all lifts that don’t involve jumping (back squats, overhead squats, dead lifts) but with slightly lower weights. I did 90 real he man push ups the other day - the most ever for me - my training has benefited in at least one way from this rupture!
I still gimp most of the time but especially if wearing boots. I am ready to run again! Still working on patience.
I overdid it on my bike trainer two weeks ago - too much standing on the pedals so I have backed down.
On the whole, surgical approach has worked very well for me. Be well.
Life in two shoes is good. I still limp but I am getting better. It takes a ridiculous amount of concentration to walk. I am still doing modified cross fit work outs and PT.
I am staying at a hotel for work with a swimming pool. Did people swim at this stage? Any other ideas for swimming pool workouts?
September 30, 2013 · 4 Comments
I am smiling from ear to ear! My OS said the planta flexion at 5degrees is fine - because it matches my other leg (KellyGirl is right again!) I am breathing so much easier. He says i am good on flexibility. Now to build strength.
Two shoes! I can wear boot some during day if I want to — I think I will continue to follow the lead of others and wear when I am out with my dog or in crowded spaces. Still very wobbly on two feet and experience the heel tingle thing.
September 26, 2013 · 3 Comments
First PT visit Monday.
Left mid calf 34 cm Right 37
Dorsal flex ion 5 plantar 65
In 28 out 12
PT seemed a bit worried that dorsal was too flexed. Does anyone know?
I was at a meditation retreat at Esalen last week near Big Sur. lots of boot hiking and hot spring soaking.
I learned that our brains produce dopamine, boosting well being, when we encounter and obstacle and push through. Keep on keepin on!
I am a day shy of three weeks out from my surgery and a week plus a day from rupture.
My scar is healing well and I am (gently) pointing and flexing and my foot. It still shocks me to see my heel is connected to my calf. Left leg is looking more lively just a week free of the splint.
I have been trying to take it easy and eat well - plenty of protein and veggies.
I have landed in a place of contentment - what a shock. I thought it was the tri training and cross fit workouts that were keeping me sane. Turns out I was sane underneath all along - who knew?
By taking life one day at a time and focusing on what I can control I am discovering I am not nearly as restless and depressed as I feared.
Traveled to Portland, ME for work yesterday. LOVED butting to the front of the security line. HATED being in a wheel chair. I find people are either incredibly kind or they just do not see you. At times I was utterly invisible.
Travel and working is exhausting and I am relying on others to help carry the load. What a concept.
Yesterday was a big day - splint off, staples out and boot on - 12 days post surgery. Man is this wedge big and clumsy! My left calf is only slight smaller and slacker than than right. Incision is healing well.
All the pointers on crutches provided by this community - my Achilles Recovery buddies - has really helped. Sores on my chest wall are healing and I now have the crutches at the right height, in the right position. A friend also lent me a scooter that I just use on the main floor of my house - it is fantastic to be able to carry things around!
I have backed off the crossfit work outs some - I was getting exhausted. My Doctor did reluctantly approve of my erging/rowing Achilles Recovery Style.
Today at Crossfit I did a workout of the day ("WOD") with everyone else but Achilles Recovery Style.
Achilles Recovery Style WOD:
10 Clean squats with overhead lift with dumbbells with knee on box
10 One leg push ups on dumbbells
500 row with the adapted rowing machine
I did this series 5 times. I am getting more adept at moving around safely and I took my time on the transitions from box to push ups to rowing machine and worked on my form — shoulders down; proud chest! It makes a big difference to be at the gym (crossfit "box") with everyone else and the music blaring.
Yesterday I had to take a day to rest. I had been pushing too hard. The crutches have scraped skin off my chest wall so I have been trying to hop or scoot around on my butt. I live in a house with two large staircases and was trying to clean up and do some laundry and it was all a bit too much. Yesterday I spent more time off my feet and paid attention to this Rumi poem.