I’d never been seriously hurt before. I’ve had a few aches and strange pains when I first started CrossFit in early 2013, creating some mild panic, but those disappeared with rest and low exercise.
I’d always prided myself in having strong bones that seemingly never broke, despite the many accidents I’d had; so it came as a shocking surprise when one day I snapped my left upper arm in half during a 100 pound hang power clean.
I first thought I merely ripped my biceps, a muscle injury — five weeks of rehab and recovery and I’ll be fine for sure. It was the worst pain I’d ever experienced, in fact, I almost passed out until the friendly paramedics pumped some high doses of morphine into me. I was still feeling hopeful, positively invincible, thinking I’d be leaving the emergency room soon. But unfortunately, the bad news came that not only had I broken my humerus, but I literally shattered it, ripping my biceps and triceps in the process, requiring major surgery and bone reconstruction.
I was released in the middle of the night as a bionic woman — instead of a humerus, I now had a fancy piece of metal with 21 screws holding the few leftover pieces together while attaching my limb to my body, the wound being closed with crude metal staples. Clearly, my lovely surgeon was more concerned with piecing my bone back together rather than maintaining looks, so I was left with a huge, ten inch long, shark-attack style scar trailing the back of my arm.
This huge, physical reminder was not the only visible effect the injury had on me. Besides healing and recovering, I had lost my sense of security and performance confidence altogether.
The healing process was slow, too slow — I worried myself sick wondering many things: Why am I still experiencing pain? Why can I still not even do a handstand three months after surgery? Why can’t I participate in my beloved CrossFit classes the way I want to? I felt weak, like an outsider. These feelings were only exacerbated as I heard other athlete’s horror stories about losing their performance altogether, forever remaining in pain after an injury. I was despondent, thinking I would wind up one of those statistics, possibly for the rest of my athletic life — I would never be able to do those pull-ups, that rope climb, that snatch…
Despite the efforts of my wonderful CrossFit coaches to include me in all classes and adapting all WODs for me so I still was able to build strength and mobility and participate, the pain did not go away. I only used empty bars and light dumbbells, my weights were not increasing. I hit a wall.
Then, one day, I realized that while working on my power clean, I inadvertently put on more weight than the week before…and I was fine! It was only 5 pounds more, but it was more!! I started to meticulously keep track of all my WODs, and I was finally seeing my progress, in black and white. I was improving, getting stronger, getting better! But, there was still the pain — before each heavy lift, each overhead exercise…and I worried. “This is going to hurt,” I told myself. And it did. Every time.
It took several months for me to realize I was causing this pain myself. I worried it was going to hurt, so it did. When I forced myself to believe in myself, believe in the ability of my coach to keep me safe, suddenly, I cranked out 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, an 85 pound hang clean with no problem, no shaking, no pain.
Now, almost six months later, and one month short of being medically cleared, my strength has returned. I am now stronger than I ever was, even before my injury. I made a full recovery and I have not felt pain in a long while.
My mental state, however, is a different story. I still worry about that power clean, those handstand push-ups — they might injure me, the pain might return. I recently started parkour classes here at The Cave, and while the tasks are accomplishable, my mental barrier keeps me from even trying. “It looks dangerous,” I tell myself, “I’d rather not try because I might get hurt again.”
While there are many blogs illustrating rehab and recovery WODs and exercises, no one seems to have a solution for the mental scar left behind after a traumatic injury, one that will just not go away. I have heard from many others how they rather not admit their fears, they’d rather claim they simply can’t perform a WOD due to lack of strength or recurrent pain. And many coaches don’t take these fears seriously, even when clients try to speak to them and bring their fears to light.
Having experienced this myriad of emotions before, trying to appear strong and fine while also hiding my fears of getting hurt again and the pain returning, I can only recommend being truthful with your coach. Take time to speak to him in person, or maybe through an e-mail, telling her how you feel, how you got hurt. Ask for scaling exercises to not only build your strength back up, but also your mental confidence. Your coach should have the ability to sensitively react to your concerns and help build you back up, one step at a time. If you feel like you can’t trust your coach, then be honest with him and go to somebody else. Take your time, challenge yourself by trusting a coach to work right next to you, keeping you safe. Even if you have to take baby steps, persevere! Write things down, track your progress, find your weaknesses. You will only get better and feel better if you keep going, facing your fears rather than feeling ashamed and hiding them.