The Mental/Emotional side to pain and Disability…

I don’t think anyone could have prepared me for the physical pain I would experience over the next few months (years) when I shattered my leg back in 2017.  There has been some amazing breakthroughs and God has been so good during my recovery…but still….pain on pain in the early stages.  Now it’s not nearly as much although I have some pain at some point daily.

But that part isn’t the hardest part about dealing with an injury like this and the subsequent lack of function and pain.  

The part that no one mentioned and that took me completely by surprise has been the emotional trauma, the depression, and the embarassment from it all.  

I’m sure that everyone has their own unique journey with an injury of this magnitude.  No matter the cause….no one can prepare you for the fight to get to your new normal.

I handle emergency situations really well.  I’m actually calmer during a major event than any other time.  It honestly feels like time slows down for me during an emergency and I can think through every single step one by one.  So when I fell and broke my leg April 2017, I didn’t freak out at all.  I was actually super calm and logical about the whole thing.  
So much so that Cindy (my bride) didn’t really think I was that hurt.  She thought they would find a couple torn or sprained ligaments and send me back to the event with a wrap on my leg.  

Even up through the surgery and the first few months of being in the wheelchair….I was doing ok mentally.  It was easier for me not being able to do anything at all because in my mind I didn’t have any expectations on myself on what I could accomplish so I never really was disappointed or upset!  

Don’t get me wrong, I had my share of meltdowns during this time period because of just the shock of what had happened…but for the most part, I was Mr. Positivity and cherri-ness. 

Fast forward a few months when I had been in the chair for a few months and was itching to get on my feet…I started getting angry and impatient.  Working through the questions in my mind of “Why the heck did this happen?” or “Why didn’t I run scans on my leg sooner?” was hard but wasn’t the toughest part.

The moment I seriously started to struggle mentally and had a hard time coming to grips with where I was at physically was when I went into the physical therapist to get my evaluation to see what my starting point was to begin my rehab.  I literally only had 12 degrees of flexion in my knee and couldn’t get past like 8 degrees of extension (normal on extension is more like -8).  The therapist was not optimistic and said something like, “Well, I think our goal should be 75-80% function back.  You have had a massive injury and it’s just not likely we will be able to get you any closer to full function than that.”  

I was devastated.   

It had never crossed my mind that I possibly wouldn’t be able to walk without a limp or ever climb stairs normally again.  My mind could not process that and compounded with the fear I had over someone actually touching my leg….I had a legit panic attack in the car as we left.  Cindy had to pull over and help me breathe and calm me down.  It was the scariest moment of my life.

I had dealt with fear of the pain or re-injuring it the entire time I was in the wheelchair which would basically paralyze me when we were out or when we would take the kids to the park or anything outside our normal schedule.  But up the that moment at the therapist, I had never actually feared not getting function back.  For someone who had always been as active and adventurous as I had been, I had no idea how to deal with that.  I had visions of being on a cane the rest of my life (I actually looked at getting a cool one custom made.. LOL) or having to keep the wheelchair close by in case I had a bad day.  So the realization that I might not make it back to where I thought I would rocked my world like crazy.

Then I got excited and motivated again when I was starting rehab because I thought:

“I’ve pushed through everything else in my life and I can do this too!”

After each session I would get through it and then go home and crash because I was in so much pain.  I just kept telling myself that it was worth it because of all the progress I would start to see.  The only problem was….I was seeing progress, no matter how much they tortured me.  

I got really discouraged because for all the pain and agony at each visit I would gain maybe 2 degrees of motion only to lose it between the visits.  I was losing vision of my function coming back and the pain wasn’t letting up at all day after day.

So I made a decision to stop therapy and take it easy and go get Acupuncture every day for almost 6 weeks.  I didn’t stretch the leg or anything.  JUST went to have treatments and came back home.

After that time period I went back into my therapist and they measured me and I had improved by over 40 DEGREES!  THAT was crazy inspiring and relieving.  So I started back to therapy and began to work on extra range of motion and strength.

So that roller coaster of excitement and devastation, fear and hope, joy and depression went back and forth for a long time.  Looking back on it now…there are a few things that have really helped me navigate all the emotions of pain and rehab:

1. Jesus.  It sounds super cliche and church-y, but without the Lord and being able to daily and minute by minute…take all of this to him and pour it at his feet….I couldn’t have done this.

2. My wife:  Cindy, even though she had times she was concerned and upset….she always just kept encouraging me to move and to try and to keep at it while at the same time getting me to rest and allowing me that space to not be fully “me” and to be upset but not letting me stay that way.

3. My friends/community:  It’s very easy to give up and stay depressed and give up when you are secluded.  Having a group that continually checked in on me and never went more than a couple days without texting me or sending me a message or email was HUGE.

4. Essential Oils:  if it wasn’t for how incredibly well the oils from Young Living worked both physically but more importantly….mentally with me….I would probably either be hooked on pain meds, anti-depressants, or an alcoholic.   Using oils like Frankincense, Palo Santo and blends like Peace & Calming seriously kept me sane the entire time.  So so thankful.   (if you don’t have any you can order yours HERE..link to ‘join the team’ page)

The key overall is to just keep trying and keep moving and keep doing SOMETHING.  Movement begets movement and you just need to keep working on finding that next thing that works.  And press into a good community.  If you don’t have a great supportive community right now….go find one.  Make it your top priority.  

Last thing I’ll tell you is Journalling has always been a go-to activity for me to help with mental or emotional stress.  Writing some of it down allows you the chance to process the info you are dealing with.

I’m sure I left things out but you get the overall idea!  Hopefully some of this helps one of you to push through it!!  

Dr. JB

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