Whenever something negative happens to you, there is a deep lesson concealed within it.
– Eckhart Tolle
I recently experienced a broken left foot. There were several fractures, the worst of which was a fifth metatarsal or Jones fracture. This fracture is in an area of the foot that receives limited blood supply, which can make healing difficult.
The treatment began with two weeks wearing an air cast boot (day and night), elevating the foot regularly, using crutches to get around, and basically being grounded at home. And yes, being grounded did feel like punishment.
I carefully planned what I needed to have on the main floor of our house each day before my husband left for work. Every minor task, previously completed on autopilot, required thought and effort: brushing my teeth, taking a shower, getting dressed, fixing lunch.
After two weeks, I was cleared to begin to bear weight on my foot and directed to continue to wear the boot for another four weeks. I was thrilled that my bone was healing and that surgery would not be required.
The four weeks ends tomorrow, and I expect to be able to ditch the boot and ease back into my normal routine, which includes a full-time job and lots of physical activity. The additional four weeks have been less difficult than the first two because I have less pain and am able to function more independently.
This unexpected experience has offered some lessons worth sharing. Although it has been unpleasant, I am thankful for what I’ve learned.
1. Enjoy the present.
Things can change in an instant. One moment I was effortlessly strolling around town with my husband, feeling fantastic, and the next I was unable to walk.
It wasn’t a sports injury and it isn’t a good story. I tripped on an uneven sidewalk, twisted my foot and fell. It is simply the kind of accident that happens to many people every day.
Reality quickly set in when we returned home from our initial visit to the orthopedic center. It was clear that I would be navigating the stairs on my butt. My husband’s first errand was to purchase a shower chair, once he helped me to realize that without one I could not bathe.
Oftentimes we spend our time complaining about petty issues and planning for the future, thinking, “I’ll be happy when . . .”
We aren’t in as much control of the circumstances of our lives as we may think. Enjoying the simple things, like a walk around town in the sunshine with someone you love, is a gift.
2. Accept help and appreciate the support.
For two weeks I could not get up and down the stairs without my husband’s help; he lifted me to stand when I reached the top or bottom, and he carried my crutches. He did the shopping, prepared our meals and took over the laundry.
We experienced many tense moments and also some laughs. It was a tough lesson to recognize my helplessness and relax my sense of urgency. While my husband was regularly offering his help, I had to recognize that it was necessary and learn how to graciously accept it.
I’m sure it was difficult for my husband to tolerate my requests and complaints and to be grounded along with me so unexpectedly. Not only were my plans wrecked, but so were his. The weekend bike rides and daily trips to the gym together were indefinitely on hold.
I felt the positive energy of friends’ and family members’ prayers, notes, well wishes and visits and appreciated the love of those in my circle. I was aware that my friends at work were absorbing my load, yet encouraging me to take the time I needed to heal.
3. Meltdowns will happen.
I knew that I was going to be okay, but needed to regularly give expression to my unhappiness, frustration, exhaustion, and anxiety, and then move forward.
By the third night after the injury, I had my first of several meltdowns. I am surprised that it took that long. Sleeping in the boot was initially nearly impossible, and the feeling of helplessness and dependence was soul-crushing.
I lay awake, ruminating about how long the process of healing might take and how many of our summer plans were ruined. I felt sorry for myself and then realized that the injury was temporary, that things could be much worse. My thoughts moved to self-loathing and the tears finally came.
The release is a cleansing, and on the other side is a fresh start. Even though my mind told me I was overreacting and being weak, my emotions insisted on being expressed.
4. Reframe your thinking.
Several people suggested thinking of being stuck at home as a vacation; I believe they meant well, but that’s not how it felt. I was filled with envy when my husband went out for a run or I saw postings on Facebook of friends out enjoying a bike ride or a stroll on the beach.
I began to focus on what I could do, rather than on what I could not, and reminded myself regularly that a broken bone is temporary. I developed a better appreciation for my body and was more thoughtful about what I ate in order to strengthen it.
I considered the many people in much worse circumstances dealing with life-threatening illnesses and permanent disabilities. This reality was not lost on me.
After five days of doing almost nothing, I began to exercise: abdominal work, leg lifts, and upper body weight training. Exercising immediately gave me a sense of strength and improved my mood. Striving to increase the repetitions provided an interesting challenge.
I also was becoming more comfortable with the crutches and had researched the injury and others’ experiences with it. I was confident that I would heal, and I adopted a more positive attitude.
5. Progress requires patience.
That first day at the orthopedic center when I was told that I was unable to ride my bike, go to the gym, or even walk, I remember saying that I needed a few minutes to absorb the information. It felt surreal. I panicked about getting out of shape and gaining weight, petty concerns I now realize.
The day after I was told that I could begin to bear weight on my foot, I went cold turkey on the crutches and overdid it. When I removed the boot, my foot was quite swollen and sore. Healing is not a smooth process; it involves frustration and setbacks and there are no shortcuts.
I’ve learned that balanced interests are important. Exercising and being outdoors are such a big part of my life that I was left empty without them.
Reading, writing, music, and meditation filled the gaps. Journaling released my emotions and led me to recognize lessons I was in the midst of learning.
6. Grounding is not punishment.
Being grounded means being connected with the earth. With this connection, one is able to stand tall and strong and experience mental and emotional stability. Reaching this blissful state requires time, quiet, and stillness to achieve.
Being grounded can also mean being restricted. I had spent plenty of time being grounded as a teenager. This injury felt a bit like punishment as well, and it certainly brought out some childish behavior in me.
At home alone, I had hours to think without interruption. How do I want to spend my time and energy? How can I be of help to others? How can I be more present and patient? How will I appreciate my body when I am again able to move freely?
I believe that by experiencing a broken foot, I was able to recognize the importance and value of becoming a more centered person. I feel grateful for my body and the magical way that it has been able to heal. I aim to be more appreciative and self-loving, and to pace myself as I regain my strength.
Each of us has an opportunity to touch the lives of many, in small yet significant ways. If we slow down a bit, we can more easily recognize these opportunities, share our gifts, and make the difference. I strive to continue to take the time to ground myself.
About the Author: Jennifer Tritt is an academic counselor at a community college, has recently adopted a minimalist lifestyle, and is passionate about sharing her experiences. You can find out more about her on her Facebook.