Yesterday I went to the physical therapist.
That's a fairly simple sentence to write, but it was a process to talk myself into going. My ankle—the one I sprained at Ragnar—has never really gotten better. (If you are a Lord of the Rings fan maybe you have the same echo in your head: He will carry that wound all his life.) It aches, and it hurts at odd times: if I carry anything heavy, for example. Sometimes I have to carry my purse on my right shoulder, even. When I wake up in the morning, there is a spot on my foot right under my ankle that feels bruised. It doesn't hurt when I exercise (at least...I don't think it does, but it's hard to have empirical proof based on the very few times I've actually tried), but it flares and protests afterward.
The pain is one thing. It's not the thing that concerns me most, though, as I refuse to be cowed by a little ache. What really is bothering me about my ankle is that it feels weak. One of the exercises I've continued to do to strengthen it is just balancing. I never knew how many ankle muscles are involved with balancing on one foot. (Also: try to balance on one foot with your eyes closed. I thought I had relatively good balance until I started doing this.) I do this five or six times a day, just stop and balance, and in the interest of keeping things even, I balance on my left ankle and then my right. And it is startling just how wobbly and weak my left ankle is.
I've also tried doing mental imagery, where I sit with my eyes closed and imagine the tendons and ligaments growing strong and vital, but inevitably my thoughts return to that moment in the dark when my ankle twists, and then I get all GAAAAAH and I have to try to stop thinking about my ankle. Except my thoughts take me forward to a day in spring when I am training on Squaw Peak Road, and the same twist happens except, yeah, it's not in the dark, but it's downhill, and I don't just fall on the side of the road but I tumble off a cliff.
It sounds a little kooky but I believe in mental imagery—it's a throwback to my gymnastics days, when I'd lull myself to sleep by imagining perfectly-executed beam routines. I believe in the healing power of the mind, so I must also believe in the possibility of the bad things I keep imagining will happen if I really, really start running again.
I don't trust my ankle.
When I told the PT yesterday that I'd hurt my ankle in June—like, nearly seven months ago, yes, that June—he looked at me like I was insane. "I think you've given it enough time to heal on its own," he said, "and obviously that isn't happening. An ankle sprain shouldn't take so long to heal." But I think he was just being nice. I think he really wanted to say, "WHY didn't you come in sooner?"
- Crappy high deductible health insurance that kicked in one week after I fell.
- Arguing with Kendell, who thinks PT is worthless.
- Fear. Really: fear. I am terrified that a doctor is going to tell me I have to stop running. Or I have to have surgery. Or that my ankle will never be normal again.
But one day early in January, a rare day that was both sunny and smog-free, I saw a woman running outside. She had on running tights and a bright-blue long sleeve, and her body language as she moved was saying "happy, happy, happy, happy." Usually, these days, I just ignore the runners because they make me sad. But I watched her (I was at a stoplight) and I listened to her body, and I wanted to be her so badly that it pushed me right over the edge: I called my podiatrist right there at the stoplight.
The PT did something that surprised me: he didn't really focus on my ankle. Instead, he massaged the tendon that runs along the outside of my lower leg. The ultrasound and the electric stim also went from the top of my foot all the way to the middle of my calf. He told me that the lingering annoyance was probably happening not because of the ankle itself, but because of those tendons and muscles. (Sort of like you get ITB pain on your knee and you fix it by stretching your hip.)
It made sense, but I was also pretty skeptical. I'm not sure I believe anymore that anything can fix me.
But about an hour after I left, I realized something: my left leg felt normal. I never realized just how off it's felt. Not really painful (although, the massage was!), but tight and twitchy and just...anxious somehow. But the PT was right, I think. It is that part of my leg that's been bugging me. It made me think about how it felt when I fell, and about how I described it when I wrote about it: Like fire halfway up the outside of my left leg. I never would have put the two pieces together on my own.
The entirety of that Lord of the Rings quote about Frodo's wound goes like this (although they don't include the whole thing in the movie): He will carry that wound all his life, but he will also carry the wonder and magic of the Elven lore that cured him. Of course, it wasn't elven lore but science that cured me. And I'm not cured yet. Except in my heart I am starting to be. The way my leg's anxiety has lessened is mirrored in my internal anxiety. Today I feel lighter. I feel ready to start again: imagining health, and not immediately going to the falling-off-the-cliff place in my head. Planning for the future and believing it will happen. Believing my body will say "happy happy happy happy" again.
And maybe my fears are true. Maybe this ankle will bother me forever. Maybe one day when I'm eighty and wobbly everywhere, and my left ankle is stiff and unhappy, I will wonder if it was worth it—the running, the chances to fall, the actual falls. But I hope the magic of healing—the process of finding my courage again, and of working my way back—will linger as well. There is a strength and power in taking control of what I can control, in doing instead of hoping, and it is a thing this ankle is teaching me.
"I am not what has happened to me," Carl Jung said, "I am what I choose to become." I know it's a small thing—making an appointment, seeing a doctor. But the power comes in the choice, in the standing up for myself and the not being controlled by the fear of "what if." I am choosing to become a runner again, and if I know myself it will be true that I will have to make this choice over and over until I finally achieve it again. But one day I will be the woman in a bright blue shirt, running on the side of the road.
I just have to choose it.