The Mental Side of Physical Injuries

Last week, I talked to an old friend from high school via Snapchat. She posted about how, after her surgery, she never wanted to dance ever again. But now, 28 days later, she's still able to do splits and she's working her way back up. I saw that, and immediately, I messaged her, and I told her how happy I am that she's recovering, but reminded her to take it easy. 

When I was 17, and then again at 20, I had surgery on my foot because I had broken bones that refused to heal and caused serious issues when I walked. I remember how I felt both times I realized I was going to need surgery. I remember walking in a black boot for weeks at a time because we were hoping the initial break would heal. I remember seeing the scar on the surface of my left foot, and how I'll always be reminded of my injuries. Today, as I look at the large scar, faded but still a very dull purple, jagged and at least three inches long, I remember the feeling of not just the physical pain, but the mental as well.

My friend is the reason I'm writing this article. We both realized that not only does it suck to have surgery once for an issue, but a second time for the same purpose, not even a few years apart? That does more damage to your psyche that you'd expect. While my friend tore her ACL twice, a much different injury than mine I know, I did say this.

"I still understand the mental stress and pain and the fear of not doing what you love."

I could hear her saying every word in her response.

"Yes, you absolutely get it! Honestly, the physical aspect of things is NOTHING compared to the mental aspect. It is so difficult mentally to deal with and I've really struggled the second time around, but each day things are getting better and better!"

Two surgeries. Two pre-op doctors appointments where they have to make sure you're healthy for surgery. Two days you have to dedicate to yourself in a hospital room, loopy from the anesthetic. Two days of bills to cover, and dozens of people asking your name and trying to distract you from the scary operation room that made you unable to sleep the night before. Two times going under and waking up, forgetting where you are or what your name is, and wondering how much longer you'll be in the hospital and in pain.

I think people forget the mental side of physical injuries because everyone's just so worried about your body part healing. While it's important that they heal, it's also important to remember that, for some of us going through this, we have to think there's a small part of us that won't be able to do what we love. 

My friend is a dancer through and through, which is something she prides herself on and has become her identity from high school. I'm a performer in musicals and plays, and I have to be able to do anything at a moment's notice. In acting, your body is just as much a prop as your voice.

If you've ever had surgery, think a second about what it was like when you were recovering. I had to lie down and keep my foot elevated. I had ice on my foot to help with swelling and I was taking several pain meds a day. It was late May and I was wishing I was outside in the warmth, going to graduation parties that I was so looking forward to, playing outside in the yard with my dogs, hanging out with my friends. Instead, I'm in my dark bedroom with my leg propped up and Youtube going as I text my Dad to ask him to bring me water because I can't go downstairs without crutches and help.

There's an unspoken agreement that you may have to give up what you love from physical injuries. I knew getting this second surgery could have ended my chances in theatre. I might never wear high heels again. I might not be able to walk long distances. I may not be able to run. Maybe, I would never be able to walk without limping. But I'm okay. The pain never truly goes away, but we're fine. We're okay. We're the lucky ones. Not everyone is.

So next time someone's injured or getting surgery, check in on not only their injury but their minds. Ask them how they're feeling mentally, and see if you can do something to make them smile. Their mind is most likely in the most pain, trying to remind themselves that they will be okay. My friend and I are the lucky ones. We're young and our bodies are healthy enough that we have managed to bounce back okay. I'll forever have a problem with touching my left foot. She'll forever have scars and subtle pains, reminding her of her torn ACL.

Mental scars are harder to treat than physical.