My current situation is almost comical: I’ve had a fractured sesamoid bone in my left foot for nearly two years, and I had no idea until this past December. As a quick anatomy 101 refresher, the sesamoid is a pea-shaped bone embedded in the tendon under your big toe. Before this diagnosis, I was hiking Camelback Mountain, biking 30+ miles on the Hawthorne Trail and practicing yoga asanas in the desert. Fast forward to 2021, and a little plastic boot is hugging my foot, ensconcing it in dark padding and eliciting sympathetic looks from TSA security. I’m also dealing with the effects of injury depression, which can be defined as long-term stress, frustration, and hopelessness as the emotional result of a physical injury.
This dramatic turn in my physical health has been tumultuous, to say the least. I was conscious of a dull, pulsing pain in my foot for years, but I wrote it off to bad shoes (thanks, Converse and Vans) and sensitive cells. My size 6.5 feet traversed the sweltering streets of Athens, biked miles across the Golden Gate Bridge and bar crawled in Camden Town, witnessing pint upon pint of liquid amber ale. Once my podiatrist showed me the opaque sliver on the x-ray though, it was obvious: I had been nursing a fracture this whole time. After a cortisone injection and custom orthotics, the sole of my foot was radish red and tender, like it wasn’t done baking yet. The doctor had assured me, “this treatment usually clears up the issue,” but the aching worsened until I was confined to a boot.
A stream of mixed second opinions from doctors followed, and I was getting increasingly frustrated as some professionals said, “This isn’t even a fracture; you have a bipartite bone.” One said off-handedly, “I can just print you a 3D sesamoid bone — but you’d be the second person in the world to get the operation done.” It was clear the doctors saw me as a paycheck, not a 24-year-old who used to be able to do stadiums and baton twirl for hours. The final straw came when a nurse said, “Anything that requires bending your foot is out — no running, no yoga, no stairmaster.”
We interact with the world through our limbs and mind, so being less than 100% healthy dampens our outlook on everything.
As a die-hard yogi who harbors dreaming of opening a joint yoga studio and crypto startup, this was a blow — I started sobbing in the parking lot and lashing out at my mother. I had expected hope and a recovery plan from these doctors, but instead, they said my injury was too old and surgery was too risky. Instead, I’d have to give up my passions and compensate my entire life for a bone I couldn’t even remember fracturing. I was devastated and lugged around my boot like an ingot of sadness. I’m pretty good at mustering extraversion and “I’m great! How are you?” when I’m on work calls, but the weekends saw me lifelessly sad in bed, and even walking to the restroom was a feat. I am usually a super active person; I was the energizer bunny for Halloween as a child, and exercise is how I relieve my day-to-day annoyances and pent-up anger.
The worst part was the nights, when I finally removed my face of courage and nonchalance and broke down to my boyfriend over Messenger. He was a trooper, sending me books and late-night Reddit posts about recovering from a sesamoid fracture. He understood that not having my mobility and independence was heartbreaking. We had endured our fair share of struggles over the last two years, and he knew exercise was my escape. It got to a point where I couldn’t watch shows with active characters (e.g. Alice in Paris on Hulu) and was sad whenever my boyfriend said he played tennis that morning. I dwelled about everything that enervated me, from my injury to living at home again to confusion about my career.
Injury depression is a real thing, afflicting everyone from professional athletes to the casual rollerblader. We interact with the world through our limbs and mind, so being less than 100% healthy dampens our outlook on everything. And college students are no exception: according to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, student athletes are especially at risk of depression and suicidal ideation, anxiety, disordered eating, and substance use/abuse as a psychological response to injury because of the belief that they should be able to just “push through” their mental and physical stressors.
Instead of viewing my injury as a failure, I see it as a challenge.
Eventually, I got bored with feeling so helpless and realized just how lucky I was: I had working arms, a curious brain and hair that could be woven into long braids with able fingers. Only one tiny bone in my whole body didn’t work, but the rest of me was healthy. I could smile. I could hold my nephews and tickle their chins. With the help of Caroline Jordan “Hurt Foot Fitness” workout videos and a heart-to-heart with mom, I pulled myself up again. Half the battle was mental and once I committed to staying positive in the long-term, my foot issues didn’t seem so dire. I had a few setbacks (i.e. crying at the doctor while they prodded my foot with an ultrasound machine), but I was done wallowing when I could be strengthening my abs instead.
I’m not healed yet. A boot still adorns my foot and I’m unable to take showers without fumbling around, but gratitude is at the forefront of my mind. I even wear custom sneakers a few days a week and have adopted swimming, a low-impact sport, as my new obsession. I love splashing around and diving forcefully under the surface, flexing all my muscles and falling under the spell of water. I feel strong inside the pool and hopeful, like my bone — old and injured though it is — will eventually fuse into one. It’s been a mind-boggling and crushing few months, but instead of viewing my injury as a failure, I see it as a challenge.
So for now, I’m researching healing options that don’t include “deal with it” and using this time to catch up on reading and writing. My bone might never heal and I might be glued to sexy orthotic shoes (just kidding) in perpetuity, but how I interpret and respond to setbacks has definitely changed for the better. Who cares if I can’t wear sky-high chunky heels to indie concerts anymore? I can wear boots, which as we all know, were made for walkin’.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.
Putukian, M. (2016). The psychological response to injury in student athletes: a narrative review with a focus on mental health. British Journal of Sports Medicine.