View Full Version : Healing

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05-18-2011, 01:23 PM
Hi Mary, Any non-obvious tips you can share that helped you fix yourself?

Hi Josh,

I started to try and answer this, and realized that to make a truthful answer, I had to go pretty deep into the question and all that surrounds it -- so I decided to start a new thread.

The feet have many moving parts, and there are so many ways they can become injured -- it all depends on the injury. Mine was a stress fracture of the second metatarsal that was greatly aggravated by a close encounter at high speed with an elbow (sparring...elbow always wins), and that turned into a non-union fracture. And (because I kept using it) it got re-injured, and re-injured, and re-injured, and...

You want to know what helped me to fix myself. Usually when we ask about healing injuries, we're looking for something that we can do. We want to find a doctor or a treatment or a supplement or an exercise that will make it better. There's a lot of practical value in these discussions, because often there is something out there that can help. But at some point, the key to fixing ourselves lies in accepting the fact that there may be no fix, now or ever.

My foot was like that. It became a non-union fracture, which is a medical term for, "The bone won't heal, and we don't know why." I saw orthopedists, including one of the best sportsmedicine orthopedists in Boston. I tried all kinds of therapies and supplements, I stretched it, I exercised it, I rested it. I iced it and heated it and wore orthotics. You name it, I tried it. Eventually I had to face up to the possibility -- likelihood, at that point -- that this was a permanent injury.

The thing that got me through was the message I got from all the doctors I dealt with, which basically was: people break in ways we can't fix, and you have to find a way to live with it. And something that one doctor in particular said: "It may just stay with you. At some point you have to stop waiting for something to happen, and make a decision: do you want to spend the rest of your life in a rocking chair?"

And soI didn't do anything to fix it. Instead I decided to live with it. If it never got any better, okay -- I could still walk, not fast and not well, but I could get where I was going. Most of all, I could stop being angry and frustrated and upset over what I didn't have. My doctors didn't have a fix, but they had a great fount of wisdom, which boiled down to: live with what you have. When you decide to live with what you have, you open your hands and release all those things that you don't have.

I think that that's when the healing started to happen, when I wasn't looking. At the risk of sounding overly mystical, I think that the act of letting go created the conditions where healing was possible. Without expectations and without anger about what my foot could no longer do, I started to treat it with kindness and attention and appreciation for what it could do. At the same time, I didn't fuss over it or let it take over my life. It's almost as if I had a child with a long-term illness. It needs help and care, you hope it will get better, but life is going to go on. The family is going to go on, and the kid is going to be a part of it. You're still going to go on picnics, you're going to go hiking, you're going to go to the ballpark. You won't do those things despite the problem, and you won't do them because of the problem. You'll do them while living with the problem.

The same is true of a non-trivial injury. Ignoring the injury, treating it as if it wasn't there, acting as if your fallible body were the enemy, bellowing, "No pain, no gain!" -- that doesn't work. Coddling it, babying it, shying away from all discomfort, cultivating the expectation that everyone everywhere (in the dojo and out) will fully and seamlessly accommodate your injury (and being resentful when they don't) -- that doesn't work either. Getting upset at the unfairness of it doesn't help. The only thing that helps is to face the possibility that your injury could be permanent. Most aren't, but yours could be -- or at least, it could very well leave you with permanent effects. It could be with you forever. If it is, what will you do?

Over the years, my foot has largely healed. I can't remember the last time I noticed that it hurt or didn't work right. Realistically, it is probably clumsier than it used to be, but I don't notice it. We're in this together, me and my foot, and "this" is life. There's nothing special about either of us -- we're just like all the other people with their sore feet and aching knees and hurting backs, their aches and pains and fears and failures. Your body is the vehicle in which you go through this precious human life, and if treated with love and respect, a beater will get you where you're going just as good as a Rolls Royce.

Janet Rosen
05-18-2011, 02:04 PM
Mary, thank you for taking the time to write this.

I went through similar experience/process a few years ago around spontaneous tendon ruptures in my (thankfully nondominant) hand.

It serves us well for learning to deal with some of the things life will hand us as we age.

05-18-2011, 04:56 PM
Thanks for that.

05-18-2011, 07:54 PM
Mary that is a wonderful post. I have reached pretty much the same conclusions about my own limitations. Ive put this body through a lot over the years and it's in pretty rough shape. But with care and consideration, but not too much, it's not holding me back form doing the things I love.

graham christian
05-18-2011, 08:59 PM
Beautifully put. Well done.


Ron Tisdale
05-19-2011, 01:38 PM
Mary, another ACE of a post. My fiance is dealing with a medical situation much the same. We have come to realize that her hand is not going to get better. Like you, we have decided to just ... get on with it. ;) Some of the best advice I have ever heard.


Michael Hackett
05-19-2011, 02:00 PM
My brother is a recent quadriplegic after a horrific car crash in October of 2009. He's taken a page out of Mary's book in many ways. He knows that he will likely never recover to the point where he can swing through the girders as a high-steel worker again, but continues to live the best life he can. He continues to do the things he enjoys with adaptation and continues with his exercises and therapy. He views his condition as an impediment and not a bar to living.

05-19-2011, 02:24 PM
Thanks, y'all. You're very kind.

The other thing I'd like to say is...the situation changes. Yeah, it's good to be accepting of the fact that your injury may never "get better"...but at the start, your definition of "get better" is usually something like "be as good as new". If you don't get the whole doughnut, it's like you have no doughnut at all, or none worth mentioning. But things change. Your body changes in ways you don't expect. Your attitude changes. Your horizons expand rather than closing down, and as that happens, you see solutions you didn't see before (or that you discarded as less than perfect and complete). You change. So, a lot of the time things do "get better" -- just not in ways that you would have imagined at first.

Another way to think of it is the difference between a 20 year old and a 50 year old. The 20 year old may be able to walk onto the mat and start training hard with no warmup, ignore pain, and get away with it. The 50 year old knows that she'd better warm up first, train with awareness, and deal with any issues afterwards. So, if you can't train like that 20 year old, would you say that you "can't train"? Well, some people do. If you look at a lot of middle-aged sedentary people, that's exactly what they mean: they used to be able to exercise in a thoughtless way, and now "I can't". They believe it. Because they believe it, for them it's true.

Keith Larman
05-19-2011, 02:53 PM
I was hit with a horribly debilitating myopathy a few years ago that I still occasionally have to deal with. Coping, for me, wasn't fighting the pain and weakness. It wasn't ignoring it. It wasn't pretending it wasn't there. It was becoming aware of it, as something that is real, something that is part of me, something that just "is" for lack of a better way of saying it. My *reaction* to the pain was the bigger problem for me. I realized I wasn't so much battling pain and weakness, but battling myself. It was all that emotional turmoil, by frustration, my anger, my "what the hell is this?", all those things. My moment of clarity came when I accepted that while the pain and weakness was very, very real, it was simply part of the landscape. My way of dealing with it was causing more of the grief than the pain itself.

At that point it became much easier to simply, well, "get on" with other things. It stopped being an enemy. It stopped being something I feared or dreaded (although I certainly still don't enjoy when it happens). It was just acceptance and "dealing". Not angry, not happy, just letting it be what it is and stepping over it when it comes along. In a sense it just stopped being anything more significant than anything else. I sometimes think it is like walking down a road and seeing something blocking your way. You can walk in to it, you can push on it, you can scream and yell at someone else to move it, or... You can just accept that you're going to have to walk around it. Or go another way. So you'd better start walking. And sure enough you quickly find yourself past it and moving on with your walk.

It is what it is. Deal with it and get on with it.

Of course WRT injuries give them time to heal. See the best people you can. But you can't always fix everything. So some mornings I wake up with a very familiar pain and weakness in my back, hips and legs. Sometimes it frustrates me especially if it means screwing up something planned with my family. But... I've learned that the frustration itself isn't productive. It is what it is. So I take a moment, collect my thoughts, and realize that it is a new day with my beautiful wife and wonderful daughter. And I get on with it. Sometimes that means simply allowing the pain to be there as I do what I need to do anyway. I've gone on walks with my daughter that I paid for dearly later. But the time with her was worth it. It is what it is.

There comes a point when you have to get rid of all the emotion and other things that tend to swirl around you wrt to something like this. Then it is no different than anything else in the landscape. Not good, not bad, but also not ignored. It just is. Smile, say hello, and get back to what you need to do...

05-19-2011, 04:08 PM
Perhaps to heal we need to address the validity of the underlying assumption that we are sick or broken.


Janet Rosen
05-19-2011, 04:13 PM
Nurse uniform on...
Michael, I worked for a few yrs in an acute spinal cord injury rehab unit - so much of it is being there for people in the early stages of working through these issues....it taught me a lot...
My approach in talking w/ folks about chronic pain is a lot like what Keith describes. I frame it as: if you set up the pain (or disability) as something outside of you, an Other, that is to be battled, then you actually empower it and invest it with more influence over your life than it deserves.
Like we on the mat learn to relax and breathe into nikkyo, learn that you neither ARE the pain/disability, nor is it a monster next to you, it simply is there, part of you.

Michael Hackett
05-19-2011, 07:53 PM
No thoughts, but a question. When you say "...question the validity of the underlying assumption...." are you suggesting that one should question whether or not he is broken or ill in the first place? Some illnesses and injuries are obvious: the compound fracture or projectile vomiting. Those are gross examples, but are you thinking we can heal ourselves be determining if the illness or injury is actual rather than imagined?

05-20-2011, 04:35 AM
When you say "...question the validity of the underlying assumption...." are you suggesting that one should question whether or not he is broken or ill in the first place?
IMHO, before we self-diagnose and self-treat (fix or heal) we need to know exactly what we are dealing with. Get a complete examination from a competent medical professional with an expertise in physical sport injuries.

Michael Hackett
05-20-2011, 11:27 AM
Thanks Lynn, that clears it up for me. I totally agree. I've witnessed a few poor outcomes from self-diagnosis and self-treatment. An acquaintance is now deaf in one ear after self-diagnosing an earache and treating it inappropriately for example.

05-20-2011, 01:34 PM
Hi Mary,
I cannot argue with your letter.
But I do rail against it..in practice, in life.
fwiw: i have found the healing aspects triggered by the aiki training as I've been exposed to it to take things to a whole other level.
The body itself knew how to grow...and I think if given favorable conditions; it knows how to heal itself.
And sometimes humpty dumpty is broken into a million pieces.
and it's sad.

but i have not yet faced this kind of damage (or maybe I have and I am in denial)...and am finding a new 'way' of training that seems to be boot strapping the body.
Ever seen the picture of Baron Munchausen picking himself up out of a swamp by lifting himself up by his own ponytail?
Aiki in my humble opinion so far is partially such a 'restorative' kind of force... a kind of pressure. (?) . What do I know.

But i have been brought to my knees and to tears by pain. I mentioned this before.
At some point, yes, we are all men... born to die. Better get on with the living. Good point.
"He remembers our frame and knows that we are dust"

05-20-2011, 01:35 PM
p.s. good letters Keith and Mary. Thank you for sharing.