On Falling, Part IV: Still Feeling Feelings, Almost Two Years Later

I am resurrecting this long-dormant blog to write about my ongoing process of healing after falling off a 30-40′ cliff in June 2015. I think these kinds of experiences change you; at least, I think it changed me, somehow. This is part of a series – check out Part IPart II, and Part III

I have been feeling some serious feelings about the accident lately. It has been almost two years since my accident, yet it still affects me nearly every day. Although I was finally discharged from twice-weekly physical therapy four months ago, I am not fully “healed,” nor should I ever expect to be. The next decade or two will almost certainly bring me post-traumatic osteoarthritis in my knee, which will eventually require a total knee replacement. I’m still working through my PTSD, which has given me a few panic attacks and prevented me from rock-climbing. At the same time, I’m doing things I couldn’t have imagined a year ago–hiking several miles in a day, skiing double-diamonds, walking nearly pain-free much of the time. I am trying to balance feeling grateful for the healing my body has done with the anger and sadness I feel about the limitations the accident has imposed on me. I will never not have a bad knee, a reconstructed jaw, and several fake teeth. This is my body now, and I am still working to accept it.

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Enjoying the poppy bloom.

Over the weekend I hiked about eight miles at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. It was a gorgeous day, the poppies were in full bloom, and with my trusty hiking poles I was able to navigate the trail with minimal pain prior to about mile five (the last three-ish miles were an exercise in pain tolerance). I had a lovely time. But now, three days later, I still feel a deep ache in my knee that just won’t go away. I keep willing myself not to limp when I walk, because I know that will just cause back pain. I wonder, will I always feel this way after hikes? Is this the start of the post-traumatic arthritis my doctor warned me about? Will I ever feel “normal” again?

I find myself once again diving into medical literature I don’t fully understand, trying to find some reflection of myself in the studies of tibial plateau fractures, fixation techniques, and long-term outcomes. I haven’t found anything that makes me feel better. In the few months after the accident, I also spent a lot of time with this literature, taking advantage of my access to medical journals and databases through my university. I learned that 1) my leg injury was pretty fucking bad, 2) orthopedic surgeons still consider this type of injury a “complex challenge,” and 3) I’m really fucking fortunate that I didn’t have any complications following my surgery. A while back I checked some of the search-and-rescue literature to learn about my situation there, and it led to a similar conclusion: all in all, I got lucky.

And it’s true, I did get lucky. Most people who have fallen thirty feet in the wilderness do not live to write blog posts about their experience. Sometimes I’m still amazed that I didn’t die that day, and I am full of awe and gratitude. But at the same time, healing from this is still a slow, difficult process. I sometimes feel sorry for myself. This makes me feel like I’m a “bad survivor,” that I’m just not trying hard enough to look on the bright side (I talked about this in Part III of this blog series over a year ago, but I’m still not through with these feelings). Of course, I am actually trying my damnedest to look on the bright side, but that doesn’t change the reality that I have chronic pain and might have it forever. This is a difficult thing to come to terms with.

I don’t know where to go from here. It seems like I should end this post on a quietly optimistic note, like, “I’m still in pain, but I’m getting my life back one day at a time,” or, “overcoming this obstacle is showing me my own humanity” or somesuch, but right now I’m just tired and in pain. I’m giving myself space to work through this whole process, and that has to be enough.

 

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One thought on “On Falling, Part IV: Still Feeling Feelings, Almost Two Years Later

  1. Lauren, not to be simplistic or Captain Obvious (but that is my best role), pain means you are alive and use that as a starting point to explore you. I am by no means diminishing your pain -physical or psychic- but consider when thinking about the pain trying to look at it objectively and it might help. When I think of your accident, I experience a sharp pain in my heart. I felt it the moment KC told us and I feel it today as I type this. I experience when someone asks me what happened to you or when I look at the photo from your honeymoon next to the sign on the bridge about falling. Just the enormity of it is overwhelming to me as an observer and my physical manifestation is as though someone is squeezing my heart. But I try to recover from that by reminding myself immediately that you are alive and well and then I think to what you have achieved since and the pain subsides. I am sure my “heartache” is some form of PTSD but I try to use it to learn about me and how much you mean to me and how much I am in awe of you.

    But I also use the same logic to other physical pain that I experience (injuries from long ago and chronic medical conditions). I guess it is sort of a meditation – Feel it, visualize it, visualize the source, then consider the inflammation and what can I do to mitigate it without losing sight of the fact that I can work through this, what can I learn from this about the condition, the pain and about me and my expectations (realistic? unrealistic?). It is not necessarily what I wanted (which was to be perfect) but possibly a learning experience. I think you do all of this already and more. Otherwise, you would not be skiing double blacks less than 2 years out. You clearly continue to keep challenging yourself. And your frustration is a sign that you do not intend to let this accident limit you- you continue to push and the pain is there to remind you of how far you have come and to give yourself time to get to where you want to go in the long run. Love you and so admire you Super Girl!

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