I woke up this morning and pulled out my computer. I'm three weeks out from surgery and my writing practice has been sporadic, but I'm getting stronger and writing seems to feel comfortable demanding its' space again. I have just a handful of calendar pages left to write about from the challenge I gave myself a couple of months back, and even though I didn't complete it in the time frame I set out to do it in, I intend to complete it nonetheless.
Recovery from surgery has proven to be much much more difficult than I had anticipated or was prepared for. The first 10 days after surgery are a complete blur of icing and compression and dressing changes and timers for medications. It was more painful than I had expected, and I was anxious (not usual for me) and pretty emotional. It's hard to get any perspective from that space, but I knew well enough to not get ahead of myself. I knew to just let it be the first two weeks and to keep the faith that I would move through this phase. But even knowing that, I still felt blindsided by the load of work and the sobering reality that I had a long haul ahead of me. I was scared on my crutches, managing pain, and trying to absorb all of the information from the PT visits multiple times per week. The dates for being able to bear weight on my leg and to drive and return to work continued to get pushed back while the epic tasks of straightening and bending my knee felt more insurmountable than a 24 hour race. Plus the consequences were so much bigger: if I set out to run 75 miles in 24 hours and I fall short, I risk disappointment. If I put all of this planning and time and resources--not to mention the loss of work--into this surgery and I don't stay on top of the PT and rehab at home, I risk not bringing my knee and my leg back to full health. That would mean not walking normally, probably not running, and likely long term pain. So I can't drop the ball.
A week after surgery I was sitting in the bathtub on the little bench we got so I could shower safely. My three incisions were covered with surgical tape, and then with a cloth sleeve. My stabilizer brace was over that and, after a big struggle, I had managed to pull the big, plastic, waterproof shower cover over the stabilizer on my leg so that everything stayed dry as I had been instructed. Getting all of that done and getting myself onto that little bench felt like mastering an obstacle in a Spartan race--complete with having to muster up the courage to do it in the first place. I had been so sternly warned about not putting any weight on my operative leg that I was terrified to make a move at all, and my quad was barely firing to hoist my leg over the side of the tub. I sat on the little bench and cried, feeling about as far away from any semblance of an athlete or runner as I could possibly be. Beast mode my ass. I would not be touching beast mode for months and months. As much as I had prepared myself for this post surgery time, the meds and the pain and the fragility swirled together into this monster that engulfed me sitting there naked and sad on my little bench.
So this morning when I was looking at the remaining calendar pages the beast mode page caught my eye. How in the world was I going to write about that from this vantage point? And then suddenly I realized that beast mode was bigger than I was allowing. I got my beast mode on the minute I walked through the surgical center door. In fact, I was in beast mode when I signed on for the surgery in the first place.
It took beast mode to change into the surgery gown and let the surgeon sign my knee as confirmation that yep it's the right knee and yep we're doing this. It took beast mode to breathe through getting the I.V., which I hate, and an even beastier mode to breath through getting the nerve block. It took beast mode to lay in the surgery room and listen to the preparations before they put me under, and it took beast mode to pull myself together in post op so they would let me go home. It took beast mode to ride in the car only a few hours after being in surgery, and it took beast mode to get out of the car and use my crutches to get down the sidewalk and up the stairs into my apartment. It took beast mode to lay down and sit up and go down the hall to pee. It took beast mode to get back to the surgery center the next morning to check in with the surgeon and be inundated with instructions and dressing changes and the first gentle PT session. And it took beast mode to endure the first ten days post surgery--to feel the roller coaster of feelings without letting them keep me down for long, and to stretch and straighten and bend a knee that was hollering to be left alone. And it really took beast mode to be vulnerable--to surrender to being dependent and having to ask for help. It's taking beast mode to be grounded and to just sit with my life without being able to clean or organize or work or walk or run or drive--all the sanctioned distractions that keep me from having to just sit with myself. I know, intellectually, that my worth is not in what I can do or how hard I can work, but to sit in this place and have the whole live long day to teach myself to believe it--now that's getting my beast mode on.
I've come to realize that the only thing in my control is how I choose to respond to my recovery. I can come at this with gratitude. I can remind myself that this road back to running, like everything else, ain't linear. When I make progress I give myself a high five. When my knee is irritated I can show her some compassion. I can look for the gifts and opportunities in the current limitations.
Beast mode isn't in the gym or out on the trail, it's between my ears. And I'm not kidding myself that it's easy to access or that I am often "getting it right"--it's not linear either. It's a work in progress. But I've been building a strong mind for six years now, with running as the guide. I always thought it would be some big, long ultra race that would ask me to put my money where my mouth is in terms of testing my mental fortitude, but that was all just preparation. This is the testing ground. This is the place where I become a stronger runner. It's not on a track or a road or a trail, it's right here on the couch with my big, fat knee on ice while I do ankle pumps. It's right here on my chair four times a day with a strap around my quad, sliding my foot back and forth and gently coaxing my knee into a tense 90 degree angle while I breathe and whisper sweet nothings to her so she will give me just a little more. It's showing up for PT three times a week with a good attitude while they put me through some pretty gnarly recovery therapy. It's staring down the many weeks ahead before I can even walk again. It's being on crutches in Minnesota in the winter. It's the moments when I feel hopeless or defeated or old or overwhelmed and I choose to close my eyes and picture myself running down a trail. Let me tell you this: I don't want to do that in those moments. But that's what it means to get my beast mode on.
As it turns out, getting my beast mode on physically is a piece of frickin' cake. This mental and spiritual beast mode is the real game changer.