It is often said that endings are disguised as new beginnings. The only problem with all of those beautiful reminders is the lack of clarity to recognize the new beginning when you’re amidst the painful ending.
Cheryl Strayed said it best:
“Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.”
My feelings precisely. My “love the crap out of life” part of my heart believes in the magic of new beginnings and all of the encouraging sayings. But my mind and ultimately most of my heart has to live in the present, in the reality of the situation. And that in life, no matter how hard you fight, sometimes you lose. A hard pill to swallow for this “victory-believing” woman.
There are such an infinite number of quotes and sayings about this very topic that people grapple with on a daily basis. Endings and beginnings. Yes, this is something I know very well.
Still, it doesn’t make it any easier every time you are faced with one of these defining moments in life. And this one, this “ending-new beginning” time of my life has been kicking the crap out of me on a daily basis. Recently, I have been diagnosed with bilateral hip dysplasia.
I was a runner, swimmer, cyclist, hiker (and a dancer in my former life), as many of you know…until 4 months ago when it all came to a halt. I began to feel a pain in my hip that was foreign to me. So I did what most athletes do, kept running. Until the pain became so intense that I ultimately sought out a PT to see what the heck was going on. A month with one PT and the pain continued to get worse. So much worse that I had trouble walking and even sitting, not to mention how horrible just driving was turning out to be. An ice pack donned my hip at work and home 24 hours a day, practically. My PT at the time was concerned there was a labral tear in my right hip.
So it was onto see an ortho to find out. In my mind, a tear was doable. They go in, repair it, you heal and move on with your life. What I wasn’t prepared for was the real diagnosis. An x-ray, CT scan, and an MRI with dye injections (ouch) later, and I was diagnosed. Yup, there is a tear in my right hip, a pretty significant one at that. Some bone spurs and arthritis, in addition to the dysplasia. My left hip is actually worse than my right one, but my right has taken the brunt of damage because that’s the side I tended to favor. Now they refer to me as “dysplastic.”
The definition of dysplasia is a congenital deformity of the hip joint. Awesome. My MD reviewed all of the images with me. It was quite disturbing to see that most of your hip is missing. Bilaterally. All of these years, the soft tissue surrounding the ball joint acted like a brace, essentially. The CT scan revealed that not only was my right hip popping out, it was also slipping forward on any movement where you push off your foot. Yes, running. Flutter kicking during a swim, yup. Climbing, yes. Oh and walking…yea that too. So the soft tissue was trying to prevent my hip from dislocating and popping out, while my hip flexor muscle tightened to hold the ball joint in to prevent it from slipping forward. A hot mess, if I ever saw one!
Not the intended jobs of either of those. So as my MD simply put it: Your body is severely pissed off at you.
Then he proceeded to lay all the options on the table:
- Hip replacement (yikes)
- PAO surgery, which cuts a piece of the pelvic bone, rotates it to create “a socket” for the ball joint, then inserts 6 screws so the bones can heal. The labral tear would also be repaired.
- Injections: plasma or stem cell, to heal the tissue.
- ART (Active Release Therapy) massage therapy, with basic PT exercises to reduce the inflammation, allow tissue to heal and strengthen the hips. Oh and cease all physical activities until further notice.
Options 1 & 2 would require 6 months to a year of recovery. I just couldn’t fathom either of those paths in my life right now. My children need me. So Option 4 was my choice. Injections would be Plan B, if the ART therapy did not work.
And while to some, this seems like no big deal. “So you can’t run anymore, there are worse things in life. ” Yes, that is very true. Life could be worse. Much worse. I do count my blessings! For me, however, it was how I survived. It was my therapy, my release, my balance. I finally found a way to keep my mind healthy, and my heart healthier.
So I sat there, left with the broken-record thought, “Now what?”
My MD reiterated (often) that the result of my condition was not linear. Not a “cause and effect” type of thing. That this dysplastic body was a structural issue. So while he can go in and repair the tear, my hip structure would allow for another tear in the future. I then, quietly listened to the advice on how the road forward was to preserve what was left of my hips and attempt to strengthen the surrounding muscles enough to buy me a few years and keep me out of surgery for now.
There you have it. At 42 years old, I know have to learn a life of hip preservation.
I spent the first month in denial. I thought if I stopped running for a few weeks, I could overcome this. Then I actually attempted to run. I jogged 3 miles. Mile 1 was fine, then instant pain set into my hip…grinding and popping. I’m a fighter. I have overcome most of the adversities in my life because of my tough mind, strong heart and persistence. I thought for sure, I could beat this. I would not concede to this. This.
My body, however, outweighed my strong mind.
Humbled faster than the speed of light, I unfortunately began to truly comprehend the degree of this. This. From that point on, I played by the rules. I stopped everything. Running, swimming, biking, hiking. Even going for walks. Everything. I listened to my new PT at URMC Sports Medicine and did what was prescribed with fidelity.
It is extremely humbling to be given 5 simple Level 1 exercises that were excruciating and resulted in immediate failure. This from a woman who has stood on the summit of 50 mountains total over the past 2 years. This from a woman who finished 4 half marathons, a triathlon and a duathlon in the past 3 years. My mind was having a heck of a time wrapping its head around this. This.
Enter the depression phase…I truly felt hopeless. (Although I denied that I was depressed to my friends, who knew otherwise.) I could not put my faith into the process. I didn’t trust it. Everything was scary. The unknown is scary. Fear kicked in and jumped happily into the driver’s seat. My emotions got the better of me on most days. I was either in tears or short-tempered. Not a good way to exist. I didn’t realize just how much I relied on my weekly routine of running, swimming and biking. It literally kept me going, in more ways than one. It was the yin to my yang.
(I would later go in as a DQ for the Buffalo Half Marathon, as I would not be able to race. Another blow.)
That was in April. At the end of April, my daughter and I had a free day so we climbed Bald Mountain. Simple 2 mile out and back, gentle climb. It was tough. Tough. This. My MD described my condition as my body hitting a threshold and was pushed over the edge. My new reality would feel more like “tough” and less like “ease.”
Somewhere in all of this time, regret crept in as well. I found myself saying, “If only I had known my last half marathon was actually my last ever, then maybe I should have…? If only, if only, if only…”
But you can’t think like that. Focusing on the “if onlys.” The truth is my last half was the Adirondack Half Marathon. I ran in one of my favorite places on the most beautiful day. The sunlight danced on the lake surrounding the course. I witnessed so many miracles that weekend…thankful is how I will remain. Same goes for my triathlon. My parents and my daughter were there with me the whole time, on the most beautiful weather day. It was perfect.
So yes, my heart is crushed with how the future will play out now. But I am so grateful for every race I’ve finished. Every experience I was healthy enough to journey through.
Nevertheless, I remained committed to my recovery. I completed the exercises every day. Fought through the depression, and then I met Liz Gilbert at Kripalu. A life-altering, game changer. Some day I hope to write about that experience, but I digress. In time, the inflammation subsided. I attributed that to the ART massage therapy. (And not running…sigh.) I have had 6 treatments to date, and I am basically pain-free again.
Faith in the process was slowly being restored. I trust the professionals that have guided me through this chapter of my life. I listen to them. (Which is a pretty big deal if you know me. A stubborn “listener”, usually I am.)
During the month of May, my exercises gradually increased to a Level 2 and I was cleared to cycle again. On flat ground, no hills. So the Erie Canal has been my savior and my bike, my golden ticket to freedom. A sense of normalcy had returned for the first time in months.
Research began to learn about an anti-inflammatory diet. A new approach to food and cooking set in, and my body gradually began to heal from the inside out.
Currently, I have 10 exercises that I complete daily with weights and bands, plus the elliptical and biking. Still have not attempted a run or a swim, although I was recently cleared to swim as well! (Easing into those waters again…)
This. This life is a process. I think it is safe to say that I have transitioned into the acceptance phase. Although a setback into sadness snuck up on me this week…I received another DQ for Tupper Lake Tinman Olympic Tri that I was signed up for as well. My friend Mallory, helped me turn lemons into lemonade when we climbed Seymour Mountain that weekend instead. (more to come on that high peak climb!)
I am beginning to accept that This is my new reality. That my body is not deformed but I do need to approach it in a completely new way. I ask my PT many questions, as I did with my MD. I read about hip dysplasia, follow athletes who have had hip replacements and found their stride again. I now understand the mechanics of my joint structure. It’s a step. A baby step towards victory in healing.
So much uncertainty still remains in the weeks and months ahead. There will be more setbacks, I am sure. It comes with the territory. Acceptance is a small, quiet room, right? Part of that acceptance is coming to terms with the fact that I will not be able to race in the Iron Man 70.3 Maine race this August. I registered for it last October, made all the arrangements and everything. Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything, like Cheryl said. Sometimes, you just have let go. I am devastated. It was a dream of mine, and I have to accept that dream just wasn’t meant for me. This.
Now what? Yea, that is still the broken record playing in my mind. The frustrating part is that I do not have an answer. I had no idea what to do next. I am desperately trying to embrace the uncertainty. Most days, I am okay. The joy of being with my children and witnessing their “extraordinary-ness” truly fills my heart with so much love and gratitude. Truly.
And then there are the days that I’m not…not okay. Ebb and flow. Ebb…and…flow.
I guess the next thing is just to keep doing what I am doing. PT, biking and now hiking. It is what it is, until it isn’t, right?
Like Liz Gilbert says, “It’s all gonna be alright.” This journey has just begun. Most days are pain-free now and that is a darn good start.
I am still the girl who believes in magic…so here’s to the magic of a new “This.”
“PT-ing” my way back to life,
2 thoughts on “Life After…This.”
I am so in awe of your strength and resilience. You have made it through pain and you will find your new normal in this too. One day at a time. That is the only way I make it through mine. Inhale and exhale and keep focusing on the beauty around you. You’ve got this!!
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Thanks Jen! Your support is so appreciated. 💕
One day at a time…