Oh the Mental Games We Play…

So the jury has rendered a verdict – or, rather, my doctor has given me his assessment.

Last Sunday, I severely tore my A2 pulley and partially tore the A3 and A4 pulleys, all in my left ring finger. None are fully torn, luckily, so I get to avoid surgery. My doctor has prescribed at least 5-8 weeks of no climbing, and about 4 weeks of nothing involving my finger at all. Could be much worse.

Pulley Injury

It still really hasn’t sunk in that I’ve really injured myself seriously. I’ve been able to keep a #positivementalattitude throughout most of the past week, and I’ve been hanging out at the gym a fair bit, just trying to spend time with friends and the community.

But there are definitely moments of sadness, bitterness, anger, all of those lovely negative emotions. I could go on and on about this, but I really want to talk about some of the games our heads can play – including the “what if” and “why me?” games.

The moments I do allow my #positivementalattitude to crack, I find myself asking myself “what if.” What if I had climbed routes? What if I had warmed up longer? What if I hadn’t attempted that problem? What if I didn’t rush into the gym that morning? Even more extreme, what if I didn’t go on vacation to Arizona, fall out of a rhythm, come back too fast, injure my shoulder, come back too fast from that? What if I hadn’t set such lofty goals coming off my shoulder injury? What if, what if, what if…

The fact of the matter is this finger injury is entirely my fault. I broke one of my cardinal rules: listen to your body. My finger had been a bit sore a few days before the injury, but I rested it and chalked it up to overuse. On the day of the injury, I knew I wasn’t feeling 100% – but I gave my project a go anyways. The rest is history.

I had been projecting the same climb for a few weeks beforehand. It consists of several strenuous, dynamic crimpy moves. Combine that with a lack of training on other climbs and styles of problems, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Honestly, this was an injury I feel was almost bound to happen. Whether it was on my project, another crimpy boulder, or on a route, I have a feeling I would have left the gym on Sunday with a torn pulley one way or the other. It’s something I’ve learned from, an incident I will do everything in my power to never repeat.

The other question I’ve found myself asking is “why?”. Why me, why now, why, why, why?

I’ve made a concerted effort to not mope around and feel sorry for myself all week. Asking “why me?” over and over isn’t going to make me climb tomorrow. It’s not going to make me heal faster. It’s not going to undo the damage I’ve done to my finger. In fact, if it does anything, it’s going to demotivate me and prevent me from doing what I have to do to recover and get back to crushing. And we just can’t have that.

This is the kind of injury that is going to take time – lots of time – to heal. Even once I can climb again, I know it will be even longer before I can climb hard, and even longer before I can crimp hard, and even longer before I’m back to performing at a high level again. I’m not allowing myself to dwell on this fact – this would crush my spirit and completely sap my motivation.

Instead, I’m trying to focus on the positives. I don’t need surgery. I can allow my shoulder and wrists time to fully heal. I can focus on the non-climbing aspects of my life that I often neglect during intense training cycles. Most importantly, I can get myself ready to move to California. I’ll be heading out to Berkeley at the start of August to begin my PhD studies at the University of California, Berkeley. I’m stoked for the change, but definitely a little anxious and nervous as well.

Anyways, I’m also focusing on small benchmarks to keep me psyched, positive, and motivated. First, it was seeing a specialist. Now, it’s that the crazy bruising/bleeding at the pulleys is going away. Next, it’ll be the swelling going down, gradual regaining of function and range of motion, then hopefully being able to stop taping, so on and so forth.

It hasn’t been nearly as tough as I expected it to be. I think part of that has to do with the fact I haven’t processed that I’m really, truly injured. I still feel like I could climb. Luckily, I’m smart enough (or, rather, I’ve learned enough) to know that I absolutely shouldn’t.

I’m staying immersed in the community, spending time at the gym, talking with members, making new friends, sharing advice, beta, coaching tips. I’ll be representing Skratch Labs at a few events. I’m not going to disappear, and I need to surround myself with people, places, and things to keep me motivated.

There’s that word again, motivation. I feel like I’ve mentioned it more times than usual today. Motivation is what’s keeping me from getting too down. Motivation is what I’m working to maintain. Motivation is what’s going to make the next year or so manageable and successful.

And I won’t be able to do that if I let my mind play its games. If I keep asking myself “what if” and “why me?”, I’ll never be able to move forward. It’s absolutely key to learn from your mistakes, but keeping yourself buried and preoccupied in the past will only prevent you from truly growing and living.

Now, I’d love to hear from all of you out there. Have you ever dealt with mind games while dealing with an injury? Any stories, any advice, anything else to say? Leave a comment here or on Facebook. You can also send a tweet my way.

I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying the spring season so far. Beautiful weather is definitely upon us here in Maryland! Get out and enjoy it.

Stay stoked and climb on!

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2 responses to “Oh the Mental Games We Play…

  1. I had to take 10 weeks off to travel for my job. When I got back, I immediately hit the gym. One week later, I noticed a pain in the arch of my right foot. I, like you, shrugged it off as over use. Two days later I went to the doctor because the pain escalated to the point that I could hardly walk. It turns out I fractured a bone in my heel and now must take 4-6 weeks off.

    A year ago I sprained my foot bouldering and took two months off.

    I handle these situations in a similar way that you described. I get sad sometimes but still hang out at the gym and find other ways to exercise.

    Hang in there, the recovery will happen fast. Just always listen to your body! Eat right and rest!

  2. Pingback: 2013 Year in Review | To Defy Gravity·

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