Sometimes my world feels very small.
I’ve been spending a lot of time in my house for the last three months, waiting for my foot to heal. The truth is, I usually spend a lot of time in my house, but there’s a difference between doing it by choice and doing it by necessity. When staying in by necessity, the entire structure seems to shrink and squeeze, and free time that would normally seem pleasant and relaxing slows down into something resembling tedium.
And then there’s the physical energy that has no real outlet, leaving my mind restless. I’m ready for action that my body cannot perform.
The most critical part of this kind of long-term healing isn’t the regularity of icing, or elevating, or taking Ibuprofen. It’s mood management. It’s keeping the spirits up so I don’t fall into a funk or give up in despair or become deeply depressed. It’s focusing on what I can do instead of what I can’t do. It’s dealing with the stress of constantly having to ask for help, and then doing without the help I can’t bring myself to ask for. And it’s letting go of the times when I make my physical limitations known and people ignore them and I wonder how many more days of healing this has added to the final recovery.
It’s also cherishing the moments when people help me take care of myself. When people sit down to talk to me instead of making snide comments about how sitting is bad for your health. When people give up a chair for me. When they go out of their way to drop me off right in front of our destination so I don’t have to walk as far. When they slow down their pace to match mine. When they think of an activity I can do to alleviate the sameness of my days.
We don’t talk much about what it’s like to have a slow-healing or chronic injury, do we? After all, I don’t want to be defined by my limitations. Even as I type this, I’m thinking about how there’s going to be somebody out there who thinks I’m whining or how so many other people are worse off (problem comparing for the win!) or who just isn’t going to get it. Because somehow whining has become equivalent to talking about things that are hard. So then we just don’t talk about it; it’s easier to be silent.
But this is my reality. And it feels a little strange not to talk about it.
What really helps with mood management is reminding myself that, however small my world might feel right now, it is actually big and rich and varied and dynamic. Sometimes I do this by imagining what I’d like to do in the future: travel to China, go to the Walt Disney Museum and the Academy of Sciences, go walk by the ocean, travel to London, travel to Morocco, travel travel travel. Make it to the park with my dog, even though it is a very, very long block away.
Sometimes, though, thinking about the future doesn’t help because it feels like I’m never going to get there. So then I think about how I can enrich my life right now. I romanticize the idea of living a life of the mind. I take adventures and learn what it’s like to be other people through fiction: books, movies, TV shows. I write. I read about economics or neuroscience or Mars or feminism. I sing. I learn how to play new games. I enter into interesting conversations. I feel grateful for all the interesting people in the world who help to keep me entertained and engaged.
What about you? What do you do to manage your mood when times are tough? Have you ever experienced an illness or injury that you had to overcome? I’d love to hear your stories.