The first time I hurt my ankle I was a block from my house.
Chris and I had been running frequently in the mornings, and Claire had decided that she wanted to join us. So, that late spring morning, we’d all set out on a run. Somehow, the pain struck just spitting distance from home.
It hurt, but I could still walk. I told them to keep running without me, and I limped home. I put some ice on my ankle and by the next day I could walk without a problem. A week later, I was back to my normal runs.
A month went by. Chris was back at his house and I was solo with the kids. The weather was beautiful – that early-summer weather where there isn’t a lot of humidity yet – and I was going on long runs in the morning hours before the kids were up and about. I was about 2.5 miles into one of these runs when I felt a snap of pain. I fell over on the sidewalk, screaming. I was on a major road so a few people ran over to see if I was okay, though they all kept their distance (what a strange world it is to live in coronavirus times!) Eventually, the pain subsided a bit, but I couldn’t walk at all.
I texted Becky and Michelle – as my quarantine family they were the only people who could really come pick me up – and I got a ride. I hobbled to the couch and couldn’t do much for the rest of the day.
I figured it would be okay. Last time I’d recovered quickly. I knew the pain had been a LOT worse the second time around, but I was tough. I could handle it.
Except I couldn’t. Each time I’d try and do a tiny bit of a run, I’d wince in pain. It went on for weeks. And during those weeks I got pretty down on myself.
Because it wasn’t just the pain that was keeping me from running. It was also the fear of getting hurt again.
I tried to examine this fear. Why was I so scared to run? I knew I had to start running again, at least a little bit, in order to build up the muscles in my foot and leg. I knew I needed to try to at least try a short and slow run. But the fear remained.
Maybe it’s an oversimplified metaphor, but my ankle injury started to feel a lot like dating after being widowed. The first time I really fell for someone as a widow, it ended badly and it hurt. But I recovered, and got back out there relatively quickly.
The second time that it happened was a lot, lot worse. I wrote a blog post about it that took me four months to publish because I was so wounded. I titled it “Happiness Is For Other People” and I meant it. Here is part of what I wrote:
The heartbreak was not like losing the love of your life. You’d done that before and you knew it was not at all the same. But it had been a risk – a big one – to open up your heart again. The crush that you felt after it was over was much, much worse than you had expected.
How could you let yourself be vulnerable again? How could you let your heart – the one that’s still so wounded – be available like that? What were you thinking?
My reaction to this heartbreak was to swear off dating, at least for the foreseeable future. I needed time to recover, I figured.
But it wasn’t just that I needed time to recover. It’s that I was so scared.
I had been hurt once, and yet I still continued to date. But that first heartbreak was a tiny one, really. It did not prepare me for the bigger one that followed.
I was shocked by my reaction to heartbreak. I thought I’d be more resilient – I mean, I’d buried my husband before I was 40, which should give me some sort of superpower over life obstacles, right?
In fact, it was the opposite. This heartbreak of early 2019 was nothing like losing Shawn a year prior, but it was hard for a different reason. It was hard because it made me so damn scared to get hurt again. So, so, so scared.
And yet, I knew that I wanted to start dating again at some point. I wanted to experience the fun and the excitement and maybe even the joy that could come with connecting with another human being.
The risk was palpable. I stalled for most of the spring and summer of 2019.
After many months, I tried again. It wasn’t pretty, but I was out there.
And eventually, to tie this metaphor back together, I got back to running after my ankle injuries. I actually let out an audible moan for a good 10 seconds as I set out on that first run. It wasn’t out of pain, but rather out of fear – my heart was pounding with anticipation. I finished a couple of miles and realized I was still standing.
That short run turned into longer runs and eventually Chris and I went back to trail running. One day, in the height of summer, we took a particularly beautiful path, and I was distracted by the beauty of the woods.
And my ankle snapped. Again.
I fell to the ground, screaming. Chris came over and helped me through the pain and then we sat there in the dirt for a long time. After about 20 minutes, he helped me stand up.
I realized that I could walk. Not well, mind you. I’d still need to take another week off running and I’d still have to build the muscles back up before I tried again.
But I knew that in time, I’d be able to get back out there. Not just because I had Chris by my side. But also because I had done it before.