19 Mar 2018

Controlling the fall

Every Tuesday night, when I went running with our running club, I’d always imagine falling over. 

I’d trip up a kerb, or run into railings, or fall down a hill. I’d imagine scenarios where I’d knock myself out and wonder what the others would do. Would someone call 999? Would they knock on a neighbour’s door and ask for help? Would I be dead? If Ryan was there, would he have a panic attack? Would he pick me up and run with me back to the car? How bad would my injuries be? Would my bone be sticking out, would I have a head injury? When would I wake up? On the ground, in hospital? Days, weeks later? Would I ever run again? 

Would tonight be the night that I fall?

Falling seems inevitable when you’re a runner. Fast, slow, 5k, marathon, trails, road, high quality shoes, cheap pair in the Sports Direct sale, running is running and obstacles will get you. You can’t prepare for it all. But with anxiety, you’ll damn well try. I’d convince myself that if I imagined falling then I wouldn’t fall. Or at least, I’d be prepared for every eventuality. I had to go through the scenarios every week to have the best chances of survival. Welcome to mixing running with anxiety. Sometimes it’ll work against your bad mental health, sometimes it’ll work with it.

Anyway, I fell. 

Two weeks ago, we were running back to the start. 5 miles nearly done. I was telling a friend about my plans for the Brentwood Half - how I was on track for an incredibly strong PB - when I was suddenly, dramatically on the ground. 

I don’t remember falling. I think my brain’s scratched the memory out for me. But there was a lip in the pavement, I caught it, and fell smack on to the ground. I didn’t cry. I immediately wanted my mum, but I didn’t cry. Everybody stopped and gasped and surrounded me, asking if I was ok and did I need help getting up and did I want a tissue and where was I hurt and should they go and get their car and could I walk and could they have a look and here have my jacket and OH MY GOD YOUR WATCH and suddenly, I couldn’t remember any of the scenarios I’d practised over and over again.

Ryan was in our group that night, thankfully, and my ears were ringing and sight was blurry in shock as he pushed to the front of the group and held my arms and plainly told me that I was ok. I looked down at my watch and whimpered, “Oh, my watch,” and that’s the only time my lip wobbled as I tapped my head on his chest. 

Someone asked if they wanted me to get their car, but I looked at Ryan and within seconds he was running off to get ours. So this person stayed with me instead after I insisted everyone else carried on with the run - she was a nurse and also called Louise, which was… helpful. The group leader had given me his jacket as I was starting to shake in shock and my hand was stuffed with someone else’s ‘I promise they’re clean!’ tissues. I didn’t have to time to consider what I should be doing and how I should be feeling. 

The only thing I DID know I should do was save my run on my watch and upload it to Strava, which I did as I sat on someone’s wall with Louise the Nurse. The first thing I did when I fell, before wanting my mum, was stop my watch. I’m a runner. The data comes first. 

Louise the Nurse asked if she could look at my knee and I said yes, of course. My leggings were ripped and all we could see was a lot of blood. She dabbed most of it away and we proceeded to sound out the vowels in response to what we were faced with. “Oh,” “I… uh”, “Eeeeee” and “Ahhhhh… fuck.” We could see too much of my knee. There was a hole. There was yellow fatty tissue. There were too many colours and too many hanging chunks of flesh. Louise the Nurse suggested we went to A&E and we never looked at my knee again.

Driving to A&E with Ryan was much like a basic romcom where the husband is frantically driving to hospital with his partner who’s in the late stages of labour. I was yelping and swearing as Ryan swerved round corners and leaped over speed bumps, and he was going, “Right, ok, right,” a lot as he was trying not to panic. I was the one calming him down. Me, with my knee hanging off. 

We were, amazingly, only at A&E for half an hour. I was checked in, saw one nurse who raised his eyebrows and puffed out his cheeks, then another who cut my leggings off, cleaned the wound, and said, “I’m just going to cut this bit of fatty flesh off. Don’t worry you won’t feel it,” and then, “I can’t actually stitch anything together because chunks of flesh are missing, so I’m just going to have to put a massive dressing on it instead.”

Reader, I found a missing chunk of flesh in my leggings when I got home. 

It’s been two weeks and I’m still not running. The hole is closing and wound is healing, but it’s still very gross and many colours. I can walk without a limp until about 2pm when my knee gets angry at me and I get angry at my knee, and I have to eat a Freddo to make myself feel better. I can’t bend the knee. My other leg keeps making a fuss because it’s having to carry most of my weight. My muscles are tender. I’ve picked off all the scabs on my shoulders and elbows and arms and hands, and I’m bored to tears. 

I can’t control this situation. I have to let my body do its thing. Sometimes I’m very good at recovering. I know full well that I’ll be back running soon, and these things happen, and it could have been a LOT worse. The nurse at A&E said I was very lucky I didn’t spilt my knee open and shatter the bone. I could be training for a marathon, I could have been running on my own, and I could have hit my head. 

But also, all I did was fucking fall over. Who does so much damage just tripping over? Me. Obviously. I don’t do things by halves. If I’m going to fall over, I’m going to ABSOLUTELY COMPLETELY HARDCORE FALL OVER. I’m so mad that I was so unlucky. I’m mad that I was doing SO WELL in my training for the Brentwood Half, that I had to pull out of the race, and that ALL I DID was TRIP OVER a WONKY BIT OF PAVEMENT. 

But also also, a lot of people have it worse. Just during writing this post I’ve seen a runner on Instagram suddenly in a leg brace and on crutches. I can’t even imagine how she’s injured herself or how she’s feeling right now, knowing she has an even longer, bumpier and likely unknowing recovery road ahead. So I feel guilty for feeling so shit about the hole in my knee. 

I’ve very quickly realised how much my wellbeing relies on running. I’ve been incredibly anxious and down some days, feeling like I’m no longer in control of my body and brain. I’ve been quite irritable, sad, and have catastrophised a lot. I’m convinced around five times a day that I have sepsis and the amount I’m sniffing my knee to detect for infection is unnerving.

[EDIT: I wrote this post yesterday and today ended up with an emergency appointment with the nurse because I felt very unwell. The nurse says it is, indeed, infected. I'm on antibiotics. Brilliant.]

The irritability isn’t helped by the amount of unsolicited advice I’ve had, either. I hate unsolicited advice with every cell in my body and I will die on that hill. “Make sure you’re keeping it clean!!!” Oh no shit, Sandra, I’ve been rolling my knee in shite for a fortnight thinking that’d help. Silly me. Yes, people are just trying to help, I appreciate that, but don’t give me your uneducated advice if I haven’t feckin’ asked for it. When I show you a gross photo, just tell me it looks gross. Sit with me in my grossness and agree that it’s gross then move on. If I want advice, I’ll bloody ask for it. IT’S JUST MY BIG PET PEEVE OK *bangs gavel* GO AWAY.

Anyway, to combat the unsolicited advice, I’ve barely posted photos or moaned about my knee. Meaning I’ve been internalising a lot. I don’t want to keep moaning to Ryan about it, especially when he’s training for Brighton Marathon so I don’t want to make him feel bad, so I’ve just been wallowing in my own gross holey knee filth. I’ve been saying I’m ok so I don’t sound so negative all the time, when really I just want to strop like a toddler down the beans aisle in Asda.

Running has improved my mental health more than anything else, but it’s not fixed it or cured it. Running is an outlet and provides a space for me to breathe and think and process. It realigns my body and brain, it forces them to work together. It gives me a reset button. But I need to not rely on a reset button. I need to make sure I’m always taking care of this machine, being aware when it’s slowing down or glitching, to make sure I don’t always have to rely on switching myself off and on again, however wonderful that may be. Sometimes the button can break.

I spent a lot of time building up a catalogue of falling scenarios in my head, but I never went any further than falling. I never prepared for recovery. And that’s the painful bit.

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