Dealing with the Grief of an Injury
By Coach Janet Hamilton, MA, RCEP, CSCS
Most of us have heard of the "stages of grief" that follow a traumatic event like the death of a loved one. These are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. What many don't realize is that we go through these stages not only in times of deep loss but also with annoying things like a dead car battery or running out of gas.
Let's take a look at how an injured runner evolves through these stages. Runner has an injury, for example a stress fracture:
- Denial -- "this can't be a stress fracture; let me go out and run and see if it still hurts" Yep, it hurts. Wait two days, repeat. Wait two more... repeat.
- Anger -- "This is SO not fair for me to have a stress fracture!" "I was in training for my major event!" "Who/what can I blame for this stress fracture?"
- Bargaining -- "If I can only make it through this upcoming event, I'll do anything!" "Can't you just give me a shot or a pill and make it better?"
- Depression -- "If I can't run this event, why bother running at all? What's the purpose in life if I can't run?"
- Acceptance -- "OK... I've got a stress fracture. What do I need to do to get through this and insure I don't get another one?"
Now, keep in mind that not everyone goes through these stages in this order, and some people skip stages along the way. The goal is to get all the way to acceptance that you do indeed have an injury, because only when you get to this stage will you begin to move forward in dealing with the underlying CAUSE for the injury. Until then, you're just spinning your wheels looking for a way out!
Keep in mind that lots of runners get hung up in the various stages long enough for physiological healing to take place because they physically can't run and they're forced to rest. Lo and behold, one day they get a wild hair to try it again... and it doesn't hurt! YIPPEE... I'm healed, right? NO. Your bone may have healed, but the underlying causes for the initial injury may or may not have been addressed. At some point in the future when the athlete does too much too fast - the symptoms will be back, or another symptom will arise.
It isn't until you ACCEPT the injury and acknowledge it, that you can move forward with the proper steps to address it. The best thing to do is to get to acceptance quickly when you realize you have an injury -- blast through those other stages, but get to acceptance as soon as you can so that you can start making headway in addressing the cause and getting to a real solution.
To your success on race day! - Coach Janet Hamilton, MA, RCEP, CSCS
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