3 top tips for coping with the sense of loss that goes with injury

This week we have a guest blog from a 15-year old hockey player who has spent almost three years with serious knee injuries, culminating in surgery in 2020. She shares her experience here, finishing with 3 top tips that you will definitely want to read!

Over to her:

“My injury came very out of the blue (like I’m sure most injuries do). One minute I’m saving a goal then, the next thing I know there’s this horrible clicking sound and I have collapsed to the floor my right knee in agony. After many X-rays, MRI’s and countless appointments they discovered that I had fractured my kneecap, ruptured the patella tendon, torn my Medial Patello-Femoral Ligament (MPFL) and to top it all off, my kneecap never went back into the right place.

“The first thing that I can remember thinking after hearing all of this is: How? How did I do so much damage to my knee whilst performing what I would call a reasonably easy save? Then the next thing I thought was: ‘I have county try-outs in two weeks I can’t miss them that’s what I have been working towards for the last year’. Well, I did miss those county try-outs. In fact, I missed the rest of the hockey season – only getting back on the field for a few weeks of the next season before dislocating my left knee and then tearing the MPFL in that knee!

“In total, I have been completely knocked out of any sport for almost two years.

“Since dislocating my right knee the first time in March 2018, I have dislocated my knees a total of 4 times and I have now had an operation on my right knee to hopefully prevent me from dislocating it again. But I think that it was the time that I dislocated my left knee that I found hardest to deal with. I had done all of the physio exercises, worked to gradually get back to the sport and I had finally got the all-clear from both my consultant and my physio to get back to goalkeeper training. Then, on my first goalkeeper training session back since I had dislocated my right knee almost exactly a year earlier, I saved a goal and felt my left knee go in almost the exact same way (I was even on the same pitch!) What made this time worse was the fact that my left knee was supposed to be my ‘good’ knee- it wasn’t meant to be the knee that I was worried about! Also, this time I knew how long the process of recovery would be and I knew that I would miss the rest of the hockey season and county try-outs for the second year in a row. This time the overriding feeling was annoyance: I was annoyed at myself for getting injured again, I was annoyed that no one knew why my knees kept on dislocating and, as selfish as it seems, I was annoyed that I was the one to get injured again- wasn’t it someone else’s turn?

“Every time I got injured, I really struggled with the feeling of loss. By hockey being torn away from me, it felt like I had not only lost connection with my teammates, but I had also lost my identity. Before all of this started, I was playing hockey competitively 5 times a week for 3 different teams (in 2 of which I was the captain) and so it did take up a huge part of my life and it always has. Ever since I was 3 and got my first hockey stick, I have been totally obsessed with hockey. I used to beg my Mum to let me go to her games to watch and as soon as I was old enough, I joined a team. So, by not being able to play hockey I felt like I didn’t know who I was anymore. Not to mention that some of my teammates are more like family to me, and so the fact that I wouldn’t be seeing them every week also had a major impact on me.

“Although I have spent a large amount of the last two years on crutches, I have tried my hardest to not let it hold me back. For example, the first time I was on crutches I went on a French Homestay with my school and I even got to go up the Eiffel Tower! And, only two weeks after I dislocated my right knee for the second time I climbed the stairs into the Batu Caves in Malaysia (granted very slowly) but I took it very literally one step at a time. I will never forget the feeling of dread that I had standing at the bottom of those stairs looking up, but I will also never forget the feeling of achievement I had standing at the top looking down!

“When I look back there are three things that I wish someone had told me at the beginning of this experience:

  1. Even if you can’t participate in the way you normally would you will not lose the sporting community. Over the last two years, I have really discovered how important the people in the sporting community are to me and, through injury, I have made new connections with some amazing people who have helped me through this process.
  2. There will be setbacks and it’s OK to be annoyed about them. Sometimes by trying so hard to stay positive about the situation, it made me feel worse and I wish that I had reminded myself that it is ok to not be ok because being injured and facing setbacks sucks and it is ok to be annoyed about it (as long as you don’t wallow in that annoyance for too long)
  3. It is OK to aim high but remember to celebrate the small achievements too. My long-term goal will always be to get back to hockey but along the way, I will make small achievements (such as being able to get upstairs to my bedroom for the first time in 8 weeks) in order to get there and by celebrating those it makes the journey to recovery feel just that little bit shorter.

“I am still on the long road to recovery and working on my goal of getting back to hockey but, at least now that I have had my operation, I know that I am on the right track and I can put even more effort into physio and trying to make small achievements every day.

I wish everyone luck for whatever stage of recovery you are in and I’m sending healing vibes your way.”

The problem with life is that it is often no fairytale

From a young age, we love stories. And when life seems especially incomprehensible and unfair, we often look for the classic storylines to help us to make sense of it. Injury and illness is a classic example.

Friends and family want to hear that you have been the hero who has taken on the injury or disease, won over it and come back stronger and wiser from your trials.

Or that the medical professionals have the magic potion or magic hands that heal you, against the toughest odds.

And as the person who is injured or ill, we also want those comforting storylines to be true as well.

But the reality is so much tougher

The reality of recovery and rehabilitation is that lacks the instantaneous nature of stories, and brutishly ignores the linear nature of a classical storyline, with better days & worse days, progress & slip-backs and hope & despair. Part of the agony as the person with the injury or illness, is that time expands – filling 24 hours when you cannot sleep and cannot do anything or concentrate on anything can feel like forever. And when others want to hear the fairy-tale storyline as much as you, the loneliness of the reality of your situation can be overwhelming.

We all need a friend who is prepared to listen to the reality

In today’s fast-moving world, we all want injury and illness to be something that we bounce through within a week or two. But serious injury and illness is not like this. And as the person going through it, you do need to find someone who can let you talk about and let out some of the pain and frustration, as otherwise it eats you up from inside.

It’s not easy. It takes a lot of searching. And many people have told me that it was a surprise to them as to who stepped into the gap and supported them in this way. A truly vital friend, at a time of need.

But if you cannot find this person, then you need to find another outlet for your anger, grief and sense of loss. Some keep a journal and pour out their heart into the pages, or an audio diary. Some charities and support groups have people who will step into this role.

And hang in there

Whilst it may seem unbelievably tough right now, who knows what lies ahead? Just look after yourself through this hour and this day. The future will unfold. And who knows? Maybe in the end, you will be able to overlay one of the fairytale narratives onto your experiences – but for sure you will be glossing over the depth and darkness of some of the hardest times. Only you (and maybe that vital friend) will really know the reality.