In 2018 I broke my ankle. I was on holiday in Lisbon and slipped stepping out of a metro station, landed squarely on top of my right ankle and bashed it on the step. There began a journey that lead to a big examination of my health, although I now realise my health was in decline for quite sometime before.
I’d had a turbulent couple of years. I’d changed jobs quite dramatically a year before which had taken its toll on my mental health. I had also had some back, neck and shoulder issues which had meant I’d neglected regular exercise. I’d put on weight and was sort of resigning myself to the fact that being 40+ that was perhaps how it would be for me. But in essence I think I had lost who I was. With all the stresses that life had thrust upon me in the last couple of years I think I had forgotten what brought me joy.
I knew the physical recovery of my ankle would take some time. I was in an aircast boot for 8 weeks and had been told no weight bearing and plenty of rest. I was also told it would be a year before my ankle would feel back to normal. I think I underestimated the toll this would take on my mental health. I was stuck at home day after day and even when we did get out it was hard (you can see a post I wrote about this here). Knowing I couldn’t really leave the house unaided was really debilitating for my mental health but at the time I don’t think I gave that full credit.
Once I was out of the boot I thought that would be it, I would be fine and life would get back to normal. I certainly felt my mental health would improve dramatically, but actually it got worse. I found myself suffering from anxiety attacks. I could see danger everywhere and it felt like my fight or flight mechanism had gone into overdrive. I would be sitting at home watching TV and find myself in floods of tears for no reason and I’d feel anxious about doing the most ordinary of tasks. Having had some CBT counselling before I quite quickly realised I needed help. I didn’t want to feel like this so I contacted IESO, an online counselling service that is free in a lot of NHS regions.
Now at first I was sceptical. How could counselling work if it wasn’t face-to-face or at least over the phone so you can hear each others voices? After the first session I realised how powerful it was. Firstly typing your feelings out really gets you to think about how you actually feel and I actually had quite a few a-ha moments whilst typing. You also have a written record of the sessions which you can refer back to, something which is very useful. I underestimated how powerful it would be. I spent most of the earlier sessions in floods of tears but it was actually extremely cathartic. I had about 6-8 sessions and I came away with some really powerful tools to help cope with anxiety. I still suffer from time to time but some of that I think is age related now – more of that to come in later posts.
With my mental health improving I felt strong enough to start tackling some other issues. Firstly I was, and had been for quite some time, suffering from chronic IBS symptoms. Stress, a less than perfect diet, lack of exercise and it now turns out poor gut health were all playing their part. I was also overweight and now I realise, although it was clearly not rocket science, both were playing a huge part on my overall health. I took some quite drastic steps to get well which I will share in another post, but I do wonder whether I would have examined my diet quite so much had I not had the ankle injury that led me to examine my overall health.
The final thing my ankle recovery made me examine was what actually brought me joy (and I’ve never even watched an episode of Marie Kondo!) I had really taken for granted things that I could do and enjoyed (dance, walks etc) and I was keen to get back to doing them regularly. I knew it would be a while before I would be back doing these at my full capacity so I looked for something I could do that I hadn’t done before my accident, something where I wouldn’t compare my abilities before to my abilities now. So I joined a choir, my local rock choir. I loved it from the first session. A welcoming group, an amazing choir leader, and 90 minutes where I thought of nothing but what my harmony line was. I sang, I laughed, I felt emotional, but it was so joyful. I’m still going a year later and have performed at Guildford Cathedral and got the opportunity to record at Abbey Road.
Joining Rock Choir and doing something different proved to be a sort of catalyst for trying other things, but purely selfishly I realised I needed to start doing things I enjoyed. I had spent years doing stuff for the family, which although I loved, I realised I hadn’t done anything that was just for my own joy, without considering whether others would enjoy it, for literally years. So this year I’ve been on crochet workshops, mosaic workshops, barre workouts, clubbercise etc. All of which give me space to switch my mind off and focus on the activity at hand. It didn’t matter whether I was any good only if it brought me joy. All of them did and I certainly feel they have enriched my life considerably this year.
One of the reasons I started this blog is because when I broke my ankle I was given and could find plenty of information on the physical recovery of my ankle. The mental and wellbeing side I found much harder to find info on, probably because for everyone that is different. I would have just liked to have read that anxiety was perhaps common after an injury like the one I had sustained, that my mental health could suffer as much as my physical health and that it would take a while to get back to normal. Perhaps that seems obvious but it wasn’t to me. So if this blog can help anyone else in a similar situation then I will be delighted.