March 17, 2014: I pushed myself into a belly-on-the-wall handstand despite the fear screaming through my body. I wanted to prove something to myself and I thought pushing past doubt in a yoga pose would help me to do the same in life. The tips of my toes pressed higher up on the studio wall as I walked my palms in toward the baseboard. I felt my heart pounding its dissent. For a brief moment I paused realizing I had made it into the pose despite my fears, then a new thought settled in– I had no idea how to safely exit the pose.
With only the thought of getting my feet flat on the ground again I walked my hands forward too fast and before my core could catch up my legs came slipping down the wall. In seconds I landed with my full weight on the big toe of my right foot. There was an instant of searing pain, then all went quietly numb.
I bent at the hips, my feet flat and pressing into my mat. I was breathing heavy but only mildly aware of what had happened. I reached down and poked my big toe. The nail was covered in a line of red paint. The toe had swelled and shifted slightly off center, crowding toward the second in line that had lifted up to make space.
I sat down not taking my eyes from my foot. I tried to bend and flex from the ankle and point my toes, but everything was frozen in place. Sitting there watching my foot remain stationary despite all attempts to move it, I knew I’d broken my toe. In an instant of awareness all the pain that had dissipated upon impact suddenly flooded back into my body. I lay back trying to convince myself it wasn’t really broken. I reasoned that it was probably just a bad bruise and finished class as a testament to my being okay.
After loosening the laces to my hiking shoes so that I could cram my swollen foot in and limping across the parking lot toward my car, the reality began to set in. I drove home, pressing the pedals with the pinky edge of my foot trying to breathe away the pain. “It can’t be broken,” I thought, “it’s not bruised. It’ll be fine in the morning.”
But in the morning it wasn’t fine. The force of the water falling from the shower onto my toe was so painful I had to back away and perch on the edge of the bathtub to keep from passing out. That night when I got home from work and removed my tights I saw the deep purple bruise that had settled itself around my toe and across my foot. An x-ray the following day confirmed the break: a jagged line down the center of my toe from the tip to the joint– a pressure crack the doctor said would take six weeks to heal.
At the time six weeks seemed like a death sentence. Voicing my own fears, a tactless co-worker asked, “What are you going to do without working out? That’s the only thing keeping you going.”
For years going to yoga, running through my neighborhood, slamming my fists and shins into a heavy bag, or lifting weights had become my refuge. No matter how difficult the day I could rely on the endorphin rush of working out to reset my emotions and keep me moving through life. And here I was, unable to fit my foot into a shoe and bearing weight only on the pinky edge just long enough to shuffle the other foot forward to create some semblance of walking. I couldn’t even sit cross-legged in meditation and instead had to sit with legs outstretched, my right foot frozen and flopping open at its helpless angle.
Within two weeks I forced my foot into my sneaker, the laces pulled wide, my toes pressing into the top and protruding through the layer of mesh, and drove myself to the gym. I limped through the lobby and climbed the steps one at a time, clutching the railing as if it were a rope in a tug-of-war match. I found a rowing machine and perched my swollen foot over the edge of the foot plate so that my toes extended off the top. I spent an hour pushing and pulling the repetitive motion of the machine.
When I confessed my personal Charles River Regatta to someone much older and wiser, she reasoned that even if I didn’t reinjure my toe in my efforts at the gym, I’d be prolonging the recovery since my body would be working to repair not only bone, but muscle. I relented to her reasoning and gave up on physical activity.
When in five weeks there was little to no change I returned to a doctor who confirmed with another round of x-rays that my toe was still badly broken. He gave me a giant plastic walking boot and sent me on my way assuring me injuries to the foot naturally take a long time to heal. At six weeks I boarded a plane to Georgia with my new boot, determined not to let my injury ruin my spring break vacation plans.
In that week something shifted within me. I realized that life wasn’t just going to go back to normal because I’d reached a certain date on the calendar. I learned that I needed to accept my body where it was, to nurture it instead of shaming it for not magically reverting back to pre-injury form.
Nearly a year since the incident, I have come back stronger than before. I’ve returned to the yoga studio, am lifting weights several times a week, and training for my first marathon in May. I may never recover the full range of motion in my toe and still on days like today when the cold stings my skin and settles into my shoes I can feel my bones began to stiffen and cringe. I am grateful though for the injury and all that it has taught me about self-acceptance and perseverance.
Sometimes in the thick of disappointment and suffering, when that which we desire or need is no longer available, we feel trapped and as if things will always be this way, as if we will never recover. Trying to ignore or push away the pain only serves to exasperate it. The only salve for suffering is acceptance, a quiet compassion and understanding that things are not as we want them, but some day soon they will get better.