De-funking
Life can be pretty terrible, and we can be the victim in a story. But we don't have to be. ... Toppy does some mental spring cleaning and de-funking - let's put this winter behind us.

It's difficult, not running.

Today - March 26, 2020 - is eleven weeks since I fell and heard that awful crack. Depending on how long it takes me to write this, it is conceivable that I hit the button to publish this post at the exact same moment my ankle broke.

And I won't lie people, it's been tough. Strangely, this week has been the hardest so far. As I improve physically, I deteriorate mentally.

So I've been thinking about that a lot. Asking a question.

Why is it getting harder?

There are a few potential answers that have some truthiness about them.

The most obvious is that the longer that I'm in the injured category, the further I'm moving into unknown territory. I've been an athlete for my entire life, and the longest I've ever been out with an injury before was six weeks. We're now nearly double that, so positivity is at a premium. While I wouldn't describe myself as "frustrated", perhaps we're treading on the limits of patience.

A second reason could be that spring has sprung. There's daylight coming through the window when I wake up in the morning, and it's warm enough that I'd be wearing shorts and a t-shirt if I was out for a run. In non-pandemic times, April is a month full of marathons, and I would be closing in on a goal race.

Not going out for a run on a dark, cold, wet early February morning, on tired legs, as part of an 85 mile week, with over two months before your race ... that's the kind of training run that's almost a relief to wave away to injury. I'm not sure what today would have been, but very possibly an easy shake out on a reasonably cool and overcast morning heading into a tune-up race over the weekend. There's more to miss, even if none of it is happening right now due to the pandemic.

Oh, yes. And there's the pandemic.

My physiotherapy is conducted virtually, to better social distance. Outside my wife and daughter, my support network isn't available for in-person support, and in general there's no life outside running.

This is something that a lot of athletes struggle with, when injured. They wrap their self-identity so firmly in their sport, that when they get injured it sends them spiralling. I'm lucky; that's never been me. I have always had my family, my job, and a group of friends that is not dependent on any of these things.

But this pandemic, man. It has isolated me from my friendships, and it has taken away my job. With running also gone, that's a lot to lay on two relationships. It also puts a lot into one basket - I don't always feel like the best parent or best partner, and life-with-a-surgically-repaired-ankle doesn't help.

While I'm back to making a non-zero contribution around the house, I'm still not back to pulling my weight. And I'm limited in what sorts of play I can indulge in with my daughter. Something as simple as sitting cross-legged on the floor is still out of reach.

Times are tough, so what?

So how do I deal with this? Cheesy as it might sound, with the power of positive thinking.

It's easy to look at all this, and feel the victim. Of a freak accident, a global pandemic, the decision made by a company about an application I've made. To think all of these as things that are happening to me.

What's down that road?

Self-pity. Lack of agency. Being the person nobody wants to talk to because all they do is complain about how terrible everything in their life happens to be, ignoring the fact that they're not actually the centre of the universe and everybody else has problems too, and how about some mutually-supporting-dialogue?

Instead, much of this is within my control.

What if instead of the protagonist in some story, or a terrible victim, I'm just a capable person with a lot of opportunity?

I can do my rehab. I can cycle to bring some of my fitness back when running resumes. I can plan. I can arrange activities with friends online. I can pull the weight my ankle will bear around the house, and do it with a smile, because it's progress. I can read interesting books, and listen to interesting podcasts.

I can look ahead, because blue skies are coming.

A spring and summer, with cafes and beer gardens open again. Places to go, friends to see.

Running again - possibly as soon as three weeks from now.

A return to work. I'm interviewing for interesting jobs, at interesting companies, with interesting people. I will form new relationships, learn, and dig into intellectually-satisfying problems.

I'll wake up way too early to watch events from the Tokyo Olympics live.

All this is in my power. It is darkest before the dawn, and this summer looks brilliant by any measure. That it follows the winter that has just ended is going to make it brilliant by contrast.

And then, when the summer's done, on October 3rd, I'm going to take my titanium-and-scar-and-bone ankle, and go 26.2 miles at the London Marathon in support of Shelter.

At this moment, eleven weeks ago, I was in pain. It was cold. It was dark. I had just broken my ankle, and I was alone in a park, trying (waiting?) to flag down someone - anyone - who could help.

Help arrived. And even when things are tough, they're still looking up.

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