That time I broke my back – Part 2: Dealing with injury: Learning to be tough, going to physio, and taking control

Those of you who read my previous post may have figured out that I’ve spent a large part of my 20s as a party girl.  Yes, I am dedicated to my profession, and yes, I am now comparatively settled down, married, and very dedicated to my husband.  But in 2012, the year I injured my back, my primary dedication was to my friends…  and they liked to party.  (Side note, I am still absolutely dedicated to those same friends, but we’re talking a few years ago when we were all relatively unattached, gainfully employed, and living our 20s in Montreal.  Soooo, yeah.)

Of course, one other thing that I’ve been dedicated to for a very long time is exercise.  So when I hurt my back (see: link), it was a huge deal for me.  I was no longer able to cope with the ups and downs of life by hitting the gym and sweating it out…  I could barely go from standing to sitting, let alone hit the treadmill and run 3 miles.  In fact, normal, daily activities such as putting on pants, walking, and using stairs, were now almost impossible for me.  Every day, I got up and tried to dress myself.  And every day I ended up in tears, shaking from the pain, needing help…

I spent the first 3 weeks post Igloo-gate at my parent’s house in the suburbs, at a time in my life when the suburbs = death, and having to depend on other people for anything, ever = the total obliteration of my self esteem.  (I was supposed to be an independent woman!)  I was completely cut off from my social circle, missing out on parties and dinner dates, at a time in my life when FOMO was one of my biggest fears, and every weekend was, like, super epic and I HAD to be there.  I was an urban 25-going-on-26-year-old, still single at this point, feeling fabulous, and living in the city.  And then, in one split second, all of that got taken away from me, and it SUCKED.

Now despite the fact that I’d had a few years of relative ease, I would like to think that I’ve also always possessed a certain amount of maturity.  I may have been the kid who partied her way through Nursing school, but I was also the kid who worked her way through Nursing school – at school during the week and at work on the weekends, paying for everything out of my own pocket with no help from Mommy and Daddy.  (And guys, I love my parents very much.  They’re the people who taught me the value of a dollar, and instilled in me the work ethic that got me through Nursing school.)  I have experienced some dark times, but I’ve always believed very strongly in hard work.  Sometimes there are no shortcuts, you just have to put on your big girl panties, and do it…  so this injury wasn’t going to end me.  I was determined to use it.  To learn from it.  To beat it.

And so began my first-ever foray into the world of rehab.  Visiting my physio twice a week, tirelessly doing the exercises she gave me twice, even three times a day.  Knowing every morning when I got up that dressing myself would hurt like hell, but getting up and doing it anyway.  One day, I’ll wake up, and I’ll be able to put on my own pants again.  Maybe it will be today.

Rehab became my newest obsession.  I wanted to find out everything I could about my injury.  I read about how to overcome injuries like mine.  I exercised, I exercised, I exercised…  even though my exercises at the beginning consisted only of standing up straight and then holding it.  (It literally took me 2 weeks before I could actually stand up straight.  It was exhausting.)  I started at the beginning, with the simplest exercises, and I worked my butt off until I could do more.

I gradually got stronger.  I was able to walk, albeit slowly, from my apartment to the bus.  I could now ride the bus, and go to the physio therapist all by myself.  I could shuffle across ice-covered sidewalks to the sports medicine clinic, all alone.  I got a back brace, and it helped.  My physio taped my back, and that helped too.  I was staying at my own apartment again, for one or two nights at a time.  My friends came over and put my socks and shoes on for me.  I attended my 26th Birthday kegger and saw more of my friends.  My awesome and wonderful roommate helped put on my boots for me and I went out with my girlfriends for Birthday tapas.  I didn’t cry when it hurt to get in and out of a cab.  I kept doing my exercises.

birthday photo

That’s me on the right with one of my best friends, celebrating our shared birthday in Feb, 2012.  I have a pretty dress on underneath my flannel, but I feel so crappy in this photo that I really don’t care about how I look!  Just happy to be out of the house.

Eventually, my physio deemed me ready for the gym again…  but no running!  Not yet.  She told me to continue my physio exercises (a lot of core building stuff, including TONS of planks once I was ready for it) and to build in cardio by hitting the bike.  No activities that cause pain of any kind…  if it hurts, it’s because your body isn’t ready for it yet.  Try the bike, she told me, and we’ll talk about running later.

Now I’m not sure if I was just desperate for some good cardio, but I began an intense love affair with the stationary bike.  I started out doing 20min a day on it, but it quickly turned into 30, then 45.  Warm up, a couple of good, hard miles, some high intensity intervals, then cool down.  I was exercising at an intensity level that I hadn’t really gotten to before.  I used to go out and jog my 3-4 miles, come home and call it a good day.  But now, on the bike, I was pushing myself.  It was like my injury was challenging me: You think you’re so tough??  Show me!  And I was responding.

Within a couple months, I was allowed to start walking briskly again…  and then jogging lightly.  It was a while before I went for an actual run, and most of my runs were short at the beginning.  It was a long and painful process.  But by summer, after a winter and spring spent killing it on the bike, my cardio was better than ever.  Jogging 3 slow miles wasn’t good enough for me anymore, and when I was finally well enough to run again, I was running 5ks in under 23:00.  (I am not that fast anymore, but it sure speaks to the effectiveness of interval training!)

Toughness comes in all sorts of different shapes and sizes.  But for me, that winter, it was all about mental toughness.  It was about knowing that something might hurt, and trying to do it anyway.  It was about not being afraid to look ridiculous at the gym, and working out with a severe injury in front of all the meat-heads and body builders who must have thought I was pathetic.  It was about regaining control, turning this painful and frustrating experience into a learning experience.  Trust me, guys, it sucked.  I felt so weak at times during rehab, it was absolutely humiliating.  I saw myself at my most vulnerable, and that’s a place most people do not want to go.  But learning to dig deep is not a bad thing.

Setbacks are lessons, they are chances for you to prove to yourself that you can do hard things. 

As I write this post, I’m looking back at my old Facebook statuses from January and February 2012.  One of them says “I put on one of my own socks today…  BY MYSELF!  No big deal.”  It earned me a number of congratulatory comments.  There are tons of jokes on my wall, about being “crippled”, about wearing a back brace…  friends who were right there with me, making me laugh through my struggles, colleagues wishing me well and a speedy return to work.  These are like the spectators cheering you on during a tough race.  You need your own mental toughness, but you need these people too.

If I scroll a little more through my Facebook timeline in 2012, I realize that after my injury, I ended up having an amazing year.  My first solo vacation to Europe.  Being the Best Man at my brother’s wedding.  Attending my favourite music festival with some of my closest friends.  The birth of my first nephew.  Falling in love with the man who would later become my husband.  Going on our first vacation together to California.  And to commemorate it all, getting my first tattoo.  Maybe this injury thing happened for a reason.  Maybe it took me away from what I thought was important, so I could see what was really important.  Maybe it was the catalyst for me to become a better athlete, after all those hours of rehabbing in the gym, pushing myself, and seeing what I was truly capable of.  And maybe it was an opportunity for me to become a better person.  To appreciate my friends and family in a way I never had before.  To value my health, and take steps to protect it.  To learn to celebrate the small victories, appreciate the ordinary moments, and be grateful for the things I used to take for granted.

Here’s one last photo for good measure, taken with my husband on our first vacation together, back in 2012.  There’s something I will never take for granted.  This guy.  🙂

cali photo

Do you have an injury story you’d like to share?  Email it to me at!


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