Many people were shocked when NFL star quarterback Andrew Luck, in a seemingly random move, retired from the NFL right before the start of the 2019 season. His reasoning was that the cycle of injury, pain, and rehab and the mental toll it caused was too much to handle. For Luck, it was an emotional and difficult decision to make but one necessary to maintain his life the way he wanted too. It wasn’t worth the mental anguish.
And you know what? Before this year, I don’t think I would’ve understood what he meant. But now I do.
Everyone knows that physical health can play a role in your mental health. But usually we’re talking about the positives, how working out can help fight symptoms of depression and improve your mood. We don’t really talk about how when your physical health is poor, your mental health can suffer too. A quick Google search on “Relationship Between Physical and Mental Health” shows a myriad of articles from around the world about the relationship between the two, with common themes of “no physical health without mental health” (or vice versa), that those with poor physical health are predisposed to mental health conditions, and that physical activity can improve mental health just to name a few.
My physical health throughout 2019 was the worst it has ever been because of my leg. We’ve talked about this. Two surgeries on my left leg, one on my right leg. I’m currently in physical therapy but I can at least walk without pain. The month and a half prior to my second surgery, I had to use a crutch at all times to get around because I had so much pain trying to walk normally.
But I didn’t realize the toll it was taking on me until that glorious day where I had no more pain. I felt so much better mentally! It was like an actual weight had been lifted from me, and I wasn’t struggling under it anymore. It was honestly amazing to me how much better my mood was when I could walk freely without pain. While I still have other mental health things to worry about, not being in pain all the time had such a positive effect on my mental health.
But healing isn’t always that simple. Physical therapy has probably been the hardest thing I’ve ever physically had to do. It gets really frustrated. I had surgery in September, I thought by now I’d be on the way to running again. I thought I’d be back to firefighting by the new year. And neither of those are looking very likely at the moment. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m ever going to get back to where I was before. That’s concerning.
Before I got hurt, I had so many goals that I wanted to reach physically. I had all of that taken from me when my leg decided to deteriorate and not let me walk.
My therapist tells me that I’m strong and that I’m a fighter, but frankly, I’ve never felt weaker. As weak as my muscles are because they atrophied because I couldn’t do anything without pain so I wasn’t using them. It is frustrating to know how much stronger I used to be, as I struggle through cardio and use light weights.
And in my mind, if I don’t overcome this challenge, then I am weak.
It is a hard thing to get out of your mind.
Sometimes in physical therapy I’m amazed what I can do without calf pain. There’s usually other pain as my muscles are like “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” But then I get that familiar cramping pain again, and it scares the crap out of me. Pain in my calf really scares me, that it didn’t work, that there is still something wrong. There have been times I’ve had to stop physical therapy exercises because the pain was as overwhelming as it was during my last attempts at running, now a year ago. Certainly, when this all started last year, I did not anticipate still dealing with this a year later with seemingly no end in sight.
It gets to the point where you wonder, at what point do I give up? Say enough is enough? Andrew Luck got to that point. His injuries were more severe than mine, and we’re talking his livelihood, but still.
It is a game that never stops playing in my head. Will I get well? Will I overcome this? I don’t have an answer. I don’t want to have to give anything up because of this. I can’t even consider it. It plays on your mental health. It’s your fears, front and center.
I’ve held out hope for so long, and sometimes I just don’t know if it is going to work out the way I want it to. Frankly, that scares me.
I miss it all so much too. Being able to exercise normally. Being stronger. While I can at least walk now, I can’t walk up steep hills. I can’t take my dog for walks.
Don’t get me started on firefighting. I miss that more than words can say.
I understand the mental turmoil Andrew Luck went through.
And then there’s those moments where I feel like Rocky, Eye of the Tiger, ready to give it my all in my workouts and get better now. I try to hold onto those feelings for when the bad sneak up on me. I keep trying, at least. I get to the gym. It is just so hard to figure out which pain to work through.
Mental and physical health are closely intertwined. We shouldn’t overlook the relationship between the two.