I’d arrived at one of my favourite surf breaks, known to be extremely fickle. It depends heavily on swell and wind directions as well as tide and to my delight this day was the best I’ve seen it. Not big waves by any means but perfect logging conditions (a log is a traditional style longboard with a single fin), one of my favourite style boards to ride.
But the clincher was, the line-up was empty! This is so rare these days that I couldn’t believe my eyes. I did a quick scan for huge fins just in case that was the reason then made my way down the cliff and paddled out grinning from ear to ear.
I picked off my first wave and stroked towards shore. Catching the wave, I bottom-turned and took two steps forward then back to the tail of the board to cut-back. I’m not sure what happened at this point but I’m guessing it was a combination of cold muscles and poor judgment.
I fell. One leg on, one leg off the board. My knee twisted as no knee should and made a loud crack and my board took the wave all the way to shore. After just one wave I was left alone in the middle of the bay knowing I’d hurt myself pretty bad and knowing I had to swim in then hobble up the cliffs with my board, injured knee and bruised ego. I was gutted.
At different times surfing has been my medicine, my multi vitamin, my therapist, my fun, my exercise, my social outlet, my moving meditation, my creative source.
Being told my injury will keep me from it for at least a month was initially devastating but at the same time I felt for all those I’ve known whom had injuries more severe and a month was only a small portion of their recovery period.
So here I am now reflecting back on my rehab time away from the ocean. There were some frustrating moments as we’ve had (and I’ve missed) some great swells. But on the whole I’ve (mentally) managed it so well and I think it’s worth sharing WHY, because at some point, being told you can’t do what you love happens to everyone.
Identifying strongly with a particular thing you do
One of the things that can make it difficult to cope when what you love is taken away from you either temporarily or permanently is having a large part of your identity tied to the activity.
A part of me definitely identifies as a surfer but I’m also aware that the term ‘surfer’ carries with it a whole bunch of assumptions and generalisations many of which I don’t subscribe too. Sure I love surfing but I’ve never believed that it defines me. It’s just a small part of who I am.
I could have spent the month lurking around the carparks telling everyone about my injury and moping about all the waves I was missing. Spending my hours scrolling through social media looking at everyone else riding waves – total mood killer by the way!
Instead, I gave myself a month to do other stuff, things I’d been neglecting or putting aside because as every surfer knows the addiction is real and inherently selfish so many other things get put to the back burner when the waves are firing.
Instead of identifying strongly with being a ‘surfer’ I thought about myself as someone who enjoys being in nature, so at first this was sitting in the backyard, then as my knee strengthened it became walking the dog in the bush. This re-definition really helped.
All or nothing thinking: How it derails you in recovery
In my work I’ve heard it from so many clients ‘If I can’t do ……. I just throw in the towel’, ‘If I have one piece of cake, I end up eating the whole thing’, ‘when I couldn’t successfully do ….. I decided it wasn’t for me’.
This is all or nothing thinking. It’s a turbulent swing between two extremes and leaves you no compassionate middle ground to work with. You’re either ‘on’ or you’re off, good or bad, surfing daily and having green smoothies or sitting on the couch drinking Coke.
This way of thinking is quite honestly the fastest way to self-sabotage everything you are wishing to create. It’s as though your mind has already set the impossible parameters by which success is measured and these are not standards that most mortals can live up to.
We are human, we strive, we fail, we get dirty, banged up and bruised and then we must try again. I know the temptation is to roll into foetal and quit because maybe you’re re-learning how to move your body a certain way.
We are not encouraged as children to see how many times we can try and fail. We are only rewarded for successes and commiserated for our failures so we close up and become adults who decide if they can’t do something perfectly they won’t do it at all.
Pining for the past: ‘I want my old body back’ mentality
This one I often hear from new Mum’s. Women who have emerged from the honeymoon period of delicious days of snuggles with the infant. Now the kid is running and Mum suddenly notices her wobbly belly and wonders why she didn’t snap back like a rubber band after the ‘tiny’ life event of child birth, sleepless nights and breastfeeding!
This mentality is equally prevalent in high achieving athletes and regular sports men and women whom have enjoyed athletic prowess prior to injury and have since fallen into a slump about this new body they have been lumped with instead of their old one which was much better.
Let me tell you a truth loud and clear. Your body is your body now and forever. It does not come in different versions that you can exchange. It does not stay the same even for one minute. Your body is a wondrous miracle of adaptation that is ever changing, growing, ageing, and evolving to your circumstances.
Your body wears the scars of your experiences whether they be surgical or sleepless nights. It tells the story of your approach to nourishment and self-care. You can choose to love, nourish and work with your body to improve the way you move and feel. You just can’t get a new one or go back in time.
Fixed versus Growth mindset
The final aspect of dealing with not being able to do what you love that has helped me is to lean on what is called a growth mindset.
For contrast, a fixed mindset would be me saying ‘Damn I can’t surf for a month, I’m out of action so I’m just going to wait until I can and develop a major case of FOMO that I will make sure everyone knows about until I’m back in the water.’
A growth mindset says ‘Okay I can’t surf, so what else CAN I do instead? What will help my recovery, what haven’t I tried before that I’d like to explore, what would be gentle on my body yet help prepare me to go back in the water later.’
If your case is more dire and you’ve been told you won’t be able to do that thing for a very long time or possibly ever again this one is really important!
First there will be a time period of grieving. This is unavoidable I’m afraid, you will definitely feel sad and distressed for a while that you can no longer do what you’ve loved. This is the time to really be gentle with yourself, express emotions, seek support.
Then, when the grief begins to dissipate, it’s time to cultivate the growth mindset. Time to brainstorm what may be possible for you now, even if some of the things feel like a reach. What have you always been curious about trying? What would you like to learn more about? There are so many ways to move our bodies, it is only a mindset that closes the door on your potential.
How to love what you can do
So when faced with injury, chronic illness, surgery, a new phase of life, anything that radically changes the way you can move and prevents you from doing what you love, I suggest the following;
- Remember you are more than just a person who did that one thing, way more. Do some self-exploration into all that you are and celebrate it.
- Be brave enough to do something badly or marginally for a while.
- Love and look after your body as it is right now because there is no time machine or rubber band effect. How you treat your body now determines the future.
- Grieve if you need to then develop a growth mindset and explore some new options for movement that get you feeling curious and excited again.
If you are struggling to get back on track after an event that stopped you from doing whatever it is you love feel free to reach out, I can help you with a few suggestions.