I Finally Broke a Bone

Photo by Nicolette Michelle, April 2021

Before I fractured my left ankle during a business trip, I had naively lived through life never thinking much on ankle fractures, or realizing just how mentally and physically taxing an ankle injury could actually be. I had no reason to. In fact, I had never broken a single bone before, up until now.

I am going on almost two months since the accident, and I have to admit that it has not been an easy journey for me. It’s taken a lot more out of me than I could have ever imagined, and I have felt embarrassment and guilt by all my emotions.

It took me a while to find the courage to write again on here, let alone to write my personal experiences on this whole recovery journey, which is currently still ongoing.

After almost two, long, excruciating months of still not being able to walk or put any weight on my ankle, I’ve come to realize that you can’t really vent to or talk to other’s who haven’t gone through a similar injury like this.

I don’t want people to feel sorry for me, I just want them to understand why I feel the way I do, and why it’s been so difficult to snap myself out of this funk. I will feel better and get through it — I always do with anything life throws at me — but at the moment, I have to admit that I am really struggling.

We still live in a society that wants to put people down when they struggle with their mental health. Instead of asking the “why” behind the sadness, it’s easier for some people to just accuse you of weakness, or simply say, “get over it.”

Support Groups Really Help

It wasn’t until I finally joined an ankle recovery support group (yes, they exist) when I discovered that everything I was feeling and going through was completely normal. The feelings of isolation, the struggle with having to admit defeat and ask for help almost every day, but also worrying that you’re going to become a burden on other’s, stressing about how you’re going to get to doctor’s appointments, the inability to climb stairs — just to name a few of the struggles that come with an injury like this.

So many people struggle at having to adjust their lives with any type of major injury. When I realized that I was dealing with adjustment disorder, it took some of the fear and pain away. Of course, it didn’t completely cure my sadness over everything, but I’m learning to take it one day at a time. It’s all I can do. I am just happy to at least be out of a cast now.

I spent the first part of my birthday at the orthopedic surgeon’s getting my cast removed, and then the remainder of it back at home stuck sitting on the couch like it was quarantine 2020 all over again, but hey, there are still worse things in life.

This Friday I’m supposed to finally see my doctor again, and hopefully get the OK that I can start weight bearing, but even then, I’m not sure how much longer my road to recovery will be. The accident could have been a lot worse, and I didn’t even need surgery, so every day I wake up and I’m at least grateful for that.

Adjustments:

I use a shower stool to shower (the first 2 weeks of not having one yet was really agonizing), I have to walk up the stairs with my butt (which I’m quite good at now, I might add), and I still need help carrying plates of food or drinks to and from the kitchen. Now that almost two months have passed, I am starting to get major FOMO, something I haven’t experienced in a while now. Still, I persevere. Of course I have both good and bad days, but I persevere because that’s what humans do.

They don’t tell you about the muscle spasms at the beginning. In the first two weeks I would experience severe muscle spasms at random. They can be absolutely excruciating but thankfully mine never lasted for long. By week four, they were all but gone.

My job is physically demanding and requires lots of standing and moving around and at times, minor or major traveling (how I got injured in the first place), and I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t been able to go back to work yet. I am a freelance photographer so basically make my own hours, but not being in the right mental and physical state has made it really difficult to feel comfortable in getting back out there and creating again with other people. My job is to help people feel good about themselves and to make them look good, and if I’m not at my best or operating at my best, then how can I be my best for others? Wow, I used “best” a lot in that sentence, do I perhaps have an issue with “perfectionism?” Maybe…We’ll save that for another conversation.

Have I been criticized for not getting back out there yet? Yes. Does it hurt? Yes. Do I feel guilt? Yes. I could technically still be shooting (it never hurts to just sit down and shoot, I suppose), but what is holding me back? Well, it’s clearly my mental health, and everything I mentioned above and what I’m about to mention below.

I was told to remain home until I got a boot since I have been out of a cast for 3 weeks now. 3 weeks. I have really stayed put for 3 weeks. It sounds crazy when I type it out. I eventually got my own boot, but I realized that I had nowhere to go, and with my mental state deteriorating even more, I suddenly couldn’t find the courage or the strength to finally set up photo shoots, or get out there and meet up with people again.

I kept worrying about being a burden, worrying whether I’d have a place to sit (I am still on crutches and can’t stand or walk for long, hobbling is no fun), if there were seats, would I be able to elevate my leg? Would there be stairs or an elevator where I was going? Would I be able to keep up physically with my able-bodied friends? Maybe I also just don’t want people to see me like this.

You lose a lot of your autonomy with a broken limb, and although I’m grateful to those that have been there to help me and that want to actually help me, I still feel a heaviness in my heart because I don’t want to have to keep depending on them. But every day I am learning to practice more patience with myself and the world around me and accepting the fact that I clearly still need help, even after almost two months now. (My family has been extremely supportive during all of this, and I honestly don’t know what I’d do without them).

Patience. That is a very important word in this whole recovery process. Patience. Patience. Patience.

There is also a loneliness that comes with recovering from this type of injury. Although you may have some people around you at times, there is still a lot of solitary moments where you’re stuck sitting in a room all alone, more likely or not, caught in your own feelings. And like I mentioned earlier, you can’t exactly vent to people who don’t know what you’re going through. After a while, I start to feel like maybe I just sound whiny and ungrateful.

The support groups remind me that I’m not the only one struggling right now and that it will eventually get better. Many of us feel upset for a reason. It takes lots of time and patience with yourself. This whole experience only continues to make me stronger. It really does.

The hilarity of flying with a broken ankle

Sometimes I still can’t believe that I really had to hop back on a plane and go through TSA with a broken ankle that I didn’t even realize was broken at the time. (I was just in denial and hoping it was at least a sprain) I definitely couldn’t walk though, and had to get wheeled around by airport staff, whom I’m extremely thankful for.

Seeing people walk or sprint throughout the airport while I was being wheeled around definitely hurt mentally, but also made me want to laugh. I really had to go and get injured on a work trip like an idiot, I kept thinking to myself. They also tested my ankle brace for drugs, because yes, I guess there are people out there that have tried to smuggle drugs by faking an injury? I’m sure they’ve tried everything at this point. Nonetheless, it was all a humbling experience.

I also sat next to a guy on the plane that smelled like he hadn’t showered in days. I am not joking. Even with a mask, it was quite repugnant, but I dealt with it for all four hours. The whole experience was rather surreal, and I kept thinking to myself, “What is going to happen now?” And the big cliche, “How is this actually happening to me?”

Despite the weirdness and the negatives I’ve had to deal with throughout this difficult journey, this injury has also shown me more kindness in strangers that I didn’t think existed. Little acts of kindness can go a really long way.

No matter what stage of life we are in, there will always be hurdles to overcome. I know there is always someone out there fighting a harder battle. The whole human experience is tackling one battle after another. All we can do is just overcome them as best as we can.

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Nicolette Michelle Herrera

Nicolette Michelle Herrera

I write and take photographs. Just another person on the Internet. Based in Los Angeles. https://linktr.ee/nicomichelle