Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Stress Fracture Diary: Part Two, Managing Emotions

In real life (aka when I'm not blogging), I'm a Student Affairs Professional: basically I provide services and support to college students at an institution of higher education. One of the developmental theories I use to frame my work with students is Arthur Chickering's Theory of Identity Development. Chickering uses his "Seven Vectors" to describe how college students develop over time. This theory has also been used successfully with other populations. Stick with me- I promise this relates to running :-)

One of these vectors is "Managing Emotions: Learning to understand, accept, and express emotions. Individuals learn how to appropriately act on feelings that they are experiencing." This stage of development is characterized by the awareness and acceptance of certain emotions- not eliminating them, but rather recognizing them and then learning to deal with them appropriately, i.e. dealing with irritation before one explodes or dealing with fear before it becomes immobilizing.

Depending on life circumstances, a person may pass through all the vectors successfully but occasionally "lapse" back into a particular stage when faced with a difficult situation.

I feel like I am back knee-deep in Managing Emotions.

I don't do negative emotions. I don't do anger, sadness, frustration. I am usually able to work myself out of a bad mood pretty quickly. But this injury has thrown me right into a quagmire of shit I don't want to deal with.

Before this injury, I hadn't allowed myself to be angry or sad or frustrated for very long. I've always told myself these were wasted feelings- they aren't productive and they certainly aren't pleasant to deal with. Luckily, I don't have a lot of reasons to be upset- I am incredibly blessed and privileged and thankful for all that I have. But this injury has taken away some of my privileges and frankly, I'm pretty pissed about it.

And I'm still figuring out how the hell to deal with these feelings.

The old me would have eaten these feelings. Or quieted them with a bottle or two of wine. Or yelled at everyone who came within a two mile radius. But all of those coping methods are crap- they don't work in the long-term and actually make life worse.

The only thing that has been helpful is to allow myself to feel these feelings. To actually acknowledge them, talk about them, write about them, and actually accept them.

It's ok for me to be sad that I am missing my favorite races. I am permitted to cry and mourn for the lost opportunity to run my dad's first half marathon and marathon with him.

It's ok for me to be pissed off when I can't access something because I'm mobility-impaired. I'm allowed to be angry when people stare at me and ask inappropriate questions about my injury. [PS- there's an entire post coming about this!]

I'm allowed to be frustrated that everything I need to do takes 10 times longer. It's ok for me to irritated that I can no longer do some of the things I want to.

I'm allowed to be jealous and envious of other runners and walkers. I'm allowed to be aggravated every time an uninjured, able-bodied runner says to me, "just think positive!" because they have no idea what it's like to be unable to walk and run. I'm permitted to feel a pang of jealousy every time someone posts pictures about a race/run on social media.

Most importantly, I am allowed to be grumpy. I'm allowed to have bad days. I can cry when I need to and yell and scream and vent when I need to.

To not acknowledge this pain, to not affirm that I am indeed having these feelings, is to miss an incredible opportunity for my own growth and development. My bones will heal. I know what to do to prevent another stress fracture. But I can't avoid negative feelings forever. Terrible things will happen in my life- much worse than a stress fracture. So I've got to learn how to deal with these emotions; in a positive and helpful way.

I don't have it all figured out. But I'm getting there. Because at the end of the day, I don't want all this pain/anger/sadness/frustration to be wasted- I want to come out on the other side stronger and even more positive and optimistic. And I especially don't want to take out these feelings on the people in my life that are my support system: Matthew, my family, my friends, etc.

Instead of looking at this as a depressing and sad time in my life, I'm choosing to change my perspective; to frame this as an opportunity to revisit Chickering's Managing Emotions and learn how to productively deal with negative emotions. Wish me luck :-)


  1. I had a similar injury 3 years ago. It was tough! I agree with this whole post though. As soon as I gave myself permission to be frustrated with my injury, I was able to move on. I remember thinking "this sucks, it's not fair that I can't run the half marathon I planned to run!" Then, after some serious mourning, I made a list of things I could do (yoga, mild stationary bike, arm strengthening) and I dove into the new things determined to be stronger when I was able to return to running. It really worked, and it gave me a whole new appreciation for what my body is capable of!

    Now, I'm out of running again (I'm pregnant, and running just ain't happenin') but I've accepted it, continue to walk regularly, and can't wait to get back to running next summer!

    Thanks for reminding me to be patient, be positive, and allow myself to accept things for what they are!

    1. I agree 100%! Acknowledging that I'm allowed to be angry immediately helps take some of the edge off. And I've found a new love for lifting weights- I really hope it will help my return to exercise easier once I'm cleared to start walking and running again.

      Congratulations on your pregnancy! :-) Here's to a healthy year!

  2. Sarah: I am proud of you for finally allowing yourself to manage these emotions. Nobody should expect you to be all smiley and cheerful all of the time when you are experiencing difficulty and loss. I don't have anything to say to ease the pain of what you are going through. You will work through it, though. Just because you have a great life overall and that you have a lot to be thankful for does not mean that you will not/should not express these kinds of emotions. I think that somewhere along the way we are taught that it is inappropriate to feel that way when we have so much to be thankful for. While it's great to be positive and optimistic most of the time, pretending that the darker feelings don't exist is denying that you are human. Here's a virtual hug! It won't actually help your situation, but it will let you know that I'm sending good, healing thoughts your way!

    1. Thanks, Lisa! I really, really appreciate your validation. I do feel sometimes like I am "not allowed" to ever complain because I do really have it good. But life isn't fair for any of us and crappy things still happen. Thanks for the healing thoughts- I'm channeling them to my foot :-)

  3. I love your perspective Sarah. Yes, you should allow yourself to get mad at times. It is no fun being injured. I do hope you can still have some fun at Wine and Dine with Matthew. Hugs and stay positive as much as possible!

    1. Thanks! I'll be in Disney so I'll pretty much HAVE to be happy, right?? No matter what, Disney is awesome; running or not :-)