Most of you know that I messed up my knee recently at this past Pan Pacific Championships.
Yep. Fun stuff.
Before I begin, it’s important to note that this was like my 100 and somethingkth competition fight and the very first time I’ve ever come away with anything worse than the good ol‘ Jess Fraser Panda Eye…though I did manage to pick up one of those too.
In the grand scheme of things this injury itself is fairly superficial, though it’s impact on me and my lifestyle has been substantial. I’m pleased that surgery is not on the cards but conversely I’m pretty distressed because I’m off the mats, which blows.
Not forever, of course, but longer than I had planned for. It’s a real shock to the system for sure.
Dealing with injury is hard.
Dealing with injury is hard. And, unfortunately, a very likely and common part of our sport. It’s also something we don’t talk about too much until we’re right in the middle of it & then we quickly forget once we’re out the other side.
I feel like half my battle initially was that I was not at all prepared for time off and it has been hard for me to accept. In hindsight I wish I had have given it some thought and a little proactive planning prior. It would have helped ease some of the burden psychically as well as emotionally & financially.
So, as always and as BJJ has taught me to do in life, I am trying to find a positive result from a crappy situation. I am writing this to heal myself a little but to also share with you gals some insights and thoughts that may hopefully ease the ‘pain’ a little if you find yourself in this situation.
Injury. For the purposes of this rant I want you to know that I’m not talking about how sore your muscles are, or how mangled your hands/toes/ears are yet you yet you’re still making it to training…I’m talking about really being forced out and away from the sport that you love and for a considerable amount of time. I’m also not talking about life altering injury/career ending or chronic pain – that, thankfully, I have no personal insight into and it would be remiss of me to pretend I do.
For me it’s been a bit of a battle so far. One that is much tougher mentally than physically. The surprise issue and almost the hardest for me has been socially & then, as a knock on effect, emotionally.
You take someone that is used to training upwards of 3 hours a day (talking/thinking about it upwards of 23 hours a day) and you stop them suddenly. It’s not good. And it’s not easy. It becomes something everyone has to ‘deal with’. Yuck.
The only way I am even slightly keeping sane is to be extremely proactive and disciplined with rehab. Not only healing the busted knee but really taking the opportunity to balance and fix the rest of my body. Posture is the major one. LOTS of stretching and core strengthening. Working on realigning my body properly and getting BS strong and ready to rock again.
There are a heap of bad habits we get into when training BJJ regularly & countering this is often either completely ignored or put aside for ‘later’. Injury time sucks ass but it sure is a good time to address this stuff. And address it comprehensively.
For me, keeping busy in this way has been pivotal in keeping sane though even then I can’t say it’s 100% effective.
And stairs generally – FU stairs! Why can’t we live in a magical world of ramps and no pants?!
The physical side of things has been almost easy compared to other ‘hidden’ hassles…I can’t tell you how far away my nearest tram stop is feeling these days. Or how long it takes to mop the mats at work. How shit it is to wear almost any pants. And stairs generally – FU stairs! Why can’t we live in a magical world of ramps and no pants?!
Things I wish I had known about and planned for pre injury:
-See a bulk billing GP immediately so you can get a referral to a specialist. You’ll need the referral so you might as well see the GP on the cheap.
-Ask people at your gym if they have had good support from certain specialists. I have found networking and referrals to be life savers.
-You can track down the specialist you want first and then ask the GP to refer you directly to them. You don’t have to just go with the GP’s recommendation or some local dude that you know nothing about, elect your own specialist if you can.
Again, ask your teammates, coaches or gym for help or recommendations on good sports Doctors & specialists (don’t ask for medical advice, just ask for good people to look up you can ask THEM the medical advice). If you know someone in your network that had good help with their back and you’ve banged up yours, find out who helped them – as well as who didn’t. Their previous experience – positive or negative – is a resource and you should definitely call on it.
-Sports Doctors and the equipment involved are expensive. Add to that some unplanned time off work and you’re looking at a chunk of cash heading out the door. Even with private health care you’re going to be out of pocket initially.
My best advice is to save some cash and put it aside. Do it now. $300 – 500 in the hand will feel like a lotto win when you’re feeling sore and sad, I promise you.
Or, get some serious insurance and check the fine print. Pay extra for extras. And, if travelling, never travel without insurance. Trrrrrust me. I use insurandgo for training holidays. I’m yet to find adequate cover for international competitions but check your credit card provider as they very often include it in your service (needs to be set up 30 days prior to travel).
To pay for my knee, I used my (tragically small) Worlds 2013 savings (which sucks) but I was able to get the best help & immediately. You don’t want to fk around too much or have to scrimp & save on good help. You’re gunning to get back on the mats so do it right and do it quick.
-Ask for help and don’t be weird about accepting it.
Stop being proud and ask for that shit. You need it. Yes, you need help with going grocery shopping this week. Yes, you need a lift to the Doctors. Yes, you want someone to be there with you and yes – when you’re having a really bad day you can say so. You wont be judged. And if you are – remind them that you will be back on the mats all too soon and you aren’t all that mentally stable anymore…
But seriously – it’s okay to be a bit broken and need & ask for help. In a weird small way it might make life easier on your friends/teammates because they really want to help you – they just don’t know how. Give them the how.
-Look at and modify your diet in a realistic way. You wont be moving nearly as much and the last thing you want to do is feel crappo about one more thing that’s happening for your body. Try to avoid and inevitable weight gain by addressing the fact that you are less active. Also, certain foods and eating plans can really benefit things like ligament healing etc. Seek out a good sports nutritionist if you’re keen. Dr. Hannah May Pickford is my recommended choice.
Some ideas for keeping your sanity:
-Plan & ask for rehab training/exercises/stretching etc. from your specialists. Do these things daily (or as advised, obviously). Even if each daily task is tiny and seems futile.
-An ice pack/heat pack (whatever your Doc has recommended) for 10 minutes each night before bed might seem like nothing but it’s still proactive. Doing something daily – whether it’s cleaning up your diet, drinking more water or full blown lifting, whatever – it will make you feel like you’re actively working back to your ultimate goal of full recovery. It’s important to not feel listless & passive. That shit sets in like rot. Real quick.
-Strengthen the rest of your body (and mind) – around the injury. Ask a good physiotherapist about the repercussions of your injury on the muscles that surround it. See if there are exercises you can do to support your journey back to the mats. See a sports psych if you know you’re out for a while.
Regarding training, you need the endorphins that working out & training will give you, you’re actually probably a little addicted to those bad boys. Don’t go cold turkey. You’ll also need to keep training so you don’t lose all of your hard work/strength/balance and health from your current regular training. One of my big priorities is to hit the mats safe and strong once I’m ready to and to not create a second injury because my fitness has lapsed. I now only allow myself a return to the mats if I am STRONGER than when I left. Its a great goal and keeps you on track, it also keeps you safe when you start again.
-See a sports psych. It will help you process the injury, the obsession, the return to the mats (or competition, or both). Go to your GP first & get a mental health care plan, it will give you 6-10 super cheap psych visits (rebate on medicare). Again, like with specialists, you can pre-scout your pscych and ask the GP to refer you to your chosen professional.
-Ask teammates to join you for a strength and conditioning or stretching session.
You’ll miss them when not training with them regularly and it’s a good way to hang out for both of you. You know each other through training; you get along when training, it’s a good thing to continue & it’s active. Going for a coffee leads to talking about training, which leads to feeling real sorry for yourself all over again…not fun & a little unfair on you both. A movie and less talking is a better option if you’re looking for an outing.
-Get involved at your gym in a different way from your usual.
I’m digging photography a lot. It helps me feel involved and keeps me connected to my team. Filming good sparring or comps & making a badass montage from footage would also be an idea. Ask around also, no doubt people have some fights or pics that they’d love to see set to awesome music – everyone loves a good montage. Make one for you or the team. If your camera sucks maybe ask to borrow a good one off a teammate and take pics for them? Some people have no pictures of their training, it’s nice to have.
-And of course, do something else. Anything else. Get away from jiu jitsu while you’ve got this chance. Break free ya free range injured chook! Do something you’ve put aside because you’re always at bloody training.
FYI – I recommend Hot Springs on the Peninsula. Or the cheapo version at your local leisure centre.
Some ideas for people who’s team mates are injured:
-Definitely offer lifts to the Doctors & to come with/support. For many, bad news is softened with a friend nearby and if they’re not comfortable with this they’ll say so. It won’t hurt to offer. This was given to me without a seconds thought by Liv and Lachie and genuinely changed the direction of my mood from the outset. It meant a lot and helped more than I can explain.
-If you have ice packs/wheat packs/crutches etc do offer to lend them. Keeping the cost of injury down is more helpful and supportive than you probably realize.
-Offer to help carry/do shopping in that first week. Food shopping is awful with a sling or crutches.
-However much your training rocks right now it will be hard for your teammate to hear. No worries to gush about your improvements & excitement about the up coming comp but don’t expect them to be as excited as you are. Sorry but it’s just not the right time.
-If you have expertise to share and 100% know you will not cause any damage in offering it – think about doing so (if you are qualified to do so). I have a whole bag of yoga tricks I can utilize safely to increase my healing and it’s invaluable to me at this time, if I can share this safely in the future I certainly will.
-Ask how the injured/limpy gimp is doing and – how rehab is going if you’re stuck and want to make small talk. Ask if you can do anything by way of a training/rehab session together. Ask if the sanity is holding up. Ask about plans/goals once training commences again BUT please please don’t ask ‘how’s the knee/neck/wrist/ankle’ because here’s the answer: It’s SHIT. It’s so SUPER ASTRO SHIT that we really don’t want to talk about it much any more. Coz there’s not much to say outside of the fact that it’s SHIT. And the really fun part is that we get to have the EXACT same conversation with the next 40 people we run in to today. SHITTYSHITSHIT SHIT! So please, ask almost anything else. Something that might have a positive answer…for both your sakes.
Moving away from a mantra of focus on the injury is made easier if conversations revolve around other topics as well as my current broken state.
-Be patient. If they’re being an asshole it’s because they’ve been dealt an asshole situation and life is not ideal right now. They’ll come good. It’s in passing but for now try to be patient.
Some final thoughts:
Something I should share with you is the positive side of injury/healing time.
Wait, what? Is there such a thing Jess? Well sure there is kids – follow me!
I was sore, so fkn sore before I got hurt. I wasn’t sleeping through the night because my back would wake me up with pain. My neck was doing bad things after a spike or two in failed wrestling. My fingers were looking and feeling like walnuts. Things were feeling oooooold. Real old. I was creaking like creepy ass floor boards.
I can happily say that I’m now extremely well rested. I have more time to myself and I’m getting loads done. I’m seeing mates that I haven’t seen in ages. Actually getting phone calls made to much neglected family members. I have done a huge spring clean of my house. Have gone to the night markets a bunch of times. Have mentored friends on and off the mats because I have the time and energy to give to them. Have spent some time with a very attractive man. Had a haircut – much to everyone’s happiness – and even brushed it sometimes.
But the biggest and MOST exciting thing is that I’m not in the general haze of pain and fatigue for the first time in as long as I can remember. And it feels GREAT! Oh, I know, I see the irony in it all. Injury = less pain & more energy but I tells ya what, I aint arguing with it. I’m LOVING it!
So it’s not all bad. Far from it. It just isn’t easy. And all I can say is that you (and I) will make it through.
Just as he was leaving the gym just now a black belt stopped by to chat to me and of course the talk about my knee began. He asked the usual stuff and expressed concern. I whined and sighed as I do. He left with one parting comment that was a genuine light bulb moment for me “Don’t worry, we’ve all been there”.
And he’s right, so so right. Every single person that you look up to and aspire to be has been through this. It’s hard but look where they are now & look what they have done. It’s a momentary set back in the bigger picture of an amazing journey that makes you happy – and will continue to for a long, long time.
Hope this helps those that needs it.
love, Jess Fraser ( written 2012 as a Purple Belt).
ps. Chin ups & straight legged deads = Gunshow of Summer 2012 in full effect.
LCL Grade 2 of the left knee (torn in 50/50), 12 weeks in a hip to ankle brace plus extended 3 weeks after re-tearing in the shower (while washing my foot!). Limited training for a further 3 months. Injury to mat time: 5 months.