I feel like I always start out a post with some version of this line, but the last two weeks really have been off-the-charts…crazy.
Last I posted, I was starting to struggle with restriction again a bit. I was really uncomfortable with my body and had a minor freak-out, which my treatment team helped me to work out by adjusting my meal plan. Though I did start to feel a little more comfortable with my body, I was so stressed out from two huge exams, three lab reports and two short stories (all due in the same 10 days) that I really just got out of balance. With the restriction creeping back in already, this made that a little worse – though I was aware, and trying to stick to my meal plan.
All of this occurred over the last couple weeks. I knew everything was out of balance, but I was struggling to meet so many deadlines, study for exams, fill out job applications and keep my swimming at a high level with our first meet coming up. I really lost perspective, and was so exhausted I did not have enough energy to get it back.
Then, last Thursday at practice something happened that really put the “icing on the cake,” so to speak. We ended practice with a hard racing set and I did really well, which was nice because my practices so far that week hadn’t been so hot (I can thank restricting for that). The last set ended about 10 minutes before practice ends, so our coach said we could choose whatever we wanted to work on for the last 10 minutes – starts off the diving blocks, flip turns, whatever…as long as we were doing something productive. Being the sprinter that I am, I love working on my starts. They’re really imperative in the 50 freestyle because it lasts only about 25 seconds on average for me (my best is 23 seconds, but I can’t touch that with a ten-foot pole untapered). My friend and I decide to work on starts and to watch each other to see what we could improve on.
I watch my friend and one of the guys on our team comes over and suggests to her that she needs to pull back more with her arms on the block. If you’re strong, this can really do a lot for your momentum as you enter the water. He tells her to try a drill where you pull your arms back behind you and don’t bring them forward again – essentially doing a headfirst dive. Normally, when you dive off the blocks you want your arms to come back into a tight streamline over your head so that you don’t lose momentum entering the pool.
My friend seemed kind of skeptical about the drill. However, from watching her start I could see that the guy was right – she needed to pull back with her arms. I told her I would try it. She said “Oh, you’re doing it because then I’m going to have to do it.” And she was exactly right. I’d never done the drill, and I use my arms a lot getting off the blocks – so I was really trying to show her that the drill would work out.
If you’re not familiar with swimming, it’s probably pretty hard to imagine, but basically each lane has a starting block that’s probably about 3 feet above the surface of the water and extends out over the side of the pool. It’s also slanted down to allow the swimmer to get a good forward push off. At most newer pools, the starting blocks are in the deep end (about 8-9 feet deep normally). Our pool, on the other hand, is a bit older. When we dive off the blocks, we’re diving into water that’s about 5 feet deep. For people that have been competitively swimming for years (15 in my case) this isn’t normally a problem.
Anyway, I step up on the block to do the drill. I throw my hands back behind me and enter the water completely blind. When you bring your hands forward in a normal dive, it allows you to get a quick glance at the water. Going in headfirst, I had no time to adjust in midair – and my body went straight down on entering the water. Without my hands in front of my head, my head smashed into the concrete bottom. I remember hearing a huge noise sort of like a gunshot and I blacked out for a short time. Luckily, I wasn’t knocked on conscious and came up to the surface – all I knew was that I couldn’t see straight, I had hit my head really hard (that was all I kept repeating to my friend) and that my head hurt – badly. My coach immediately sent me to the trainer to get looked at, and my friend came with me even though I told her I was fine.
Which, as it turns out, wasn’t the case. I got examined by our trainer and by the sports doctor here for Cornell. They ran a bunch of tests on me, checking my memory and balance and evaluating my mental state…which I thought was fine at the time, but looking back I really was in lala-land. After being at the trainer for an hour or so, I was told that I had a concussion and that I wouldn’t be able to swim (or exercise) for probably about a week. Immediately I became pretty upset, because our first meet was scheduled for the next weekend. This was also a sign that something was wrong, because I don’t cry about stuff like that – apparently one of the concussion symptoms is being overemotional. I was also told not to do any homework for at least two days, to stay away from computers for a few days and to be at complete rest the whole weekend. I would have to come back Monday and Wednesday to get checked out again.
My hope was that I would get medically cleared in time for our first meet, which ended up being yesterday. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen – concussions are one of those injuries you just can’t rush through. So over the last week, I have not been able to attend swim practice and have struggled with concentration, memory, headaches, etc. On the flip side, I’m very lucky. If anyone is familiar with swimming, they have probably seen the signs all around pool decks everywhere that say diving can cause paralysis. I hit my head and sustained a minor brain injury, but one that with proper rest has been able to heal. I am so fortunate to not have been hurt worse, and lucky that I’ll be able to swim this week.
At first, I’ll admit I wasn’t so grateful. I was having a self-pity party, feeling like everything was going wrong at the exact same time. But as I had time to recoup this week, I also had time to rest and regain perspective about swimming, school, and my eating disorder. I know this is corny (but I admit it, I like corny) – everything happens for a reason. Was it fate that I got a concussion? I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that I was on the verge of really losing myself again, and my concussion actually helped “save” me. It gave me the time and space that I needed to realize I was slowly heading along a path that I never wanted anything to do with again.
And it taught me another important lesson. I have always been very active, and honestly can’t remember the last time I went a week without exercising. During the worst of my disorder, I couldn’t even go one day. With this injury, I was forced to do absolutely no exercise. I haven’t exercised since last Thursday. And yes, I feel like I may have lost a little bit of muscle – but I really think this is only because I’m used to training on average 3 hours a day. I feel like now I realize that if I need to skip a day or two of exercise in the future, my body won’t blow up like a balloon. I will still be the athlete I’ve always been, and won’t become out of shape overnight. Exercise should be for enjoyment. That said – I MISS IT!! I am really a person that does love exercise, and I like to be able to move around and work up a sweat. I also missed my team A LOTTT. The break was really timely for my mental and physical health, so as scary as it is getting a concussion…I’m grateful for the lessons I drew from the injury.
And I got a bonus – I was allowed to travel with my team to our meet at Dartmouth yesterday. As much as one can enjoy a six-hour bus ride, I did. I got to spend time with the people in my life that are like my family, and that I had not seen for a week. This also gave me a new appreciation for them. I realized how close I really am with my team, and how much their support means to me. They were all amazing and were glad that I’m (hopefully) getting cleared to swim this Monday.
This post is getting a bit long, but there’s one more thing I want to share. This whole experience over the last couple weeks has really shown me that there is just not enough room in my brain for healthy thoughts, emotions and experiences in combination with sick, disordered thoughts. I have to choose one or the other. I’m choosing the thoughts that make me happy and healthy, rather than the thoughts that suck away the joy in everything.