Perhaps you checked out my website this past year and were left wondering: where are the new paintings? Well, there haven’t been any. I’ve been recovering from an overuse injury to both of my hands. I’m back painting now, but it’s been a long, slow, slow road of recovery that has left me with zero doubt in my mind that if I had to choose between being able to fully use my hands and giving up chocolate for the rest of my life — I’d give up chocolate.
So, what happened? Well, the short of it is that my hands and wrists and forearms swelled up to the point where they stopped working. Super lame.
It was my own fault really as I’d never had an injury like this before so I didn’t know how to read it. Consequently I compartmentalized the discomfort, taped up my wrists and kept on going until the situation got scary bad before stopping to deal with it.
Now maybe this is a sports mentality thing that I needed to grow out of because, I mean, looking back this injury had been coming on for nearly 2 years before it finally shut me down. And if I’d known then what I know now, I would have approached my treatment quite differently.
The original source of everything was a rock climbing injury. I tweaked my hand (nearly 3 years ago now) holding onto a tiny little stupid crimp and in the aftermath of that I got out of the habit of stretching out my forearms after I climbed because it seemed to aggravate things. So then a year and a half goes by and the muscles in my forearms are slowly turning into solid rock and not in a good way. Flexibility or rather full range of motion is just as important as strength, and those over-tight muscles started to strain on the tendons that they tie into along with the tendons’ attachment points on the back of my hands.
In the final months leading up to the apocalypse my hands would be sore for no reason — but then I’d go climb, and then they’d feel fine for the next few days. What alerted me to there actually being a problem I needed help with was when I started to feel a tearing sensation on the back of my hands when I gripped a climbing hold with weighted stress.
So I went to see a (new) physio (for the sake of change) and I was diagnosed with tendinitis. Cool. I knew what was going on on with me now. And so then I went on a 9 day sea kayaking tour to the west coast of the Haida Gwaii that I’d booked into and paid for six months previously. (I know, I know, but dumb or determined I really wanted to go on that trip!)
So I get home from that and — surprise, surprise — my hands are a mess. Again, I just tried to ignore it, assumed that they would heal themselves if I took it easy for a while — but they did not. So I went back to the (new) physio again and we just weren’t on the same page. So I went back to my old physio for a while, but again, it wasn’t quite the right fit.
Eventually, months later — after seeing the doctor, being referred to a specialist, a rheumatologist, a massage therapist — I tried a new, new physio and thank goodness I finally found her!!!!! Seriously. We were on the same wave length, her treatment made sense to my sports background and acknowledged the connections, and was finally getting results!
As we brought the inflammation down I could actually feel two significant tears across the muscles on the back of both of my wrists. There was probably more going on than just that to begin with, but those tears are the reason the injury hung on for so long.
So now I’m grateful and positively gleeful! I get to go to the gym with my bright red physio band and my lacrosse balls and rock up to the mirror with all the big muscular guys and do my baby weights. I’m not nearly as strong as I used to be and am 100% swallowing my embarrassment at how weak and slow I am — but I’m still beyond stoked to be there!
Going through this made me realize just how mentally tough I can be — a skill I mostly attribute to growing up playing sports. It took all of my energy to work to stay positive about the whole situation. For me that meant doing my best not to think about painting, not acknowledging the frustration, and ignoring the deep fear of the unknown. Sheer, stubborn denial in the right time and place and dosage can be a powerfully positive ally. It helped me switch out the self-pity for a question instead: what can I learn from this experience?
So the way I’ve chosen to look at the whole situation is as a transition point in my life. Something about the way I was living my life before my injury took hold wasn’t working and needed to change. My body was trying to get my attention. My fear helped me by scaring me into thinking about my long term future more proactively.
Those 10 months of not being able to use my hands are nothing that I’d ever want to go back to. You can’t escape your own fears when they wake you up in the middle of the night with that coming-for-your-soul-voice-of-fear-fuelled-negativity. The trick is to understand that this voice or feeling will pass. Like a storm of bad weather, you just hunker down like a rock in that unmovable spot within you and weather it out.
So what did tendinitis teach me?
I learned that fundamentally I need to be able to move and use my body more than anything else — even creating art.
Being away from painting reminded me or maybe made me more fully aware of how much I really do love it. The first day I was able to paint a little again I literally felt my mood amp back up with positivity!
My hope is that this experience has scared me enough to change some of my habits. In a way it was like a getting a glimpse of old age — how it feels to lose your independence and understanding the wisdom in preparing for those later stages in your life.
I’m still another 6-8 months away from being back to “normal” again and I’ve kept out of the woods while I’ve been injured simply because I can’t take care of myself if things go sideways. SO THE COUNTDOWN IS ON — 'cause I can't wait to get back into the woods again!!!!!