Unlaced: How A Running Injury Saved My Life
Eight months ago I filled a prescription and took out one little blue pill. After 1.5 years on my postpartum journey I decided to take the first step in fighting for myself and my happiness.
I remember sitting in the hospital with Stella, a day after she was born, knowing I didn’t feel the way I thought that I always would. I loved my baby girl from the second I saw those two pink lines but I didn’t love the way I felt as a new mom. I couldn’t sleep and my heart was racing all hours of the night. I could barely stand up without falling over. I knew I needed help but I couldn’t wrap my mind around what was actually happening inside in order to ask for it. In tears, I called my OB and was beside myself when she suggested checking in with a therapist. I knew I was emotional, but I couldn’t bear the thought of telling a complete stranger that I couldn’t handle life with my new baby. What was worse, she wrote me a prescription for an anti-depressant and suggested having it filled right away. So not only did she think I couldn’t handle being a new mom without the help of a professional, she thought I needed medication too!?
I pushed my pride aside and made an appointment for a consultation through Pine Rest’s Mom & Baby Program (a fabulous resource for new moms in need, they offer a day program with a nursery to help remove any obstacles to treatment). I felt so silly as I filled out the questionnaire. I didn’t have suicidal thoughts, I didn’t want to hurt my baby, I just couldn’t get out of my head and calm down. The “normal” difficulties of motherhood were pushing me past my limits. I remember being so relieved when they told me my symptoms weren’t severe enough to “qualify” for the program and recommended the more traditional therapy route instead. Maybe I wasn’t broken after all. I filled the prescription and threw it into the back of a drawer.
Desperate to find a single ounce of my pre-pregnancy self, I laced up my running shoes as soon as I was cleared to run at six weeks postpartum. Yes, my body felt so foreign to me and my lungs burned with every step, but I ran 2 miles and smiled a true smile for the first time in what felt like ages. I signed up for a fall half marathon, with plenty of time to prepare, and started working with a running coach. Additionally, I started working with a therapist who helped me overcome a lot of the anxiety triggers that I felt around being a new mom. When I returned to work after maternity leave, I felt the best yet. I always had plans to continue working outside of the home after having Stella, so getting back to this routine helped me feel even more like myself. Things fell into a rhythm and my anxiety became less and less each day.
A Devastating Running Injury
A few months into my training I noticed something in my post-tib that didn’t feel right. I backed off and tried listening to my body. After several weeks I had a feeling that it was something more severe than normal training pains. My half marathon came and went without me there. I remember sitting on the couch, devastated and in tears, seeing posts of all of my friends crossing the finish line. They were out there celebrating that post-run high with group pics of themselves with their medals. That should have been me. This was supposed to be my postpartum comeback.
I continued PT through the spring of the following year and was relieved to get the all clear to start training for another fall half marathon. I planned to take it slow and steady with the only goal being to cross the finish line. I had stopped seeing my therapist and remember joking with my PT to “please fix me because I have some postpartum ‘issues’ (I refused to use the word DEPRESSION) and running is my coping mechanism”.
Getting Back in the Saddle
I started to build mileage and once again tried to stay cautiously optimistic. After a 10-mile long run I noticed once again that something didn’t feel right. This time it was my left hip. I was devastated. Hadn’t I done my time with running injuries? I rehabbed, I did band work for hours at night, I rested and paid my dues! I gave it a few days and tried running again. It was excruciating and I was in tears from the first step.
After that, I got into the cycle of resting for a couple of days, running 1-2 miles and feeling OK, taking another few days off and then the pain would return. After two months I had finally had enough. On the same day, I made an appointment with a sports medicine doctor for an MRI I also made an appointment with a therapist. My mind and heart couldn’t handle the disappointment. Running was the only thing that helped me feel normal and the constant back and forth of training had completely drained my spirit.
Admitting the Truth
As my therapy appointment crept closer I had my follow up for my MRI results. I was prepared for the words she told me (thanks, Dr. Google) but that didn’t make them any easier to hear: a hip labral tear- no running and probably surgery. I absolutely lost it. I cried so hard I could barely breathe. My sweet doctor actually had to hug me to hold me upright. I sobbed into her arms, a complete stranger, as I finally said out loud for one of the first times since having my daughter, “I have postpartum depression and I really need running”.
It was at this moment I realized just how much I had been using running as a band-aid for my feelings. I needed to accept that while running is a really great tool to ease feelings of depression and anxiety, it is really just one piece of the puzzle. Saying the words out loud for the first time was a breath of fresh air. I cringe for the woman who felt so helpless and was filled with so much pain. I was so ashamed of how I felt.
Fighting for ME
Weren’t running and motherhood supposed to be easier? Weren’t they supposed to make me happier? This is something that I never would have been able to see without this injury. So after 1.5 years of suffering in mostly silence, I closed my eyes and swallowed that little blue pill. I am a totally different person than the girl who stood in that kitchen, prescription in hand. I fight for myself and I speak up so women who are going through the same thing don’t have to feel so alone. Internalizing those feelings for so long was painful and sad and lonely. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, taking medication or talking to a therapist. I wish I would have realized that it is OK to ask for help sooner.
PPD is dark, scary and isolating and it is so, so real. It’s more than sleep deprivation, it’s more than the baby blues. It rocks you to your core and you have to claw your way out. To all the mamas out there I see you and my heart breaks for you, but I promise that if you keep fighting to put one foot in front of the other you can come out of this stronger than ever.