On January 10, 2015 while hiking downhill on the last stretch of a couple-hour hike, I felt a sudden tearing sensation in my right heel. The pain emerged first perhaps as a 3 out of 10, rapidly it soared to an 8 of 10, and then shot past to a gasping 50, then in a matter of a minute, roared over 100 leaving me with the breathless sensation that if I didn't hold myself back, I would vomit. I'm not sure how I walked back to the car which was about a half mile, but somehow I made it. By the time I reached the hospital, my foot would no longer support my weight without collapsing.
I didn't walk again without crutches for 105 days. A torn ligament. I learned that given the choice, you'd much rather break a bone. Bones are quicker to heal and the intolerable part of the pain usually recedes within a few days or weeks. Ligaments are one of the slowest things to heal on the human body.
For 10 weeks I was in the kind of pain that makes a person so nauseous they don't want to eat, visit, talk, read, write, sleep, or be any version of friendly whatsoever.
My 4-5 hikes a week, an activity I loved—the steeper the better, the more isolated, the more woodsy, the foggier, the earlier—came to an abrupt halt. Gone was the routine: drop son off at school, hike with dog for an hour or two, get to some sort of work, including writing.
Now, I sat.
In pain with the knowledge that my hiking days were finished for at least 6 months, maybe 1 or 2 years.
When I did crutch, which wasn't easy because I couldn't put even one hair of weight on the injured foot, I looked down. When I sat, with the ice pack or heating pad, foot elevated, that negative eye looked lower and lower until I found myself looking down at the floor constantly, sitting in grumpiness, gazing about the house observing faults: the floor needed refinishing, the wall-color seemed dirty. Look at the stains.
At about that 8-9 week point I had these sorts of thoughts, thoughts that I now realize are dangerous: I'm useless, maybe the world would be better off without me.
Which brings me to our first equation, one to stick in your hat.
Pain + Sniveling + Self-Pity = Depression
For the first time in a very long time I wasn't writing. I couldn't write. I could barely concentrate to read. I couldn't get past the discomfort; the pain was everything. It was as if the pain in my foot radiated 10 feet around me in all directions. In an odd way I wondered how anyone standing near me couldn't feel it themselves, it was so overpowering. Plus, I couldn't locate anything in my Tylenol-soaked brain to write about. Who wants to hear about limping, bruising, inflammation, or surgery? Some people would politely listen, but my place in the world seemed to sum up to what one woman said—someone I admired until this exact moment—when in a rare public appearance I crutched past and asked, "Hi! How are ya?" Her answer was a scowl and a disdainful, "Better than you!"
Depression + A Writer = Dark Writings or The Absence of Writing
In my case, empty pages. Lengthy stares out the window. Long studies of the bedroom floor followed by long studies of the kitchen floor, followed by long studies of the bathroom floor.
Around 12 weeks, when I assumed the insufferable discomfort would last forever, the pain graciously took an infinitesimal turn for the better. It stepped aside a bit and allowed me to breathe. The pain moved from nauseous-intolerable, can't-get-away-from-it to grumpy-tolerable, set-it-over-there.
And, my doctor said, go swim.
I crutched to the edge of the pool, took off the clunky orthotic boot and got in. Despite the thudding follow-me-everywhere-disquiet in my foot, it felt exquisite to be immersed in warm water. After a half hour of not so graceful one-legged laps, another equation emerged:
Swimming = Exercise = Endorphins = Feeling Good = Emerging Hope
This was an equation that had evaded me for 3 months.
After a few weeks of this swimming business, a crazy and exciting thought jagged around in me: you can write again, Missy.
But, I had nothing to write about, except maybe a title: 105 Days on Crutches. I had never had writer's block before. I didn't even believe in it. Everyone said with enthusiasm, well at least you get to stay home and do plenty of writing! I was too ashamed to admit I hadn't written one thing except e-mails to my doctor and random Facebook posts.
Something unexpected happened. Because I wasn't running from this to that, being busy and productive, I was seeing and hearing more. Observing detail, listening. I overheard a man respond to a stranger who asked him if his sons were twins. His response, "No, but my wife dresses them alike because if one gets lost or stolen she can point to the other and tell the police what he was wearing."
All writers know that moment when an idea gets stuck in your craw and chomps at you. I kept thinking about a pair of boys dressed alike and soon the fuzzy haze of a story emerged.
Next week I overheard something else intriguing, "Did you hear that an old lady drove her car into it?" Then another something caught my ear and soon, I was collecting these comments that struck from nowhere.
Apparently, I may not have had anything in my depleted resources to write about, but ideas were drifting my way like the unmistakable scent of marinara sauce from an Italian restaurant. I didn't go seeking to eavesdrop with my lowered hat, cappuccino and newspaper, but instead the quotes and the stories found me.
So here is the last equation:
Listening + Imagination = Writing Again
Soon, these stories, inspired by inadvertent eavesdropping, written by a writer who now writes, will be set loose upon the world.
Some spiritually minded people have informed me that this injury happened because there is a lesson I need to learn. (Lesson, schmesson, I grumble). So, what is the moral to this then? Run to REI for new shoes when you feel sore? Insist on heavy painkillers instead of toughing it out with Tylenol? Relax, know that a temporary period of writers block due to circumstantial distraction, is just that, temporary, and no reason to panic? Maybe it is too soon to tell. In the meantime, I'm listening, limping, and writing.