Back in the day, when I was a teenager, I ran track and field. I also threw javelin. Starting out, I could barely run around the track once without running out of breath, doubled over and panting in pain. And when I started throwing, I could barely launch the javelin into the field.
But by the time I was a senior in high school, I was winning medals and blue ribbons and trophies. I still have them around my house to remind me of how good I really was. I won first prize in the junior olympics, my senior year in high school.
The problem is, I have no clear recollection of the event. I dimly recall something about receiving a ribbon, but I don’t remember the throw. The only way I know I won first prize is, I have the blue ribbon with my name, the date, and the distance.
That’s a hell of a thing.
But my Swiss cheese memory isn’t what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is training for recovery. Working hard at getting back to full functionality after a head injury. I find that my recovery is a whole lot like training for track and field — it’s a long, long road, and it’s tiring, and it takes a lot out of me, and some days I just don’t think I’ll make it — like I used to feel on the 5-mile training runs for the distance events I raced. But once upon a time, even when I did exhaust myself, even when I did become dehydrated (it feels very strange to not be sweating when you’re hot), even when I was doubled over in agony from the side stitches, even when I was hobbling along with shin splints… if I just stuck with it long enough, I eventually came through.
Provided I didn’t give up. Provided I kept with the program. Provided I persevered. Ultimately, my hard work, determination, and (to this day) uncanny capacity for pain tolerance, paid off. I won trophies. Blue ribbons. Medals. I was team captain two years in a row, and I led one of my teams to the state championship competition. We didn’t win it all, but we were in the game.
Some people say that when your head gets hurt, when you injure your brain, you need to just accept that you can’t do certain things anymore. You have to accept your limitations. You can’t push yourself, because you might get hurt. You can’t stretch yourself because you might find it uncomfortable. I have told myself that plenty of times in the past. I didn’t want to push it. I was afraid I would get hurt again. Or end up disappointed and upset.
But the more I’ve lived through all this, the more I’ve realized that — just like throwing and running — success comes through a lot of hard work and perseverance — and proper form. And over time, wonder of wonders, things have gotten better for me. My stamina is increasing. My tolerance for frustration is improving. My anger jags have subsided considerably. It all takes time. And it takes work. It takes everything I can put into it — and then it demands even more of me.
And it’s dangerous. Because it’s life. And life is dangerous.
When you’re hell-bent on recovery, yes, you could get hurt. Just like you can really get hurt if you try lifting 150 lbs of iron weights at the gym. But if you train and work your way up to it… and if you follow the proper form… and if you are careful and mindful of how you handle the weights… well, then you don’t need to get hurt. Some people do — but that’s the risk you run. And it’s the price you pay if it happens ’cause you’re not paying attention or you’re being sloppy in your form.
When you’re totally focused on recovery, though, you tend to pay attention to important things like form. Like your energy level. Like your frustration level. Like everything that might possibly stand between you and success. It’s not like just trying to get ahead. It’s like trying to keep your head above water. But if you can keep your head above water, then hell, you really do have a chance to do even more than splash about. You can do way more.
Well, it’s late, and I’m bushed from my training today. My stamina is improving, and even though I’m tired, I’m not suffering from it like I used to. I may feel it more intensely in the morning, but right now all I know is, I’ve got a whole night to sleep, and I don’t have to be at work at the crack of dawn in the morning, which is nice. Provided I get my work done, my boss is happy. And at the rate I’m going, I am quite certain that I shall do just that.