Until last autumn, when I overused one of my tendons on the Camino de Santiago, I had never sustained a mobility-impairing injury. While people may say that I was lucky to be injury-free for that long, I often wondered if my fear of getting hurt prevented me from exploring exhilarating and risky pursuits. Maybe I hadn’t trusted my body enough, or its ability to heal, and missed out on stretching myself or testing my physical capacity.
On the Camino, I discovered that it was possible to walk between 12-18 miles a day, day after day, even with intermittent and occasionally intense pain. And now that I’m committed to allowing my tendonitis to heal, I’m walking a different “way”. I won’t say that the limitations imposed by this injury are ones I would actively wish for but, at the same time, I wonder if these restrictions offer an opportunity to learn other ways of moving in the world, both in my body and how I engage with life.
So far, the healing process has been a non-stop exercise in mindfulness. As I’ve discovered, if I get lazy and walk around barefoot for too long while indoors, rather than wearing my shoes and orthotics, it will slightly aggravate my tendon. On errand days, I’ve learned to choose my parking spots carefully, as close to the entrance as possible, to minimize the amount of time I’m walking. And my tendon is also a useful timer for shopping. If I linger too long in a department or grocery store, even if I’m not moving very fast, I’ll feel it. Keeping weight off of my left leg has forced me to be more efficient and focused, or pay a price. And, as I keep forgetting and re-learning, my tendon dislikes it when I carry too much. That’s forced me to break my habit of “efficiency”, where I try to cart all my groceries, mail, swim gear, iPad, etc. inside in one trip, as if I were a package-laden mule. And if I have something even heavier to schlep, I need to ask for help or refrain altogether, both of which are a bit hard on the ego. In short, I need to slow down, pay close attention, and either request assistance or acknowledge my current limitations, opposites of the behaviors that, in hindsight, likely contributed to my injury. Prior to even setting foot on the Camino, I had the tendency to walk hard and fast, taking my legs for granted, oblivious to my skeletal alignment (a contributor to the injury), and projecting an energy of determined purposefulness. Many people told me over the years that I looked like I knew where I was going even if, in my heart, I was clueless about the direction my life was headed. Now I need to tread more lightly, which helps me listen inside more intently.
And with hiking out of the question, I can’t head to the Rockies to clear my head and recharge my spirit. I’ve sought out other settings for nature to work her magic and medicine, such as parks, pools and a reservoir with stunning views that I might have dismissed as not being wild enough. Indeed, I had been a bit of an outdoors elitist, eschewing wide, flat trails closer to Denver for steeper and higher peaks, even though the high-altitude excursions often took a toll on my joints. But the Camino expanded my appreciation for gently rolling terrain and agricultural lands, both of which are abundant in Colorado, and equally picturesque as any in Europe. While lacking the drama of snow-capped mountains, fertile fields and farm animals offer their own subtle beauty which, before my pilgrimage, I wasn’t as willing to consider. With summer crops planted and some vegetables already being harvested, I have plenty of excuses to visit local farms and enjoy their produce.
Being temporarily forced off the mountain (and out of the dance studio) has left voids in my schedule and social life. To fill those, I’m volunteering and exploring other communities where involvement mostly involves sitting, not crossing streams and clambering on boulders. Lately, I’ve discovered several folks whom I assumed were able bodied are also coping with injuries, some long term, without the possibility of healing, and I might not have appreciated their situations without my own Adventures in Tendonitis. Appearances are deceptive, and if I’m moving too fast, not paying close enough attention, or if my gaze is fixated on distant peaks, I’m likely to miss the possibility of connecting with people around me. Since I easily get lost in my head, that is a lesson I need to keep learning.