18 Months and Counting

Graphic by Georgie Kamvissis

One basketball game, an all too common ACL injury, and how a knee reconstruction changed me more than it should have.

During my time out of sport, I found myself writing impromptu diary entries – something I have never resorted to before. I have a plethora of notes in my phone and on napkins from work emphasizing my constant attempts to grapple with what was happening to my body and mind. These entries were written on planes, on buses, breaks from work, watching AFL with friends, watching State of Origin with family, and mostly after watching my old team play.

The thing no one tells you about rehab is that there’s nothing impressive about it. As much as those inspirational videos, the #thereturn, or the motto that you can “come back stronger than ever” make you believe it, it’s not true. Not everyone is going to be the inspiring story that makes it onto the news.

Rehab is messy and unromantic. The truth is long term injuries are like quick sand – the more you struggle and push against the challenges you face, the deeper you sink into the reality of your injury. It isn’t fixed because you will it to be, and it certainly isn’t fixed in 3 minutes like those inspirational videos make it seem. As much as people preach it, injuries aren’t just fixed by an attitude; they’re fixed by hard, and usually painful, work. At some point you have to accept the fact that you’re stuck in the quick sand, stay calm, ask for help and make slow, steady and often boring movements to get yourself out.

I wouldn’t necessarily call my rehab a success. It was a success in that I have found my way back to sport – to the outlet I have relied on since I could run. But the damage to my mind has been extensive. I find that I have been incredibly changed by the whole process, which I am extremely remiss about. Lots of other athletes have said that injuries, especially long term injuries, make you stronger in the long term. I am yet to see this apply to me. I am still extremely angry; I am furious at the circumstances that meant I ended up in surgery.

Since the injury I have read and read and read; searching for a reason this happened to me, searching for why it affected me so much, searching for a way to validate the depletion of my mental health, confidence and self-worth.

But honestly, sometimes you just get unlucky. Sometimes, shit happens and no-one gets to decide whether it happens to them or not. No, the basketball gods do not exist and no, they do not have it out for me as much as I may think. There’s no larger point to this injury; this isn’t fate or the world ‘testing’ my strength. A random series of events led to me being on that court in that uniform, playing on that team against that team, and doing that layup. And if I had made any of those decisions with the fear of this injury in mind, then the sport I use as my escape wouldn’t be an escape anymore.

What I wish someone had told me is that it’s okay not to live the motto. It’s okay to come back and not feel stronger, not feel tougher. It’s okay to honestly say, “No, this adversity hasn’t taught me anything.” And just because you don’t feel stronger and smarter, doesn’t mean you’re weaker and dumber – it means you’re different. It means you’ve had to learn to evolve into something you weren’t ready to become yet, and perhaps more time is the only thing that can make you feel ready. No amount of physio exercises can help your mind settle into its new home, but patience might.

Instead of looking for strength, what I wish someone had told me is to find a way to be content again and to just do the thing that makes you happy. Strength can wait.