How to deal with "what if" thinking
January 17, 2014 8:38 AM   Subscribe

I make a mistake during my rehab for a long standing injury that has had disastrous consequences.

I suffered a serious injury a year ago, after 6 months of intense rehab I was almost recovered. Then I really overdid it during a training session and essentially put myself back to the beginning. The fallout has seen me spend thousands more on medical bills, be off work for 6 months, have to move home with my parents, lose my relationship and be in a lot of pain.

How do I cope knowing that my actions have led to all this physical and emotional pain?

I can't stop imagining what every aspect of my life would be like I had not done this. Any tips on to stop ruminating much appreciated.

Positive stories of life changing mistakes that turned good particularity welcome!
posted by JIMSMITH2000 to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Did you hurt yourself on purpose? If not, then this was another accident that happened to you. The way the accident happened is pretty much irrelevant, and rolling out futures that may or may not have happened if this re-injury hadn't happened are no more "real" than daydreams about what life would be like if you were born to different parents, or in a different time.

Try to focus on the now. That's an incredibly hard thing to do, but if you say, "What am I doing now that makes me happy? What am I doing now that is helping me move forward? What can I appreciate about right this very second?" you may be able to quiet the "what if" nature of your brain for a little while, at least.
posted by xingcat at 8:43 AM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

You just found out the consequences of what happens when you don't properly take care of your injured body. Don't do the same to your brain.

You're undoubtedly seeing a physical therapist for your body and the amount of emotional and psychic injury you're sustaining from this arduous experience means you ought to see the other kind of therapist if you plan to recover mind and body alike.
posted by griphus at 8:45 AM on January 17, 2014 [7 favorites]

Just remember 6 months isn't that long in the span of a lifetime.

I pushed myself in soccer, buggered up my ankle and was out for 3 months. That was four or five years ago and honestly I just don't remember it.

You will be ok. It's just gonna take some more time, that's all.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:53 AM on January 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh, dude, I have no "lifechanging rehab mistakes", but I will tell you that totally failing to be accepted to graduate school* right out of was a giant emotional disaster that put me in a really bad place for quite a while and inspired some other bad decisions. It was SO AWFUL. I blamed myself a lot once I realized why it had happened. I felt really inferior, awful, ashamed, useless, etc.

And yet, as much as I know I would have enjoyed certain aspects of getting a literature PhD, now that I am older I recognize that it would have been a disaster for me both personally and financially. Especially if I had started right out of college, when I absolutely was not ready for the pressures of a PhD program.

It was incredibly crushing not to be accepted, but it was also very lucky. It may be that you'll look back at this time later and say "I felt horrible, but it put me on another much better and healthier path in the long run".

*Basically, this was the nineties, I went to a small college, I had no faculty mentor and I had no idea how to write an application, so even though my GREs were great, grades were great, etc, my applications showed clearly that I had no notion of what they were looking for. I did not know that you frequently visit schools, none of that. I had no family connections to help me, etc.
posted by Frowner at 8:55 AM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

What helps me is to remember that there truly isn't some "secret right way" of doing life where we either have to discern what that is or consider ourselves failures. It's not like every action we take is a choice between the Right Choice that will lead our life down the path it's meant to take and the Wrong Choice that you'll never recover from - life really isn't like following directions on a roadmap; rather, each thing we do is just something that will lead to certain consequences and possibilities that are different from the consequences and possibilities of other choices. Right now, what you did contributed to you breaking up with your partner and leaving the job you had, and I'm guessing you can't get either of those back - so maybe focus on what you want in your next partner or your next job. And if you have to be off work for six months it might do you good to frame it as six months where you can focus on things you wouldn't have had time for if you were working, rather than as six months you're somehow "losing."

By way of example: back in 2005, I left a well-paying job in a career I'd spent a lot of time building up and where I was positioned to advance quickly, to go back to grad school in a completely different field. I was SURE that that completely different field was what I was Meant To Do in life. Unfortunately, after several years in grad school I realized that this really wasn't what I wanted to do, so I eventually exited early with an MS rather than the PhD I thought I wanted (along with plenty of debt rather than the savings I would have accrued if I'd stayed at my former job!) ... however, while I was in grad school I met and fell in love with the most awesome person I've ever known, and last October we got married. Had I stayed on in my first track I would have advanced in my career but never met my wife, and while I am currently sort of flailing and lost in terms of what I want to do job-wise (I do have a job in my original field but I truly do not want it to be long-term), I have never felt such joy and fulfillment as I do when I'm hanging out with my wife.

Life isn't like the movies where there is some pre-set destiny that characters meet or fail to meet. Your renewed injury does close off some possibilities for you, but it also opens up new ones you wouldn't have had otherwise. You cannot go back and undo what happened previously, so I really do hope you can focus on your life as it is now and the opportunities you're currently afforded. Things are going to be okay, really. Best of luck to you.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:23 AM on January 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

Maybe think about moving on with a plan for being better at understanding how authority works and when to trust it.

Pushing your body past reasonable limits doesn't prove or display any good qualities. Common ones, yes. Ask your P T to tell you amusing stories (no names, obviously) of other clients who did exactly what you did. That might help.

In my opinion, you are on a better path to recovery than someone who won't do their P T.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:47 AM on January 17, 2014

I'm out right now with a broken ankle, so I feel your pain, to some degree. And itchiness...possibly. Anyway, I've been doing my ruminations too and sadly, it could have been way worse. I think "what if I fell differently, I could have avoided all this" and then I think "Or I could have snapped my femur". So...circular thinking just goes around and around. We just have to hope our heal dates come soon, regardless of any setbacks. And yeah, being laid up leaves A LOT of time for ruminating...I know.

Also, upon preview, I also know someone who had a devasting health problem (well, one I would consider devasting) that also lead to his meeting his I guess we never things are "supposed" to turn out.
posted by bquarters at 12:14 PM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

My husband is in almost the exact same situation as you right now, minus having to move back in with parents... he's had plenty of down days about it, ranging from frustration and anger to sorrow and guilt.

The only way to get past it, I think, is to take the situation as a learning experience. You made a mistake, sure, but you didn't do it on purpose. You didn't go into the training experience knowing that you were intentionally ignoring definite consequences of becoming reinjured.

In other words, I don't think that you made a bad decision by pushing yourself hard during that session, I think you made a mistake. It was an accident.

The way you make up for it is to focus on learning from your mistake. Continue your rehab, with purpose. Stay focused during each workout session on doing the exercises correctly, and in such a way as to not cause reinjury. Keep your eye on your goal of being physically well, and moving past this episode of your life.

If you must, keep a journal after each workout session, or a couple of days a week, to remind yourself of how you are feeling, and how the previous session affected you.

I don't know what the circumstances of your reinjury were, and I don't want to place undue blame, but you may also wish to take a hard look at your physical therapist, or the regimen you are on. A good therapist should push you to the point of progress, but not to the point of reinjury.
posted by vignettist at 1:06 PM on January 17, 2014

Years out this incident will fade away.

I re-broke my arm one time 9 weeks after first break when I carelessly ran across the street and slipped and fell on the ice. Rehab was faster the second time. I didn't experience guilt but then again I was only 15 and it was just an arm.

Writing this to you from my bed right now with 5 weeks to go before weight bearing on the leg. Waiting to heal is the worst part of the journey. This part is frustrating for everyone, suggest counseling (or a good friend) if you can manage it. I bet when you were first injured you were miserable too, just a different kind of miserable. Physio will make you better. Physio is a new day. Rebuild from there. You will get better. You've done it before and you'll do it again.

Take it day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute if you have to. I bet though next week when you feel stronger and you can do just a little bit more, your feelings will change. Wait it out. I know it's hard. Find some good support and hang in there.

I am interviewing for new jobs with my walker and wheelchair 7 weeks after accident. Anything is possible.
posted by crazycanuck at 1:11 PM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best advice: Move on. You can't change what happened, so get over it. Do your rehab (again) and smile.
posted by Cranberry at 1:36 PM on January 17, 2014

You made a mistake because you are living life to its fullest. If you were living in a closet day and night, you'd have many fewer opportunities to make mistakes. But wouldn't you rather be living life to its fullest? Making mistakes is part of that package.
posted by Dansaman at 5:20 PM on January 17, 2014

Oh man, do I have a lot of empathy for your situation.

Last summer, I developed an infection, and I didn't properly treat it. That tiny little infection has caused me to have three minor surgeries since October, and there is more complicated surgery in my future. OH BY THE WAY I've been pregnant the whole time. I'm almost 37 weeks pregnant right now, and I had the most involved surgery so far just last week.

I've done a lot of what-if-ing about this situation. What is helping: I'm trying to remember that I've done the best I can, and at least I've learned some things, and BESIDES, I couldn't have predicted that such a small issue would have gotten so huge. Maybe you couldn't have predicted that, either. Either way, try to be easy on yourself. Accidents pile on top of accidents all the time. Medical bullshit (complete with terrible bills and temporary incapacitation) is very commonplace. And I don't know about you, but I often feel pressured to be tough about everything, even when being tough is in my worst interest. Were you pushing yourself too hard, due to a similar attitude?

It's a hokey thing to say, but really, you aren't even close to alone. And it's natural to blame yourself, even if it's not productive. Now's the time to stop the self-flagellation and just focus on getting better, though.

PS: Based on your previous question, losing your girlfriend is probably a good thing. You need to concentrate on taking care of yourself to the fullest degree. As opposed to dividing your energy between healing, and tending to the demands of someone who treats you badly.
posted by Coatlicue at 6:32 PM on January 17, 2014

I go down a regret spiral all the time. The truth is, your life would probably have been monumentally better if you hadn't screwed up that one time did. Ruminating over it isn't going to help change it, time only goes one way. You understand what happened, how not to have it happen again, and you're basically done learning from it, so at this stage in the game, dwelling is just self-flagellation and self-pity.

You've got to just accept that what's done is done and move forward. I mean that in a conscious, mindful way -- when you find yourself thinking about these "what if" scenarios, you've got to just put your past and imagined future out of your mind and refocus on the present. Think about what you can do now to make your situation better and make sure to do at least one of those things each day (and do one of those things ASAP if on any given day you're finding yourself unable to stop touching this bruise). I know that sounds facile, but putting the past out of my mind and focusing on the present is honestly what helps me cope best.
posted by rue72 at 7:04 PM on January 17, 2014

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