I’m writing this a week after having surgery to repair an umbilical (belly button) hernia (ripped or torn muscle that creates a hole). For the first few days I was unable to sit, cough, laugh, sneeze or make any basic movement due to the incisions they made in my abdomen. For three days I was a cloud of pain medication and general misery.
However, as the pain started to wane, I made it a point to not let this nuisance (because that is all it really is, a bump in an essentially never ending road) get the better of me.
I started by reminding myself that this repair was absolutely necessary for me to become the best athlete I can be. I had not lifted a single barbell in close to a year. Being strong is essential for my BJJ game, especially competing in the Ultra Heavy division. Technique conquers all, but being able to move some weight around really helps when there is more than 500 lbs on the mat between myself and my opponent. For me to be the absolute best I can be, I needed this surgery. And although I will be off the mats for about a month, I will be back better than ever.
So far I have not strayed with my nutrition, and have kept a positive mental attitude. What I put into my body and where my mind is, are essential parts of recovery, and the day to day. Sure, I had a few pity cheats here and there, but overall I have found that maintaining my routines and habits has allowed me to keep my eye on the prize. Leading a healthy lifestyle and being mindful of what’s going on upstairs helps me to get in front of my “injury blues” and shut them down before they become too much to bear.
I have also remained as active as I possibly can. Running errands, doing minor chores around the house and just walking around a little to make sure I am still moving. This has helped majorly combat the feeling of helplessness that can be a huge contributor to these gosh darned blues. Just by getting up and forcing myself to do something, no matter how minor, I have seen tangible improvements in my strength and ability to move around. If I feel like I am doing too much, I recognize it and sit down and rest. This feeling of independence and usefulness pushes the negative, darker thoughts out and allows me to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
When I felt up to it, I went back to class. Not to participate, mind you, but to just get back into the atmosphere. I don’t know about you lovely readers, but for me, BJJ is medicinal. It is the greatest mental health treatment available and the only side effects are confidence, strength, stamina and the amazing friendships you forge in the gym. My coach even used me as an example of what a teammate should be. Just because I am unable to participate, does not mean I can’t learn anything. So I showed up, watched the technique and learned some details that my spider guard pass had been missing. Even if I haven’t been able to drill this technique yet, I understood the concept and look forward to applying it in sparring and competition.
A friend of mine was going back to his home country, his work visa had expired. Our team went out Saturday night to watch UFC 178 and wish him farewell. Remaining social and seeing your friends and teammates regularly does wonders for pushing out the negativity associated with not being able to train. Just being around my guys, even in a sort of sad situation (this dude is a great guy and I miss the hell out of him already), made me forget of the hours I spent on the couch in pain, cursing this stupid injury and wishing and praying for a fast recovery. For that short amount of time, I completely forgot that I was recovering and just had a good time. Things like that are essential to me being able to reset my head and get on with the next task.
Instead of beating myself up about not being able to go to every class I wanted to, or having to miss out on competitions, I took the time to strengthen other relationships. I called an Aunt I haven’t talked to in a while and we talked about my cousin’s new baby. I cooked dinner for my wife and her mother and sister. Although BJJ is a wonderful and essential part of our lives, sometimes we may neglect other parts and instead of balance, we end up with distance between us and our loved ones. There is the old “if you don’t roll, you don’t know” saying . . . and unless your whole family participates in BJJ (Chances of you being a Gracie or Machado are pretty slim) they don’t roll, so they don’t know. This time away has helped me refind (is that a word? MS Word is putting a red line under it, so I guess not. Oh well, I’m going with it.) that balance. It’s reminded me that other things are (dare I say it?) more important than BJJ. Not many, but they’re there.
Doing some new, fun and different can help. I live near Chicago and there is tons of stuff to do. Museums, zoos, new and different restaurants, shows, anything is an hour train ride away. To sit and wallow in self pity and claim “boredom” seems foolish when there is a world of unseen and undiscovered wonder so close to me. If all of that seems a little too “high speed” I can just go to a movie. Anything that gets me off the couch and out of the house is a positive experience in my mind.
The last thing I will touch on is that although returning to training is the goal, it is essential to remind ourselves that we need to HEAL! That was the whole point of the procedure, to cure what ails me. If I go back to soon and rupture something, then I just sit out even longer. This whole process would have been pointless and it prolongs my absence from the mats.
I feel like with patience and the right attitude, we can improve ourselves even when we are unable to train. We can reset ourselves and come back stronger and mightier and be ready to mow down all obstacles.