When Everything Goes to Sh*t
The 5 stages of hurting your hamstring.
Everything was going so great — too great.
Training here in Texas has been wonderful. Before last week, I felt like I was in the best shape I’d been in since the ADCC Trials last year (honestly, probably better shape). Additionally, my little Grappler’s Diary Instagram posts have been performing well (we even blew up on Reddit!) and I was also getting a nearly overwhelming amount of ghostwriting work from the only client I’m still working with.
Life has been busy, but a good kind of busy. It felt like good things were coming (and maybe they still are), but then I experienced a bump in the road.
I was scheduled to compete in an EBI rules tournament on May 21 and an ADCC rules tournament on May 27, and in the last hard round of my training camp, I suffered a grade 2 hamstring injury.
It hurt a lot, and it made me think a lot as well.
Here are the 5 stages of grief, as experienced through my injury.
When I first hurt my leg, I knew something was wrong, but I tried to keep training.
I prayed — prayed — that I had dodged a bullet and that nothing was really wrong with my leg. I hoped that I’d be okay if I just gritted my teeth and toughed through it.
Then, I tried to stand up and bend forward, putting weight on the newly inflamed hamstring.
Immediately, I felt a shooting pain in my hamstring. My entire leg was unstable.
In my mind, I had that “oh fuck” moment, where the world caved in, but I remained Stoic.
“Yeah, something isn’t right,” I said, in a cold voice that made me sound like a sociopath.
This quickly sent me into the next stage of grief as I sat down next to the mat to consider my options.
I managed to contain my anger until I made it out of the gym, but I was fuming.
I’d been training like a madman for weeks with no problems, and in the last few minutes of my last round before my tournament last weekend, I got hurt. It sucked.
The thought of pulling out of the tournament still hadn’t crossed my mind, but I was upset that I was going to “have” to compete in such a decrepit state.
I had also had a fight with the girl I’d been seeing that morning, I was now injured, and I was going to miss out on my chance to really display all the skills I’d been working to develop these last few months.
The whole thing sucked. It still kind of does.
After I was done being pissed off, I knew I had to try to figure out a way to make something “work”.
I decided to pull out of the May 22 tournament on Friday morning (pulling out last minute made me want to walk into oncoming traffic) and focus on my recovery for tomorrow’s competition, the Enigma 185 ADCC rules bracket.
I (being an idiot) figured if I was diligent with my recovery, the injury that takes about 3 weeks to heal would be ready in 7 days.
I decided to rest for the weekend and then get on the mat Monday to see how I was doing.
This worked well — it kept me in good spirits over the weekend — until Monday morning, when I finally got on the mat at my friend’s gym in Pennsylvania.
I had a tough session and got beat up a lot, and I nearly reinjured my leg at least 10 times.
The problem is that I wasn’t training hard, I was flow-rolling with a 145-pound woman.
This made me realize that competing on Saturday (just 5 days later) was likely going to be unsafe, unwise, and to put it bluntly, incredibly unpleasant.
Realizing that I wasn’t going to be able to compete in either of the events that I’d put a month of training into made me feel pretty depressed.
It also queued a lot of anxiety about the future.
If I was going to be out this weekend too, when am I going to be back to normal? Am I going to be able to have a good training camp and get ready for my next match?
Before you try to console me with something like “Come on now, it’ll be fine, you’ll get healthy”, remember that competing in/training/teaching Jiu-Jitsu is my job. Injuries make me unable to work, which creates a bit of an identity crisis in addition to some financial stress.
I know I’ll get healthy, but the time between then and now is going to be a bit unpleasant.
This leads me to the final stage of grief, and perhaps the most important lesson of this whole article.
This is not the first time I’ve been injured.
It’s not even the first time this year I’ve had a moderate injury. I tore a small bit of my meniscus back in February, and I wasn’t able to train “right” for 3 weeks. I was lucky to recover so fast (I’ve had meniscus surgery in the past), but the feelings after that injury were the same as the feelings after this one: bad feelings.
This is also not going to be the last injury I experience in grappling.
I’m going to continue to train and compete when I’m healthy, and pushing the limit is part of what makes it fun for me.
This is true in everything I do.
I overextend myself a lot, but I enjoy that. I’d rather break my body trying to be the strongest, fastest, and most creative version of myself than settle for something less.
The dozens of overuse injuries I have are a sign to me that I’ve always done everything I can to push myself to the max. If you play with fire, you will get burned.
However, if you play with fire, over time, you learn how to play with it better.
For the last month, I’ve been pushing my limits, but I’ve been working around all of my pre-existing injuries. I’ve learned how to manage my back injuries, my writing, and more while training in one of the toughest Jiu-Jitsu rooms in the world.
Now, I have to deal with a little injury and some time off the mat, but it’s okay. I’d rather be broken and proud than safe and miserable.
“The one advantage of playing with fire, Lady Caroline, is that one never gets even singed. It is the people who don't know how to play with it who get burned up.” — Oscar Wilde
(Singed means getting burned, if you’re like me and didn’t know what that word means)
A lot of my friends who talk about wellness and self-love talk about how you have to “be kind to yourself”.
This is a trendy message nowadays because people today are soft and people lack empathy. Playing it safe is easy to sell to anxious people, and you don’t have to console someone who never tries anything and fails.
The irony is that my friends who talk about self-love and being kind to themselves are some of the most ruthless people that I know — to themselves.
This is the paradox of improvement.
If you want to be the best version of yourself, you have to put yourself in a lot of unpleasant situations. You have to train your body and mind to withstand a lot of pain, and you do that by inflicting pain on yourself. Self-improvement is a bit masochistic when done well.
It’s unpleasant, and it’s no wonder that people tell you to “love yourself” or whatever it is that they say. When I’m inflicting pain on myself in the name of “improvement”, I wish I could love and coddle myself more too.
But that’s not it.
If you play with fire, you’re gonna get burned. When this happens, instead of giving up, you should keep playing with fire. It’s the only way you’ll get stronger.
It’s also the only way you’ll stop getting burned.
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