The back injury that saved my life (part 2)



I’m not about to give you a spiel coated in toxic positivity about how I got back to where I am now because it was so f*cking hard. 

It was probably one of the most depressive states I have ever been in, on par, if not worse than when I suffered severe anxiety as a teenager.

Dan (my partner) said to me at one of my lowest moments; “Even though you’re still struggling, you have not stopped trying.” 


And that is probably the key thing that makes the difference between someone who lets an injury like this one be the end of their lifting career or accept it that this is how they will always be.


Luckily my physio background has given me the knowledge that back injuries do get better and my back ‘will not always be this way’ which is what I’ve heard many times from patients over the years. 

But I can’t say that there were times where I didn’t know if I would ever get back to where I am now or that I would never not be in pain. The uncertainty drove me crazy and it was a huge adjustment for me to let go of the expectations I had on my rehab process each time I hit or didn’t hit a new milestone with it.


This injury taught me how to actually ask for help


I could have pretended to be stoic and be ‘miss independent’ but these were times when I needed to lean on others for help and it was really humbling to realise that I was in fact, not invincible. 


I’m actually human?! What?


I never thought I had an ego when lifting until then, but I did. The reason it took me so long to initially recover was because I couldn’t let go of lifting heavy weights, I couldn’t let go of that identity and step away from the barbell.

But when I had had enough of being in pain, I finally stepped away and went back to the most boring, slow and basic training regime that I needed to do in order to build everything back up again. 

While it bored me to tears to be sitting on machines in a commercial gym and doing repetitive rehab exercises, it was a good wake up call for me to see what it’s really like for people going through big injuries and expose me to the other parts of my life I had been neglecting. 


There was a life outside of lifting that I had been ignoring for the last 18 months and there was a reason for it that I didn’t fully understand, until I gave it the brain space to come to the surface. 


In the extra time I had to sit with myself outside of work, I found that I was using competing in Strongman as my way to validate the feelings of success I wasn’t getting out of my career. I was lost with physio, questioning what I really wanted from it and I knew that this was playing into how I would show up for my coaching clients, as I was often having a million thoughts on my mind at once and struggling to ever be truly present. 

This carried over to my relationship and my friendships as I wasn’t spending much time with anyone outside the gym and when I did, all my energy had gone to the physical and mental stress I was under with feeling really lost in my career and then numbing myself with overtraining that I was never really invested in the moment. 


And it really sucked when I realised all of this. 


In the past, I would have continued to let the depression consume me – and it still almost did – but I had people in my corner who helped pull me out. I cried to my bosses Nath & Jacob many times who are always there for me, my life coach Ami (honestly my savior), my nutrition coach Phil who held space for me whenever I needed, my physio Rob who guided me in designing my rehab program and my partner Dan who was by my side through the whole thing. 


This injury taught me how to actually ask for help


Which for someone who prided themself on being strong, it was incredibly hard to admit I needed it.


So with the help of everyone I mentioned earlier, I continued the grueling process of re-creating my identity outside of strongman by reminding myself of the things I used to enjoy like reading, playing guitar, catch up with friends, going to concerts and spending time with Dan. 

That all sounds lovely but I really struggled to actually do anything that was not by myself as I had a lot of fear around people asking me about Strongman, the gym or training in general because talking about any of that brought up a lot of sadness. I was aware that I was known as ‘the strong friend’ and whenever I would see certain groups of people that’s what they would strike up conversation about and the thought of having to talk about my injury was terrifying. 


One night we were heading to a good friend’s birthday party and as we were driving there I couldn’t stop my thoughts from spiraling about what I’d do if anyone asked me about my back. When we pulled up to their house, I burst out crying before I’d even opened the car door and Dan had to drive me home because I didn’t want to have to pretend I was fine when I really wasn’t. 


Big social events were becoming too overwhelming for me to manage so I began with reaching out to my closest friends, those friends who have seen me in all phases of my life and I don’t feel like I have to pretend when you’re with them.


This is when I had to learn to let go of the walls I put up and lean into the discomfort of being vulnerable with those around me.


Nathan sat down with me one day and suggested I start sharing small parts of how I was feeling with my clients who I feel would be receptive to it and appreciate being understood. 


The thought of opening myself up like that to anyone outside my close circle was petrifying. 


What if they thought I was being ridiculous? What if they thought I was bringing them down?


All these concerns raced through my mind but I kept coming back to the fact that if I had a friend or client share with me what they were feeling, I would find that relatable and appreciate their honesty.


So when I finally did share how I was feeling, it went much better than expected. 


One of my long term clients had a significant back injury a year prior that I helped her through and she is one of the toughest women I know. She continued to show up every day and do her best with what she was able to and now she’s back to being stronger and fitter than she ever was before. When I shared with her how I was feeling, it was relieving to know that she experienced a lot of the same things I did and she was able to give me advice on how she got through the mental side of things. Throughout my progressions and flare ups, she’s been a great reminder that I can get back to where I once was and that I knew what to do to get there.


She is one of a few I shared my thoughts with but it created a connection with them I hadn’t had before. 

This second thing this injury taught me was how to actually be vulnerable.