I fell while I was running two days ago. I think I caught my foot on a tree root. It was a violent shock. I've never fallen that hard before. I'm not supposed to ever fall, what is happening?
My anxiety was off the charts this week, so I went to Van Cortlandt Park to run (which is my routine two or three times a week), then I decided I didn’t have the mental energy to push myself, I would just walk. But about 100 yards into the walk my circulating thoughts felt intolerable and I said to myself running is the only thing that’s going to interrupt this. I went around the pond and down the newly paved bike path, the Putnam Trail. It feels a little creepy during the day during the week, vegetation high on both sides this time of year and hardly any people around, but then I noticed golfers through the chain link fence on both sides of me and felt better. I decided to run half a mile out and then turn back, so I would have one mile done when I got back to the main part of the park, and then go around the parade ground and get two miles in.
As I was running back I felt good, no leg pain, breathing steady and I thought maybe I could go even further (the anxiety had vanished). I was coming up on a right turn. It’s a narrow dirt path, well trodden, but with small rocks and roots. I’ve walked it a million times. As I turned I had the thought, maybe I should walk this part… then I was flying toward the ground. For a fraction of a second I realized I was actually falling and then kind of skidding along the dirt from the momentum. I picked my head up right away and everything was spinning, but I felt an odd urgency to get up. I needed to right myself, to immediately get past the mistake of falling. I stood up, the park still spinning around me, and got to the top of the dirt path where it opens out into the parade ground. I sat down on a tree stump. With my head reeling, but settling a bit, I took out my phone and called my husband. I wasn’t sure if I was going to pass out or something else... so I better tell him where I am.
After a minute or two we concluded that I was fine and I just needed to go home and rest. I walked about a third of a mile home, as I remained on the phone with him. People were staring at me. Then I felt blood running down the side of my face, and saw it dripping on to my shirt. I reached up and my finger went into the open wound. On second thought, I better go to urgent care.
I got into the elevator to go up to my apartment and there were two people. Fuck, I don't want to see anyone. One of them said, “Are you okay?” I said yes, but turned my back, shame flooding over me. I got out of the elevator and into my apartment as fast as I could. I went right to the bathroom and looked at my face. The right side was covered in dirt and blood. I washed some of the dirt off the lower part of my face and my hands, but decided not to touch the wound near my eyebrow. My daughter drove me to urgent care. I started worrying that I might have something more serious going on inside my skull. When you walk in with a bleeding head wound they take you right in.
A nurse took my vitals, and the doctor began to clean the wound. I lay under the blue sterile paper legs shaking, anxiety building as she stitched me up. Once the doctor was done and removed the paper she saw that I was crying and she said, "Don’t worry, it will look fine." She thought I was crying about my face.
The vulnerability and helplessness I had felt a couple hours earlier which had set me off on my run, was now personified in my physical state. The tears were humiliation spilling over. Anxiety is humiliating. Falling is humiliating. And, of course, the nagging thought, this is my fault. Well, it was. I tripped. It wasn’t the ground’s fault. But when I say this is my fault it’s coming from an entirely unforgiving, judgmental place.
Six stitches, a chest x-ray (nothing broken), and an exam to determine whether or not I had a concussion later, and I was able to go home.
Day two my eye is really swollen. I look like a boxer, exaggeratedly purple. When I’ve seen this in the movies I’ve sometimes thought they got the makeup wrong. It’s too big and round, like a plum, too even, that’s not what people look like. It’s exactly what I look like.
What’s the story here? Watch your step? Sure. But more significantly, where does the physical trauma take me within myself, perhaps somewhere beyond the humiliation. What’s it like to look in the mirror and see a startlingly new face, an undeniable symbol of my vulnerability?
One thing I know, since I’ve had to rest these last two days, my anxiety (after taking up an uptick the past two months) has significantly lessened. I have permission to slow down and be here. I’m not saying I brought the accident on myself to deal with the anxiety. I find that kind of blame, meaning-seeking harmful. Accidents happen, many things happen and not always for a reason. Nothing like falling to shatter any illusions of control and to remind you anything can and does happen.
Sad, shameful, and cloistered in my apartment is a familiar place to me, dare I say comforting. I’ve been forced to stop striving. I’ve literally had to stop looking at the computer and phone for periods of time as my headache would increase. I’ve been just plain tired and needed to lie down, and let my mind wander. But I prefer doing. Mental wandering, since I was young, meant repetitive thoughts of scary scenarios in an effort to keep myself safe and maintain the illusion of control, so doing is better. But wandering is what I need right now, and I know there is grace or something beyond the worry.... if I can sit with myself long enough.
I was talking to my therapist last night going over how the anxiety had been so persistent the last few months, and I realized, for the first time, this person I am now with anxiety, that I have been living with for many, many years and learning to manage, is far closer to my authentic self than the woman I was before who never felt it, and more authentic than the woman who works so hard to never fall on her face. Maybe I can be a little easier on myself. Maybe that fall shook something loose.