Different strokes for ridiculously anxious folks

You never realize how difficult it can be to do certain things until you develop an anxiety disorder.

Oh fuck, I thought this was a running blog and now it turns out she’s also going to lecture us on mental health awareness.

I suffered my first panic attack two years ago, seemingly out of nowhere, and was reborn as a severely anxious person. Although, if I look back at my disposition towards certain things growing up, to me it seems rather inevitable. Take swimming for example.

I’ve never been a good swimmer. In first grade, I won my heat in a kickboard race at the school swim meet and that was the pinnacle of my swimming career. Then it was like —  you know how some people grew up dreading The Mile? I grew up dreading the swimming unit. On the first day of a new school year, I’d be like fuck! we have to swim again in February. I don’t really know why — maybe I got too much water in my ears once or felt uneasy learning flip turns. Maybe other kid swimmers were assholes, and the ones who took lessons and got to be good at it were fairly unrestrained in their need to show off. So maybe I hated it because I couldn’t brag about it. And when you’re generally athletic, it sucks to be bad at an athletic thing. And when you’re me, you turn lots of negative experiences into opportunities to be ridiculously nervous.

Let me clarify that I enjoy using pools for leisure. What I am referring to is lap swimming, where you employ complex strokes and earn the opportunity to breathe again by succeeding at not drowning first. Breathing is never guaranteed! Because I have the lung capacity of a potato, and I never mastered the art of opening my eyes underwater, swimming was always more like thrashing around blindly and choking on water. I think I always lost my goggles diving off the start board.

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Does this count as exercise?

I remember once in middle school I almost passed out after swim class. I’m sure it was every bit as dramatic as it sounds, but I swear between the chlorine fumes, the water-logged dehydration, and the breath-holding, swimming has a tendency to make me dizzy.

Well, once you’ve suffered enough panic attacks to be wary of anything that might cause dizziness, swimming gets even harder to do, too. Pair that with venturing to the middle of a deep pool to purposely overexert myself, and my claustrophobia is like WTF ARE YOU DOING?! I’ve triggered panic attacks while biking or using the elliptical too hard, but you see, if you panic and faint while swimming, you, um… you die.  

This is really what it’s like to have irrational anxiety. Do I really think I might die while using a community pool with lifeguards around? No. Have I ever actually passed out while panicking? No. But I do find myself providing handicaps that I never used to consider. I’ve logged hours of my life aqua jogging, but now I wear a flotation belt like the ones old people use for water aerobics class. Just in case. Which means that, as if the lifeguards didn’t already think aqua jogging was baffling enough, now they definitely think I am some poor turd who must not know how to swim, and they move to sit in the chair right above to me. I mean, that’s not subtle. But it does make me feel better.

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Bootin’ around Jackson over the Fourth

With my surgery scheduled for August 9, I still have some time before I endure 2-6 weeks of non-weight bearing and post-op recovery. Of course, to test a conservative treatment plan, I spent the first two weeks of July in a walking boot, and if you’ve had the misfortune of wearing one, you know how alarmingly fast your body atrophies. So I am using these interim 3 weeks to re-strengthen some musculature that I lost while in the boot. This includes core work and some easy cardio. It might seem pointless to beef up a shriveled leg that is destined to become shriveled again, but if you could choose to go into surgery shriveled or ripped, wouldn’t you choose ripped? Might as well be functioning above average to start with.

Hence the pool. Regardless of how uncomfortable it makes me, swimming and aqua jogging will be my primary forms of exercise for several weeks once I’m on the other side. It will get easier as I reacquaint myself. I usually feel very anxious on my way to the pool but end up feeling fairly relaxed once I start moving around. I like breast stroke because I can leave my head up, but I’m challenging myself to do more and more lengths. My record right now is 30. Runners like records. And people with anxiety like any small accomplishment.

Ankle injury diagnosis

Osteochondral lesion of the talus

I’ve been injured for a long time. For months. Actually, for the better part of a year. With no signs of improvement or relief. No timetable for a return to running. I’m inclined to share the entire months-long progression, but that’s not really useful to anyone. After exhausting all other options, I finally did what I should’ve done weeks ago and got an MRI.

Osteochondral lesion of the talus. There is a fracture in the cartilage that sits at the top of the talus bone in my left ankle, and the underlying bone has been damaged considerably. I remembered thinking once, “ok, it’s gotta be either a stress fracture or arthritis.” I wasn’t far off. And I was closer than most professionals had come.

An OLT is a tricky injury, I’ve now learned. Cartilage isn’t known for its ability to repair itself or regrow, and the talus is a very low-blood-flow area. A scope surgery is one of the only ways to treat this injury successfully. This procedure allows for cleaning debris from the injured area and drilling into the talus to create a microfracture. Ideally, this chain of events encourages new bone to grow and scar tissue will fill in for the cartilage.

That is the surgery I am now scheduled to have next month. That is the part I want to share. I spent months Googling my symptoms, trying to find a home for my injury, only to find very little reliable information and misdiagnose myself repeatedly.

I’m a runner. I’ve had all the “traditional” soft tissue injuries and a metatarsal fracture, too. But this is a new one for me, and the most difficult one for sure, especially when it’s been years since my last major injury. For weeks I wished it was a stress fracture – so straightforward! Almost guaranteed to run again in 8-12 weeks. Currently, I’m so far away from my usual place of fitness that going into surgery at this point is like “well, what’s another 6 weeks.” But at least I have a time frame, finally.

In the meantime, I’ll be updating throughout my pre-op phase, and then detailing the surgery and recovery plan. I struggled to find the information I needed, so I hope I may be a resource for someone else.

Predominate symptoms I experienced over the last 8 months:

  • A crunching, grinding, catching sensation inside the ankle joint
  • Shooting pain or a compressive ache in the ankle while ascending stairs or pedaling a bike
  • Midfoot instability
  • Sharp pain at the front of the ankle that was confused with both a cuboid fracture and impingement syndrome
  • Skin numbness across the bridge of the ankle, where you tie your laces, and behind the ankle on the lateral side
  • Joint pain in the medial arch of my foot
  • Swelling near the peroneal tendons
  • Pain and pinching behind the ankle on the medial side

Because of these symptoms, various physical therapists and doctors diagnosed me with a wide range of afflictions from plantar fasciitis to cuboid subluxation to tarsal tunnel syndrome – and keep in mind, none of these even occur in the same part of the ankle. That’s how much the pain migrated. I was able to run with it for about four months, and finally started to feel like the whole ankle was about to shatter, at which point I stopped.

Conservative treatments I tried:

  • Rest. Like, days, then weeks, then months of rest
  • Cross-training on the elliptical or bike
  • Dry needling, laser therapy, manual therapy, ice massage, NSAIDS
  • Air cast walking boot
  • Running? We all think maybe it’ll just “clear up”

Osteochondral lesion of the talus. I went to 4 physical therapists over this time. That’s maybe the most frustrating part. Every misdiagnosis made me feel like I wasn’t being heard. Like everyone was confirming their own biases instead of listening when I repeatedly said SOMETHING HURTS INSIDE THE ANKLE. It’s not the fucking plantar fascia! I often wish I had gotten imaging earlier. Thinking how much time I wasted beating myself up over useless rehab exercises, wondering what I was doing wrong… Knowing somewhere in my heart that it would lead to this. That it had to.

But I can’t dwell on that. That chapter is behind me. When I left the consultation with my physical therapist after he’d received my MRI results, I said, “You know, I actually feel excited. Relieved. A little scared. The hard part is over, and I see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

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If you have experience with this or another similarly drawn-out injury, please reach out! Constructive, supportive feedback is something you can’t find over at the LRC message boards.