I wrote this post in June of 2015, but am republishing it a year later because I have an important update, which changes the story a little– and I added a video I think you’ll enjoy. If you have already read it, please scroll to the bottom of the post. And if this is the first time you are seeing this piece, I hope you find it encouraging!
About a year ago, I was devastated. After tearing my ACL (an important knee ligament) for the third time, it looked like my active days were over– and that I was just lucky to be able to walk around. I had already endured two surgeries that used harvested parts from that leg to construct a new ligament. Now, my orthopedist was scheduling me for a third surgery that would include taking parts from my “good” knee, as well as pulling tendons down from my hip to wrap around my knee joint. I mean, what could go wrong here… right?
Getting a knee injury about 12 years ago had already changed a lot for me. I have been active my whole life, and find moving my body to be one of the purest sources of joy. Although I never perfected any particular physical skill, I was interested in learning any and all of it. I took classes in different types of dance, in fencing, martial arts, and in various sports. I like to move, and couldn’t imagine anything worse than losing my freedom of movement. (This picture is from six years ago, several years after my first surgery.)
This knee surgery would help stabilize my knee again, but at what cost? I’d already ruptured my ACL three times. Why would this new one be any different, apart from being far more invasive? I knew that even after the surgery and the rehab period, I would still be afraid of injuring my knee again, and starting over, with even less options than before.
I was devastated. I felt like I was too young for this, and had too many opportunities for movement (and joy) ahead of me– that I would have to miss. The more I thought about it, the riskier the surgery felt to me– why open up my stronger leg, in hopes of fixing my weaker one, especially when the surgery could also fail like the first two? So I consulted with a physical therapist friend, and cancelled my surgery. My PT friend felt sure that another surgery would not be a permanent fix, and that I would be better off just working hard at stabilizing my knee and living without an ACL.
This was a relief and also scared me. (It still does.) What if I injure my knee again, and without the ACL there, the damage is really, really bad? Like, tearing all of the other ligaments? What then? This fear has kept me from doing a lot of things. In some cases, it’s a healthy fear– sometimes I feel like running. But it’s a bad choice for me, not just because of the ACL thing but because of all of the trauma that joint has been through– running is hard on even healthy knees. But there are a lot of other things that I should be able to do, that just make me nervous– hiking, dancing, jumping. I have really been wanting to take more martial arts classes, but I just don’t feel secure enough for the kicks and twisting. I ended up doing very little, beyond walking and some yoga. And this affected my overall sense of well-being– I am not a sedentary person.
Recently, the opportunity came up for Jeff and me to take ballroom dancing classes. We had taken salsa classes together before we got married, and had promised ourselves that we would take another class within the first year that Amelia was born. Well, that didn’t happen (she just turned nine, by the way!) and although both of us love dance and dream of dancing together with confidence, we never took action. All of the knee drama did make a very legitimate excuse.
But this time, we went ahead and signed up for the six week class. Although I’ve been working on strengthening my knee, I was nervous. Honestly, I’d be foolish not to be, given my history. But as I thought about it, I realized that things can go wrong… and they can go right. (And things can seem to go wrong and turn out to be right– here’s a great example!) I could hurt my knee falling down the stairs, slipping on our tile floors, tripping over the rug (I swear I’m not that clutzy, but it happens!) or any number of ways.
Wouldn’t it be better to just take the chance on doing something that would bring me joy?
One promise that I have made to myself is to live out of love and hope, rather than out of fear. There are so many things to be afraid of– lots of things could really go wrong. But if we are in that place, worrying about all of the things that could go wrong, do we ever give ourselves the chance to see things go right?
So, Jeff and I signed up for the dance classes. I loved them. Loved them. And I would lie in bed, going through the steps I was learning, and suddenly in my mind’s eye I would see myself twisting the wrong way, I’d see my knee contorting, I’d see myself lying on the dance floor, filled with pain and fear.
One morning a few weeks ago, as I was grappling with my fear, the question came to me:
What could go right?
Well, for starters, I was getting to use my muscles in a new and challenging way. This is good for my knee stability… What if dancing is my key to healing my knee? I know I’ll never get that ACL back, and I’m pretty sure I’ll always have knee pain. But what if this is the way in which I can strengthen myself again, to get the confidence and stability I need to feel like I can live in my body fully again?
This idea changed everything for me. I began to see dancing as my therapy, instead of an indulgence that would get me into trouble. That week, the option of getting private dance lessons came up. We said yes, and have been working with the (awesome) instructor each week as a couple, and now as individuals. We also signed up for the next group class.
So we are learning to dance. This has been a dream of mine forever, and I honestly thought a year ago that it wouldn’t be possible for me. Am I still scared? Yes. Hell, yes. But things go wrong, and things go right. Worrying about the things that could go badly only keeps us from living fully.
In the future, I’d like to use my What if… imagination for the things that would be amazing. Why visualize all the negative? Why focus on that?
What could go right?
There are so many situations that I can apply this to. It’s a mental battle, and it’s a matter of choice– to choose to be brave, to take some risks for the sake of living whole-heartedly.
What could go right in your life?
P.S. Yes, I am totally afraid that by publishing this post, I will somehow jinx myself into a knee injury. I’m doing it anyway. What could go right?
UPDATE! At a year after writing this post, Jeff and I have learned at least the fundamentals of 10 different dances, moved on to the 3rd level in our dance program (bronze 3) and we just performed our first dance spotlight for one of our group classes!
Here’s a video of our rumba dance!