I have a metatarsal stress fracture in my right foot.
I got it by ignoring pain after two runs at home, and then for some reason keeping a running date I had at the South by Southwest conference two weeks ago with Matt Frazier and Tyler Tervooren. I kept that date despite the fact that even walking felt wrong, and I kept running despite the sharp pain I felt as the three of us began.
And now, thanks to my awesome choices, I can’t run on this foot for at least a few more weeks — but probably more like a month, or even more. I’ve lost all of my running, which I’d come to really enjoy and which kept my blood sugars so neatly in line. I may lose my conditioning, and be starting months back when I’m able to eventually resume. And despite training through a long Ohio winter, I may even miss the marathon.
But really, it doesn’t matter.
I’m injured. That’s a fact.
You may be poor. Or in a bad relationship. Or sick. Or paralyzed. Or desperate. Or in a terrible, terrible crisis. Those are facts.
None of it matters, just like my injury doesn’t matter.
As my friend W. Mitchell says, “It’s not what happens to you that matters. It’s what you do with it.” He’d know. He was burned to within an inch of his life. Then in a fit of either irony or fuck-you, he started a wood-burning stove business. Then the universe explained that it doesn’t like fuck-yous by crashing his plane and putting him into a wheelchair.
Mitchell says that what happened to him doesn’t matter. Where he is is where he is. Who he is is who he is. What he has is what he has. Only his future matters. Only what he does next has any relevance.
And me? I’ve got an injury.
It doesn’t matter.
Come with me on a rant, will you?
What “disabled” means
Being “disabled” means that you can’t do one specific task in the way that the majority of people do it.
It doesn’t mean “unable to walk.” It doesn’t mean “unable to see.” It means that if you take one specific thing, anyone who can’t do that is disabled with regard to that one specific thing.
I’m totally disabled when it comes to car repair.
You think that the guy pushing the wheelchair around with his hands is “disabled,” as a blanket statement. But that’s not specific enough. Most likely, he’s only disabled with regard to his legs.
But that guy has to move himself between wheelchair and bed, bed and armchair, wheelchair and toilet and shower. How strong do you think his arms are?
He’s probably looking at you, thinking about you and your poor disabled arms.
Think about it. You’re a little disabled every time someone is better than you at something.
Why aren’t bad artists called disabled? After all, they can’t draw. Jessica Blinkhorn’s artistic ability makes everyone look downright crippled where drawing is concerned.
Why aren’t dumb people called disabled? After all, they can’t think.
You may disabled when it comes to dollars in the bank. Or emotional well-being.
And I’m currently temporarily disabled when it comes to running.
So we’re all disabled. Put the first premise together with this one and you’ll also see that it doesn’t matter.
You’re disabled, and it just doesn’t matter.
The question is, What are you going to do about it?
Funny that you should ask.
How to kick the asses of your shortcomings
My method of dealing with my own individual disabilities isn’t for everyone, because we’re all different. But since I’m the one writing, I’ll tell you how I’m planning to handle my own little setback, and how I’ve handled one in the past.
Step 1: Take stock
Ask: What do you have?
Stop thinking so much about what you don’t have. When you don’t have money, it’s natural to be totally consumed with not having money. If you’ve just gotten divorced, it’s easy to only think about how you don’t have a spouse anymore. If you have cancer or lost an arm, nobody would fault you for thinking about all of the health or ability you’ve lost, but try not to dwell on what you’re missing or what you’ve lost. Instead, ask what you still have.
Warren MacDonald, always an outdoorsman, found that he still had a strong upper body after losing most of both legs in a climbing accident. He could also have prosthetics made for his missing legs to suit pretty much whatever specifications he wanted, meaning that his newer, shorter legs could have all sorts of abilities. One of these was to have crampons (ice spikes) where his knees used to be. And with these remaining abilities, Warren asked a rhetorical question: Why couldn’t he climb rocks and frozen waterfalls? People figured a double-amputee wouldn’t do that kind of thing, but he certainly could if he wanted to. He’d have to do it differently, but he could do it.
In my case, I still can’t totally walk without a limp and can’t imagine running. But that’s about it. I can do anything that doesn’t involve repetitive foot impacts, and that’s a hell of a lot of stuff.
Step 2: See your limitations as fucking awesome
When Warren lost his lower legs, he also lost two feet in height. Which meant that he could now tuck into much smaller places on the rocks. He could bivouac in places that a full-size person couldn’t.
Warren adds he also gets “rockstar parking.”
Jon Morrow, who has spinal muscular atrophy and hence extremely limited mobility, told me that he can get away with things I never could because nobody will yell at a guy in a wheelchair. And Jon takes advantage of this liberty. He loves to piss people off and stir controversy, and does it constantly — to his business and financial advantage. (Jon also says that he never, ever has to wait in line anywhere. A pretty sweet plus.)
This is sometimes called “reframing,” and yes, at times it may feel bogus, but take the advantages where you see them. Have bad credit? Awesome. Then you won’t have to sweat ruining it if you run out of what little money you have. Sick? Shit, you’re going to get so much sympathy. In jail? I hear chicks dig a bad boy.
Your terrible situation has some advantages, I guarantee it. Things won’t improve if you pretend there aren’t any advantages, so you might as well find and enjoy them.
Step 3: Find a way to maximize what you ARE able to do
Your goal here is to become the biggest badass you can become in whatever it is that you’re able to do. If all you have is one arm, figure out the most ridiculously over-the-top thing a person with only one arm can do. I’m thinking 1-arm planches or something (look it up). If all you can do is think, then become a master of memory, or a sort of super mental filing cabinet like Hannibal Lechter was in the book version of Hannibal. Either of those things would be fucking awesome.
You start coming up with this stuff, and it starts getting really fun — and that’s the entire point. Having some kind of a setback or bad situation or injury or disability sucks when you look at the negative. You feel like a victim, like someone who got kicked in the nuts by life. But when you start planning ways to be superhuman with what remains, it puts you right back in control. You don’t feel like less. You start to believe that you could be more.
Forget keeping up with others; you’ll flat-out kick some ass.
And by the way, it doesn’t matter if you find that you can’t actually do what you’re setting out to do. You’ll get part of the way at least, and it’s momentum that matters.
My own examples
Technically, I’ve had at least three big events of this type, but the first one is less badass than the others and so I won’t give it. (But for the sake of completeness, the one I’m excluding is developing diabetes at 13. It did force me into better health, but I didn’t set out to become “super liver man” or something in the absence of pancreatic function.)
A few years ago, I broke my left forearm. Specifically, I snapped the radius between my knee and a barbell when I caught an Olympic clean with my elbows too low. It took this weird angle and I remember being sort of disgusted, but I also remember being unable to take my headphones out because I couldn’t let go of my arm. I had to ask someone at the gym to do it so that I could talk to them.
Rehab to full function was something like six months. At the time, this was a bitch because I liked doing stuff that involved heavy weights that were sometimes moving quickly, and all of that was out. I’d also been doing gymnastics, and you can’t do handsprings on a broken arm either.
So I took inventory. All I’d lost was one arm, and it was my left, which isn’t my dominant side. I had one good arm, two good legs, and all of the rest of my physical and mental faculties.
I decided that this would be a good time to try the Smolov Squat Cycle, a Russian powerlifting progression that has a reputation as being a punisher. I also decided I’d ignore advice about creating muscle imbalances and beat the hell out of my other arm. 1-arm chinups? Awesome. 1-arm pushups? Hell yeah. Maybe 1-arm handstands… or handstand pushups, even? Because that’d be cool. And just to demonstrate that the sky’s the limit, how fucking awesome would it be if I could learn to do this?
Of course, I didn’t get anywhere near those skills, but I did finish the Smolov Cycle and was creeping closer to some of the other stuff. Maybe if I’d lost my left arm, I’d be doing those things today, but alas I got “abled” again in 6 months and eventually settled for full function.
I wanted to run this marathon, but I got a stress fracture. I’m out for at least another month, which means I may miss the marathon. Which is really annoying. I thought: Will I lose all of my conditioning? Will I ever be able to run 20 miles again? Will this mess up my blood sugar control? Will I gain weight?
Which is total bullshit, really. So I decided I’d do two things: Train for a cycle century (100 miles on a bike), and also see what I can do yoga-wise. I’m hardly a Yogi, but I really enjoy yoga and am getting reasonably good at intermediate stuff. And now I’ve got a bunch of new time to work on it… and how awesome would it be to be able to do this? Or this? Or this? Or fucking THIS?
Not that I expect to be able to do those things in the short term, or possibly ever. But I’d like to strive toward them. I’d like to try.
Next time you think you’re limited in some way, maybe look at giving this “badass mastery” strategy a shot. My examples are physical, but they needn’t be. You could learn chess. You could take up a foreign language or learn an instrument. You could study business and moneymaking as if it were a science and become a savant on the topic. You could study the psychology of relationships or influence or interaction.
Just set out to do something awesome. Become the biggest badass you can be about something.
Try it sometime. It doesn’t matter where you are, and it doesn’t even really matter if you accomplish the badassery you’re striving for. All that matters is that you’re moving. That you’re not a victim. That your focus is on going out and taking what you want.
You’re in control, and everything remains a choice. The downside is that the responsibility for who you are, what you do, and what you become is all in your hands. You can no longer lean on an excuse, ever.
But just think of the upsides.