When I was 18, I broke my ankle. I had a cast and was on crutches for…about four or five weeks? Then for another week or two, I still had the same cast but got to wear a walking boot that strapped onto it.
Getting the cast off, Easter, and Spring Break all coincided nicely that year, so I spent my first week “fully healed” and cast-free at my grandparents’ house with the rest of my family. My left leg, especially my calf, had withered away — it was half the size of my right — and my ankle was so stiff. I remember lying in bed, trying to flex it back and forth, and not being able to move it more than a couple inches. I remember telling my mom, on the verge of tears, “It’ll never feel the same again!”
But of course, I got back to school and saw my doctor for a post-op check-up, and he promptly wrote me a prescription for physical therapy, which I went to dutifully for another six or eight weeks.
I started running again by the summer. Slowly, awkwardly, clumsily. I resigned myself to perhaps never regaining the speed or agility I once had, and tried to accept that. But within months, my ankle was barely an afterthought when I ran.
The spring of my fourth year in college was when I hurt my knee and had that surgery. (Side note: it’s super fun when I tell doctors about my medical history and past surgeries. When I say “I’ve had surgery on my left ankle and left knee,” they raise their eyebrows and ask something like “at the same time?” or “my goodness, what did you do?” and I hastily explain they were over three years apart and very separate incidents.) Three months later, I was sobbing to my boyfriend about how I might never be able to run again, at least not the way I used to. But just over 18 months after the surgery, I finished my first half-marathon.
Both times, post-surgery, I now see that I dropped into something similar to what Ira Glass calls “the gap.” A physical state, in these cases, where I wasn’t performing the way I wanted and expected to. Both times, I genuinely believed, for various periods of time, that this “underperforming” was my new normal, the level of performance I was now destined to. Improvements, if I noticed them at all, seemed small and slow. Not until I was “out” of it could I look back and realize that of course recovery was a temporary stage.
But what made it so damn hard was the not knowing. Both times, there were very real possibilities that maybe, there was a chance that my ankle or knee might not fully heal, might continue to nag and bother me for years, decades, the rest of my life. It was entirely possible that upper limits of my abilities or potential had been permanently lowered.
Both times, the much more likely possibility was that I’d recover and be totally fine, save a couple scars (and a metal plate and screw in my ankle). But I couldn’t know that for sure. All I could do was go about my physical therapy, do my stupid stretching and strengthening exercises (I’m pretty sure that’s why I hate exercise bands to this day), and be patient and wait and hope.
It fucking sucked. The not knowing. The waiting. The wondering “when” or “if.”
In a lot of ways, it’s the same as writing — or any other creative pursuit, according to Ira. It’s where I’m at right now in a lot of my writing and personal projects. I’m deep in the gap and it fucking sucks. I’m fighting every day — to find inspiration, to stay inspired, to get the work done when I’m not even the slightest bit inspired, to find some improvement no matter how infinitely small it is, to keep the faith that I’m not just “shoveling shit from a sitting position.” To believe the fight, the journey, is worth it.
(Especially when my usual M.O. when something gets hard is to drop it and go find something easier. #realtalk)
Because the unfortunate fact is, even if we rationally know a certain state is temporary, if we don’t know precisely how temporary — if we don’t see a specific or close-to-specific end date — it’s so easy to start thinking that state is actually permanent.
So if you’re in that gap with me, here’s to us. To keeping the faith and minding the gap.
photo via snapwire snaps // cc // modified in photoshop