As last summer was winding down, I was extremely excited to get a new cell phone–so I could play Pokemon Go, of course. My old phone couldn’t handle the app, and I felt like I was entirely missing out on all of the fun of walking around my neighborhood catching Pokemon. I was able to play for about a week before I broke my knee. My fiance and I were walking around our neighborhood while I was catching as many Pokemon as I could. I had just caught a Tauros, my favorite, and I couldn’t be happier. As we were heading home, my fiance suggested that we turn a different corner to explore more. This would be my downfall. Quite literally. As I was looking down at my phone, my foot caught the edge of a raised sidewalk and I fell, slamming my knee into the concrete.
When I tell people that I broke my knee, people are usually confused. Some didn’t know that you could do that (you can), while others weren’t sure what it entails. I broke my patella–a.k.a. my knee cap cut horizontally in half. That explanation usually elicits a gasp or a gagging sound. I’m aware of how gross it was without disgusted faces at my story or my impressive scar. Yet I think it’s natural for people to react that way. The scar left from the surgery looks like I fought off space pirates at best and at worst lost a battle with a sentient robot. It’s not pretty.
People tend assume that my injury has completely healed. That I can walk around like I used to before my trip over the sidewalk. Almost a year after the incident my knee looks quite gnarly. On good days it’s mildly stiff and on bad days walking is a struggle. When it’s cold I can feel the iciness in the titanium pins helping my knee fuse back together. Pain is ever-present. I don’t remember what it feels like to not have a constant ache in one of my knees.
When I’m asked how my knee is faring, generally people only want the short and sweet version of how I’m doing. If I give an answer less succinct than “It’s getting better” many don’t know what to do with it. It’s like the details of my injury remind them that recovery isn’t a straight line upwards. My knee is always going to bother me in some fashion, but no one wants to hear that. No one wants to think about an ever-present pain that might not ever go away. Individuals with chronic illnesses have to deal with that all of the time. But we try to explain away pain that devalues the struggle people have to face everyday.
While not as obvious as the scar on my knee, I realized that I, as well as others, have treated my internal scars the same way others treat the idea of constant physical pain. Four years ago, I was diagnosed with Major Depression and a Panic disorder. This was after years and years of struggling inside of my own mind. I had convinced myself that the pain I was feeling was deserved or what I was experiencing wasn’t real. And if it was real it wasn’t valid because it couldn’t be as bad as other people’s pain.
Now, with years of regular therapy and medication, I’m doing much better. I have tools to help me work through rough patches and generally keep me on an even mood level. But it’s not always perfect. The month of June was exceptionally hard for me. Probably one of the hardest months I’ve had in awhile. My mood was out of control, I was quick to tears, and I struggled to get myself out of funks. Frustrating doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Of course I made it harder on myself through the ‘expectations’ I created about my own recovery. I understood that my knee was going to hurt worse some days, but I wasn’t giving my brain the same slack. My mental health has been generally improving over the last couple years, despite a few dips. But I was always able to pick myself back up after a few days. I haven’t had to deal with a ‘drop off’ that last a few weeks in almost three years.
It’s easier for people to think that my depression and anxiety has magically disappeared because I’m a much different person than I was four years ago. I’ll most likely have a serotonin deficiency for the rest of my life. But to the the world I’m ‘better’ now. I didn’t realize how much I’ve internalized this until last month. I’m always ‘supposed’ to be depression and anxiety free. All of those bad days where I cry for no reason are ‘supposed’ to be behind me. Crowds ‘shouldn’t’ freak me out anymore.
Most of my days are good days now, but some of them still really, really suck. There is nothing to make me feel better or snap out of it. I have the tools to maneuver through these days in healthier fashions than I used to, but they still are extremely difficult to manage. Is it frustrating that people can’t (or won’t) see or acknowledge the daily struggle that I face? Of course. It’s even more infuriating when I internalize their thought process.
The pain in my knee is a constant reminder for my struggles with my mental health. I know that my knee is always going to hurt, despite what the outside world thinks. My brain should be no different. I’m always going to struggle with my depression, but that isn’t less valid because people think I’m ‘better’ now.
Recovery isn’t a straight line up, nor is it a horizontal line. It’s a squiggly mess. A tangled ball of sore knees and days full of crying. It’s a constant struggle. But when I make it through another day, it’s a victory.