A couple of months ago I was hiking beside a waterfall in the upper peninsula of Michigan, slipped on a wet rock, and broke my arm. I didn’t actually know it was broken, because while it hurt like crazy when I first did it, within a few minutes it just felt sore and a couple of days later was improving. I thought I just strained my wrist a bit. I wrapped it and went about my life. I hiked some more, I lifted heavy things, I picked up my kids and my friends’ kids, I took the wrap off to sleep or when it got annoying. I went about my business as usual. It was sore. No big deal.
When it didn’t improve after a couple of weeks, I went for x-rays just so people would stop telling me I should, and found out that I had cracked both bones in my arm. Both very minor fractures, but fractures just the same. The doctor gave me a removable cast, saying that I could take it off to shower or do the dishes if necessary, but that I should keep it on at all other times, even when I sleep, to be sure not to injure the arm further.
So suddenly, I was paranoid. I didn’t lift things with that arm. I took the cast off to wash dishes and was nervous about picking up a bowl with it. I found myself basically doing dishes with one hand, all the while telling myself I was being ridiculous, but unconvinced.
I think I do this emotionally, too. I often have a mild feeling of discomfort, wondering if maybe people think my hair looks funny or my nose is too big or I talk too much or I’m selfish and needy. I’ve never been told these things are true, but I worry about them somewhere in the back of my brain, waiting for some sort of confirmation. And then one day I pass an acquaintance in the hall and they ignore me, or a friend tells me that I’m acting weird, or someone jokes about my wind-blown hair, and suddenly I’m paranoid.
Suddenly I’m waking up earlier to spend more time on my hair, or I’m overanalyzing everything I say or do around my friends, or I’m being extra friendly to the acquaintance who ignored me (or avoiding them altogether). I know it’s ridiculous. I’m 35 years old, have some really great friends, and I know, in my head, that there’s really nothing wrong with me. And yet.
One day a couple of weeks before my “follow-up” doctor’s appointment, I took my cast off and moved my arm around a bit. I flexed it slowly. I moved it gently in a circle. I bent my wrist from side to side. It felt strong. It felt able to handle more than I was giving it. I left the cast off for the day to see how it felt. (And plus I was going to be out in the sun all day and didn’t want funky tan lines!) I was careful with it…I didn’t lift heavy things or move it too much. But I “practiced”.
The next day it was a little sore. I put the cast back on and took it easy for the day. But it was just a few days before I stopped wearing the cast altogether, unless I knew for sure that there was a chance I could strain it. And a couple of weeks ago the doctor proclaimed me “healed”. My arm feels strong, and it’s no longer sore at all. The muscles are still a little weak sometimes, so I know that it’s time for me to start exercising it and building it back up again.
I’ve also been exercising my confidence. I am practicing being more sure of myself. I’m stepping out and stating my opinions, and I’m being me. I’m still unsure sometimes. It’s a weak area, and there are times when I’ve lost sleep over what “she” thinks or what “he” said. But I can only get stronger. And just as someday I will do a cartwheel with my daughter without worrying about that arm, there will also come a time when it’s not an effort to be myself with confidence. The day will come when I don’t have to practice anymore. It won’t be long.