Last year while in Italy, I was hit by a van. The van drove over my left foot, crushing all the toes and the ankle. My foot looks pretty mangled.
Three months after the accident (and three surgeries later), my surgeon told me during a check-up that I could start walking again. Before that moment, he had instructed me to not put my foot to the ground.
When he told me to start walking again, I thought he was crazy. There was no way I could put pressure on the foot with all the pain I was in. And, yet, here was my surgeon telling me that I could start walking again.
I went home after that check-up and tried to walk. I couldn’t take one single step. Not only that, I couldn’t even bear to put my foot down for more than a few seconds. I kept trying every day. But, one month after that last check-up, I could manage only one very painful and hesitating step.
When I went back for another check-up, the surgeon scoffed when I told him I was unable to walk. For him, I should have been walking around like nothing had happened by that point. He even laughed at me.
Then he took a look at the foot and realised something was indeed wrong. He diagnosed CRPS. I was unable to walk not because I was being a wimp but because of a medical condition.
A year has passed since the accident. I still struggle with the foot every day. I walk with a limp and it’s painful. But I can take many steps now. I’m pretty sure that I even walk more in one day than some people without physical problems.
I say this not to brag but to say that it’s possible to work through difficult situations if you do it slowly. I had to stop listening to my surgeon in order to make progress. He wanted me to be up on my feet and walking around faster than my body would allow. His attitude undermined my confidence and made me feel pretty bad about myself.
Even I’m guilty of that attitude, though. It’s easy for me to say that you should listen to a few hours of French a day, or get out there and talk to people. But if you haven’t made this a habit yet, getting started can be very difficult.
At the end of January, I was able to take one step. By the end of February, I could take about ten. In March, I made better progress. I started taking hundreds of steps with the help of my crutches. This summer, I even managed to start walking a kilometre at a time.
I still have bad days, days when I can barely get out of bed. Some days I even come back home in the evening and wish that I had lost my foot in the accident because the pain is so intense. But — I can walk. I had to do it on my own terms, not on my surgeon’s. If I had listened to my surgeon, I’d have convinced myself that I was useless.
You can change your habits, but do it slowly. If you want to make listening to French every day a new habit, start so slowly that the amount seems ridiculous. For one month, I only took one step a day before my body would start screaming for me to stop.
The truth is that maybe even taking one step was too much for me. Maybe I should have just started by standing on the foot for a few seconds instead.
Start with listening to French for one minute a day. Just one minute. It’s such a small amount that it seems silly not to do it. After one week, double it to two minutes. If you keep doubling the amount like this, you’ll be at one hour a day after almost two months.
You can do this with any new habit that you want to form. Start with an amount so small that it barely feels like you’re doing anything. Increase the amount very slowly over the weeks that follow. If you try to do it all at once right from the start, you risk becoming overwhelmed and dropping it altogether.
I’ve learned to listen to my body, not the doctors. I know the difference now between just feeling lazy and being physically unable to do something. It’s good to push yourself when you’re feeling lazy, but when your body (or mind) needs a break or wants you to go more slowly, listen to it.
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