Who The F*** Am I?!: An Injury-Provoked Quarter Life Crisis
Fast forward through the following seven days. I noticed pain in my hip, but assumed my friend's unfamiliar trail shoes had just affected my stride, straining a muscle. Eight days later, though, mid-16-miler, I called an Uber...unable to walk without feeling like I was going to faint from excruciating pain.
Fast forward to the following day, waking up in a sterile hospital with a surgeon stiffly telling me that I had fractured my hip joint. No, I couldn't run the LA Marathon that I'd given up the past four months to train for with just a mere 7.5 weeks left. No, I couldn't Boston qualify this year. No, I couldn't drive home from the hospital and go back to the office and act like nothing happened. No, I couldn't even walk on my own. Yes, I could technically run, but only if I wanted to get a hip replacement at age 22.
The moment I left the hospital, time moved in slow motion. I was trapped in my apartment, struggling to climb into the shower, to muster an appetite and to even grocery shop, to hold anything while wobbling on crutches, to take pain meds without feeling sick, to find ways to entertain myself, to be happy and not painfully jealous and angry for my friends outside running in the pretty San Diego sunrises.
Everything I knew how to do became hard - especially asking for help (and company) in a new city.
For the last 9 years of my life, I've defined myself through running. Whether I was racing with my high school cross country team, sprinting on a track, repping Vanderbilt at nationals, or discovering every inch of Nashville while I trained for half-marathons, I'd always been a runner. I was always sporting a pair of Nikes, and my drawers were always overflowing with Lulu leggings, Saucony left-and-right labeled socks, and sweat-wicking everything. My friends outwardly described me to other people (and amongst themselves) as their "crazy friend who was always working out and always up at the crack of dawn to do long runs."
For the last 15 years of my life, I've defined myself through my strong sense of adventure. I grew up in the ocean, always searching for the next wave. Annual summers at the beach involved 8 hours in the ocean, exploring tide pools and chasing crabs, and biking around the campground, checking out people's fires and roasting marshmallows. As I grew older, I took up hiking and backpacking and camping, loving the feeling of sweating and discovering something new outdoors. I craved new experiences, adventure, adrenaline, and risk, whether it be skydiving, bungee jumping, climbing trees, getting tattoos, embarking on camping trips, and even up and moving to Africa for half a year. I was known as the adventurer among my friends - the girl who was always saying "yes" to a new experience, always outdoors, and always seeking new cities and new things to do.
For the last 22 years of my life, I've defined myself through my independence. As a child, I wanted to do things on my own - I knew I could figure it out. As I grew up, this manifested into three big moves to new cities without knowing a single person in each, into majoring in something completely opposite of what I had known, into creating and pursuing my own dreams - far from what family and friends suggested (for better or for worse). I had always been comfortable eating alone, traveling and exploring alone, journaling and dreaming, and embracing my inner, confident introvert. I liked doing things my own way and knowing I could completely rely upon myself - I was my own best friend.
For 15 years, I knew how to define myself. I knew how to answer questions about how my friends would describe me, I knew what all of my hobbies were, I knew what made me get up in the morning, I knew what mattered to me at the core of my being.
Everything I knew how to do became hard. Everything I knew about myself collapsed - my spirit collapsed.
In the past six weeks, rather than run, I've slept in, watching my shoes collect dust in my closet while angrily deleting every peppy email from the LA Marathon organizers. Rather than adventure, I've watched the same rom-coms on Netflix over and over again until I can recite sections of each script. Rather than embrace my independence, I have had countless breakdowns when I realize I can't do my own laundry, carry a bag, drive myself, or even heat my own food during my lunch break.
In the past six weeks, I no longer have defined myself as the "runner," the "adventurer," or "miss independent."
What happens when you place your entire identity - all of your values, your special traits, your self-worth and happiness - in just three things? What happens when those three values and traits get taken away? Then...who are you? Is there a "me" worth knowing outside of running and adventuring...is there a me when I am dependent on others for menial tasks, let alone big decisions?
Slow motion to days in bed staring at the ceiling, pondering why I put all of my eggs in one basket, to calling my parents and best friend across the country multiple times a day asking them how they would describe me and asking if I was worth anything, crying that I seemingly no longer knew who I was. Slow motion through days on my couch, looking outside at the sun and hearing the "ding" of my phone as group chats about runs and hikes were planned, while all I wanted was someone to offer to come over and chat with me. In a matter of weeks, I changed from my best friend to worst enemy - I no longer wanted to be alone and I second-guessed everything that ran through my head.
As weeks went by, I tried to form other hobbies and interests, picking up adult coloring books, budgeting and financial research, knitting, and planning fake trips. It was an all-consuming process of trial and error on how to cope and how to entertain myself as I lay bed-ridden and car-less.
Nothing fulfilled me the same way running, adventuring and being independent did. The knowledge that I had to wait months until I could resume the former two interests made me feel emptier day in and day out.
What happens when all the things that make up your identity go away? Who am I, what am I like, what do I do in my free time? Most importantly, who do I want to be and how do I want people to describe me outside of these three things now? Outside of running and adventure and independence, how do I want to be seen?
I was - and am - 22 with a broken hip and a quarter-life identity crisis.