Lessons from breaking my neck for COVID-19.
Written by Alex Showerman. Follow @alexshowerman for more pow slayin' greatness.
Nine months ago, I broke my neck and back in five separate vertebrae, was hospitalized for five days and had surgery to fuse my C7 to my T1 vertebrae. I narrowly missed having a rod put in from my T2 to my T6 as well. The timing could not have been more abrupt; I had just gotten home from a cross country road trip where I had camped out of my truck and had both my mountain bike and my splitboard- I did everything from mountain biking the Whole Enchilada in Moab to splitboarding a 14er in Colorado, to mountain biking in Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. I drove BLM roads until I found the most picturesque places to camp. It was the height of freedom.
Two weeks later I was laying in a hospital bed, unable to get to the bathroom by myself. I faced two months of isolation at home, unable to drive, barely able to walk, and underwent a recovery that took over seven months to get to a point where I finally started to feel like myself again. Laying in that bed, I felt a range of emotions: fear, grief, depression, anxiety, isolation. Sound familiar?
Fast forward to today and I find myself feeling the same way I did when I returned home from the hospital last year. Early this March, I returned home from a trip to Jackson Hole and was already looking forward to my planned April trip to Newfoundland with filmmaker Kyle Crichton. Then COVID-19 hit. Newfoundland was canceled, our planned video project was postponed, ski areas shut down, uphill access was cut off at local mountains, trail work on our mountain bike trails was deemed unnecessary. Friends—who usually bring me so much joy and were there for me through the hard times of the broken neck—I now had to view with a distrustful eye. I was left wondering, “Can you give me Coronavirus?” I even got laid off from my agency, a business we had just been talking about expanding three weeks prior.
Laying in bed, I found myself feeling the exact same way I did after I broke my neck with fear and anxiety of the unknown swirling in my head. I wondered, “Will I/we get through this?” Grief over the loss of all of my planned trips, time with friends and my job, depression from no longer having an outlet to do the things that make me happy/keep me sane, isolation from being cut off from my community and a total loss of independence/freedom of travel, all of these feelings hit me like a brick wall.
Then it occurred to me: we are all going through a traumatic injury together at the same time.
With my neck, it took me about six weeks of wallowing in despair and depression to finally flip the emotional switch. Rather than focusing on what was lost, or what I couldn’t do, I started to focus on what I could.
Unable to exercise, I focused on eating healthier and changing my diet. I gave up drinking for five weeks and committed to doing yoga and my PT exercises daily. I made it my goal to come back stronger than before. It was during this time I also took up doing things like teaching Splitboard 101s and organizing some local meet-ups to help share my passion for splitboarding. I even tracked down funding for the Newfoundland film project (that COVID-19 nicely postponed).
From this crap situation, I was able to find an opportunity to better myself and my community. In thinking about COVID quarantine, I have been trying to find these positive steps to take. Here is what I’ve come-up with:
1. Call somebody every day and say hello - Not text, not facebook or instagram message, but have a real conversation. The conversations I’ve had with friends have been particularly meaningful, and been a nice way to stay connected.
2. Work on my physical health - Take advantage of this time with restaurants and bars closed to experiment with my cooking and get excited about more health conscious meals.
3. Work on injury prevention - things like yoga or body weight training will go a long way to help you come back stronger and with better mobility to prevent injuries next season. Find a favorite Youtube Channel or check with your local gym/studio to see if they are doing zoom classes.
4. Work on cardio and overall fitness - In Vermont, I’m still able to ride a gravel bike, so I have been getting out whenever I can. In many places, running/biking etc are still allowed as long as you stay near nome.
5. Volunteer in my community - whether it be my continued efforts with my local mountain bike club or signing up to help with the state’s response to COVID-19, I’m looking to find ways to give back.
6. Strategize what life after COVID-19 looks like, what do I want my career/life to look like? What steps can I take now to work toward those goals?
7. Continue my backcountry education by reading books, attending seminars or even the upcoming Weston Slay at Home Series.
Alex with the new 20/21 Hatchet, apart of the short n' fat Pow Slayer series for next season. Photo: @jacobjphotography
These are what I have come up with for positive steps to take while we are once again stuck at home. I hope that this helps you reframe a mindset of loss to instead thinking about what we can do and get through this COVID-19 injury together.
One other note: being without the activities we love, isolated from the people we care about can bring on legitimate mental health challenges. Here are a couple resources if you are struggling and need help. Remember your friends are also just a phone call away. Please stay healthy and safe during this difficult time.
1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
2. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
Follow @alexshowerman for more pow slayin' greatness.