While I was on holiday, week before last, I twisted my ankle. It’s not a new thing. I twisted that damn ankle too many times to remember.
I’ve twisted it, walked it off, and gone on to climb up and down a mountain. I’ve twisted it, ripped off three ligaments, blacked out from the pain, and only avoided falling into a 30m deep collapsed sea cave because someone caught me. I’ve twisted it, sworn a lot, and carried on as normal. I’ve twisted it and had it go completely non-weight-bearing for two weeks; and then, when I thought it was fine, promptly re-twisted it and had it go completely non-weight-bearing for another three weeks. I’ve twisted it so lightly it was no more than a momentary inconvenience. I’ve twisted it so badly, causing it so much damage, that I had to wear a support for months; and people, particularly fitness-minded people, kept lecturing me about how the support was creating weakness, but I didn’t listen to them because I knew that at that point the support was the only thing allowing me normal-ish function while preventing further damage. Oh, and there’s been no correlation whatsoever between the apparent seriousness of an incident and the damage I incurred. I’ve had epic twists-and-falls on top of mountains, and got back up laughing. The worst damage to date was when a paving slab shifted under my foot on a pavement in the middle of town. I had to be rescued, that time, because I just couldn’t make my way home.
“So what?” I hear you ask. Well, I was reminded of my ankle when, in short succession, this article about anxiety and its rebuttal appeared on my newsfeed, prompting my friends to polarise themselves into camps, or to flit from one camp to the other as the debate progressed.
I know this is going to sound crazy, but I’m going to put it out there anyway: what if they were both right, and both wrong? What if what they are saying is right, but only for the right audience?
“Anxiety” is an umbrella label. A rather large umbrella, too: it covers a variety of conditions with extremely different origins, symptoms, and severity. People may embrace the label (or have it slapped on them) and as a result be treated as part of a homogeneous blob, when actually they are still individuals. What they need in the moment, what they need to get better, and what they need to not get worse may differ wildly. It may differ not only between individuals, but also from one day to the next. Life happens at people. Recovery has setbacks. To ignore those setbacks and to plough on regardless is to jeopardise one’s recovery, perhaps permanently.
Following a physical incident, to arbitrarily decide what the level of someone’s damage is without examining their actual injury is moronic. Nobody with half a brain would start telling you how you should and shouldn’t feel, what you should and shouldn’t do, after you’ve “twisted your ankle” without actually finding out the specifics- what damage the twisting caused, were there any pre-existing problems, and so on. (Plenty of people do in fact provide this kind of advice. My statement as regarding their brainpower still stands.)
Following a physical incident, to force arbitrary goalposts on someone’s recovery following physical damage is counterproductive. You can set up a recovery programme based on what works for most people, but you should be ready to adapt it to fit the needs of an individual. And, ultimately, people can follow a recovery programme to the letter, but they cannot force their bodies to heal faster than they’re able to. A whole host of other individual factors will come into play, and disregarding them is unsafe and counterproductive.
Pain management and recovery following physical incidents are very individual issues. Is it perhaps possible that the same may apply to managing the infinitely more complicated processes of our minds? Is it possible that we may benefit from very different things because, even though we both bear the same label, our conditions are actually completely different? Is it possible that the myriad other things that can influence our lives and welfare from day to day are actually significant? Is it possible that what I needed yesterday is absolutely not what I need today, because my individual circumstances have changed? And what if it wasn’t up to some self-styled internet stranger, however well-meaning, to determine what’s right for anyone else?