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The Long Road Back from Injury

Blake Hansen parses the mental side of recovery in a post-surgery, pre-return-to-riding stream of consciousness

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First things first folks, I’m no mental health professional and this isn’t medical advice. It’s just some stuff I’ve been thinking about so … chill. Also, this is my current stream of consciousness. Other people may have a very different outlook and they may also face much larger challenges than mine. I’m lucky enough to have a partner who loves me, cares for me and shares her health insurance with me, a poor, broke little athlete. With that said, let’s go on a journey here together. 

I was recently injured in Virgin, Utah, when I took a set up drop wrong, put a foot down, and snap-crackle-pop, it was over. This injury led to a rather in-depth knee surgery and subsequent ACL replacement with a tendon from another human person’s foot. I haven’t figured out who this other person was yet but I find myself hoping their name was Carlos. It was my grandpa’s name who died a couple of years ago. My journey the last couple of months with ‘Carlos’ has been rather bumpy, mentally, but there are some things I’m learning.

One Size Fits None

It makes sense that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to keeping our minds healthy. The world is constantly changing. Technology and communication are constantly evolving. We’re all changing as we go too—learning new things, becoming aware of different tendencies and susceptibilities, making big life decisions and having our outlook changed by an outside force like an injury. So many things are always in flux. We’re all going through different experiences. We’re all riding our bikes through our struggles, pedaling and thinking, doing bike therapy together and keeping big things to ourselves. I’m imagining myself as Willy Wonka in that meme where he’s like, “Hey what’re you thinking about?” We’re all dealing with something. Depression, anxiety, the hardships of life, injuries. We’re all humans, which means we’re all susceptible to any and all of these options at any point in time. How do we manage? Is there a certain time in adult life where we learn what to do? I must have missed that memo because I always feel like a passenger in a race car without a seat belt on. Also, I’m blindfolded. What happens when things change in the blink of an eye? I’ve heard enough about the latest tech in fork dampers and World Cup team gossip. I want to hear more people talking about real stuff. This is a community after all, right?

(Photo: Ale Di Lullo)

We can start with me, I’ve always had issues. HA, here we go … maybe we don’t do this actually? Just kidding it’s too late, we’re already four paragraphs in. Life happens and you learn tough lessons along the way. Some life experiences I’ve learned from and moved past, others have taken longer to decompress and compartmentalize. It’s a never-ending process of making sense of the world around us. I’ve never been diagnosed with depression, or anxiety, and to be frank, I can’t really speak to what it’s like to deal with those things chronically. What I can speak to is what it’s like to go through bouts of depression and problem solve through it with patience. I’ve certainly been through depressing things over the years. There was even a time when I almost successfully deleted myself from earthly existence, on purpose. I can bet with 100-percent certainty that if I wanted to get diagnosed with anxiety so I could get prescribed a magical, swallowable solution, I could do it. While that does work, and is the right solution for a lot of people, I’ve sidestepped that route and I think it’s because I’ve developed tools.

Photo: Left: Satchel Cronk; Right: Anthony Smith

Free Your Mind 

I’ve heard that people who have passions are typically the most successful at beating depression and staying ahead of it when life hits. What about when an injury blocks you from pursuing those coping mechanisms? No bikes?! The past three months have been a bummer. I went from going 100 miles-per-hour to zero in an instant. I told myself that it was all over. I was just getting myself into a rhythm in the freeride world and prepping for a really progressive winter. I thought maybe people would tell me I wasn’t good enough to be where I was and that I deserved to get hurt like that. I can’t even begin to stress how heavily I got hit with imposter syndrome. I thought I might even lose some sponsors and support for failing at such a simple task. I was sad and angry; I definitely let myself go through the grief process and then some. 

Critical stream of consciousness moment: You’re a human. You have to let your mind process what you’ve been through. It’s the grief process for a reason and that reason is because we all go through it. Blocking yourself from processing traumatic life moments could affect you in negative ways later on. Societal norms and peer pressure to push it all deep down and keep your pains to yourself can go to hell. Don’t block yourself from being a human person. Permit yourself the space to be vulnerable and honest. The people who love you will always be there to listen. We should always be striving to be those people for those we spend time with, in daily life and on the trail. No one should have to struggle through life alone. At the least it’s how I feel this sport should be for those involved. 

(Photo: Sven Martin)

Aside from the human-connection aspect, I respond well to having something to work toward. Some people may not know what that is and other people may get so specific about what they want that they forget to smell the roses along the way. Knowing where you’re at with that is irrelevant for starting this process though. I like to break life down to the simplest little bits, starting from scratch. Today, I need to work on straightening my knee and answering emails. I’m building back to riding again but I try not to dwell on the fact that I can’t right now. Working toward something in small, easy-to-digest steps builds focus. Focus helps you stay on track. Staying on track keeps you from diving off the deep end. That’s how I keep it going. It’s easy to let it go, feel sorry for yourself, ‘jump’ and then feel bad that you’re drowning. Taking that dive might teach you valuable lessons if you make it out, sure. Preparing the right tools beforehand can maybe help to avoid some of that pain. Just focus on the task at hand today and tomorrow’s task tomorrow.

I may not be riding bikes right now and bikes are definitely a passion of mine. But learning how to focus, exercise mental strength and building the basics back from scratch, have become passions to add to my basket as well. We’ve all had moments like this throughout our lives and because we’re being honest with ourselves, we acknowledge that we will continue having them. Go easy on yourself, make the process your passion and I promise you’ll keep learning things along the way.