fitness · injury

A non-four-letter word I really dislike, but have to deal with: fragility

Exactly two weeks ago, as I was walking down the stairs from my apartment, my right ankle rolled out and just crumpled underneath me.  I went down, luckily on my rear end instead of my head.  It hurt like nobody’s business– the kind of pain that makes you scream and curse (even if that’s not your thing) and get nauseated and maybe faint.

My very nice neighbor Melih came right away and took me to the ER, whereupon I was x-rayed and determined to have a bad sprained ankle.  They gave me ibuprofen (which helped a lot with the pain), an ice pack (ditto), a pair of crutches and sent me home.

Injuries suck. They’re unexpected, often super-painful, and they snarl up our lives and schedules.  And they take a long time to go away, often requiring surgery, physical therapy, and sometimes devices to wear to support us or prevent re-injury.

Injuries upset me because they highlight my vulnerabilities– places in my body where I am fragile. For me, it’s my ankles.  I’ve always been prone to sprains, and I fractured my left ankle 4 years ago (minor avulsion fracture, but still). Yes, yes,– I’ve gotten very good physical therapy, and I did those exercises religiously. But once I was functional again, I turned away from focusing on my more frail parts. I didn’t give them the care that they so clearly needed.

So here I am again. This time, at age 56, living alone, and on crutches.  Crutches suck, too, by the way. I had a terrible time crutching around on one foot– my upper body didn’t feel strong enough to manage it. I know, there are techniques for making this easier, and I paid attention to folks at the hospital teaching me, and also looked online (because that’s what we do these days…)

Let me say now that I’m lucky and grateful to have good friends and neighbors and colleagues and health insurance and enough money for car rides and takeout and a job where I can do some teaching online and all sorts of other things that make my life so nice.  It could be a lot worse.

This feeling of fragility though– throwing money at the problem doesn’t help.

(Taking a few breaths here)

Two things:

First: My bad ankle sprain is a wake-up call for me as an aging person. I want to be stronger, and I can do things to make myself stronger: continue PT exercises; get a personal trainer or join gym classes; create a regimen that includes more strengthening; pay more attention to my core and upper body (I do yoga, but need to focus more on specific areas of strength and flexibility).  I don’t want to have to go to rehab because I live alone and cannot care for myself.  Yes, that happens, and no, it’s not the worst thing.  But it scares me. A lot.

Second: Turning toward and taking in my physical fragility and vulnerability is emotionally painful. It makes me scream and curse and feel nauseated and maybe faint. Why?  Because maybe some of that vulnerability is beyond my control.  I have the body I have.  I have the ankles I have. I can balance on bosu balls all the livelong day, and those ankles will still be my most tender parts. This is what my life feels like.

(breathing again)

I know, my world is not ending.  I have a bad sprained ankle and months of physical therapy ahead. My world, however, is a bit different now. I’ll be paying attention to fragility and vulnerability more, even though it took some tumbling and kicking and screaming to get here.

Readers, how do you deal with fragility? Does it scare you? Is it okay?  If you feel like it, I’d love to hear from you.



9 thoughts on “A non-four-letter word I really dislike, but have to deal with: fragility

  1. I keep being surprised that you don’t do strength training. I think you’ll love it. Easiest way is to find a good personal trainer. But you didn’t ask about that. You asked about our own feelings about frailty. I’ve been struggling this year with my knees. My self-image is all tough and strong and sturdy. Carrying big heavy boxes up and down stairs. Lifting things through portages. Now I am all about being careful. I’m worrying about how many times I go up and down the stairs. When we first started the blog I joked about running up and down 4 flights of stairs with laundry. No more. So yes, it scares me. I can see my future in a one story house! I use elevators. I wonder if I’ll ever hike mountains again. So I totally get this. We do what we can but you’re right as also have the bodies we have with their weak ankles and knees. Hugs!

    1. Thanks for this. I will be posting about personal trainers and strength training and asking for advice within the next few weeks. It is noteworthy that I don’t do it and never really did like it. But now things are different, and everywhere I look, women are doing this and enjoying it. I’m sorry that you are going through all these changes. Hugs to you too!

  2. I want to hug you and bring you a bit pot of vegan stew or something like that! I knew you had this injury and I am sorry not to have checked in with you about it lately.

    I experience a sense of physical fragility over my lower back, which is easily irritated, and a fear of hurting myself sometimes holds me back at the gym (with things like deadlifts or certain ab work). But mostly I feel physically strong.

    My sense of fragility is more likely these days to come as emotional fragility that kicks in when I don’t get enough rest. I get overtired and overwhelmed, I feel the need to retreat into quiet alone time. I have actually felt that way this week and took a couple of “in-nights” where I made myself a simple meal, had a hot bath, meditated, wrote in my journal, and tried to get to sleep early (failed, but I did journal in bed!). I know this is not the sort of fragility you’re talking about.

    I hope you are on the mend soon and I really look forward to hearing about your new adventures in weight training, which you might well turn out to love love love.

  3. I look at my 97 year old grandmother living alone and I don’t worry so much.
    She was never an exerciser. She walked, and watched her figure…whatever that means. She still does.

    She actually slipped on ice around 10 years ago and broke the big bone in her hip against the curb. She was back at home in days. The dr said it was not an age injury, but an unlucky one. You can’t prevent everything.

    Personally I practice yoga. That is more than adequate to maintain my general flexibility and I feel quite strong. I have weightlifted in the past, but I just don’t have any interest any longer.

    I feel for you and the crutches. I has a stress fracture last year in my foot and it was extremely inconvenient. I never got good at crunching.

    I am seems many friends are enduring cancer treatments, etc. I feel unbelievable fortunate to be healthy today.


  4. I too am feeling fragile since turning 60 2 months ago. Fragile in body even though I have not injured myself seriously in several years but also mentally and spiritually. Being 60 was always my threshold for being old. Now I worry about falling or twisting my especially vulnerable ankles or breaking something and having to be immobile for too long a period of time. Supposedly, with age comes wisdom but does that wisdom tell us to slow down and be careful or to do more for our bodies, strength training included? I have, in the past, had a personal trainer and done gym things with weights are bars, etc. It made me feel strong and fit then but now I am unsure about relearning and reps and sets of exercises.

    I hope you mend quickly and find your balance between the fragility and the necessity of moving purposefully. I will be waiting to hear about your adventures on the blog.

  5. I’m sorry about the injury and hope you have a full recovery. I’m glad this blog is turning more to some of the issues around aging because they feel really relevant right now. I have been thinking about this as I slowly come to accept that I will rarely pass other cyclists again, and someday will need to move to the slow lane in my Master’s swim club. Falling down the stairs at home is a big fear (eventually, my daughter will move out, and I have a history of sprains due to falls down stairs). I’m working really hard on building my core and improving my posture to address longstanding shoulder tension issues that affect both my swimming and equestrian classes. I join the youngsters at work in the morning planking exercises, lead the afternoon stretches, and enjoy being able to keep up (mostly) for now.

  6. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia a few years ago. It has been hard accepting the limitations that puts on me, but it also has been freeing at the same time. I’m no longer as judgemental of myself if I can’t get things done when I want to, because I just … can’t.

    At the same time, the fibro led to me swimming and weightlifting again. These activities surprisingly actually mitigate the fibro (who knew?), and I’m stronger now than I’ve been in a long time. But still. I have to go carefully, and I get derailed by flares. I suppose the main thing that frustrates me is the unpredictability of it all, but I’ve made a vow that as often as I can for as long as I can I’m going to keep moving.

  7. At least you recognize your ankles are your weaker spots.
    Totally agree with you that injuries highlight vulnerabilities not necessarily just now but way into the future. Things we have to be abit more alert as we get older.

    Right now I’m not even sure I want to’s supposed to start snowing abit and with melting ice from a few days ago, am afraid it will freeze black ice again. Sigh. We’ll go out for a walk. 🙂

    Happy thxgiving!

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