Wellbeing

Alexis Rufus: Tackling a lonely recovery

At Reflex, we value mental health just as much as physical health. Science tells us that exercise and mental health are intertwined and we believe that making quality sports nutrition isn’t just about enhancing body condition, strength and fitness but also about helping reach goals, enhancing wellbeing and ultimately making people feel good 

We don't want anything to stop you reaching your goals and feeling your best! So, we've reached out to Reflex Ambassador Alexis Rufus, for an update on her injury recovery and how she is coping with her 'new normal'. 

Alexis's experience: 

Mental health has become a much talked about subject, especially during and post lockdown when more and more people spoke up about their experiences with it. It is losing its stigma of being a weakness and now with more awareness than ever, it is becoming a strength, a voice, and a path to overcome hardship. I first wrote about my experiences with mental health about a year ago when I was asked to write a blog for Reflex. I remember being so nervous about the blog being published, at the reaction I would get from people and whether my story and experiences were worthy of sharing.

After all, it’s a very personal journey and how is my life of interest to others? But the reaction I got was far from what I had feared. My story was met with not just positive and encouraging words from friends and family, but the most impactful reactions I got were from complete strangers who reached out and said that my story had resonated with them, and how they too had felt scared to share and talk about the feelings and thoughts that haunted them daily.

It made me realise one thing, in a world of nearly 8 billion people, just how alone we can feel. My story is one that started with back pain. I wrote about my experiences of this in a blog this time last year and you can read about it here:

https://reflexnutrition.com/blogs/community/recovery-from-injury-mental-health

I had surgery to eliminate my back pain, which it did, successfully. I now have a fused spine, with metal work that would put the bionic woman to shame. It gave me a pain free life. But what it took from me was much, much more. I have always been competitive in some way or another, at school, university, adult life, it drives me and gives me the fire in my belly that gets me out of bed in the morning.

 

I am fascinated with what my body is capable of and how your mind can influence so much of your physical abilities. I have spent two decades proving this to myself and finding ways in which I can push the boundaries of what I thought I was capable of.

I had an identity and it was one I was very familiar with. I knew her, I knew what made her tick, I knew how she trained, I knew how she recovered, I knew her inside out. After my surgery however I felt like this identity, this person I once knew, had vanished and I felt, well, alone.

I was lucky, from a surgical point of view, my operations were a success. My surgeon did a stellar job and I cannot fault him. I was so fortunate to have been in the hands of such a skilled and accomplished surgeon. There are many less fortunate people who go under a surgeon’s knife who do not have the same outcome as I did and I know that these people experience a whole spectrum of difficulties and hardships.

So, you may be wondering why I am writing so negatively about my experience. Well, like I said, I cannot fault the surgery and in many ways, it was a wholly positive result in terms of the outcome and pain management. But what I am very quickly becoming aware of, is the lack of after care that I people receive post-surgery, from a mental and emotional standpoint. There is a huge gap in the aftercare process and the conversations that occur post-surgery to physio and post physio back to normal every day life.

‘Normal’, what exactly does that even mean? How is that a word, worthy of its place in this context? If you look up it’s definition in the dictionary it is defined as ‘conforming to a standard, usual, typical, or expected’. But my normal is not my neighbours normal. My back is not my neighbour’s back. My emotions are not my neighbour’s emotions.

We all are unique in so many ways. So, when I was told I would be able to return to a ‘normal life’ by my surgeon, maybe he was describing his normal. My normal was a CrossFit athlete who trained 5 times a week, competed around 4 or 5 times per year and had goals and ambitions to return to the CrossFit Games and one year podium.

Sadly, it is looking more and more likely that this ‘normal’ is now ‘not normal’ for me. Well, not if I want to have a healthy spine by the time I am 60. I had no idea just how much this surgery would change my life. I always knew I would have to make adjustments, but just was not prepared for the severity of this. I had carefully planned my road to recovery, but it just wasn’t what I had expected or what I was led to believe. As I navigate my new life, with my new spine and try to fill the massive void of competing and training to a level I was used to, I struggled to understand what was actually happening. I had lost a huge part of myself and it almost felt like something had died inside me. As morbid as this sounds, these are the thoughts and feelings that I was left with.

I continued to train in the gym and generally keep a strong and healthy looking physique. I try my best to keep a positive attitude, but when left alone with my thoughts the reality of what I feel, is sadness and emptiness. I am not writing this for people to take pity on me, quite the contrary. I just wish to raise awareness on how this level of surgery can have such a huge impact on mental health and it is not talked about enough, there is little to no support for people suffering from post-surgical depression. These feelings can isolate you and make you feel extremely alone.

I have found ways and remedies that have helped me through this time, some of which I am not ready to share just yet. But one thing I have been so fortunate enough to find, is a support group. It was started by someone who I met through social media. Someone who themselves has had multiple back surgeries and found themselves in a very similar position, being without support and without guidance on the mental and emotional turmoil ahead.

As a result, they formed a very small group of like-minded individuals from across the globe, who have all had a surgical procedure of some kind on their back. We meet once a week over Zoom to chat, share stories, experiences, feelings and generally just offer support. 

I cannot tell you how inspiring and how uplifting this group has been. To be able to share what I once thought were ridiculous thoughts, has quite literally saved me and made me feel less alone.

People often don’t understand how stressful and difficult it is to explain what’s going on in your head when you don’t even understand it yourself. So even if you don’t feel like talking yet, just be around like minded people, or people you trust. In the words of two of my most favourite characters ever:

‘Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh!” he whispered.

“Yes, Piglet?”

“Nothing”, said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

If you found this useful connect with Alexis and follow her recovery journey - @Alexisrufus9  

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