The stories we tell ourselves


I am always at a loss to know how much to believe of my own stories. -Washington Irving

I stumbled on this quote today and it really struck a chord with me. But first, a digression: I probably deserve to have my English degree taken away when I admit that I didn’t know who Washington Irving was until I looked him up on Wikipedia. If you don’t know either, he’s the author of a couple stories you probably know – The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle.

Oh, right! Him!

With that out of the way, now I can tell you why I like his quote. On Monday, my PT and I had a heart-to-heart which started with me asking her what her role was at this point in my therapy. After a long conversation, it wasn’t really clear to me how she was going to be helping me. She told me I should cut my PT appointments back to every other week instead of every week. And I should continue doing the exercises I am already doing and know how to do on my own. Focus on flexibility, strength, balance/stability, and endurance.

It was like a punch in the gut. I still have lingering range of motion issues. I’m only four and a half months into my recovery, which means the graft theoretically has fully revascularized and is undergoing final integration. I’m trail running again, and riding my road bike 50+ miles isn’t a problem. Hiking with a weighted pack is also okay. But it’s still not clear whether and when I can start mountaineering, snowshoeing, rock climbing, mountain biking, and cross country skiing. And what, if anything, I’m supposed to be doing to get to full recovery so I can do these things. It feels like I’m being turned loose to finish this thing on my own!

If I’m honest, I’m scared. It’s scary to be uncertain about what I can and can’t do – when to be cautious so as not to re-tear the ligament and when to push myself.

I’m not afraid of pushing myself. I’ve been doing it all along. I’ve been told for the last five months, however, not to do a lot of things.

Like the good patient I am, I’ve followed orders and told people too many times, “I’m recovering from a torn ACL and can’t do …” It’s my story.

And just like that Washington Irving cuts to the root of this punch in the gut… We all tell stories which define who we are. We are the daughter of X, the sister of Y, the wife of Z, and so forth. “What do you do?” people ask us. I work as an Indian law attorney; I’m a stay-at-home Mom; I work in a bank. We tell other stories, too. I am a climber. I practice yoga. I am a creative artist.

And then there are the darker stories we tell ourselves – the “less-than” stories. I tore my ACL. I am damaged. I am scarred. I am not healthy. And the stories others tell us about who they think we are.

The stories we tell ourselves shape our lives. But here’s the thing we should never forget: We are the author of our own stories.  For every perceived weakness we possess, we also possess huge potential, too. We get to choose which story we will tell ourselves – a story that will lift us up or knock us down. I am not denying there are obstacles to overcome in your story, that life will throw you off course time and time again; but you still have power over the stories you tell yourself.

When it comes to my ACL injury, it’s time to start rewriting my story. I still need some mentoring – co-authoring, if you will – from my PT and doctor. But I am no longer a broken girl. My wings are mended and I’m almost ready to fly.

What are some of the stories you tell yourself? Do they help or hold you back? Is there some way you could change an element of your story to make a difference to your life? I would love to hear your thoughts.


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2 responses to “The stories we tell ourselves”

  1. Vera says :

    I always need to talk myself into doing things. In climbing, when I see a scary move ahead of me, I always have a dialog that looks like this:
    oh, that looks scary;
    not really, come on, you’ve got it;
    hmm I wonder how far I would fall;
    come on, you are not gonna fall;
    shall I?
    Do it!
    🙂 That’s what I’m trying to do with my current knee rehab as well. All the best in your recovery, I’m sure you will do great!

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