My daughter woke up this morning and announced "I'm a dinosaur! Raaarrr! I'm so scary!" Then she ran down the hall, giggling madly. She is 2 and a half and lately her play has been full of roaring dinosaurs and tigers and other scary animals. Fortunately for me, she is a dinosaur who is still happy to give hugs and kisses.
I think that this is a way for her to cope with her own fears. Life at our house has been a little disrupted lately. I’ve been laid up for the past 2 weeks with a broken ankle, which means I’ve been doing a lot of sitting on the couch. I’ve been home a lot more, and except for the day I had surgery and the day after that I’ve been a lot more available to her for reading books or cuddling. But I haven’t been able to get down on the floor and play legos, or help her go to the potty. I haven’t been able to eat meals in our dining room because my ankle still hurts badly whenever I stop elevating it. And she knows that I’ve been in pain, and unable to do things. She’s talked quite a lot about “Mommy’s boo-boo leg.” We’ve also had quite a few more visitors than normal; my husband’s parents and my parents and my husband’s brother have all come by to help out. I know my daughter loves all the family and attention, but things definitely haven’t been routine. It’s hard to tell what a 2 year old is thinking sometimes, but I do think that this has been a little scary for her. Pretending to be a big, strong scary animal with big teeth like a dinosaur seems like a pretty good way to channel all the fear and anger that I imagine she is feeling. She can be in a position of strength and power and control, even if it’s just in her imagination, instead of suffering all of these changes and disruptions passively.
I don’t think we’re quite so creative about coping with fear as adults. I have been reading about the particular fracture that I sustained (a trimalleolar fracture – meaning I broke 3 separate bones in my ankle) and I feel frightened. There’s plenty out there on the web that says that full recovery might not be possible, that I might always walk with a limp or have terrible arthritis in that ankle. That’s a really scary prospect for an active woman in her 30’s with a demanding job and a young child. I love to walk, to travel, to do yoga, to jog, and to play with my daughter. I need two strong ankles to do those things, and I don’t want to be slowed down by pain.
So what do I do with my fear? Well, first of all, I’m going to be honest about it. Pretending that I’m not afraid or pretending that a bad outcome isn’t a possibility isn’t going to help me do the things I need to do. Because I’m a person of faith, I’m going to pray about my ankle healing and about the fear itself. I’m going to follow my doctor’s orders conscientiously. I hate not being able to walk on my ankle, but if staying off it for 6 or more weeks increases my chances of having a good outcome I will do it. I will increase my calcium and protein and vitamin D intake so that my body has all the building blocks it needs to build healthy new bone. When my doctor clears me for physical therapy I will do my rehabilitation exercises faithfully, knowing the more work I put into rehab the more benefit I will see later. I’m going to commit to taking better care of myself. I want to eat right, exercise more, and get enough rest so that my body and mind stay strong and so that I have energy to heal. And I’m going to write about it. About what I’m experiencing, what I’m thinking and feeling, what this process is like for me. I want to write because it might help someone else in the future and because the writing helps me right now.
Those are the things I can think of at the moment to cope with my fear. It’s still there; nothing I’m doing to manage will make the fear go away. I suspect only time will do that. But I want to be as creative and honest as I can in my coping. After all, I have to keep living up to my 2 year old, right?