Just Own It: 7 Things I Learned After Spending 150 Days On Crutches

by James Barrett

I'm 24 years old.  I'm not trying to be a math teacher right now, but I walk about 10,000 steps a day. That's 70,000 steps a week, 280,000 steps a month and over 3 million steps a year.

But it took just one step to knock me out. No, I wasn't saving a crying baby from the middle of a busy intersection. My one step uneventfully happened by rolling my foot while I was stepping off a curb on Pier 97 in Manhattan, at a work event.

I feel like I always have to add that I was sober. Guys, I was sober.

At first, you blame yourself. What if I hadn't walked this route? What if I had skipped the event?

Why did I wear these shoes? (They were Sperry Gold Cups, in case you were wondering. I no longer recommend them.) But quickly, I realized those questions mean nothing.

Every decision you make in your life leads you to where you are right now, in this very moment. Like, what led you to my article? Just kidding.

What if I hadn't taken that job two years ago? You begin to sound ridiculous. You're blaming yourself by asking these absurd questions. Your life is a giant choose-your-own-adventure storybook. Choose wisely.

I fractured my fifth metatarsal on my right foot, so there's no driving for me, either. After spending more than 150 days (and counting) on crutches, here are seven things I've learned:

1. You will get depressed and angry.

When my doctor began to wrap my foot in a soft cast on that hot August afternoon, the walls began to close in on me. OK, that may sound a bit dramatic. But it's necessary. I lost all sense of mobility.

I became bored with Netflix. It was that bad. The weeks following, I fell into a dark place. I was coping with my loss of freedom, and I had no idea how to handle it at first.

My happy place became very distant. I wasn't dreaming of relaxing on a beach in the Caribbean. It was much simpler than that. I dreamed of going on a run with the sun shining, music blasting through my headphones and just escaping the world for a moment.

I quickly became a soda bottle that had been shaken a few too many times. I never considered myself a fighter until my accident. There had been worse days, and I wasn't about to let this overtake me.

2. You will work harder than you've ever worked.

When I say this, I don't mean you will stay up all night working on a pitch. You won't be studying for a final exam or getting nominated for some prestigious award.

This is a league of its own. You will give it all you have to get up from your seat, wobble over to the bathroom, hop onto the toilet and take a sh*t. All you have is your health. Remember that.

You will steer clear of stairs. They will become that one friend you always try to avoid.

3. You should not be embarrassed.

People will stare, so get used to it. Throw them a smile. I know you probably want to throw something else at them, but stick with the smile.

Remember: Your immobility does not define your actions. Of course you can't go on a run. But don't let that stop you from doing the things that were on your social calendar pre-accident.

I was surprised to learn how many times I felt the need to defend my injury. Let's be clear: You do not have to defend your injury to anyone. While I know I'm not a doctor, I've learned most people think they are.

At my nephew's soccer game, a set of 3-year-old triplets ran up to me and started rubbing my crutches. (I'm sorry, but I can't make this up.) Two other kids followed suit. It was really weird, and now I fully understand what it feels like to be an animal at a petting zoo. 

4. You will own it.

You're already getting looks, so just own it. Make the crutches your own, especially if you're going to have them for a while, like I am.

The first week after I fell, my dad generously pimped my crutches out with hand-sewn denim pads. Yes, denim. I highly recommend it. You'd better watch out, True Religion. In all seriousness, adding extra padding makes the crutches much more bearable.

On the plus side, you will never have to worry about awkward small talk. Your crutches are the epitome of an icebreaker. It could actually become a fun game for yourself to count how many times over the course of five months you're asked what happened.

Just last week, I told someone I actually didn't have an injury at all. I said I just wanted to challenge myself. Make some jokes.

5. You will know who your true friends are.

One of my good friends at work left the company. So, of course, I had to go to his goodbye happy hour.

It didn't matter if I could walk or not. I couldn't miss it, no questions asked.

I saw my colleagues inside the bar. I hobbled over to them, a bit out of breath. Then, my friend took one of my crutches and placed it under his arm. “I'm not letting you be the only cripple in this bar,” he said to me.

You will learn it is small acts of kindness like that that will keep you sane. They might not seem like a lot, but they're the things you will remember for a long time.

6. Strangers will surprise you.

My first day on crutches, I was navigating the seven levels of hell known as Penn Station. The only person who helped me that day was a homeless person. The man noticed that one of two screws was missing from my crutch, and he saved me from a potentially humiliating fall. (He didn't ask for money, in case you were wondering.)

That same day, while I was leaving my office in Manhattan, a woman held the door open for me and cheered, “I've been there before. You're doing great.” I couldn't walk, but this total stranger made me feel like I was in high school again, doing the final sprint in a 400-meter race. Glad she's a fan.

Most importantly, don't let one assh*le ruin your day. These people's sad lives are not worth interrupting yours for.

7. You will be OK.

I've seen the other side of this, and it makes me mad. It's not fair what handicapped people go through on a daily basis.

The world needs to be kinder, more willing to help and less judgmental. It is those people who have my utmost respect: the ones who work their asses off to do the things most people take for granted. It's the people who are patient and kind, even when they don't have to be. It's the people who put up their best fight every single day, before they even leave the front door.

I haven't walked in 150 days. But I will soon begin to slowly transition back to walking, and then running. Finally, I will get back to the shape I once was in.

I've learned that no matter what you're going through, you're going to be OK. You always will be.