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The Fall: Regaining Life’s Footing After a Big Misstep

Updated: Dec 22, 2022

By Dorian Martin, I Start Wondering Founder

Photo by Caique Silva on Unsplash
Photo by Caique Silva on Unsplash

My heel didn’t find traction as I took a step forward. Instead, I felt myself suddenly slipping in an unnoticed and unexpected puddle of liquid that my older dog had left in my front room. As if in a slow-motion, out-of-body experience, I watched as my body arched in an effort to try to recover balance as the dishes I was carrying flew up in the air. I landed hard on my right hip, catching my breath as the fascia in my body tightened protectively to provide a suit of armor to protect my internal organs.

Fortunately, I wasn’t badly injured—but more on that later.

I’m not the only older person who has had a fall. A family member just told me that he fell last week when he didn’t negotiate a step in front of a group of people. And a friend called me a few weeks ago to commiserate after her dog had tripped her. She also wasn’t severely injured—just aches and pains to work slowly through. Yet another friend recently told me she decided to quit running after she experienced a series of falls.

Two other friends weren’t so fortunate, encountering situations that resulted in injuries far worse than just the embarrassment of falling. Several years ago, one fell down a set of stairs and faced a long period of healing. Another slipped on black ice, causing a shoulder injury that required surgery.

Lessons from a Fall

Now over a month after my fall, I realize that it offered important lessons in navigating the current turbulent environment—whether that’s political, economic, environmental or cultural—that seems to continually be knocking us down. In a recent video, best-selling author Martha Beck suggested that we are living in a time where to survive, we should think about our life’s path as a transition, much like the metamorphosis that turns a caterpillar into a butterfly.

My fall offers some other ways to think about our current situation:

  • Step 1: Stop, assess, and don’t immediately catastrophize. After the fall, many would say, “Jump back up and keep going” while others would worry, “Oh my gosh, I’ve permanently lost my mobility.” I found both approaches to be unrealistic. I did want to take it slowly to ensure that I hadn’t suffered a traumatic injury that would compromise my physical health, but I also wasn’t willing to jump to conclusions about the long-term ramifications. Instead, I needed to sit and process, listening deeply to my body while remaining on the floor in pain and my leg straddling my dog’s urine puddle. What was truly hurt? What was my next step? I decided to slowly sit up. Once that was accomplished, I focused on relaxing and breathing through the discomfort. The next step was rolling onto my hands and knees. Once I determined I could do that, I slowly and carefully stood up. Once I felt I was stabilized, I carefully picked up my bowl and took it to the kitchen, then returned to carefully clean up the puddle. Then I took the next appropriate steps as they presented themselves throughout this healing journey. The same type of calm assessment can be applied in our current situation. We often jump to conclusions or create stories in our head. “My 401(K) is forever in the tank; there goes my retirement!” or “With gas prices this high, I’ll never be able to travel to the next place on my bucket list.” While we may be feeling the pain for the moment, we may not be in the same situation two months from now. Who knows? No one does! It’s far better (and more peaceful) to stop creating catastrophic tales of doom and gloom and instead create a climate of resilience.

  • Step 2: Don’t lash out. It would have been easy to throw blame around, curse indiscriminately and lash out physically and emotionally at my dog. Yes, my dog left a puddle—but to be honest, I had been focused on my own work and had ignored that, as an older dog, she might have needed to go outside. So while I got mad that she didn’t let me know this, I also understood that her own aging issues often make it difficult for me to intuit what she needed. Even while I was laying on the floor hurting, I made an active choice to react with unconditional love toward her instead of punishing her for something she didn’t realize she had a hand in. The same is true for our current world. We want to look for the villain and are quick to point one out—it’s the Russians! Politicians! Conservatives! Liberals! Christians! Muslims! Jews! Hispanics! Whites! Blacks! Yes, there are some individuals who are causing a lot of drama, but making a lump statement is pouring gasoline on some embers and trying to stoke a fire. I’d suggest that, in reality, there’s a lot of gray area—and we can offer a lot of grace that the world desperately needs by taking that approach.

  • Step 3: Take time to just be. After the fall, I needed to stop, be quiet and come into a sense of a new normal. I had a lot of discomfort for a lengthy period afterwards. It hurt to laugh and to sneeze; finding a comfortable position to sleep took a while each night. I did guided relaxation to invite my body to relax. I listened to when my body wanted to move, and then did small and careful movements. I listened when my body could no longer comfortably sit—and decided to stand or go lay down. I listened to when my body said, “Don’t lift that heavy flowerpot” or when it craved certain foods that help with inflammation. I also listened to my body so that my heel hits the floor in a more mindful way—and have felt my body naturally adjust its balance when I stepped into another puddle left by my dog. Martha Beck suggests that when things go all sideways from what you’ve know, stop and let everything else go. Just be—and then eventually, like the caterpillar eventually morphing into a butterfly—you’ll find a new sense of normal. That’s the same lesson that the fall taught me—just be flexible by letting everything else go.

  • Step 4: Give yourself permission to slow down Ironically—or some would say prophetically—I had just had a conversation an hour before my fall with a friend who said she felt the need to slow down. I had seconded her sentiment, noting that I also was feeling the tug. Obviously, I wasn’t slowing down enough—and life (or heaven or the universe) heard me and decided that I wasn’t getting the message. I feel that we often don’t listen when we get the message to slow down. We blast past that internal niggling of our inner wisdom and keep on going. Life keeps giving us signals, but we remain on autopilot. And then eventually, we take a figurative—or in my case, literal—fall. The fall has given me more time to think, to contemplate. It reminded me again that nothing is guaranteed, a lesson that we all should have learned after COVID-19. While like many women, I can get obsessed by body “imperfections,” the fall helped me reframe my internal dialogue. Instead of railing at my body, I now thank it for being strong and resilient. The downtime after the fall also led me to the realization that I want to take the proper steps (pun intended) to have a joyful life—and the lack of attention to my surroundings and that puddle of pee indicates that I’m not always truly present in the moment. I also want to have the time and physical capacity to be able to do the things that call to me.

  • Step 5: Create a network to help The fall also caused me to rethink my network of support. As women, we often place ourselves in the role of helper—and are the last ones to ask for help. I admit at times I can fall into this last group. I didn’t immediately ask for help after the fall, mostly because I learned to listen to my body’s feedback beginning when I was a child. Some would call me stubborn, but I’ve been fortunately to have a strong constitution and few injuries—and have figured out how to heal from periodic setbacks. After the fall, I decided to listen to my instinct to determine which healthcare treatment felt correct—and that led to appointments with massage and craniosacral therapists. But I also realized that I need to begin to build a stronger circle of individuals who I can reach out to the time comes for assistance. Because frankly, we all will need help at some point, whether it’s a fall or a bad case of COVID-19 or a sudden and long power outage during a freak snowstorm in Texas. Ultimately, we need to build those strong relationships to know who we can depend on in a time of need.

  • Step 6: Prioritizing what’s important As we get older, we have the opportunity to refine our lives—and in some cases leave the paradigm that we’ve used to get by. My fall reminded me that the future is not guaranteed, and it’s important to take consistent action to create the life that I want moving forward. One way is through the “I am” statements that ISW Columnist Brenda Grays encouraged us to embrace. Another is looking at paring down our lives, whether through minimalism or determining what we’re really passionate about and then letting other things go. I’d also encourage women to take it one step further and begin removing the voices in our heads that tell us how to live (whether that’s a politician, a marketer, a member of the clergy, or a relative). I love and honor my mother (who passed away 15 years ago) and can periodically still hear her voice in my head offering advice but want to take direction from my own inner voice based on my own wealth of experience, passions and path.

Moving Forward

Photo by Amy Humphries on Unsplash
Photo by Amy Humphries on Unsplash

You may have noticed that ISW took a break for several months. Part of this was to give us time to transition to a different hosting company and do a refresh on the website. And part of it, frankly, was that everyone on our team has been dealing with a lot in their personal lives—a grandbaby, some health issues, retirement, a new marriage, children getting engaged, and aging parents—and needed a break. And it looks like we’re onto a trend, since shortly after we took a break, Brené Brown announced that her team was taking some time to recharge and recalibrate.

Now ISW is ready to begin to move forward again—and each member of our team is considering what they are passionate about and how they can create content and services that they personally love—knowing that chances are, if it moves them, you’ll like them, too.

But as we do, we want to remain sure-footed in our approach. That means that as a team, we need to nurture ourselves and each other, giving the time and space necessary when life takes over. We need to find what delights us so we can share that with you. And we need to find ways to share the difficult and how we made it through, whether that’s the end of a career or a marriage or death of a loved one.

Ultimately, my final message: We’ve missed you and we’re glad to be back! Here’s to the future—and taking the next well-placed step….

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Brenda Riojas
Brenda Riojas
Jul 13, 2022

Thank you, Dorian for your sharing your "lessons from a fall". Your calm approach is something we can all learn from, and your idea of creating a climate of resilience is essential.

Dorian Martin
Dorian Martin
Jul 13, 2022
Replying to

Thanks, Brenda! Trust me, I wasn't totally calm right after I fell. But I agree that taking a calm and measured approach based on resilience can help us find a way back to a sense of normal. I also think that the fall has given me a new-found appreciation for the concept of balance, both physically and in other ways in my life. Onward.... And looking forward to reaching YOUR upcoming column!

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