Hardship happens fast, recovery is a slow process.
Look, I’m an extremely private person. I generally shy away from sharing personal information, especially sensitive or vulnerable parts of my life. I feel like many actors are this way, opting to reveal their emotional centers through the lens of character and performance rather than in black and white. But I’ve got nothing but time during the Great Pause of our World, the corona days. I’m well aware my personal story is not a tale of hardship or woe even close to the level of a worldwide pandemic, but perhaps someone may hear my story and appreciate it.
A little over six months ago, I was playing soccer. A break up that led to an emotionally draining on-again-off-again relationship dynamic had finally ended for good a couple days prior. Perhaps this was why I was trying to distract myself so heavily with athletics. I can’t say for certain, but maybe I overworked and weakened my leg with constant running, jumping, twisting. I had played tennis earlier this particular Sunday morning, went for a run, and still felt restless. So I hopped into a pickup soccer match.
It’s incredible how quickly fortune can change; priorities shift in mere seconds. An instant can color the rest of your life. This is exactly what happened when I felt soccer cleats on the side of my shin and heard a loud, distinct crack coming from inside my body. My opponent had leaped onto the center of my lower leg in what I’ll phrase charitably as a rough tackle. I felt his foot pass through my body and knew it was broken before I even hit the deck. I looked down to see my leg at very odd and unnatural angles, being held together by my shin guard like a strip of duct tape strangling a bursting pipe.
One 911 call and several shots of fentanyl and morphine later, I was in the back of an ambulance calling the Shameless production office telling them they’re going to need to re-open the writer’s room and make some changes. I was genuinely more upset at this point about my work being affected than my own body. In my nearly twenty years of acting, I had never missed a day on set, no matter how deathly ill I had been. However, my sock and shoe had been snipped off by the paramedics by this point, and I was able to see that the only thing attaching the lower portion of my limb was some muscle and sinew. My foot and ankle had fully turned around 180 degrees and were now facing south. One of my bones poked and prodded under the surface of my skin, desperately trying to make a jailbreak. So I figured I might not be able to film that scene the next morning.
An x-ray revealed that both my tibia and fibula, two of the largest and slowest healing bones in the body, had snapped cleanly in half. By this point I had called some of the people closest to me. I can’t describe the relief I felt as my friends, my makeshift family, filtered in and out of the hospital room. The warmth and calm that washed over me at the site of their faces accomplished what all the opioids had failed to do. They brought clothes and toiletries, they told jokes, they held my hand.
It took three nurses holding me down and two doctors to twist my leg back around and wrench it into place. A few days later, they cut me open and installed a 16 inch titanium rod through the center of my bone, bolted securely into place. Few more days and I was released from the hospital. I stayed at my manager’s house and later with my angel of a coworker, Shanola Hampton, and her family.
And I gained some perspective. Of what it means to take things for granted. To be able to roll a garbage can to the curb, or pick up a napkin which has fallen to the ground, or hop out of bed without excruciating pain. Life is delicate, health is fragile, and we’re all a bunch of pressurized bags of squishy meat with very limited expiration dates.
To be able to leap and dance and roughhouse is so much of who I am. Up to this point, I had considered it integral to my identity, my fundamental personhood. Physical autonomy is a privilege most able-bodied people don’t even realize they have. And as I had mentioned before, I’m a very private person. Moreover, I view myself as extremely self-sufficient and self-reliant. And there was no worse vulnerability than having to lean on other people for help (sometimes literally.) Yet here I was in this situation, where basic chores and tasks were no longer accomplishable without my friends. My beautiful friends.
And it truly hit me. The importance of community. The value of being there for people when they need you, and of accepting support when you need it. No man is an island. Who we are is not only defined by what we do but also the people who we choose to fill our lives with. There’s nothing like a little suffering to boost your empathy. My injury wasn’t even that serious in the scheme of things, but I gained a greater appreciation for the people who stepped up for me during this time, and recognized some of the people who didn’t. Choose kindness, fill your life with people who value the right things.
I wish I could say that it was a linear line of positivity, progress, and healing from there. I wish I could say that I never relapsed, never felt bitter. Most days were good. But some days I wallowed in self-pity, I drank, I hated the misfortune with a bitter passion. The banality of not being able to do the things you want can ache with a boring dullness that stings far more than the initial hurt of the injury itself. But eventually I learned new ways to entertain myself, placed greater importance on other pursuits and shifted my priorities. I’m thankful for the last half of a year simply for opening my eyes to the obvious things I had been missing.
Now, six months of physical therapy and personal training and healthy living later, and I am almost fully recovered. Yesterday I walked for 5 miles, jogged up hills, even sprinted a few times. It still hurts a bit, but I’m almost fully back. And I have faith I’ll be completely on my feet (bad pun) in the next couple months.
I guess that’s why I wanted to share this story. The world is injured right now. People are hurting and dying in an exceptional and awful way, the economy is in bad shape, many people’s jobs are on the line. So much of the things we so easily took for granted are not currently available to us. I hope the Earth takes this time to shift its priorities, to understand the joys of simple things we cannot currently do like going to a restaurant with friends or hugging your relatives. I hope if people have the means, they can give to those suffering in some way. I hope we as a nation choose kindness, charity, and positivity during this period. I hope we don’t rush this or selfishly leave our homes when we shouldn’t. I hope we protect those most vulnerable.
Healing requires time, it demands patience. This all happened suddenly. But that’s the thing: Hardships happen fast, recovery is a slow process.