• Kristina Cherep

Left With An Unknown Identity

This is something that is still so hard for me to talk about because it still affects my everyday life. I wake up every morning not being able to feel my left hand and half of my left arm. Some nights I have to wear a brace on my left arm if the numbness is too unbearable. I'm not able to do certain motions with my arm without a shock going down it. I'm not able to do push ups without my radius popping out of place. I'm not able to throw a softball without a sharp pain in my elbow. I was not able to play my senior year of college because I had a 'dead arm'. I'm not able to lift heavy objects. I'm not able to feel my husbands hand when he holds my left hand. I'm not able to feel my wedding ring on my finger. I'm not able to do a lot of things that I wish I could. However, I am able to talk about it.

I had a very unique injury experience meaning it took a whole year for me to get a correct diagnosis. This year involved misdiagnosis, incorrect tests being done, etc. This led to even more physical pain and damage to my arm.

Even though I was in constant pain for a year, not knowing why, that wasn't the hardest part for me. The hardest part was the emotional and mental toll I felt every day. An injury is much more than just being in physical pain. I know this not only from my own experience, but from talking to other athletes going through injuries. Especially career ending injuries.

I was inpatient, confused, scared, sad, angry, and all kinds of emotions. After feeling this way for awhile I began to feel like a failure. With no diagnosis. Naturally, my coaches began to ignore me because I wasn't giving them what they needed. I was useless to them and useless to my team. That's how I began to see myself in every part of my life. Useless.

After a year of all of this, we decided to seek another opinion. We decided to go to a doctor that was not from the university to see if someone could give me a diagnosis and the correct treatment. In my first appointment and tests with this new doctor, she was able to provide me with the correct diagnosis. I have Cubital Tunnel Syndrome. My ulnar nerve is pinched which causes the numbness and pain in my elbow. This doctor told me that there was a surgery, but based on where my nerve was pinched it was very risky. It has a 20% success rate and it could possibly cause more damage. She also told me even if the surgery was successful, I shouldn't return back to pitching.

I finally had a diagnosis, but no cure and no more pitching. No more pitching. What did that even mean? I had been pitching since I was 7 years old. My goal I set for myself when I was 9 was to be a Division I Softball player. I did just that, but look what it had done to my arm. I lost my identity that day. I didn't know who I was without softball. I was nothing. I had no hobby anymore or nothing I was good at. That's what I thought every single day for about a year after my correct diagnosis. If that wasn't emotionally or mentally damaging then I don't know what was.

I had to say goodbye to a sport that I had been playing since I was 4, a position I had played since I was 7, a dream I had since I was 9. I could never play catch with my future kids without being in a lot of pain and numbness. It was all taken away from me in that moment. However, two years later I can proudly say that I have found a new identity. I have found my identity even more after starting this blog. I have found my identity within my jobs, within my roles as a wife, and within my roles as a friend and family member.

Writing this blog post has stirred up these emotions I never wanted to come back to, but I'm glad I did. Even if you have never had an injury like this, I'm sure you can think of something that takes up a big portion of who you are and what it would feel like for it to be taken away. Or you can even think of your mental illness like an injury that doesn't have a "cure". Thinking about it can make you feel like you're nothing more than your anxiety, depression or whatever it is. I talked about this before, but I'll say it again... you are much more than your mental illness! Sure, I still have my everyday obstacles with my numb arm. However, that doesn't define who I am. This is just a small part of what makes me, me.

If you have ever dealt with a career ending injury or have ever felt like your identity was taken away, know that you are not alone. I've been there and it SUCKS. However, don't let it define you because you are much more than a sport or one specific identity. You have so much potential for whatever you want to be.