February 1: Small Lessons In Gratitude

I write this  as a form of closure, hoping that my knowledge that this story has been told will make it cease to repeat endlessly through my mind.  Made an attempt at writing on this topic in my offline journal a year ago, but I wasn’t ready. Hopefully now is the right time…

(Also, this post is very, very tangential to any ballet-related stuff and is a bit heavier that my usual posts, so feel free to skip if you’re feeling emotional. Or if discussions (or pictures) of automobile accidents upset you…)

Three years ago to the date, a life-altering event occured, filling me with a barrage of mixed feelings: gratefulness, fear, extreme sadness, guilt, anger, relief, regret, anxiety, disbelief, apprehension, and, in the end acceptance. And more than a little of whatever you’d call that feeling when you feel like you’re just a little saiboat being flung about mercilessly by the waves in a furious ocean. Perhaps I should backtrack a bit.

I was at a crossroads in my life, as horribly cliché as it sounds.  It was a few weeks before I was set to start classes, having had made the decision to return to school just months prior.  Finally having had dragged myself out of the foggy swamp of depression and inactivity that consumed most of my 20’s, I felt as though life had started looking up.  I had my health, my youth (I was 28, but felt – and still do, I guess – much younger), I was going back to school – in short, I was feeling so alive for the first time in a long time, longer than I could remember.  At the same time, the enormity of dealing with the repercussions of the past, was daunting.  I was sure though, that in time all things fall into place, but you know, I wanted it now.  It was very hard to recognize the truth that just as something does not fall into disrepair in a day, it also doesn’t get fixed in a day.

But those things weren’t really on my mind that day.  Boyfriend and I set out on a mini road trip, about 150 mile drive, to visit some relatives.  A tiny voice in the back of my head nagged me No, don’t go, but I dissmissed it.  While it is a scary drive, especially at night, and during the cold of winter the road at times gets iced over, this was a day trip so I told myself “You’re being irrational, nothing’s going to happen.” (And now you can begin to see where the feelings of guilt and regret come in; if only I’d listened to my little voice.)

We didn’t leave home as early as planned though, and by the time we found ourselves done with the highway leg of the journey and on the narrow 2-lane road that comprises the rest of the way it was shortly before dusk.  It wasn’t raining though, so I doubted there would be any problems.

The lovely scenery on the mountain road, pre accident

The lovely scenery on the mountain road, pre accident

Once on the 2-lane road, I begun to accelerate to the speed limit.  What I could have never anticipated (and was on instant replay in my dreams for many months to come, sometimes with the outcome that followed, other times with other (worse) outcomes)  happened next.  A pickup truck sped to a stop sign at one of the final cross-streets before our 2-lane road begins its winding climb through the mountains.  The driver momentarily stopped, must have decided (erroneously) that he had enough time, and threw himself across my path.

“No! No,no,nonononono!” I cried, perhaps aloud, perhaps only in my head.  I slammed on the brakes as hard as I could, but the truck came closer and closer in the windshield, until it was all I could see.  A deafening sound followed, a flash of white enveloped everything (later I realized it was the airbag) and for a moment, disoriented, I thought I had most certainly died. Then, in the next moment, reason came flooding back and I pushed the now-deflated airbag out of my face, calling out to Boyfriend “Are you all right?!”

The side of the truck I plowed into

The side of the truck I plowed into

“Yes! Are you?” he asked. I responded affirmatively, then immediately began to panic that we needed to evacuate the vehicle immediately, what if it, I don’t know, explodes or something (clearly I saw too many action movies as a kid).  In my life I’d previously been involved in more than a handful of car accidents, mostly fender benders, but nothing like this. I was terrified! The driver’s side door had gotten bent back from the impact and didn’t want to open, which made my panic increase.  Somehow, I made my way out of the car, which in hindsight is even scarier; the car had come to a stop facing the opposite way but still right in the middle of the two-lane road.  There have been many times when I have felt so grateful that another speeding vehicle didn’t come along and smash right into the wreckage or us. Seriously, there is no way that I can express my gratitude for that simple detail.

Once out of the car – and safely on the side of the road, not in the middle of it – I felt numb with shock.  A witness informed me that they had notified the authorities, and they were on their way. Another witness commented having seen the whole thing, the impatient truck driver who’d ran his stop sign, the horrifying impact.  I looked at my car – what was left of my car: the entire front end was crushed in, the hood flipped open like the lid of a tin can.  The sight caused me to break down in tears. I know it’s stupid, that it’s just an object, but I loved that car.  It was a rare car, no longer in production, made rarer by the fact that we had found it at a used car lot for a fraction of the original price and only 13,000 miles on it.  It was irreplaceable and I felt so guilty for not having been able to take good care of it, to keep it out of harms way.  Yes it sounds irrational, but at times I’m not a very rational person…

My previously-beautiful car, crumpled up like a soda can - so heartbreaking to see it that way  :(

My previously-beautiful car, crumpled up like a soda can – so heartbreaking to see it that way 😦

Boyfriend and I sat on the side of the road waiting for the highway patrol, the tow trucks, and any of the other auxiliary personnel that arrive whenever a major car crash occurs.  Around this time is when the adrenaline began to slowly wear off. My body felt like it had been beaten repeatedly with a baseball bat.  My right ankle was not broken – I could put weight on it – but it throbbed harder by the minute.

The paramedics and two fire trucks arrived around the same time as the patrolman.  While I was prepared to give a statement about what happened, and to undergo a sobriety test as a formality, I balked at getting into an ambulance (I suppose this is the time for me to mention that I have myself a case of nosocomephobia and iatrophobia, among others…). With an assertiveness that I’d had no idea was in me I declined, repeatedly, finally having to sign paperwork releasing them from liability.  My only injuries that were recorded  in the police report were the visible ones: a busted lip and bruised face from the impact of the air bag.  I forced myself to walk with as little of a limp as possible until the ambulances left, terrified that they would take me away against my will.

After the scene was cleaned up, the tow truck driver agreed to give us a ride to a nearby gas station rest stop so we could wait for someone to pick us up.  As we waited, I hobbled over to the ladies room to try to inspect the damage. The right side of my torso, where by seatbelt had dug in, hurt terribly, and I worried that I had internal injuries. I stood up from the toilet, terrified that I would see blood pouring out of me, but nothing.  Hobbling out of the bathroom, still in a daze, I didn’t see Boyfriend. I immediately started crying, certain that I had died and now my ghost was haunting this gas station, my body still laying out in the middle of the road somewhere, or trapped in the wreckage. (I realize it sounds so overdramatic, but I remember this day like it was yesterday and this is what was going through my head) But no, Boyfriend had just had a seat while waiting for me to come out, understandable as he had messed up his leg pretty bad as well.  We limped to each other and collapsed on a bench to wait for our friend to pick us up. I remember feeling so grateful that the store employees didn’t demand us to buy something or get out, just letting us sit there in a haphazard heap like two intoxicated vagrants. Like I said, this day filled me with so many emotions, but gratitude is definitely high up there…

By the time we got home, about 2 hours later, my right ankle had swelled to three  times its normal size.  I don’t even know where I found the strength to make a simple dinner between bouts of collapsing on the couch.  I looked up how to treat a sprain, trying to convince myself that I would be better in no time.

Well, that’s how that day went.  The aftermath was not any easier.

That night the nightmares began, nightmares that would haunt my dreams for many months to come. During the day was no better – I’d temporarily zone out in my own world, but instead of my usual happy daydreams the accident would keep playing in my head.  Getting me to be a passenger in a car after this was a total disaster: any time the car would ungergo deceleration I would wince and cry out, attempting to hug my body to itself in a seatbelted attempt at a fetal position,  at times completely bursting into sobs. This continued for almost two years.

Driving was another challenge.  On the one hand, I insisted on being the driver due to my freaking out when someone else would drive, but at the same time I felt I had no right to insist on it as I was the one who had rammed us into the side  of a truck.  I felt so guilty – if only I’d been driving slower (even though I had been going the speed limit and it was my right of way) I was sure I could have prevented it.  I now drove slower, much slower, keeping pace with senior citizen, but when I’d find myself at a red light and a car approached from behind I would go into a panic again, certain thay they would rear-end me.  It was a traumatic existence, which I tried to cope with by developing an (unhealthy, increasing) obsession with control.  I was terrified of even crossing the street, even crossing through a parking lot, and with the exception of going to school (and let me tell you, going to school on crutches is no joke. Hell, doing anything  on crutches is a Challenge. While my (physical) injuries were temporarily, I did gain an insight on what it feels to  have one’s mobility limited.) I stayed home, not really wanting to interact with the scary world where anything could happen at any time.

I was on the crutches for about a month, but my right ankle pain persisted for several months. It was close to summertime the first time I remember walking and not feeling that pain on the top of my foot.  During my healing process, several people (acquaintances and Boyfriend’s (ex) coworkers) told me that “My foot would never feel the same again. It’s never the same after an injury.” What a horrible thing to tell someone! I was so upset, managing to hold it together while in front of them only to spend many hours sobbing at home.  They said it so often that I was worried I would begin to believe them.  I began to wonder if they wanted me to believe them, if they wanted me to never fully recover.  One of Boyfriend’s coworkers, a lady I’ll refer to as A, was especially vocal about this.  As I’d know that she’d been very envious of Boyfriend and I’s weight loss about 6 months before this, I became (irrationally) convinced that she was glad the accident had happened, or worse, that she had wished it upon us.  (Apparently during times of high stress I revert to an extreme paranoiac state, who would’ve known?) I had already felt guilty about the big deal people had made about our weight loss, but this was just the breaking point.  I felt like I must have really done something wrong if some one would be so happy when things are going wrong for me. This made more guarded in my relationships with others, afraid of letting anyone get too close.

Once my foot was healed up enough to go on walks things lot a little better, though I insisted only on walking in trails where there’d be no vehicular traffic.  My fear of getting hit by a car lasted much longer than the pain in my foot. Eventually, though, sometime around the two-year mark I got over my that fear, slowly.  I’m still an extremely anxious car passenger, but I’m able to hold it together, more or less.

My foot healed up, and, a year later, I started ballet, as part of my “get out there and start living” therapy.  And now, it makes sense why I was so weak when I first started: while I had resumed walking and done some yoga with my friend, I’m sure I lost much muscle mass during those months of inactivity while recovering.  Not only that, I hadn’t wanted to regain any of my weight lost, so I had keep a very strict diet while I was inactive. That probably resulted in my body consuming some of its own muscles for energy. Oops.

Oh, and A (Boyfriend’s ex coworker) saw me about a year and a half later, happily prancing around with my post-starting-ballet agility, and she was Not Happy at all.  I have found it in my heart to forgive her, for all her bad wishes, but it was so tough.  More than being upset for her wishing bad things upon me, I was upset for her making me doubt myself, making me think that I’d done something wrong just because I set out to improve upon my condition. Making me feel guilty that I had accomplished something she hadn’t or couldn’t (lose weight).  The baggage of guilt has been the hardest thing to deal with for the last going-on 4 years.

Well, now my heart feels much lighter. Thanks to any who read through this novel of a post. 🙂

6 thoughts on “February 1: Small Lessons In Gratitude

  1. Sarah

    Blimey, what a horrific ordeal, I’m so glad you came out of it fighting (and dancing!) I was run down when I was 15, and had nightmares for months afterwards. I was also in a thigh high cast and on crutches for months as I broke both bones in my leg. I still worry when crossing the road now, 25 years later, and one of my legs is now a tiny bit shorter than the other, so I wear the heel down on one shoe much faster than the other, which is really annoying! I’ve sometimes wondered if this is why I’m having trouble finding my balance in centre (so, so wobbly). It’s fantastic that you didn’t let this derail your weight loss or put you off starting school, you should be really proud of getting through this awful incident so well, thanks for feeling brave enough to share it 🙂

    1. kit Post author

      Oh gosh, I’m sorry about what happened to you! That really sucks, glad you are doing better – and also dancing – now.
      Until I experienced it for myself I would have never guessed that the memory of it and the fear would last for years. I think I should consider myself lucky that it wasn’t much worse and for the most past I’m doing tons better. My foot still gives me a bit of trouble when they weather suddenly changes or it’s really damp out, but otherwise I’m great.
      Best wishes to you! 🙂

      1. Sarah

        My leg used to ache when the temperature dropped too, it’ll ease up eventually. I suppose on one level it’s good to have these things in our past, it lets us know we can deal with them and come out the other side. It’s ‘character building’ as my dad likes to say whenever something tough happens in life 🙂

  2. ladysquadron

    I’m so sorry to hear about this, and I am in so much awe of your strength in getting through this. I really hope that someday the anxiety you feel and all else from the accident will heal over completely. Take care.

    1. kit Post author

      Thank you so much for the well wishes 🙂
      I am doing so much better already, and continue to gradually get better, so I’m sure with enough time all wounds will heal.


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