Today is March 25, 2013
I had knee pain come out of no where yesterday and was so glad I had an appointment at my chiropractor this morning. Apparently it was more misalignment in my back and hips causing knee pain. I assumed it was residual damage from the car accident that I was in 10 months ago. When my knee bothers me which it does from time to time, I get angry. Before my car accident, I had no knee pain issues. And when I am in pain or stressed, then I become more anxious driving.
Even ten months later, I have an over active startle reflex when driving. It is far better than it was the days and week and even months right after the accident but it is not gone. We can recover from trauma yet we don’t ever return to the place we were before the trauma. Right after the accident and for many weeks, I could not get the memory of the accident out of my mind the entire time I was driving. I hated that. I hated the fact that what sometimes is my time alone, time in the car driving, was now ridden with fear and the memory of a traumatic experience. I think what made it even more difficult for me was because I was driving along minding my own business traveling the speed limit and this car turned into me in broad daylight on a road with good visibility. The result has been me not trusting any other driver on the road because you just never know when they are going to make a bad judgement decision.
This is no way to live.
Today as I was driving to my chiropractor experiencing this constant ache in my knee, I had a few close calls on the road. Nothing extreme just a few cars coming toward me and crossing the yellow line for a few seconds, enough to set me on high alert. Later, after I dropped my son off, I was pulling into a two lane road where the speed limit is 35 and was about to move into the left turn lane when a car speed along out of no where- the closest call all day. So I thought to myself, Why am I having these near miss experiences in the car on a day that I have knee pain?
Surely, it must just mean that I need to write about my accident. The universe has been pushing me to write more and to carve out time in my life regularly to do so. The signs have been so clear to me and yet finding or making the time to do so has been a challenge. This past Friday, I did it. After getting my younger kids breakfast, they wanted to watch a show and so I decided I would go up to my bedroom with my lap top and write. I would not check Facebook or my email but go directly to wordpress and write. A few weeks before I had decided that i needed a more specific blog and had created a Child-led learning blog. I hadn’t done anything else since creating it. So for almost an hour, I wrote. I did not finish the blog, but was so happy that I had carved out the time and done it! Finally! My goal is to do that every day or at least several days each week. As I write that, something deep within me says, “everyday,Gina, make time to write every day”.
It is Monday and on Mondays, I usually have a few hours to myself while my oldest is at the homeschool co-op. I either go to a coffee house or the library both around the corner from where the co-op meets. Usually, I decompress by checking Facebook and email and then look at my homeschooling website and approve and welcome new members and then work on an update message to send to members. I think about writing a blog but it has been a long time since I have done so.
I knew I needed to go straight to WordPress today and not look anywhere else and write. I wasn’t sure exactly what I would say or what the focus would be. I then pulled up my drafts because I recalled writing about my accident in the past. I found the following written just 6 weeks after my accident:
I was in a car accident on May 26, 2012.
I was driving home from work. It was a Saturday and I was done early and so I decided to head to Target to use the gift card that I had gotten back in October to buy a new swim suit and planned to take my kids to the pool too.
I never made it to Target and I did not take my kids to the pool nor was not able to for about 2 weeks.
I was driving along, not my usual route but on a road I had traveled many times before.
It all happened so fast and yet those seconds or more likely second, before the crash, happened in slow motion. I clearly recall seeing the white SUV turning into me and deciding to swerve to the right to get out of the way. I also vividly recall realizing that I could not get out of the way and knew she was going to hit me. I remember it all like it took place over minutes instead of seconds.
But then all I remember is impact-
….and then the car coming to a stop and me opening my eyes.
After the initial impact, I do not know what happened. I must have hit my head because I had a cut on my nose and my nose was bleeding and my air bag never went off. But this I only know after the fact- when I got out of the car and someone said my nose was bleeding and when I later realized the air bag did not deploy.
I remember opening my eyes and seeing an air bag (passangers side) and some smoke and having the instinct to get out of the car. I attempted to open my door but it did not move and so I climbed to the passangers side, taking my purse and water bag and exited my car.
I recall how shaky I felt as I stepped out onto the grass. A wonderful bystander was walking toward me and asked me if I was alright and advised me to sit down. I am so grateful to that wonderful woman who reached out to help me. She did not have to help me and I think she might be the witness who is listed on the accident report but I really have no idea. She was there when I needed someone and I am forever grateful to this kind stranger for stopping and coming to my aid.
The person who hit me, apparently was a medic and she advised my bystander angel that I should lay down which I heard and then did.
I had no idea at the time that my car had spun around and the back end had struck a third car and then had been propelled forward coming to a rest along the grass on the side of the road. Thinking about that, its almost like someone had guided my car to move forward and come to a rest where it did. Maybe the car wasn’t on the grass, but I know when I stepped out of the car, I stepped onto the grass.
I drove back down the road where the accident took place today, it has taken me over 6 weeks to build up the courage to do this.
I kept the above just as I wrote it 8 months ago. The accident was still fresh in my mind and as I read it, I recalled the feelings I felt for so long every time I got in the car for several months after the accident.
I finally drove down the road where the accident was, pushing myself to do so 6 weeks after my accident but then I did not drive that way again for many months. Luckily, it was not a usual route for me so it wasn’t like I was avoiding the road. Yet, I knew I needed to drive on that road again to desensitize myself and reduce my anxiety. Reminds me very much of ERP therapy that my daughter does for her OCD. Recently, they began working on a bridge on my usual route to work and also where my chiropractor is located. So now, I found that driving past my accident was the quickest option to get where I needed to go. At first, I drove that way to work because I was driving the opposite direction from when I was in my accident. It helped me to drive many times from the other direction and see where the accident took place. I would go home a different route avoiding the road entirely. Then, I decided I needed to drive down that road heading home but I choose to take the highway which the entrance to is within eyesight and just before where my accident took place. The first time I did this, I got stopped at a red light waiting to turn onto the entrance ramp and as I sat there, I had a clear view of where my accident took place. I became anxious and felt my heart racing. It was difficult to sit there for those seconds waiting for the light to turn green. The next time that I came to the same intersection, I could look on the spot without all of the anxiety. Over time, I even drove the actual path of my accident again. The most difficult was when I was bringing my son’s friend home and it was dark and raining. I became very anxious but survived the experiene.
When I think about my daughter and the level of anxiety she experiences with her OCD, I realize that it is likely far more intense than even what I experience. The thought of having the amount of anxiety that I experienced when first trying to drive on the path of my accident every day and many times in a day gives me a better understanding of what she experiences. All I can say is, “Wow, I can not imagine living with that much fear and anxiety every day and frequently throughout each and every day.”
Healing from trauma is a funny thing. There is physical healing and mental healing and yet they are very interwoven, much more so than most of us realize. I know on days when I have physical pain, I have more anxiety driving. I also know when I feel more emotional stress, I also have more anxiety driving.
I am teaching my 15 year old son to drive. He has had his learner’s permit for several months and so I think about my driving all the time as a way of helping him to learn. I try to take my 25 years of driving experience and use it to help him develop good skills and habits with driving. Today as he was driving and we were talking about driving, he told me that he believes I drive different now as compared to before my accident. He did not have his permit when I had my accident. It was 3 months later that he took the required drivers ed class and another 3 months before he turned 15 and could take the test for his learner’s permit. But he is very observant and I found it interesting that he saw a difference.
Traumas change us. When my husband was healing after surving a massive heart attaack and long hospitalization, people began to ask if things were “back to normal”. There is no going back. I remember feeling, Life will never be normal again. I realize now that things can become “normal” again but it is a new normal. The experience changes you forever and the change can be both positive and negative. Hopefully we can heal enough through the experience to take more positive change with us and learn to release the negative or allow it to subside.
My husband calls his heat attack “getting hit by a two by four”, a sort of wake up call.
I have decided that it is much more challenging being the one smacked by the “two by four” than to be the caregiver. At least, that has been my experience. I could see far more positive change after my husband’s heart attack. Yet, when I was the one in pain, it was difficult for me to step outside of my experience. As I say that, it makes perfect sense. At the time when my husband was recovering, it was frustrating to be in this place of new understanding and clarity and he seamed to be mostly angry, frustrated. Maybe I was more in a spiritual place and he was more in his body. Unlike my car accident, had no memory of his heart attack. He had pain but had no idea it might be a heart attack and then he went into cardiac arrest and remembers nothing until after he woke up hours later after coming out of the cath lab. I saw him in the ER before he went to the cath lab and he was “awake” and they told him he had a heart attack and he had this look on his face like “you have got to be kidding me” but he has no clear memory of this. And so he awoke to discover what had happened and to be on a bed restricted to laying absolutely flat for a humber of hours and then it took time before he could sit up and over a week before he could stand and walk.
I knew the car was going to hit me before it did and I can feel the impact of metal on metal. When I stop and think about it, I can feel it in my entire body. I recall vividly the experience of my car coming to a stop and seeing smoke coming out of the dash and feeling that I needed to get out of the car. I can relive the moments like it happened yesterday. Yet, I know I was in a state of shock after the impact. After all, it was dust coming up from the air bag on the passengers side that I saw and not really smoke, but at the time, my instincts told me, smoke means get out of the car and quickly. I even wanted to move far enough away from the car after I got out of it. I had no idea that my arm was injured from the glass and that my nose was bleeding and that my air bag had not gone off. I remember some blood dripping but had no need to figure out where it was coming from. Once I was out of the car, others began helping me and I am sure laying down helped me. Then it was a long wait as the medics arrived and the police officer came over to talk to me, all with me lying flat on m back staring up at the sky. I think about it and feel like I was fully aware of everything. yet, I know there was a hazy fog of shock that likely lasted for days or weeks.
As I ramble on writing about this experience, I am thinking about all of the day to day traumas in our life, all of the little disappointments as well as the bigger challenges that affect our daily experiences and our life as a whole. We respond differently depending on the situation. The common thread is whether it has primarily a negative impact or a positive one. How can a trauma have a positive impact? Even I wonder that too as I write this. I think it is what we take from the experience. The decisions we choose to make because of it, not our initial gut reaction but the way we handle ourselves despite it. Most of the time it can be a big mix of both negative reacting and positive decisions.
Somemtimes, it just takes us longer to pull out of the trauma and to step outside of it and move forward. Sometimes we have no choice but to keep moving forward. Other times, we sit with the pain for a while.
When I think back on the days and weeks just after my accident, if I could go back in time, I would allow myself more time to heal. I know I took my time to some extent and yet I take from the experience a reminder to accept what is. If I don’t feel well on any given day, I really try now to stop and think about what must get done and what can wait. LIfe is no longer the rat race that I used to feel when I was younger. Some days, it is good to stay in your pajamas and watch tv with your kids or make cookies and eat them for dinner.
Life really is too short to be in a hurry and rush though jumping from one thing to another without any time to breath.