Today was a milestone for me.
It’s just a few days short of a year that I was in a car accident on the way home from a doctor appointment in Springfield. I stopped at a red light on highway 60 and the girl behind me did not. Her SUV plowed into me at 60 mph, and pushed me into the Jeep in front of me. My poor car was totaled. I watched in my rearview mirror as I saw her not stopping and thought the only thing I could do was hold my brake as hard as I could hoping to avoid the Jeep. I blacked out for a few seconds, maybe a minute, it’s hard to tell. I just remember waking to the smell and the dust from the airbag deploying. I immediately called my husband because I was angry and sure that I was going to need a ride home. When the paramedics arrived on scene, they took my vitals, but I refused treatment. I knew I was going to be sore, but my adrenaline was pumping so hard that I couldn’t feel any pain and there was no blood. If you’re not dying, bleeding, or crying, then keep going, right? (A month later I had some MRIs done when I had a stroke and it was determined that I had a small fracture in my back that was unrelated to the stroke and most likely occurred as a result of the accident. Moral of the story, never refuse treatment and always get checked out even if you aren’t dying, bleeding, or crying.)
I returned to work the next day and carried on as normal as possible. I had a bruise on my hand and a knot on the back of my head. I was sore, but I physically pushed through because it was easier than finding a sub. I was now dealing with insurance and looking for a replacement for my beloved “Georgia”. I was terrified to drive in traffic or to be stopped at stoplights. I constantly looked in my rearview mirror. I refused to drive anywhere other than small towns.
That was hard for a girl who loved her road trips. That joy of the open road was stolen from me. I no longer enjoyed leaving my house.
A month to the day after the accident, I had a stroke. It wasn’t caused by the accident, but I do feel like the stress exacerbated the situation and was one of many factors that led to it. All strokes are different and the location of the stroke determines what is affected. My stroke was in the thalamus, which is the “relay station” of your brain. Everything except smell is processed through the thalamus and sent onto the appropriate brain center. The primary function of the thalamus is to relay motor and sensory signals to the cerebral cortex. It also regulates sleep, alertness, learning, and memory (https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/22652-thalamus). I had to learn how to walk, hold silverware, write my name…all the things. I frequently confused left/right, I tried to get out of my car without releasing the seatbelt. I cried over the weirdest things (I’ve never been a crier). Those things are getting a little better with time. I still don’t sleep well and struggle to focus. I stumble over words when I’m speaking, so I prefer written communication over having a conversation. I can’t remember most things unless I make myself a note.
These things only added to my not wanting to drive in traffic, or leave my house for that matter. PTSD plus traumatic brain injury is a bad combination.
Today was the first time since the accident and the stroke that I drove all the way to the other side of Springfield and back home by myself without any major anxiety or being on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It was for work. It wasn’t something I would have chosen to do on my own. I worried about it for a week, but I did it. And now I feel like I can do it again for something more enjoyable than first aid/CPR training for work. That’s a huge milestone that I am going to celebrate! It doesn’t matter to me if you don’t understand it. I don’t expect you to understand unless you have been through it. I just wanted to share it.
If you do have some trauma, let me share this.
Sometimes things happen that steal parts of us. It’s not fair. It angers us. It paralyzes us in fear. Hold on. There is healing.
Sometimes healing is restorative. You can reclaim what’s been stolen from you. But it isn’t automatically going to happen and it won’t happen in the same way or timeframe for everyone. Some might need the help of a counselor or medication. Some might experience instantaneous healing.
I am a Christian and my faith and relationship with God has played a huge role in my healing and restoration. Being a Christian didn’t keep me from going through hard things, and it wasn’t a magic wand to wave over the bad things to make them go away. Being a Christian didn’t mean I was going to always have the right response to triggers. I am human (with a traumatic brain injury to the part of my brain that processes emotions, remember?) Healing wasn’t a switch that God flipped one day and everything was all better. I’m still going through the process of healing.
Sometimes what’s been lost is not meant to be recovered. The door has been closed, but there’s another door to be opened. You can be bitter, or you can choose to reinvent. You can pivot and go in a new direction. I used to play the guitar, but I can’t do that anymore. It was incredibly frustrating when I would try and so I sold the guitars and found a new hobby. Prior to the stroke, I was learning hand lettering and had purchased lots of cool fudenosuke and brush pens to perfect the craft. That’s not happening anymore. My hand shakes and I can barely read my handwriting. I had a good cry over both of these losses, but chose to pivot to something else. Had those two doors never closed, I probably wouldn’t have found the new door to open.
I know that sounds easier than it is. Trust me, it didn’t happen overnight, but it did have to happen before any healing could begin to take place. You can choose to be the victim or you can choose to be the victor, but you can’t choose both.
By all means, grieve your losses, whatever they may be. Take time to sit with your disappointment. Allow yourself to feel your sadness for a time. After that– because there is an “after” just like there was a “before”– after you process the pain, choose to heal and grow. Don’t let what happened in your life serve no purpose. That’s wasting the best parts. I think the way through grief of any kind is allowing the loss to teach us and grow us. It allows what was lost to continue to have a place in our hearts.
Read more about a thalamic stroke here: