A friend said to me last week, “Keep sharing these parts of you…you’ll never know how many lives you’ll impact along the way.”
Ever since my accident, I easily share the good parts – how far I’ve come in my physical recovery, how I’m indoor cycling again, how we’re able to travel again. But nobody wants to talk about the ugly parts. The ugly parts are hard.
But if I don’t share the whole story, then you only know the shiny Instagram-worthy parts of the story – and maybe someone else with ugly parts to their story doesn’t get the benefit of the reminder that the ugly part is temporary – or the benefit of hearing someone else just say “it’s OK to not be OK.”
I have learned so much about trauma this year – and how deep-seated it can be. Isn’t it lucky that I didn’t really know much about trauma until 33 years old? There’s something to be thankful for.
Right after the accident, my friend Kim was telling me how smart our brains are. And how good they are at packing crap in tiny boxes and burying it so deep that if you don’t acknowledge that and start unpacking those tiny boxes right away, they will get so buried and covered up with brain cobwebs that you might never get them out. I heard her – but didn’t really hear her. Then one day a month or so after the accident an ambulance went through my neighborhood with its siren on. Next thing I knew I was on the floor in my dining room covering my ears and I couldn’t breathe. I was unconscious when the ambulance came to my accident – I thought. But I must have heard that siren in October after all. And my brain connected the dots that the siren meant this was real bad. And the first time I heard a siren after the accident, even though I was safe in my house, my brain said “you’re in trouble. This is bad. Remember?” There were several other things like that – Escalades, stepping off a curb to cross the street, driving, riding in an Uber with a stranger in control of my life.
So I started thinking there might be something to this “tiny boxes of trauma in your brain” theory that Kim had. If you watched the NHTSA video, you know how much Andy ended up helping me over the course of the next few months. It was so good. After our time together ended and I felt in control of things, he’d check in from time to time and I’d say “yeah, I’m actually really good – I am.” And I meant it. I felt pretty normal and even keel. Sirens didn’t affect me that way anymore – Escalades didn’t make me want to pull off the road. I honestly felt better.
Then on July 8, there was a super public hit and run accident with a cyclist and an SUV on the Natchez Trace Parkway in greater Nashville. Since it was captured on video, I watched it a million times. I read everything about this asshat who hit the cyclist. I followed the story obsessively waiting for him to be arrested. Then I read all about him when they released his name. I sent the victim of the hit and run a Facebook message like a crazy person, letting him know I could refer him to resources for this trauma he’s experienced and he should take them, don’t wait. Apologies, sir – I am not always insane.
Then came all the victim shaming comments, HUNDREDS of them, on social media. I remembered people had similar things to say about me on the news reports of my accident, just on a lesser scale since my accident wasn’t viral like this video. Fortunately I was on a lot of pain pills when I read them so I didn’t really care what the trolls said, and have never gone back to revisit them. But this time, in regards to this Natchez Trace accident, I started sparring with these morons on Facebook, defending this cyclist and the rules of the road. By Monday, two days later, I could barely breathe and was uncontrollably weepy and stabby at the same time. I still wasn’t 100% putting it all together, but knew enough to call for help and try to get an appointment with someone.
Then Kim – God bless Kim – texted me and said “you doing ok with this Natchez Trace bike hit-and-run story?” I was like NOPE. That’s what is happening. I am coming unraveled and did not see this coming. Thank you for validating that.
What the heck!? I thought I was cured – remember? I did manage to get right into see someone through our Employee Assistance Program at work. It was a weird fit, this therapist, but she sat there and let me cry, validated my breakdown and handed me tissues, and it turns out that’s kind of all I needed.
I wrote this in my journal on July 11, which was a few days after that Natchez Trace incident:
Here’s the thing I’m learning about trauma. It doesn’t just go away. You aren’t just well, one day. It is always a little tumble of feelings and thoughts in your brain.
You know when you were little and playing outside as a kid, and sometimes you’d see those little baby tornado things whipping across the driveway? It’s a little gust of wind that twirls and twirls and picks up leaves and then breaks apart and disappears. I used to try to jump in them and hope I’d get swept way up in the air. I feel like that’s what’s sweeping around in my brain – real low, at the bottom, just hovering along. But sometimes it gets stronger and the elements are just right and it picks up steam and starts collecting leaves and debris and before you know it it’s a full blown tornado of anger and resentment and what ifs and shit gusting through my head.
So, I have decided more than anything now (which could all change tomorrow because that’s the thing about trauma), it’s OK to not be OK. And that I probably won’t ever be really healed. And that’s OK too. But I can talk about it – and maybe somebody reading this needs to also hear that it’s OK to not be OK. And I can keep unpacking the tiny trauma suitcases just as fast as this world fills them up inside my head. Because it’s my head and I get to be the landlord.