A year ago today I was in a car accident. Wait let me specify, I was a pedestrian hit by a car while crossing in a crosswalk. Paints a different picture, right? I’ve had a lot of anxiety leading up to this anniversary, a lot of flashbacks, and maybe too many drinks. A couple days ago I completely shut down with panic, stayed in bed all day, slept, wept, and generally allowed myself to fall apart. Yet this emotion is not coming from a place you’d expect it to. I’m not worried or anxious about my anniversary date of getting hit by a car. I am anxious of this anniversary date because a year ago in the days leading up to that moment in the crosswalk at 5:20pm I was in a different place in life. That place that I was in is what calls for all the focus.
I’m not saying that the car accident doesn’t stand out in my memory. I’m not saying I don’t vividly remember the impact of the front of the car with my left hip. I’m not saying I don’t remember the feel of hard gravely asphalt against my hands as I tried to push up off my face. I’m not saying that the car accident wasn’t traumatic, because it was. The fear of crossing streets stayed with me for the better part of the rest of 2016. The panic I would get when cars would drive by me as I walked down the street was very real. On certain days, even now, my heart jumps as a car rushes by. Being out of work, going through physical therapy, and finding my way to recovery physically and mentally took a huge toll, but it all just added to a pre-existing battle.
As I was trying to refocus, in that moment on the ground, right after the impact, my immediate reaction was “oh no, I’m late”. I had an appointment with my psychiatrist at 5:30pm that day. I had just transitioned into seeing a new guy a few months prior when my previous doctor didn’t work out. By didn’t work out I mean he was awful for me. We didn’t click; he didn’t understand me; he had worked me further into the downward spiral I was on. I didn’t know any better at the time. He had been my first psychiatrist and for me it had taken much effort, courage, and support from the one friend I did trust, to go into therapy. So when I finally made the transition to someone else, within the first two months I saw great change in myself. This guy and I clicked and he helped me to start finally making sense of my trauma. So when I was hit by that car and that thought popped into my head, I was worried about losing the upward direction that I was on. I was panicked to lose the opportunity to continue to prevent myself from the dark thoughts and memories that plagued me. I was terrified of falling back into a life of panic attacks, anxiety, and the lack of desire to go out and experience life.
That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is what gives me anxiety and panic now: who I was in that moment, what priorities I had in life, but more importantly how much I was drowning in my own life. What puts the fear in my heart now is knowing how bad of a place I was in, how out of control I felt, and never wanting to get back there. I am still so terrified of finding a trigger that will bring me back there.
So as I said, my first thought was “oh, no, I’m late”. My second thought was “oh, no, what about work tomorrow?”. This was at a time when I was fighting tooth and nail at being a superstar at work with demanding hours, overbearing client, strict management, trying to be nothing less than perfect, and feeling like I was failing every day.
As a passerby, who happened to be a doctor, rushed up to me, I realized that I probably should go to a hospital to get checked out. My body was in shock, my brain was only thinking linearly: appointment, home, work. I was dreading the possibility of needing to miss work the next day. I was afraid of losing my credibility and reliability. I was afraid I would be judged for being weak, unreliable, selfish, and lazy. This was all not because my bosses were awful people, but because in my head that is what I thought people would think and say if I was ever anything less than perfect. My PTSD whispered that that was the truth of life. In that moment I was afraid people would think I was being negligent for missing work and for needing time to take care of myself even if due to a very real situation.
I tried getting up off the ground to convince myself that I was ok, that I can brush this off and move on with my life like nothing happened. Yet something did happen. Then and also so many years ago. How about adding a little PTSD to my already existing PTSD? Yet as I stood, I realized that maybe I should sit. I sat down on a bench and I realized I really need to lay back down. As I laid down I forgot about my appointment. It wasn’t clear to me then, but I would come to find out that this, unlike so many other wrongs in my life, I wouldn’t be able to brush off and try to forget about it. I would have to deal with this head on. So as I lay on that bench, I forgot about my appointment. I forgot about work. My brain became fuzzy and thoughts stopped working coherently. Somewhere down the line I realized I probably should get the driver’s information. I probably should go to the hospital. Yet all I could do is lie there and try to focus.
Someone called 911 and before I understood what was going on I was being lifted into an ambulance. Then I began to worry again. I called my psychiatrist in a panic being so apologetic that I wasn’t coming. I think he received a very strange and bewildered phone call from me. I think he didn’t understand why I was apologizing… because I was in an accident and to him it made perfect for me to not be in his office. Yet in my head, accidents weren’t excusable. I believed in planning for life’s accidents and inconveniences. It was so important to me for him to understand that I didn’t do this on purpose, that I didn’t intend to waste his time.
With all the questions being asked by the nurses and all health care providers I did my best to keep it together. For me it was important to get the green light so that I could go back to my life and back to work. I called many people as I lay in the hospital bed; I don’t remember who all I talked to or what I said. I just needed to feel like I wasn’t alone. Yet I had no one to hold my hand and I so desperately didn’t want to admit how badly I wished someone was there to do so. My mother lives in California and the rest of my family in Europe. My friends were unavailable that night. I had no one. When I was discharged some 5 hours later with the diagnosis of a concussion, I somehow got home. I really should not have been the one to get myself there. Coming out of the emergency wing I was disoriented. I didn’t know where I was, nothing was making sense. I think I hailed an uber, successfully got in the right car and got myself home.
That night I called my boss to let him know that indeed I would be out for two days. My doctor said I should be back to normal on that same Thursday. All I remember from that conversation with my very understanding and concerned boss was how badly my voice was shaking and how my English deteriorated back to a European accent. What stands out most to me was my inability to speak due to a stutter. That was the moment I broke down and cried, because I realized that something had to really be wrong for me not to be able to speak.
I went to bed that night terrified of falling asleep with a concussion. What if I woke up with permanent damage? What if I needed help during the night? I was so scared and so alone. Yet I was more scared to reach out to anyone to ask for help in fear of being cumbersome. For as long as I can remember I have always felt like a burden, like a failure, not being strong enough, etc. In my mind I had to remain strong and see myself through this. So naturally, I couldn’t bring myself to call anyone for help.
That was the person I was leading up to the car accident. I was drowning in flashbacks of the person and of a time when I was told that I could never be worthy of anything or anyone. That is what has been haunting me these last few days leading up to the anniversary. The posts in this blog will revisit the year of my recovery, the battles I fought, and how I brought myself back from the precipice in hopes that I will finally find the rest of my peace, lose whatever fear I have left that is holding me back, and that I will finally be able to move on and close this chapter of my life. I’m going to remind myself how far I’ve come as well as share what worked and what didn’t work for me in learning to manage my PTSD.