CRASH!! Suddenly I was lying on the ground, face covered in blood. I’d fallen off my bike, face first, my mouth and teeth literally kissing the road. Everything went so damn fast, that for a moment the world turned pitch black before my eyes. I forgot where I was or what had happened. Coming to my senses, the foul taste of blood, which was oozing in a constant, flowing stream from my mouth onto the street, creating a red, shiny pool bathed in moonlight, was the first cue that this was no ordinary accident. Something was terribly wrong! Second cue came when I felt my upper lip going numb, gently touching it with my fingers, realizing that it had been ripped apart. The last and 3rd cue came along with an eager, desperate, but fruitless, attempt to rid my mouth of all blood, sticking out my tongue, finding that several of my front teeth were missing. Knocked out. Root and everything. That’s when I started crying. Not because of the apparent, excruciating pain, which, for the time being, was delayed by adrenaline rushing through my veins at the speed of light, but because the worst things to lose in life are the things we can’t replace. I wasn’t expecting to lose the core of my smile at such an early stage of life.
Right next to me was a girl holding my hand, at first tenderly, then more firmly, as she gradually started to perceive the extent of injuries, wiping a mix of tears and blood from my face, while fighting to hide the fear painted in her eyes. A girl I’d only known for a little while but for whom I’d developed a lot of affection for within a short amount of time. We’d met about a month before the accident and was on our way home to her place when it happened. In a heartbeat, without a cloud of doubt in her mind, she jumped with me in the ambulance and kept holding my hand all the way to the hospital and didn’t stop when I was lying in a bed, waiting for a doctor to arrive. Needless to say that her comforting, caring, angelic presence made all the difference in the world to me during a night where she witnessed the same paradox over and over again; the boy next to her cursing a God he didn’t believe in to begin with.
In the days that followed, looking back on the accident and observing my reactions, thoughts and feelings, I learned that I went through 3 stages on my journey to mental recovery.
“The tragic event of being faced with our own mortality is so unexpected, that in the moments after a serious accident, we keep on living in denial. It takes a while for our mind to adjust to whatever our eyes are seeing.”
Stage 1: “Self-victimization”
The initial stage was overshadowed by self-victimization and anger: Why me? Why am I so unlucky? It’s not fair! It’s ironic how we never expect severe misfortunes to come our way until bad luck actually does rain upon us. Bad accidents only happen in movies and to the boy or girl next door, right? You just don’t let yourself believe it will happen to you. The younger we are, the more present the self-deceit. Being young the thought of dying is as unthinkable as hitting the jackpot. Our body has not yet shown any obvious signs of decay and death is a foreign, abstract concept. You feel immortal. You feel unbreakable. You feel forever young. The tragic event of being faced with our own mortality is so unexpected, that in the moments after a serious accident, we keep on living in denial. It takes a while for our mind to adjust to whatever our eyes are seeing. We become detached from the object of our vision, our injured body, because it doesn’t quite fit with the concepts of our mind. Did I really lose or break something that can’t be fixed?! That’s impossible, I must be dreaming! And then, as reality slowly sinks in, you ask yourself, why? Why me? Not very different from when Jesus was hanging on the cross at the end of his rope. Indeed, I did curse God several times during the night, but I’m not a religious person, so who or what was I cursing? In hindsight the answer seems clear; my naive, young and restless idea of immortality. My immortality, my immortality, why have you forsaken me?! The last piece of the idea shattered when the doctor told me I should consider myself lucky. Had my head taken the fall instead of my mouth things could’ve been a lot worse. A lot. In that moment my mind seemed to readjust, to mold a new concept of the vessel that it was kept in. A vision of the body as immortal and unbreakable was replaced by a vision of the body as mortal and fragile. Life itself became fragile. Suddenly I became the boy next door.
“You wish more than anything in the world that you’d be able to turn back time. You close your eyes, doze off to sleep and expect to wake up, realizing that none of it ever happened. That it was all a bad dream.”
Stage 2: “Self-blame”
Next came a stage where I was being overpowered by self-blame and regret. Why am I so senseless to have done this? Only someone like myself can make such a foolish mistake! There must have been at least a million things I could’ve done differently to avoid the accident! My blurry mind wasn’t able to grasp every single detail of the incident, however, everything I did recall kept playing like an old movie in my head. Including every single conversation, action and decision leading up to the crucial moment. Why did I call my friend to meet up that day? Why didn’t I just stay at home? Why did I have to take my bike in the first place, when I could have enjoyed the comfort of public transport? At this stage you keep knocking your head against a brick wall. It appears that everything you did and said that day naturally caused the accident to happen and if you’d only done one single thing differently, you would’ve been just fine. You wish more than anything in the world that you’d be able to turn back time. You close your eyes, doze off to sleep and expect to wake up, realizing that none of it ever happened. That it was all a bad dream. I used to believe that all things happen for a reason. But everything we encounter in our lives are mere coincidences. Simple chains of cause and effect with unforeseen consequences. A boy might have been walking on the street I was driving on hours before the accident and by impulse, kicking a small stone, causing it to land on the road at the exact same spot I lost control of my bike. At some point you open your eyes, look around and realize that the accident DID happen. You wake up to reality. The reality that time is irreversible. You are at a crossroads. You can choose to either drown in self-blame and pity, a sure way slipping into a depression, or letting go of your frustrations by coping with your emotions constructively.
“I started to accept life as it comes. We might not be able to control what happens to us, which is often influenced by outer circumstances, however, we can control how we react to it.”
Stage 3: “Acceptance”
Fortunately, I came to the conclusion that there’s no point in playing with “what if-scenarios”. After all, I’m still here. I kept reminding myself that things could’ve been a lot worse and that I by no means was the only person in the world experiencing what I felt. Somewhere out there someone else was being faced with an unfortunate turn of events in their life and was fighting to move on. Becoming aware that you’re not alone in your struggle helps you regain some perspective. I had reached the 3rd and final stage on the journey to mental recovery. I started to accept life as it comes. We might not be able to control what happens to us, which is often influenced by outer circumstances, however, we can control how we react to it. This attitude opens a world of possibilities while tearing down obstacles. I realized that being frustrated about what happened would only make matters worse. I shifted focus from what should have been done then to what could be done now. Sure, it’s impossible to change the past but you might just learn from it. Life is a journey of learning and growth. Through my accident I’ve learned that, even though I’m still young, my body is fragile. That life is fragile. I know that the outcome of my accident wasn’t fatal but it could’ve left me in a wheelchair, had gravity taken my head on a different course. It’s bad enough to make me think. To make me understand that accidents are a part of life and that they DO happen to all of us, not just the boy or girl next door. To make me more grateful towards life and to take better care of myself. I might have lost several of my teeth for good but I still got a beautiful, untouched mind. I got hands to write. Feet to walk. Eyes to see. Ears to hear. With ever-changing, random chains of cause and effect shaping the world and time as they unfold, none of us can be sure if we’ll live to see another sunrise. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Nothing is. We only got one chance to make it right and that should be an integral part of our mindset, the very foundation of our actions, throughout our limited time here. Not to live in fear. But to live to our fullest.
And the angel watching over me that night? Well, she never left my side in the days following the accident. There’s not a trace of doubt in my mind that the unconditional, sacrificial love and care we receive from people in our lives in times of hardship will make us heal faster. They are truly the most precious thing in life. They are the greatest gift of all. An accident shouldn’t be necessary for us to realize that. These people deserve our appreciation and devotion every single day, regardless.
Have you gone through hard times recently? What have you learned from the experience? Leave a comment below.