“One foot in front of the other,” that’s what people always say. Sometimes I get tired of hearing that, or telling people that everything is okay because I just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes it’s hard to keep moving forward when everything inside me wants to just stop, and it’s hard to tell people I’m okay, when really I’m not.
The truth is, yes, we have to keep moving forward, but sometimes it’s okay to stop. It’s okay to cry, and it’s okay to heal slowly. This week a friend told me that an acquaintance of ours told her, “we just need to get Lisa out of the house, that’s what she needs.” Thankfully my friend that was told this understands what it’s like to feel so overwhelmed with panic and anxiety, and she was able to say, “Lisa needs time to heal.”
I don’t understand why people who don’t really know me think they know exactly what I need. Even people who do know me sometimes think they know what I need. I wonder if it’s because they are uncomfortable with the situation, and they cannot handle the fact that I may not be the person I was before the car accident, and I need to time to heal in order to feel whole again.
Working in hospice, I see how uncomfortable people become when they don’t know how to handle things, and I understand that everyone responds differently to death, trauma, or whatever the circumstances may be. But why do so many people in their own discomfort feel like they need to “fix” someone elses situation, or simply avoid it all together.
Dealing with PTSD is not easy, and I’m quite embarrassed by it because I cannot control the flashbacks that may throw me into a full on panic attack. I’m grateful for friends who truly are able to walk beside me, sit in silence, even when it’s uncomfortable, and ask me how I’m feeling without pressuring me to talk.
Sharing my story is a part of my healing, but it’s when I’m ready and able to share. Not when someone askes me because they want to know the details of what happend for their own curiosity, and “getting me out of the house” is not going to make my healing happen any faster.
Trauma is not something that a person can experience, then wake up the next day, put on their shoes, leave their house, and simply go on with life. It’s something that take a lot of work to recover from. Mental, emotional, and physical work. Some days will be easier than others, and I will be able to put one foot in front of the other and press forward, and some days will be more difficult as I work to overcome my anxieties and fears.
Today was one of those difficult days. Between the rising anxiety, panic attack, and trying to maintain some normalicy in my family. I’m exhausted. I’m tired, and I feel like I cannot move one more step.
I need to stop. I need to breath. I need to focus on this moment, and what I need to do to get through it.
For Mother’s Day my husband and kids brought me home some flowers from the garden store! I spent the afternoon with my hands in the dirt potting flowers. It was the perfect way to relax and enjoy the warm day.
There is something so healing about touching the dirt, feeling the grit on your hands, and under your finger nails. Seeing the beautiful colors added to the yard definitely brings me joy.
Everyone has a safe place. A place where we feel comfortable, relaxed, and at peace. A place where the stress of our lives cannot penetrate. My place is the beach. Although living in Colorado it’s a little hard to get to the beach.
After our car accident, my husband came to my first therapy session. It was there that he learned about my safe place. My safe place usually isn’t something that comes up in conversations, so I had never really shared about it with Chris.
That night, Chris came home after his soccer game and placed a towel at my feet and a large rectangular tub. I didn’t know what he was doing and then he came back with 100 lbs. of sand and created my own beach.
The journey of healing is a difficult one, but I’m grateful for my husband who walks with me, supports me, and creates for me a place I can sink my feet into the sand, close my eyes and place myself at my beach.
Life is filled with moments that become pivitol points of our stories. One of those points in my life happened on a cold day at the beginning of winter in 2010. My husband, 4 month old daughter, and I were driving home from the store when our Toyota Corolla was struck by a bus that had slid on ice.
Silence filled my ears, and I remember opening my eyes to see three men standing outside my door trying to open it. One man said dressed in normal clothes said, “you’ve been in an accident.” Then he pulled out his badge and said, “I’m a police officer, we are going to get you help.” I remember feeling pain as I tried to unlock my door thinking that was why they couldn’t open it. My daughter’s passifier was stuck in the broken window of the door.
She was seated in the middle of the back seat, and I was next to her, but I couldn’t move my body to face her. Hands came into the car and I could barely see them out of the corner of my eye. A woman then came around to my window and said, “I have your baby, she is ok. I’m going to sit in my car with her to keep her warm until paramedics come.” It was 19 degrees that day.
When I was finally able to speak I asked about my husband. Wondering if he was okay. No one would answer me, except say, “we’re going to get you out.” There was a machine brought in that opened our car like a can opener, and in a moment our car became a convertable. I don’t remember how, but the paramedics got me on a stretcher and I looked into the grey sky wondering, “could this be death? Is this my hell?”
Once I was taken to the ambulance, my daughter and I were taken to the hospital together. I asked again about my husband, and the woman, with the perfect cat eyeliner, said he was in another ambulance and we were going to the same hospital.
At the emergency room, all I could see was the ceiling with bright lights. I requested to see the chaplain. I asked her if she could tell me if my husband was okay, because no one had answered my question. She went to find him, and came back to tell me he was in the room next door and the doctors were treating him. She then continued to move between our two rooms, to check on both of us. I asked her to hold my baby, so my daughter was placed in her arms and held until our friend arrived at the hospital.
My family survived that horrible day. My daughter completely protected by her car seat came out with just a scratch on her leg, and my husband and I took the brunt of the injury, multiple broken bones, and lots of emotional trauma.
Finally, after six years, and multiple hours in therapy, healing from the images that haunted my mind, I was able to fully embrace life again.
For years, I battled with myself, fearing that one day I would die in a car accident, and my body would again feel the impact of that pain. Although I feared it, I never really thought it would happen again.
It’s been six and a half years since that first accident. Since then my daughter has grown into a beautiful little girl about to turn eight, my son was born in 2012, and our lives have been as normal as I thought they could be.
At the end of April 2017, my kids and I flew to Oregon to visit my grandmother who has now entered into hospice care. We left Oregon on a beautiful morning, and returned to a cold and wintery Colorado day. My husband picked us up at the Denver Airport to drive us home, and we stopped for dinner at Panda Express.
My body was tilted toward my husband and I was talking with him when he said something that caused me to look out the front window. There were cars ahead of us that were sliding on ice. My husband tried to tap the breaks, but we too were already on the ice. The feelings I battled with for years all returned to my body, as my husband attempted to take control of the car. Just before our car hit the cement barrier in the center of the freeway, I thought, “today we are going to die.” I thought the image of that cement barrier would be the last image I would see.
After hitting the center median, our car spun around and was bounced back across traffic toward the outer shoulder of the freeway. Looking out the front window, I saw we were about to hit a white car, and I turned my head to look out my passenger window just as another car hit into the side of our car.
Somehow, my husband was able to move our car mostly to the shoulder of the freeway. My kids were crying, I was crying, and my husband and I were telling them, “we’re alive, we’re going to be okay.” My husband called 911, and they advised us to stay in our car with our seatbelts buckled, and that help was on the way. I looked at my husband and I saw such fear in his eyes. We both knew that we were not safe on the side of the road.
Our windows were all steamed up because we were breathing so heavily and the car was not running. I remembered looking at the thermometer on the car that said it was 30 degrees outside. Both my husband and I were turned so we could see our kids in the backseat. The cries, and fear in their eyes broke my heart because I knew we would get hit again.
We heard a car skid across the ice and crash. My body felt jolted as I felt the car’s impact. I was flooded with fear and thoughts of dying, but I opened my eyes and we were all still there. From the impact, the keys of our car flew out of my husbands hand. He said, “find the keys” and I looked at the floor near my feet to see fried rice scattered all over with other little things mixed among it. I cried as I couldn’t find the keys, then he found them.
Outside my window two men were standaning. I opened my door and my husband asked them, “is it safe where you are.” They were standing on the outside of the cement barrier just before the barrier turned into a wall. I yelled, “my kids are in the car” then I think I shut my door. My husband said we had to move, but I felt frozen by fear.
He jumped out of the driver side door and ran around to the passenger side. He opened my daughters car door, but it wouldn’t open all the way so he pulled her out through the small opening. He opened my door and yelled to get out. I put one foot on the ground and found myself jumping over a cement barrier. I turned around instantly to see my son struggling to get out of his 5 point harness, and my husband reaching through the passenger side to grab him. He lifted him over the barrier and into my arms. I collapsed on the ground crying.
We were standing under a viaduct, everything around me felt sureal, multiple cars piled up, people standing under the viaduct. This couldn’t actually be happening. My husband took our son from my arms and said we need to move down away from the road so we are safer. I sat there as he and our kids walked down the cement slope and sat against a cement wall. I felt like I couldn’t move, I stood up and could feel pain in right hip and left shoulder. I was still wearing a surgical boot on my right foot from my surgery eight weeks prior.
I got to where my family was sitting, someone put a blanket around my kids. My daughter’s left eye was red and swollen, I could see an abrasion across her eye lid and side of her eye. I began to scream.
My husband recognized that my PTSD from our first accident was triggered and although I was sitting there, I wasn’t there. Paramedics came, and took us to the hospital by ambulance because they wanted to have my daughter checked out since she hit her head. I sat in the ambulance, trying to control my breathing, and feeling the pain settle into my neck, shoulders, and hip. I felt like I was in a nightmare and I couldn’t wake up. Everything began to replay in slow motion in my mind, compounded by the images of our accident year ago.
I am grateful because we are alive. But I am frustrated and angry because of the emotional pain that I am have to overcome again. I am seeing the same therapist I worked with after our first accident, and we are beginning therapy as a family. I never really thought I would feel this type of trauma again. It hurts.
Our lives are marked moment by moment, and some moments are more painful than others. One day we will begin that final stretch of healing, but for now, we are at the beginning of a long journey, and with each step we move forward we will find healing.
It breaks my heart to see my family struggle, each in their own way. As a mom, we never want our children to suffer pain. But the reality is that life is difficult, and pain is inevitable, but beauty still surrounds us in the darkness.