After the Storm: The Hidden Scars Within

It’s been three weeks since I’ve had my car accident. The bruises on my abdomen have faded into near oblivion, and the welts on my arms are completely gone. You wouldn’t know I was in an accident if you were to look at me*. The soreness is nearly gone as well, and I’m going to taiji classes again. These are all good things, obviously, but they are also part of the problem I’m having in dealing with the aftermath. You see, since I’m mostly back to pre-accident form, my brain has a hard time accepting that I recently suffered a serious impact. Let me explain. I’ve been getting back into doing my taiji routine every morning. About a week and a half ago, I did the whole thing including the weight set, thinking I was ready for it. I was not. I was wiped out, so I started paring back. Looking back, I was too optimistic because I felt basically the same as I had before the accident. “Hey, I’m not too sore. I’m not too achy. I’m about about eighty-percent. I can do everything I used to do!”

Well, I can, but then I pay the price afterwards. The good news is that I immediately recognized I couldn’t just do what I  used to do, pretending the car accident never happened. I didn’t soldier on with my morning routine, gritting my teeth through the exhaustion. This is what I would have done before I started studying taiji. I have perfectionistic tendencies, believing that I either have to do something one-hundred percent or not at all. I’m getting better by telling myself that, hey, if you do seventy percent, that’s still better than doing nothing, but it’s not hard to chastise myself for not doing it all. It’s doubly frustrating because it’s the sword practice that wears me out. My favorite part of taiji, and I have to cut back on it. Normally, I have a metal sword I use, but I’ve had to switch to my crappy wooden one because the metal one is too heavy right now. It’s ironic because before the accident, I was looking into buying an even heavier metal sword because my current one was becoming too light. Also, before the accident, I was starting to do the (metal) sword with wrist weights. Can’t do that any longer, either. If I do my pared down routine in the morning before a class, I can only do one full Sword Form in class before getting tired. In a few of the classes I’ve been to since my accident, my teacher wanted us to do two full forms. The first time, I was wiped after one and sat out the second. The second time, I did half the second form. The third time, I did both all the way through, but was exhausted afterwards.  In addition, I have picked up the sabre exactly twice since the accident. It’s wood and heavier than my sword. It felt as if I were waving around ten pounds, and it was arduous. By the time I finished (and I only know two-thirds of the form) it the second time I tried it, I knew I wasn’t doing that again any time soon.

I hate feeling weak and frail. Part of the reason I started taiji was to feel strong, and it’s discouraging that I’ve regressed. Even though I know it’s understandable given the circumstances, i still get frustrated when I have to scale down my morning routine because I just can’t do it all. In addition, I was cleaning the fridge with my mom a few nights ago, and it took roughly an hour. I’ve done it by myself in the past with little problem. In fact, I would sing as I did it, maybe do a little dance or two. And since I normally clean at midnight, I’d be topless because naked cleaning is the best. This time, though, by the time I was done, I was dizzy and wiped out for the rest of the day. I half-wish I had physical reminders of my accident,** because right now, it’s too easy to gaslight myself. “It’s not that bad.” “You don’t have any broken bones or even anything sprained.” “You should be able to do everything now since you got off so lightly.” Intellectually, I know that I experienced a physical trauma, but it’s hard to accept it emotionally. I will give myself credit for not pushing myself to the point of harm, let alone past it, but I’m beating up myself too much for not being able to do more.

Driving-wise, I’ve adjusted fairly well to doing it again on a regular basis. I didn’t drive for a few days after my accident, and then I started to re-acclimate myself to it again. The first time i got behind the wheel, I drove for two minutes in a parking lot. It wasn’t easy because my whole family was there, and my driving abilities are inversely-related to how many people are in the car and who the people are. When I was younger, I refused to drive with my brother in the car because he can’t stop himself from commenting on what the driver should or shouldn’t be doing. He’s an excellent driver, and I’m not a good one (even before the accident), plus I get performance anxiety, so it’s not a good situation in the best of times. In this case, being the first time I was driving again after my accident, having my brother in the car wasn’t great. Even though I was driving in the parking lot, only going about fifteen miles per hour, he had to say that I cut a turn a little too close. I valiantly refrained from bopping him on the nose, but I was thinking it, believe you me. I was relieved to turn over the keys back to him, and I chalked up my first post-accident driving attempt as a success. The next day, I drove a mile to my nearest Cub (grocery store), and I was hyper-vigilant the entire way. When I started up my car to pull out of a parking lot, a pickup truck screamed by me at a million miles an hour (more like ten, probably), and I literally flinched, my hands clamped on the steering wheel. I made it home without any problem, but I was wiped out when I got there. Not just emotionally from being ever-watchful, but physically as well. The next day, I went to Cub again, but I incorporated driving on a MN highway in my trip. Someone made a left turn in front of me, which is how I got hit in my accident, and I freaked out a bit. The person cut it a little close, but was perfectly fine. Yet, I still reacted as if the car had slammed into me. On that same day, I rode by the place of my accident, and it was really strange because there wasn’t any hint that my accident had even occurred.

The next day, in continuing my desensitization project, I went on the freeway. Oddly enough, it wasn’t as difficult emotionally as driving on the local roads, except for that one car who refused to get off my ass. I did find myself driving slower than I normally would, but that’s probably a good thing. The next night was the big test, however. I’d be driving to taiji for the first time since my accident, at the very studio I was driving to when I had my accident a week prior. I was nervous and tense the entire time, but it passed without incident. Yes, I was more aware of the cars around me, but, again, that’s not a bad thing. I think it’s easy to get too comfortable while driving, forgetting that you’re in three thousand pounds of…um…plastic and metal that can seriously damage the fragile mortal coil. I’m trying not to be hyper-vigilant, however, because I perform worse under pressure. In addition, it’s exhausting to always be on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop. That’s how I am, anyway, so I don’t need that feeling to be jacked up any more than it already is.

Honestly, though, driving after my accident isn’t as stressful as I thought it’d be, for which, I’m glad. Again, the mentality of accepting that I can’t do what I used to be able to do is the biggest hurdle for me to overcome. I already feel like I’m the laziest person on earth, so only being able to do perhaps seventy percent of what I used to do makes me feel even worse about myself. I had planned on cutting out the ibuprofen I take several days ago, but then I had a minor relapse, so I kept taking it. What do I mean  by a minor relapse? I had a sudden flash of pain behind my right eye,*** followed by pain in my back. Now, remember, up until this point, I had only been sore in my shoulders and neck, not my back. Even now, I hesitate writing about it because it’s not excruciating–just lowkey always there. I’m discouraged because until this relapse, I felt I was eighty to eighty-five percent recovered. Now, I’d put that number closer to fifty/sixty percent. In addition, it’s hard to know what is and isn’t related to the accident. If I had a broken arm, it’d be easy to think, “Oh, I get tired because my bones are mending themselves.” Now, when I get tired, I think, “Why are you tired? You’re fine! You should be able to do what you’ve always done.”

But, it’s only been three weeks. That’s not that much time in the grand scheme of things. I cut out the ibuprofen yesterday, and so far, it’s OK. I have pain in my back that extends down my legs, but it’s pretty lowkey. Don’t worry, I’m going to get it checked out next week. I’m still tired all the damn time and while I’m slowly ramping up my morning routine again, agonizingly slowly, but at least I’m increasing it. I’m trying to be patient with myself, even though that’s not natural for me. I want to continue to make progress, but I don’t want to set myself back by pushing too hard. It’s a fine line to draw, and I’m erring on the side of caution for now. I’m trying really hard not to yell at myself too much for being ‘lazy’, and I’m succeeding for the most part. My boys are tending to me by plopping down on me at inconvenient times–which isn’t great when I’m already experiencing hot flashes intermittently throughout the day. By the way, whoever named them ‘hot flashes’ needs to be taken to task for making them sound so benign.

Anyway, I need to get my back checked. I hate going to the doctor, but I think it’s merited this time. It’s not painful, but it does ache. When I move in certain ways, there are little jabs of pain. An addendum, as is my wont, I’ve written this post over several days. I’ve started using my metal sword again, but without wrist weights. I’m doing my whole morning routine, and it’s not fatiguing me unduly. I haven’t added the weight set back in yet, but I will try to do it tomorrow. On Monday, I had a bad scare on my way to taiji. A woman in an SUV cut me off just before I was exiting the freeway. I knew she was going to do it, so while it was irritating, it wasn’t detrimental. I kept my eye on her as I was right behind her. Sure enough, she cut to the right lane so she could be two seconds ahead of where she had previously been. I didn’t like the way she was driving so, I kept her in my periphery (I was to her left). Suddenly, without warning, she swerved into my lane right where I was. She hesitated as she did, which gave me a half-second to slam on my brakes. Thank god the person behind me had left plenty of room. As I slammed on the brakes, I was frantically pounding my steering wheel for the horn (not in the same place as my old car). Found it and blasted her for three seconds as she pulled in front of me. She cut into the left-turn lane, turned left, pulled into a parking lot and just sat there. I had impulse to follow her so I could cuss her out, but I just kept driving, somewhat shakily. Had she hit me, I would have punched her in the face probably. I was so furious and rattled. As I saw the car coming towards me, all I could think was, “Not fucking again!”

When the adrenalin wore off, I realized that she had probably swerved to avoid hitting something in her lane, or she got an upsetting text or something because she pulled off the road to collect herself. It didn’t make me feel any better, but at least it made her behavior more understandable. It also underscored that some things are really out of my control. Had she swerved half a second later, she would have hit me. That half second was all I needed to react, but had I not had it, I would have been hit. Again. That should terrify me, but, on the contrary, it’s actually weirdly comforting. I can be alert and watchful. I can drive the best I can, and, still, it’s better to be lucky than good. In other words, I can only do so much–it’s good for me to realize that as I tend to think I can control everything. I can’t. This time, I was lucky I wasn’t hit. Last time, I wasn’t. I’m really glad I’m lucky more often than not.





*I’m very fortunate in that way. I’m so fortunate, the insurance/health care claims woman I talked to remarked on it, saying I should have been worse given how hard I was hit.

**I don’t, and, again, I’m really grateful that it was so much better than it had any right to be.

***I had these before the accident, leading to really bad headaches, but I haven’t had one in some time.




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