If you’re joining the story now, please feel free to read the first part of it: http://bit.ly/1Leo8Fp
These are lessons that I have learned the hard way and that I’m here to share.
Lesson #5: Don’t give up on finding the right care from the right professional
It can be incredibly difficult to navigate the confusing network of health professionals. So many people get lost when they try to figure out if they should seek treatment options from general practitioners, massage therapists, physical therapists, acupuncture specialists, chiropractic doctors, nutritionists, personal trainers, psychologists, and more. One common question is: “Should I try one at a time or opt for multiple forms of treatment at once?” This is a tricky question to answer because it’s very different for each and every person, according to their condition and stage of healing.
For me, I’ve tried it all. Literally. I sought out acupuncture and cupping techniques with one specialist, cognitive therapy for post-traumatic stress with another, chiropractic adjustments with two doctors, physical therapy with five different professionals, and massage therapies from an uncountable number of nimble-fingered individuals. This is not even an exhaustive list of the professionals I worked with while trying to recover from my accident. The reason I kept trying different things is because every person gave me a different opinion. I would give heed to their opinion and try their approach for a while and if it wasn’t working out, then I moved on to the next.
Although I had moments when tears of frustration would roll down my face, feeling like I had set out on a fruitless treasure hunt, I just knew that I had to keep trying. What on earth would happen if I gave up?! Thus, the years stretched on, but ironically, I started to learn so much more than I bargained for. I began to learn how to heal other people who were dealing with back pain. In the time that it took me to heal my own, I helped over a dozen people quickly dissolve their issues. Perhaps, I thought, those seemingly pointless efforts with other health professionals weren’t such a waste of time after all!
In the end, I’ve learned that different stages of healing may require different forms of assistance. For example, there was a time when the most important thing for me to do was heal emotionally. Once I was calmer, I began to believe in the physical healing process again. Once I rebooted that journey, I found that needling in physical therapy worked for a while, to bring flexibility back to stiff muscles that had been stuck in spasm. At another point, I found that my muscles were flexible enough to allow my back to get adjusted into alignment by a chiropractor. And finally, I found that my body was getting better and better at keeping me in alignment all on its own, thanks to being able to increase strength training again.
This long, drawn-out process is just my story. (Believe it or not, we barely scratched the surface.) It doesn’t have to be so convoluted for everyone. What’s important is that you keep looking for the right help. Once you’ve found a great professional, give them time to really impact your body with their treatment/approach. Full healing won’t happen overnight so try not to leave after your first session expecting the process to be done.
Lastly on this subject, although I’m preaching to give practitioners time and patience, it’s also important to recognize and get out of a bad situation. One chiropractor I used to work with actually had the audacity to tell me not to gain weight, citing that it wouldn’t be attractive to men. It was so out of the blue (not to mention UNCALLED FOR) that it completely took me aback. I told the chauvinist straight to his face that he was lucky he said that to me and not another woman because I wouldn’t sue the pants off of him for harassment. This was not the first comment of his that was inappropriate. I walked out of his clinic that day and never turned back. There is nothing more damaging than someone who is supposed to heal you trying to tear you down instead. I deserved better. You deserve better.
Lesson #6: Inflammation does weird things to the body
Yes, it’s true. When inflammation is high, your body reacts in strange and confusing ways. For example, I already mentioned to you that my body gained a lot of weight during this time. Part of this weight gain was my body hoarding fat because it was scared for its life (rightfully so). Another part of the weight gain was because of excessive water retention. My body couldn’t figure out how to flush anything through its system because it was so backed up and slowed down by all the stresses it was trying to combat.
I can remember one evening when I was with a group of friends, and the guy I liked at the time, at a bar. I drank a cocktail and it sent me over the edge. I felt sick and got an intense menopausal-like hot flash. I couldn’t understand what was going on with my body. All I knew was that I needed to cool down FAST. I was profusely sweating through my dress. I told my friends that I needed to go to the bathroom but instead, I snuck around the bar counter and flung open a beer fridge’s door. If I could have squeezed my whole body into that cool little space I would have. I was desperate.
I understand now that when the body is severely inflamed, even simple things like eating a food that you are sensitive to, or drinking an alcoholic beverage, can tip you into unpredictable states of discomfort. I wish I could say exactly what happens to each person in every scenario known to man, but I can’t. I can only say that keeping attuned to your healthy – or unhealthy – habits is more important than ever. Pay attention to how your body is reacting. It’s a powerful experience to realize just how prepared our bodies are to defend themselves. It physically feels like a bad thing, but it’s actually a good thing in the end.
There was another time that I experienced something really bizarre, that I think may have been related to inflammation too. It happened to me was about a year after the accident. I went for a jog on a treadmill one afternoon. It felt good. Later that day, I had red spots all over my legs. I couldn’t tell if they were burst blood capillaries, an allergic reaction, or what! Even doctors weren’t sure. It was terrifying.
I’m still not sure what the red spots were from but I have my suspicions. I was hyped up on Ambien every night, to help with my insomnia, and I took pain killers from time to time, when my pain got really bad. In other words, my body was dealing with a lot of foreign substances. It seemed that anything wacky was game to happen.
Since I noticed that my body was obviously NOT okay with me putting anything foreign or toxic into it, I started to strip down my diet and reduce medications. I was extra careful about everything I put into my body. Over time, eating clean and being cautious about medicines really helped me. I think the crazy bodily dysfunctions were its way of telling me to stop putting foreign substances into it, and to let it do what the human body is best at: take care of me.
Pictures on top = post-exercise red spots.
Pictures below = marks from cupping treatments I did for a while…definitely not ideal during sundress season.
Lesson #7: If your spirit is defeated, your body is defeated
A few months after my accident my cousin visited. She was excited to see Washington, DC and at the time, I lived smack dab in the center of “the action.” She was in my bathroom, showering and primping to get ready for a fun girls’ night out, while I was in my bed, head spinning and body screaming for more sleep. She came into the room and asked if I was feeling okay. The only thing I could say was “I feel like I want to go to sleep and never wake up again.”
She was in obvious shock at my statement and shared her concern. I had to explain to her that I wasn’t suicidal; I just didn’t want to keep fighting. I was spent! My comment just felt like the most natural statement I could make at the moment.
This feeling of burnout lasted for a while. I made many careless mistakes during that time in my life. I went out partying, initiated arguments with my family over nothing, and showed interest in “bad boys” when I had forever favored mamas’ boys. It wasn’t until I started to put more effort into finding peace within myself and with God that I got back on track.
I decided to initiate this process by taking a month off of work. I spent lots of time soul-searching in coffee shops and wrote a book that reconnected me to my faith. As I wrote, I started to realize that I wasn’t alone. I could stop feeling so afraid. I can still remember the day that I fell down to my knees in my shower – it hit me out of nowhere that God had been there for me the whole time, even when I had forgotten and lost my way. I began to understand how to replenish my spirit and thereby discovered energy to move forward and physically heal.
Lesson #8: The universe has a wonderful way of bringing the right people your way during times of need
I wonder if I would still be married to my husband if I hadn’t been hit by that car. I know it sounds crazy but it’s true! I met my husband during my “bad boy” streak and he was the farthest thing from dismissive, rude and reckless. He was compassionate and full of life. Although I tried to shrug him off, his persistence and light kept me tethered. Although I didn’t feel attractive or worthy at that time, he saw every good thing about me even though I was focused so exclusively on the bad.
I remember the night that we met. We ended up dancing for hours. Dancing became our favorite thing to do during the first few months of knowing one another. It felt great. We would find places to dance in the city and would continue dancing in our living rooms. Wherever we were, we found a way to celebrate and have fun. It was the most refreshing experience ever.
I really do believe that he was sent into my life at the exact right time. He helped show me that healing was possible and that there is much to be excited about, even when you’re not feeling physically great. I would briefly forget about my pain while I was having fun and laughing with him. Soon, the bouts of pain became less frequent and less severe. Eventually, I would go an entire 24 hours without severe pain. Even when pain did hit me with a vengeance, I found new ways to stay calm because I realized that someday I would get over it completely. Everything was going to be okay.
Lesson #9: Moments of weakness and frustration are not signs that you’re failing to heal
I wish I could say that healing is a linear process but alas, I can’t do that. I had many hang-ups and pitfalls along the way. Sometimes I would feel gently defeated and other times I would feel like an utter failure, but I learned to get over those negative mentalities. I learned to get stronger each and every time.
Simple moments challenged me, like when I slipped on ice during the winter and my back went into a brief spasm, and when friends would ask me to go to tough exercise classes with them and I would have to say no even though I had formerly always said yes. There were other more profound moments that set back my body and spirits too. For example, one mid-summer day I collapsed in my apartment building’s elevator. I had been carrying heavy groceries because I was planning to spend the whole day cooking for family. It was a quiet hour in the middle of the day so no one was around to help me. I crawled, dragging my groceries along the floor. I tried to stand up but keeled over again. I kept trying to get back on my feet but I collapsed another two times as I made my way down the hallway to my apartment. Once inside, I cried until I was too tired to cry more.
Although moments like this have the power to defeat you, they aren’t a sign that you haven’t made progress. Every time I would reignite the pain, I would get over it a little faster than before. Each time, I learned something valuable.
Lesson #10: Learning to let go is the final step
Has my body reached pre-trauma condition? Honestly…no. But, have I fully recovered? Yes. Let me explain…
Up until a few short years ago, I still had to put a heating pack on my back a few times every month. I would also occasionally have a sleepless night or two when my nerves would get set off and I’d fear falling back into insomnia. To this day, my back and hips have remained a little more sensitive and prone to instability. I keep it under control though.
My heart will always feel a little bit sad when I think of how dark some of those days of pain were but I also know that they taught me a lot. I decided years ago that I would be okay and my body has followed me in that decision. I’ve learned exactly what to do in 15-20 minutes to immediately correct a flare-up that would formerly last for months. I’ve also learned that I’m capable of surviving one of the worst kinds of pain in the world – the loss of self-identity. If I can rediscover myself and come out stronger, I know that you can too.
Recovery is possible when we decide to let go of hurt and move on. It’s a single, simple, profound decision [to let go] that one has to consistently choose, every day and during every moment of frustration. It’s a decision that is made in the midst of pain that can pull you through to the other side.
I believe that the power of letting go can have a meaningful impact in anyone’s life. I encourage you to give it a try.
I sincerely hope that sharing this authentic story will help someone else
find healing and joy soon too.
“Start believing you can.”
HI MAGGIE!!!!! We were truly in need of BOTH of your blog posts today! My husband was hit by a car last week Friday and he is on the couch in pain. He has no broken bones, only soft tissue damage but we are exactly in the moods that you mentioned in these posts!! I wish I could say how this helped but as his current (and temporary) caregiver, I will continue to be a shining light to inspire him and keep him focused on his healing process. I am about to look up ways for him to heal without him being only still….because….I think the couch may be doing more harm than good. Thank you again!
I’m so glad these posts spoke to both your husband and YOU! It can be a lot on the entire family unit to be hit with such physical and emotional strain. I’m so glad you are one of the enlightened individuals out there who is prepared to help your husband navigate through this. Everything is still very new with regards to this accident so be patient as things may not appear much better for a while or may miraculously change for the better over night. Either way, I’m certain you two have not been given more than you can handle together. Live it out, love fiercely and count blessings every day! Here for you.
Best in health,
Hi Maggie, before I respond in detail, I want to know if this is a current site: I am writing almost 3 years after you posted this! I, too have been on a post car accident journey. I am an Occupational Therapist, and frankly … I’d rather wear the white lab coat than the hospital gown. I almost died physically, emotionally, and spiritually … in that order in 2012 and the years following…. The two articles you posted were very inspiring and informative. God bless you. J.
Thank you for taking the time to read the articles and to share your experiences. While I’m truly sorry that you’ve been suffering from a similar scenario (car accident), I do hope that you’re feeling more on track now that some time and healing has passed. As people who are “healers” for others (aka, you as an OT and me as a health professional), it’s especially hard to be on the other side. But one of the greatest gifts my accident gave me is more empathy for others and meeting them where they’re at. I hope this serves your professional life positively as well. And, of course, the emotional and spiritual healing is a whole other giant ballgame that’s complicated, beautiful and redemptive all at once. Blessings to you as you journey onward from this life changing experience and period of time!
Yours in health and wellness,
Thank you for sharing your experience. I was hit by a car about 10 months ago when I was out walking my dogs (one of whom died that day), and about 5 and 6 months ago I was in two additional motor vehicle accidents that exacerbated my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual injuries. I have been frustrated and confused with all of the weird things happening with my body. I have been so confused why my injuries aren’t just going away with time (like my doctor and specialists keep promising me they will). I am experiencing so many of the symptoms you described, right down to the weird water retention, weight gain, flare ups, clicking and swelling In my ankle and knee, sleeplessness, radiating pain, and the random red spots on my legs that come and go. I have felt so frustrated and defeated. It’s good to know that I am not alone in my experience, and that what I am experiencing is normal and part of the healing process. I have been seeing a chiropractor, massage therapist, a psychologist (for Emdr therapy), I saw a physiotherapist, and was recently referred to an Acupuncturist. I hope you can point me in the right direction if you have any specific exercises, stretches, activities, or therapies that you found helpful.
First, thank you for being so open about your struggles – I’m a believer that sharing our stories is a part of the healing process. I’m sorry that this happened to you but I’m glad to hear you’re being so proactive about your health. Many people don’t take action like you are already doing, so take heart, give yourself grace and value your intuition. You’re already doing your body/mind/spirit tremendous good by seeing the specialists you mentioned and paying attention to your body’s cries for help.
With only this bit of information it’s hard to give full advice/actionable steps and it’s not my place to diagnose…but what I can do is say that it sounds like you’re dealing with a lot of inflammation and stress, in addition to pain. Healing does take time, like all your doctors have said. It’s hard when we spend months in the healing process and feel that things should be better. I’ve been there. I would start by trying to drop expectations of how fast you should heal. Sometimes healing can take years because in the process our lifestyle habits get deconstructed and built up brand new, a worthwhile and healthy journey that is gradual, tests our patience, and requires a lot of energy. So, hang in there! You may be a new person on the other side of this chaos and will reflect some day on all the hidden good the season of struggle ultimately resulted in because of how strong it makes you.
I will also say that for a stressed and inflamed system, intense exercise is likely not going to help things. Go for gentle exercises (health and injury permitting) like low-impact endurance cardio for 30 minutes or less, walking, gentle or flow yoga, slow weight lifting with light to moderate weights, stability training, stretching and gentle mat work, etc. Anything that brings your cortisol levels too high may tax your adrenal system and keep you in sympathetic nervous system overdrive. Remind your body it is safe, stay gentle with it, and practice deep breathing. Anything that helps your body stay or come back to the parasympathetic nervous system is a good thing right now. Get plenty of sleep (that’s when healing happens best!), hydrate, and eat anti-inflammatory foods. The holistic process will pay off in time.
I’m also a big believer in the power of prayer, regardless of differing religious beliefs. If that sounds too intense then try writing about your emotions for 15-20 minutes a day. Ask your therapist for other daily tasks that might be helpful and cathartic too.
I hope this is useful!
Wishing you the very best on your healing journey!
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