Healing only begins when you let the world in on your pain

What I learned in the year after my car accident

September of last year, two weeks after school began, I was in a car accident.

It was the cliché beautiful sunny day — like the “once upon a time” of every fairytale beginning. My family (parents, siblings) and I were on our way to eat at a restaurant.

As my dad made a right turn into the parking lot, we were struck from behind and thrown about 80 meters forward. It was a Sunday, so you can imagine how crowded the restaurant was. He swerved to prevent us from hitting the crowd and instead drove right into a brick retaining wall.

The physical injuries to me and my family affected us but not as much as the trauma that lingered in the year after.

It wasn’t something you should simply brush away and pretend never happened. But that’s what I did.

I pushed away the trauma, the anxiety and the fear. I didn’t take my physiotherapy seriously. That was my big mistake.

The first thing to do after an accident like that, naturally, is to take care of your physical health, registered psychotherapist Berak Hussain says. “Then we can talk about getting the mental and psychological support to work through trauma.”

One year later and the accident is still affecting my life.

It is already hard enough to be an undergrad. Now, add a traumatizing, life-changing experience to a life filled with classes and numerous commitments.

I simply didn’t have time to heal.

It didn’t fit into my schedule.

I didn’t think anything could hold me back.

I thought: “It’ll pass. I’ll just go to physio a couple times, and see a psychologist and I’ll be fine.”

A month ago was the one year anniversary of the accident. My father has been unemployed for a year. My mother has been sad for a year. My siblings have been trying to cope with the stress it’s caused — for a year.

I have found myself so overwhelmed that I cried to a friend over the phone about how much I messed up the year and how messed up I felt.

I complained. I hated every minute of school, every second of physio and every moment of awkward silence at the psychologists’ offices.

All I wanted was for someone to look at me and say, “I understand.” I wanted a shoulder to cry on and a hand to hold.

But, in reality, the insurance company will try to tell you your pain does not exist. Nor will the people in your life help who say, “Oh just toughen up,” or “I’m sorry that happened, but do you have the notes from yesterday’s class?”

This isn’t a sob story. I already did that.

My experiences in the past  year have shaped me in more ways than I could tell. This is for those people who have had a tough year.

But let’s look at the brighter sides of these situations.

A small moment near death clarifies to you what is most important in life. I discovered the people who do care about me in my life. I had the time to reflect on who I am and what I want. I realized the cliché is right: life is too short.

“Always try to create healthy routines, discipline, routine of life to get back to, the normality of things — that’s very helpful,” Hussain says.

You need to make time for yourself. Take a long walk. It’ll make you tired enough to sleep and silence the world.

Most importantly? Pick up the phone and call someone. Tell them what you’re feeling and why. Cry, scream, blow your sorrows in napkins and fumbled words to a supportive soul.

“Speak to a counsellor to process the shock of the situation,” Hussain says. “Accept that you can’t change what happened but, you can change the way you look at this trauma. And that is an empowering tool to have because you gain that control back.”

I didn’t truly start healing until I became open enough to let the world in on my secretly hurting soul.