At the end of May I received an email to a link of an article entitled, "The Opposite of Loneliness". It was sent to me by a volunteer at the end of a particularly intense project, one which we'd both played a critical role. The article struck me, not only because of the tragedy to which it was attached, but the potency of the words and emotions conveyed by the talented young author. I let the words and message rumble around in my mind for the following weeks, feeling especially moved by her work but unable to connect the meaning into my own life.
Marina's words would be put on hold for several weeks, not being indulged with even a passing thought. Then, the accident. There are long strings of coloured blur in my memory of that day. Richelle, the spine board. Getting an IV, being rolled onto the x-ray table. The twisting of my arm and the subsequent pain waves it sent through my body. Crawling from the bed to the bathroom, sick with dizziness. Spinning time, shredded by pain-killers, subdued by my inability to piece together a coherent thought. The men at the hospital are asking me such difficult questions and I am exceedingly confused. The one question in particular is haunting me, causing an uprising of emotion rumbling through my body. They are asking me the date. To spell my last name. My birthday. I don't know the answers.
I can feel long strands of tears seeping out of my eyes and gravity is pulling them into my ears, the wetness pooling down the canal at my eardrum. I am fighting swells of panic in my body. I am very afraid.
The next three days pass by in a Las Vegas type of stupor; not the self-inflicted-vodka- tonic-in-the-pool-bar-heat kind, but in a blur of percacet, pain and sleeping. The lights are so bright. The noises are so loud. I need to be bathed, fed, rolled over, medicated. It was as though I fell asleep on Sunday and woke up on Wednesday. I took a short poll of my injuries the Wednesday when I woke up out of the haze. Staring at the ceiling I made a list: concussion, two broken ribs, one broken elbow. Next to the pain I was overwhelmed by all-consuming emotions; feeling confused one minute and grateful the next, anxious one inhale and exhausted the exhale.
I was ordered off work, off exercise, off any real type of activity or entertainment. The computer screen bothered my eyes, books could only hold my gaze for a few moments, and my ability to busy myself was near zero. My utter dependence on my parents and Jon was staggering, embarrassing, defeating. They repeated their kind words, kind actions and kind deeds. Change of ice at 2am. Tylenol 3 before midnight. Washing my hair. Inserting earrings. Pulling up my pants.
Approximately one week after the accident I was laying in bed, attempting to jot a few thoughts down on paper when one came skyrocketing through my head. I could have died! I shook my head. I could have died. Or broken my neck. For a small period of time I gaze at the ceiling while my consciousness overwhelms me with the list of tragedies that could have been. Awake I lay, staring at the ceiling and weeping, while the wash of What Ifs roll over top of me, wave by wave, delivering horrifying visions. When the sob- fest resided I sat up, rolled over, and committed some grace to the page, beginning with all the things I had to be thankful for. For the first time since the accident I had a string of comprehensive thoughts; most of them positive, the final ones ending with some of Marina's words. I intend to throw parties at 30. The best days of my life are ahead.
For the weeks that followed, very small steps were seen as tremendous victories.The first day I could put in my contacts, correctly clasp a pen. The ability to pull a zipper up and remove a pan from the oven. The smallest of daily tasks which only a few weeks ago weren't given a passing consideration were arduous hurdles to overcome. I rejoiced with each returning skill as though I'd learned it anew. I am grateful and overwhelmed at my bodies own healing ability. Yet, with this gratitude also comes moments of immense frustration: still being unable to pull my hair into a ponytail, rolling over in the middle of the night onto my broken ribs is still so painful it sometimes makes me cry. I keep being reminded this is a slow return to my able body, having to heal without a timeline will be one of the most challenging.
The taking it easy part has turned out to be the easiest and simultaneously the most difficult. At the start I was rendered slow from the painkillers and the pain; as I gained ground in recovery and mobility staying slow was hard. The most torturous pain experienced ended up being of the mental sort, the lingering effects of the concussion are such. Turns out that watching people swim, bike and run, carry yoga mats, race, lace up their hiking boots or put their mountain bikes on their cars was by and far the most anxiety-inducing, tear-flowing experience.
The most joy from this whole accident experience -previous to this I wouldn't have used "bike accident" and "joy"in the same blog, let alone sentence!- was the kind words and encouragement I received from friends, family and acquaintances. Facebook messages offering help running errands, to drop off food, or to wash my hair. People stopping by with cookies, blankets, flowers, notes. Cards arriving in the mail from all over, texts offering help in anyway possible. A most incredible care package from my friend Joelle in Victoria. An overwhelming show of support from other athletes, including a special tear-inducing set of messages from my old triathlon team, Human Powered Racing. (I promise each and everyone of those kind messages a note in return as I return to health!) I found stories of friends and other athletes injuries soothing, like a lullaby to my injured body. Hearing of other peoples return to form from a variety of aliments, crashes and misfortunes created a resolve in me that I too would be transformed by the accident in a miraculous type way. I would return to sport with a thirst and vengeance made possible by the overcoming of a sizeable obstacle.
I still have a long way to go until I function at the capacity I was at on June 23rd, 2012. The trickiest little piece of life, that unknown bit, the mysterious moving wonder that changes minutes, moments, days. How quickly these little bits of time change your life, your course, your focus. For all the parts of me coming together in healing form, and all the healing I still have to do, I feel the opposite of broken. The accident served a reminder that the human experience is littered with challenge, opposition, difficulty and heartbreak. It is also filled with joy, hope, healing, caring and compassion that makes you complete. The opposite of broken.
What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have. -Marina Keegan's The Opposite of Loneliness