*Trigger warning: this story contains visuals of car accidents and hospital/rehabilitation center stays*
~ Katie ~
Hi, friends. It’s been a while. I have to confess, I’ve been wanting to write, but I wasn’t sure exactly what type of post I wanted it to be. And then I had an idea.
This post is going to be a little different, reader, and perhaps a little bit difficult to read. I’ve invited someone else to share their story with mental health. Pictured in the photo to your left (yes, in those gorgeous floral Mickey ears) is my best friend, Justine. We’ve known each other since preschool, but I must say…we didn’t become quite close until after we graduated elementary school. But regardless of how and when our friendship happened, I’m so happy it did.
I like to think of Justine as my artistic, creative buddy. Together, we’ve created a bond over our passion for calligraphy and hand lettering, and sometimes we’ll play with watercolor even though we’re not very good at it. We both have an obsession with Disney stronger than any young child’s, and we can eat our way through a huge bowl of spinach and artichoke dip in five minutes or less. She’s one of my best friends in the world, and today, she wants to share her story.
Last March, my beautiful friend Justine was in an awful accident. I remember waking up that morning, a normal Saturday, when our friend Bridget called me. I knew something was up immediately, because we never call each other. It’s always been texting between us, so as I rubbed my sleepy eyes to wake myself up more, I could already feel my heart beating quickly.
“Are you sitting down?” she asked me. Hell, no. Now I was standing up, barely able to breathe correctly, as I waited for Bridget to continue and listened to the pounding in my ears. I’ll never forget the shakiness in her voice. “I have some upsetting news.”
It was the day my anxiety took a plummet – my heart sank into my chest at a rapid speed. It was the day I remember crying for hours, to the point where my entire body ached. But most importantly, it’s the day that Justine realized just how incredibly strong she is. She wants to share her story, and I ask you to please show her the same kindness and compassion you all have shown me on this journey.
~ Justine ~
On March 24, 2017, I was on my way home from work when another driver swerved into my lane and hit me head on. I woke up some time later to discover that I was pinned inside of my car and unable to move my limbs. As I sat there waiting for the first responders to help me, I wiggled my fingers and toes to keep my mind off of the pain and confusion that filled my body. Eventually the EMTs and other responders freed me and I was airlifted to the hospital. The following morning, I was informed of the severity of my injuries that I sustained; I fractured both of my femurs, my left patella, my left humerus, and four ribs. The fracture in my humerus caused radial nerve damage in my left wrist and hand, the fractures in my ribs led to a pneumothorax of my right lung, and I had suffered a concussion so severe that my brain bled.
I was in the hospital for eleven days and my time there was the lowest that I ever felt. I went from moving everyday at work, helping patients, and being surrounded by people that I know to laying in a hospital bed for hours on end, waiting for family and friends to visit me. The hospital bed that I laid in grew uncomfortable quickly and the only time I moved from it was to stand and shuffle during my physical therapy sessions. Everyday I looked forward to my therapy, to not only keep my body moving, but to keep my hopes and positivity up. Transitioning from the hospital to the rehabilitation hospital was a frightening but exciting. During my time there, I gained more independence and freedom; I relearned how to walk, care for myself, and to trust my body. After a month in the rehabilitation hospital, I was able to head home. I spent some time doing home therapy and then I went to an outpatient facility where I worked on gaining strength and learned to believe in my body and myself.
Despite pain, fear, and lack of energy, I fought through and was determined to put in as much work as possible to get better and get back to my life before the accident. Physically recovering from my motor vehicle accident was my first priority and I put my mental health on the back burner. After returning back to work and settling down from the holidays this year, I couldn’t handle bottling up my thoughts and emotions about the accident. I made an appointment to see a therapist and was diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety. It was a relief to finally put a name to the thoughts and feelings I was going through.
Since that day, it has been hard trying to get back to a ‘normal’ life. I pushed through my therapy sessions to get closer to some semblance of my life before the accident. I may look like nothing happened to me, but my legs, left arm, and hand are still weak. Still, I have good days and I have bad days; I’ve pushed through the rise and fall of my emotions these passed few months. Most of the time I’m happy and amiable but I get waves of immense annoyance and irritation, especially around the anniversary of the accident. During those waves, I want to be left alone but that isn’t always possible when coworkers and family rely on you for a multitude of things.
I was always so independent before the accident, and having to rely on everyone else for everything was tough for me. I wanted to get better as soon as possible so I could no longer have to be too dependent on others. As time has gone on, I feel that I’ve gotten most of my power and control back but not all of it. While I’m thankful for all the help people gave me, I did feel powerless. I’m not used to being so dependent on others, I don’t like the idea of putting all of my control in others’ hands – it makes me anxious, to say the least.
When you hear about people getting in car accidents, you think, “Oh, it’ll never happen to me, I’m a safe driver,”. You make yourself and your skills the exception, you have insurance so you’re fine, right? You ignore the notion that someone else could harm you, that someone else’s abilities could put your life at risk. Now I become a little hesitant when people drive too close to me or go to merge into my lane or the lane next to me. My anxiety increases when other cars suddenly stop or start near me, or when impatient drivers weave in and out of traffic. That fear in the back of my head lingers and rears its ugly head every now and then.
Since I healed so quickly, I’ve been hard on myself, thinking that everything else will go as well and as quickly. I want so badly for things to just fall into place and for me to not have to worry about, “what’s next?” or “where am I going from here?”, “I’ve been through enough, why can’t I get have this work out for me?” I’ve been stressing about graduate school programs and the reality is I haven’t done anything in the past year to improve my application because, well, I physically couldn’t.
I’m learning to trust myself more and to trust my body and what it can do. I trust that my bones are healed but there are times that I’m still a bit wary of my strength. I’ve been more open to my best friends about what and how I’m feeling. Before the accident, I would bottle up my thoughts and emotions because I didn’t want to burden them. I’ve been more open with my friends about the physical aspects of the accident and my healing and I’ve slowly began to open up about my mental health.
~ Katie ~
I want to strongly express that what you just read hardly does justice for just how determined, powerful, hardworking, and driven Justine is. She has shown, in the last year, so much strength, courage, fearlessness and valor in her journey to recover from this accident. It’s no secret that what happened has changed her – but she is taking that change and putting nothing but positivity behind it. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve received messages from her saying, “Let’s go rock climbing!” or “I really want to do this race,” because she is determined to get her strength, and more, back.
From the end of March to the end of April last year, while Justine spent her time in a hospital bed and at a rehabilitation center, was some of the most difficult times we’ve been through. Knowing that there was nothing I could do except show my love and support while she worked hard was one of the worst feelings. I wanted so terribly to give her strength, to quicken her recovery. But all we could do was wait, push, and wait some more.
I remember the first time I saw her take her steps by herself. We were in her room at the rehab center, calligraphy pens and notebooks laid out across her bed when she said to me, “I’ll be right back.” I knew she’d been doing physical therapy every day, but in the two days since I’d seen her, I couldn’t believe how much strength she had gained. She pushed up on the handles of her wheelchair, stood up as straight as she could without hurting her knees, and walked across the room – with no help from me, a PT, a nurse, a doctor, or anyone. I don’t remember saying a thing…I just sat there and held back tears for how proud I was of her. And it was just the beginning.
In the past year, Justine has inspired me and has made me proud every single minute of every day. Her resilience and vigor has grown immensely and I know that she can see it…I just wish she could see how much. Her journey with both her physical health and mental health is nothing short of inspiring, and I sure do hope she knows how many people she’s impacted with her story.
Did you know that 1 in 5 Americans live with a mental health condition? NAMI gave us that statistic. If you don’t know what NAMI is, we’re happy to explain it. NAMI – the National Alliance on Mental Illness – is “a nationwide grassroots advocacy group, representing people affected by mental illness in the United States”. NAMI offers support and help for those in need. Your support, advocacy, and education on the topic helps to spread more awareness to help those in need, and to offer more information to those who would like to learn more about mental health conditions.
We have decided to take part in a NAMI walk to spread awareness and bring hope to those struggling with a mental illness. We want to remind those who suffer that they are far from alone, and that there ARE people who CARE and want to make a CHANGE. We’re walking to help break down the barriers surrounding mental health. We’re walking for those who can’t. We’re walking because we’re proud of who we are, what we deal with, and our own personal journeys…and we wouldn’t change a thing.
If you’d like to join and/or donate to our team, Peace of Mind, we will leave the link below. Thank you for your kindness.
“Emotional pain is not something that should be hidden away and never spoken about. There is truth in your pain, there is growth in your pain, but only if it’s first brought out into the open.” – Steven Aitchison
…also, if you guys like calligraphy/watercolor paintings/lettering, you should ABSOLUTELY FOLLOW US on Instagram! Letter By Letter takes commissions…just in case anyone’s in need of some fancy hand lettering…excuse our shameless promoting! 😀