If this Last Year had been Different

July 13, 2016. A date that means nothing to most people. An anniversary date that I hope to forget in time. One year ago on this date. One year that I wish could’ve been different. A car accident. The second out of three actually, in a span of 4 months. July 13 was the worst one of the three. 2016 was crap, to put it mildly.

Hello again. It has been a very long time since I last wrote on this blog. After today, who knows? Be forewarned, this post will be a long one. I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of post this would be: a re-hash of all the horrible, a mix of the good born from the bad, delightfully Pollyanna? Open letter style? It has not been easy figuring out how to write this or whether this would be written at all. Photo blog? Photos were deleted a long time ago. Names? I might be using names in this post. First names only of course. I’ll be winging it.

As the last few weeks and days have been leading up to this date, I have been feeling slightly more anxious but I’m not sure why. The lack of sleep and crazy skipping heartbeats probably doesn’t help. There shouldn’t be any significance to this date, but this was the day everything changed and my normal routine was over.

First off, I am fine now. Physical recovery is at 99%. I am perfectly mobile and able to do almost everything pre accident. Mental recovery is also in the high 90s. There is a lot of self-talk. Mostly inside voice but sometimes the inside voice is too quiet and sometimes it doesn’t stay inside. But I am fine. And I have a new normal.

Very simply, on July 13, 2016 at 8am, I was stopped at a red light when I was rear ended. Pretty hard. I stopped and the driver did not. That’s what I tell people. She said her car couldn’t stop because of a slippery spot. It was a sunny morning with barely a cloud in sight. But I stopped and she did not. She probably hit me around 60 km/hr. SW Marine at the Knight street bridge off ramp is notorious for fast drivers. I stopped. She did not. Her car was crumpled in the front. Maybe 65 km/hr. My car was surprisingly still intact and I was able to drive away. It wasn’t until days later when I brought the car to the shop that they saw the real damage to the under carriage. When the shop called me to tell me about the damage, the first thing they asked was if I was ok. They didn’t ask me that for the first accident in April. When they showed me pictures, I was really surprised that I drove away from the accident. Maybe 70km/hr.

I stopped. She did not, and because of her, I was knocked off the road that I had set myself on for the year.

I wish the last year could’ve been different. Because I had a plan. I always have a plan. It’s my nature to have a plan. I always see the road that I’m on. It was summer. I had races to run. I was training to run a marathon. There were hikes and mountains to be conquered. There was a trip to Ottawa for two back to back races, a 5k + 1/2 marathon. There were so many things I was supposed to do. Instead I walked the races. I downgraded from full marathon to 1/2 marathon and I examined every portion of the Fraser river along the River district because I wasn’t allowed to do hills. Summer turned to Fall and then to Winter. I was still walking, not running. As my physiotherapist likes to tell me, I am on a roller coaster. There are always going to be ups and downs. We both agreed not to use the word setbacks. Detour is an acceptable word but not setbacks. But my road, my plan…I never pictured a roller coaster.

Why did it have to be this roller coaster? The physical pain was bad but coupled with the mental, it was beyond bad. It is hard to explain unless you’ve been there and that is a dark place I don’t wish on anyone. I hate despair. I’ve been there before. But not this level of despair. Seeing no way out. Not understanding why things hurt, not understanding why it was hurting after all those weeks, wondering if it was something that I did that made it constantly hurt. Despair changes how you see things. It distorts every situation. Nothing makes it better. Despair is wondering why your friend and coworker is mad at you for trying to return to work so quickly when she was only concerned for you. Despair and mistrust is when you discover that you are the topic of conversation at the office water cooler. Mistrust leads to the worst kind of despair. Who are your real friends? Who can you trust to listen to you when you need to talk? Despair is when I tell my so called friend that I don’t want to talk about the car accident and she turns around and tells me that I’m going to have to talk about it eventually. Actually Debbie, I don’t have to talk about it ever if I don’t want to and because you’ve said this, I will never talk to you about this or anything else. Despair is when you are so upset, you stop talking, stop verbalizing. When you stop eating because you think that your car is too fat for the road and the only way to solve that is to stop eating so that when you are hit the next time there will be less of you to suffer soft tissue damage. That is despair. Distorted, unreasonable, illogical logic. I hate and fear despair. It is very hard to climb back up through all those layers of despair and there is always that worry in the back of my head that there may be a third time or worse, I hit the lowest level of despair for a final time.

If only last year could’ve been different. But then I wouldn’t have discovered what true friendships really are: there are friends who really aren’t your friends and need to be cut out from your life and there are friends who are more family than family. This kind of friend, the one that you are willing to call your sister, this kind of friend is rare. And I have Despair to thank for it. More like, I have my true friend to thank for it because it was her voice that reached through the darkness and kept me from drowning in despair. Dramatic enough for you? How do I explain this? When you are at your lowest point, people become “well-meaning”. They start talking to you, giving you advice, offering sympathy, telling you what to do and how to make it better. And there are medical professionals and their voices: doctors x 3, massage therapists x 2, physiotherapist, and eventually a psychologist. So many voices. But very quickly they become a jumble of voices. Some loud, some soft, some annoying and some mean and the one voice that is worse above them all is the inside voice that tells you that you aren’t getting better quick enough, that people are watching you, judging you and questioning every decision that you make. It tells you that you should be running and not walking the race. It reminds you of the plan that you are supposed to be on and how you are failing the plan. But there are the voices that are understanding, the voices that let you cry, that just sit with you in silence, that don’t force you to talk, the calming voices that do not judge, that listens when you sound out your thoughts. Not everyone can find that voice, not everyone has that one voice that can help. But I was lucky enough to find two:  Nicole, a friend that I call sister from another mother and father, and Physio Kevin, my physiotherapist who has been with me through all of my car accidents and more.

If this last year had been different, there wouldn’t be Medical Mondays or Physio Fridays. No poking and prodding, no tree pose on the trampoline and no challenges. The one word that will get me to do almost anything. Challenge. There also wouldn’t have been calm voices, quiet understanding and patient prodding to get me into a swimming pool and into yoga. There wouldn’t be floating, snow angels in the water or backstroke. Pool running! Not a great replacement for road running but close enough. There also wouldn’t be fainting in yoga. Hey, it can’t all be good, can it? At least I know. I also know why. I always like to know why.

If this last year had been different, I would’ve run a full marathon. Instead, I got to do the slowest rebound from injury, ever. When I asked Physio Kevin three and a half months after the accident when I could start running again, he said how about next week try 15 (minutes? I’m thinking incredulously. I’ve never done that before!) seconds jogging and 2 minutes walking. Wait. What? 15 seconds jogging? And he actually used the word jogging. We have both agreed to never use that word again. 15 seconds running and 2 minutes walking. I have progressed beyond 15 seconds running since then and if this last year had been different, I would not have rediscovered running the way that I have now. I also wouldn’t have discovered my heart beats to its own crazy rhythm, skipping beats whenever it feels like it. I wouldn’t have met my super cool Cardiologist, who upon first meeting him, called the heart a dumb shit muscle! His words, not mine. I have a cardiologist who swears. A real person!

This last year…has helped me to rediscover running. Not the running that I did before with the Running Room, but running just to see how far and how long. Running and breathing. Running just because I can. Running just to see if I can do better. Running that doesn’t have to involve races. Running like when I first started three years ago, when I first returned from New Zealand. Running just for fun. Running without music. Now there’s a discovery. Try running a ½ marathon without music. If it hadn’t been for this last year, I never would’ve been able to do it. It was an accident of course. I forgot my headphones. Running and meditation, because I forgot my music. Focusing on the breath, thanks to yoga. I never would’ve been able to do that if it wasn’t for this last year. Sadly I was so focused inwards that I actually have very little memory of the course, which in itself is kind of cool that I could be so centered. But running for fun. I had forgotten what it was like.

If this last year had been different, I would’ve run my milestone race.  But I didn’t. Instead there was a heart-to-heart with Physio Kevin, the quiet voice who I chose to listen to, out of all the other voices. This voice who never wanted to give me bad news reconfirmed what was already in my head. That it wouldn’t be very smart of me to run the full marathon this time around.

If this last year had been different, I never would have discovered parkrun nor would I have rediscovered my love for photography through this particular event. I would not have met these really nice people who volunteer their time every Saturday morning at the park so that other people can run and have fun. parkrun, a run for fun, where you race only yourself, where you can meet other people who have the same love that you do and it’s free. How much better can that be?

But it wasn’t like that for me initially. My hopes for a marathon were dashed for the year. I blamed her for that, the driver. My thoughts rarely ever turned towards the driver, but this time I blamed her for this…setback. Even though my head was smart, my heart was not. I wanted to run my marathon. So even though it was something I already knew. Having someone else voice it aloud, even if it was Physio Kevin, it still hurt. Coming out to parkrun was a distraction that I had hoped would improve my mood. At the time I was limited to running only 20 minutes, which was really running 1 minute and walking 2 minutes, and I was also wondering what the hell was going on with my heart and if the near-fainting spells were related. Now here I was watching people running along the river. I was taking photos of their run, their smiling faces and sometimes not smiling faces. I was wanting to enjoy running again but through someone else. Looking at the photos of these people after parkrun and seeing the emotion and remembering that feeling for myself. It was only when it was all quiet at the end of the night, post processing or waiting for Facebook to upload, that’s when the negative voice in my head would start. Why do it? Why put yourself through it, watching people do something that you can’t do? I hate that voice. And for the most part I’m good at pushing that voice down. But there is another voice, the soft positive voice that speaks up a lot more now. Why wouldn’t I do it? I’m pretty good at it. I love running. I love taking photos. If I couldn’t run, then I could take pictures of people running and share it with them. It makes me feel good, knowing that these photos make other people happy. How is that bad for me?

I have returned to my photography and I think it will stay with me a lot longer. I don’t know if I’d call it fate, but it was at parkrun where someone asked me if I’d be interested in helping out with their event as photographer.  He was saying how he liked what I was doing at parkrun and hoped that I could bring the same to their event. The first thing I did was point out that I was not a professional, that I only did this for fun. Not a problem apparently. He went on to tell me about this event, which I had heard about in the past but it never really meant anything to me but it sounded interesting so I said yes. Of course when I got home, I googled the event and then started to wonder what the heck I had gotten myself involved with. This was not just a little parkrun that involved 30 to 40 participants and a 5K stretch of pavement, but a massive event that involved 4000 + riders and 122K of road. Cyclists.  It was GranFondo Whistler. Cheez n Crackers!

We didn’t talk about this, Oliver and I, for another few weeks which was fine. If he had changed his mind, I would’ve understood. But we did have a sit down after parkrun one Saturday. As he was explaining what he envisioned and how I would fit into this event, my friend Dayna, who had been reviewing the day’s photos pointed out one shot that I had taken. It happened to be a picture of him, Oliver. Oli. It was at the start of the run and he was looking off to the side and there was a look. His face was soft and relaxed. Maybe distracted by a bird? I just stared at that photo. I had a hard time looking away. All I could think was, Wow. I did that. I took that photo. I captured a moment, his own quiet moment. It was a good photo and it was my photo. I can do this.

I have been to several cycling related events since then. Most times Oli has been there, working the crowds as I watched the crowds. He has always made time at the end to chat with me which is nice.  He has always been very kind, said very nice things about my photography but it wasn’t until this one event, at the tail end of the party…We were talking about the photos from the very first event. There was thanks and praise and super nice things were said, and then out of the blue, a huge hug. Totally unexpected but most definitely appreciated, because it was then that I started to feel that everything would be okay. Not just about the photography but everything. This one sincere gesture of gratitude…was a kindness to me that I don’t think anyone would understand and I think it’s safe for me to call him a friend now.

I don’t think too much about the last year anymore. I can’t wish for it to be different because if it had been different, I would not be where I am now. My yoga/pilates instructor told me once that all of this crap that I was going through would change me, that I was going to come out stronger and better. I don’t know if I’m stronger or better but I am willing to poke at my comfort zones now, to see how far I can go before the heart starts skipping beats again. KIDDING. Hannah the Hammer Heart, my heart, skips beats whenever she feels like it. Yes I named my heart. And yes I’m still trying to go back to yoga even with the near-fainting spells. And even more amazing? I have a bike now. How about that for pushing the comfort zone?

I was talking to Oli this last week at the most recent cycling event. We were going over how this particular event unfolded and how it could be improved for the next time around and of course we talked about the photos, and as I listened to him talk, I started to hear not just his words, but the sentiment behind the words. I started to listen to his voice. He liked my photos, my photography. Not just him but other people within the company. What I was doing for him was appreciated, more than I realized. And he could see something in me that I could not and it was…heartwarming, because here was someone I barely knew, that believed in me. It is time to start listening to his voice.

I can’t wish for the last year to be different. What happened to me can’t be changed, but it has changed me. I am on a roller coaster and that’s okay. I have more ups than downs both physically and mentally now. I can run again, better than before. I have a bike that I love and although I fell off of her three days after taking her home, I still got back on to finish my ride that same evening. I still get nervous driving outside my comfort zone. So the upcoming road trip will be a real test. But I’m headed to another parkrun in Kelowna so the nerves will just have to suck it up. Anxiety kicks in when I experience stupid drivers but yoga breathing helps to relieve the tension. I still think my car is fat, but whether I am eating or not will make no difference to the size of my car. I am a little more cautious when it comes to making friends, but I think I have found some good people in parkrun and Granfondo. I know what it feels like to feel despair. I know the lowest level of despair and it will always scare me, because at one point, it was so bad that I could not see any other way out but one, and no one should ever chose that way out.

This last year was not a good year but it wasn’t all bad. I am stronger and better than I was because I had Nicole and Physio Kevin. I chose to listen to their voices amongst all the other voices that were bombarding me. Although I see less of Physio Kevin now, I still hear his voice and remember the things he said and did and made me do to get through this roller coaster that I was and still am riding. I am still working on becoming stronger and better because a new voice, a new friend sees something in me that I am only just beginning to see in myself. When I agreed to help Oli with the event, I wasn’t looking to get anything out of it other than to just have a nice distraction from my current place in life. It never occurred to me the he would be the one helping me return to a life that I had forgotten.

During our last conversation, I was telling Oli about my bike and that feeling when riding my bike. I didn’t recognize it, when I first felt it. It was Joy. Child-like joy. I had forgotten what it felt like to feel this way. If this last year had been different, I wonder if I would have found joy. I don’t even remember the last time I felt it inside me. But I think since becoming involved with parkrun, since I picked up my camera again, Joy was slowly making a comeback. I could see it in the photos of the runners. I remember one photo in particular of one of the regular runners, Clare. The look on her face was absolute joy as she ran towards the finish line. I remember how I wanted to feel that again and how happy I was to be able to capture that moment for her. I saw it in all the runners’ faces every time I looked at their photos and I never realized how much I missed that feeling until I was on my lovely new bicycle. Even when I ran my first parkrun, seeing the photos of myself, I can remember the rush of excitement, the happiness of finally getting to run a simple 5k. I was back running and I was on the other side of the lens this time and it felt so good. And there it was in my photo. I had that look on my face, the same look that I always saw when I was shooting their photos.  Joy.

I can’t change what happened these last 12 months and I don’t wish for it to be different. Not anymore. I am who I am now, I am where I am now, because of the last year. I know there will still be more ups and downs on this roller coaster. But I also know that because of this last year, I have a good support network, truly good friends and family that will be there with me on this ride. If it wasn’t for this last year, I wouldn’t have this now. And I wouldn’t have this any other way.

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