Five years ago today I was hit by a car. I was a pedestrian. On a pedestrian crossing. Doing all the right things. Doing the same thing I’d done day in and day out – leaving Lawyer Life one night in the city to catch the bus home.
This night, I was in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Clearly.
A taxi came around a corner, and cleaned me up. The impact was intense and I travelled on the bonnet screaming for him to stop. It took some time, but when he finally did I was thrown off, launching at speed like a rag doll in a Calvin Klein suit towards the tar.
Onlookers, and at this point there were many, had thought that was it for me. No way of surviving the impact of either initially connecting with the car, or subsequently with the road. But my handbag landed before I did, and my head landed on top of it “like a pillow,” witnesses would later report, leaving my skull perfectly intact (and bringing new meaning to the term “investment piece” don’t you think?!).
I earned the nickname, “Aunty Unbreakable” from my brother (in favour of my previous alter ego “Aunty ShopShop”).
I may have been Aunty Unbreakable, but my brain had rattled around in my head, literally shifting within the skull, and the subsequent constant dizziness and nausea were unmanageable. The discs in my neck had bulged into my spinal cord causing constant chronic pain, my mind re-played the whole thing over and over again, and as my mind replayed it, my body relived it. If I thought that life was ‘tough’ prior to the accident, I didn’t fully appreciate the meaning of the word.
I was debilitated like I had never been before.
And I was pretty busy Hating The World.
People want to tell you that you’re lucky to be alive. But I didn’t feel lucky. I felt like it would have been less hard work for me if I wasn’t – alive that is.
And after much time spent Hating The World, a friend died. To say I was devastated doesn’t even nearly come close. If I thought I was doing a good job of Hating The World before, well now I was really HATING THE WORLD.
But that kind of attitude wasn’t helping anyone. Let alone me.
I thought about my friend and how he’d approach this. We both had accidents. Mine went one way. His went another. If he had survived, he would have really lived. Embraced everyday with a cheeky smile, no matter how tough. I knew that because he knew a thing or two about adversity. Life had already sent shit his way.
I’d been given an opportunity I realised. And I owed it to him to Live Life Fully.
Which admittedly is tough in a neck brace.
And despite my new found Embrace The Shit attitude, 13-months post accident things were getting worse. The pain was getting worse and painkillers were no longer an option, I could barely eat or sleep, I was being told I needed a lifetime of surgeries to my spinal cord – I was living an inner and outer HELL. And so, it was at this point, that I took the advice of many and learnt to meditate.
The technique, to my surprise, provided relief instantly. And let me tell you, I was the least likely person for this to be successful.
Up until that point I was doing my best to tightly control every aspect of my recovery. I wasn’t willing to let go of control of my life. Or my identity. I Was A Lawyer. That Was Who I Was. And I was tackling this like I would a legal brief.
Meditation is all about letting go. And I had to let go. Turns out for 20 minutes, twice a day, I could! Me! The crazy, control freak! I was meditating. And the benefits were undeniable.
I had a very specific idea of what my life was to be – meditating and teaching meditation – was NOT part of The Plan.
But, to quote Mike Tyson (now there’s a line I never thought I’d say!) “everyone has a plan, until they’re punched in the face.”
I spoke at an International Women’s Day event recently, and in the lead up I’d been surfing a lot (something no one thought would be possible for me), so things were coming to me in terms of waves, more so than right hooks, so I put it to them this way:
“Life is going to send waves in our direction. Or tsunamis in my case. It’s up to us what we do with that. We can run away. We can stay right in the impact zone, stand our ground and dig our heels in. Or we can use it as an opportunity to dive deep, to look within and adapt to the circumstances. To let go. And learn to ride those waves.”
Being hit by that car was The Best Thing That’s Ever Happened. Don’t try it. Lying in hospital not being able to feel your legs is terrifying. But I needed to have that experience. I was forced to stop. I was forced to go within. I wasn’t going to stop otherwise, I wasn’t going to slow down. I certainly wasn’t going to re-evaluate my life, despite the quite spectacular series of events prior to the accident suggesting I do just that. No, I pushed and I forced against life. Life had already tried to subtly move me in a different direction. Life is persistent. But so am I. It was time for my almighty punch in the face.
Being hit by that car taught me to live. I was forced to work out how to have a better life. How to thrive. How to choose to thrive. It pushed me towards something that matters to me. And I’m a better person for having had the experience.
I get that you might be thinking that’s all a bit hard to believe. I never thought I’d get out of the “why me?!” injustice phase of it all either.
But as I meditated more and got more space back from the horror, I started to get some perspective on the way I had lived my life. And I started to look at this whole thing in terms of what lessons life was trying to send me.
There’s a saying I love that goes: “The greatest joy in life is not seeing new people, places and things, but seeing familiar people, places and things through new eyes.”
And when I was ready to view it, this was the gift that I’d been given.
Nigel Brennan, an Australian photojournalist who was kidnapped in Somalia in 2008, and held in isolation in a room 3m x 5m, mostly in the dark, for 462 days (can you even imagine!) put it this way:
“I actually believe I’m a better person for it. I’m more compassionate and understanding, less driven by money and success and it’s more about being in the moment and enjoying the people that you love and life.”
I don’t think we need life to punch us in the face to have this perspective. But I do think, that if we’ve lost sight of it, then the messages from life start getting so loud that they can no longer be ignored.
The experiences I’ve had have shaped what’s important to me and what’s a priority in my life. I make time for fun everyday. And to live. I think we can all do with a reminder to do that (and not of the Hit By A Car variety). To Live. And live fully. I know that’s what my friend would do.
My shit had purpose. I think yours might too.