Lessons from the Sidelines
I’ve probably been asked the question ‘how are you?’ more times in the past six months than the rest of my life combined. I’ve also lied more than possibly the rest of my life combined.
At the time I wasn’t even really aware of it. I was numb. I’d switched off the emotion of the situation and somehow detached myself from it. I was stronger than that. But eventually the fog lifts and you realise that was the easy way out. But also the most destructive. So let’s be real.
At first ‘how are you?’ was met with the simple response of ‘I’m fine thanks’. The polite answer we all learn to reel off automatically. After all, most people aren’t waiting with baited breath for the in-depth breakdown of how you’re actually feeling.
I could tell this wasn’t going to work longer term though. It became abundantly clear pretty quickly that I wasn’t fine. So I swapped it out for the more honest version of ‘well I’m alive’. This was true after all.
It’s easy to paint a picture of nothing but joy at simply being alive. This should be enough, and at first it was. When I’d just avoided the very real possibility of my career being over, and more significantly been told I’d dodged death or paralysis by the skin of my teeth, I was in this euphoric state. That’s the only way to describe it.
I remember once my back brace was off and I could ride my bike again, I called my mum. I’d been on a pretty standard one-hour ride. I’d struggled my way round it, but nonetheless I was on cloud nine. I was babbling about how I could never imagine feeling anything but happiness again. The colours were vivid, everything was so beautiful. I probably sounded like a deranged idiot.
I kept this up for a while. Once the genuine feeling had faded I went with the approach of just repeating it. I’m pretty sure that if you say something enough times it becomes true, right? Wrong.
It happened almost too quickly for me to register the switch. For the first time in my life I truly felt the finite reality of it all. It transformed from a joyful realisation to an existential crisis.
The self-inflicted pressure of living with this new found awareness of your own mortality is almost crippling. As is getting hit by a car and breaking your back and neck. So both metaphorically and physically this has been an almost crippling experience.
It was as though nothing was worthy any more. Nothing except the exceptional. If I wasn’t actively doing something, experiencing something new and noteworthy, then I wasn’t alive. I was treading water and the time was slipping through my fingers. I suddenly felt guilty for every seemingly mundane second of my life. The irony being that this itself kept me fairly occupied in those months following the accident.
Looking back on it now it was a time where I was so unhappy and yet I was lost in the haze of it. Mentally it was draining. I was searching for something that wasn’t really there and I’d lost the ability to switch off and just be. I was so desperately trying to appreciate every moment. It was exhausting.
I believed that putting on a smile, saying all the right things and pushing forward was the way to move past this. That once I was in a different place those feelings would evaporate. But eventually everything comes out. Every emotion you’ve repressed has to end up somewhere.
It’s stronger to admit you’re struggling than to hide from it. Either way it will find you. If I’d let myself feel everything in the moment, and let other people in sooner, then maybe things would’ve been different. Better. I was lucky it only cost me a few months. And of course they weren’t all lost. I had good times in there and I can still be proud of everything I overcame in that time, but I could have made it a lot easier on myself. A lot more enjoyable.
Unfortunately, there are no do-overs, so instead I’ll have to read some motivational quotes and make sure I follow my own advice in the future. Something like ‘your best teacher is your last mistake’ or ‘the greater the obstacle the more glory in overcoming it’ seems apt.
I stopped from self-destructing by letting people in. A slip didn’t turn into a fall. Maybe if I’d been honest sooner then I wouldn’t even have slipped.
Ask me ‘how are you?’ today and I’ll tell you that I’m great. Honestly.
Words: Molly Weaver
Images: Writer’s own and Jeff Clark