Updated: Aug 18, 2019
They say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. Is that ever true. I mean, I definitely didn’t.
I probably still don’t.
They also say your life can change in a second. This, I know to be true. One second you’re headed down a specific path with everything planned out and then out of nowhere, the path crumbles beneath your feet and you’re in a free fall.
I was a happy, healthy kid who loved school, sports, and music. Many days were spent playing soccer or volleyball, skiing, boating, or just hanging out with family and friends. I was an honour roll student who took part in many extra-curricular activities and was always busy doing something.
By the time I was 12, it had become a tradition of mine to set goals for the upcoming year. I remember thinking that 2012 had been so much fun. We spent most of the summer out in the boat, I was placed in a class with my favourite teacher, I got the chance to play volleyball upwards of 10 times a week, and I had met a bunch of new friends. It was a year that would be a hard to beat, but with everything we had planned for 2013, it might actually happen. We had a family trip to Whistler booked for the end of January, plans to go hot air ballooning in the summer, and some really exciting volleyball tournaments coming up. The year was off to a great start. However, one thing I have learned over time is that things don’t always go according to plan.
For me, my life changing second was two months before my 13th birthday. Mine, like most, happened without warning. It was a bright sunny day and we were on a family road trip to my aunt’s house for a family Christmas celebration. One second I was sitting in the backseat without a care in the word, the next I was in the back of the ambulance with Mom, on the way to the hospital. Along with various other injuries, each of us had sustained concussions. Little did I know how big of an impact that one second would have on my life. One second, I was a happy, healthy kid who was heading down the path I had planned, the next, I was in a free fall.
Some of my injuries healed with time, others did not. I’m a week shy of 19, and I’ve now had four concussions. My first concussion was from the car accident at the age of twelve; the second, from a punch to the back of the head while playing soccer at fifteen; the third was a soccer ball to the face, also at fifteen; and the fourth was when I was sixteen and stood up into the arm of a weight machine. Add on to these injuries, years of chronic hip and back pain, myofascial pain, limb pain, periods of anxiety, panic attacks, bouts of depression, suicidal thoughts, symptoms of post-traumatic stress, severe cognitive and physical fatigue, word finding problems, vision problems, hearing problems, light sensitivities, sound sensitivities, smell sensitivities, tinnitus, eyestrain... and you start to get the picture of what the last six years have been like. I could keep going, but after a certain point it becomes meaningless. It doesn’t matter how you list them or what order you put them in, the result is the same: a 19 year old girl who still hasn’t fully accepted the new limitations her body has put on her, and who - like everyone else her age - is still trying to figure out who she is as a person.
My life changing second happened in the blink of an eye. It came without warning and left lasting reminders. It left scars. Scars that might never go away, but hopefully, will fade with time. The thing about my scars though, is that they aren’t visible. You can’t see them by looking at me or feel them by running a hand along my skin. My scars are invisible. Most days I can hide them away, deep inside myself - make it so I look normal, healthy even. Just like a lot of people with invisible injuries or illnesses, I know how to look and act healthy for short periods of time. In fact, if you were to pass me on the street, talk to me on the phone, or look at my social media, you’d likely think I was healthy. It isn’t until you get closer, until you know what to look for, that you realize I’m not. It isn’t until you hear that I’ve only been to school 10 times in the last 6 months. Or until you learn that I sometimes have as many as three doctors appointments a day. It isn’t until I frequently cancel my plans with you, not because I want to, but because I just don’t have it in me to go out. Or, that when I don’t cancel and decide to push through, the evening ends with my friends driving me to the hospital after I collapse at a restaurant. It isn’t until you notice that I need to be able to see the steering wheel when I’m in a moving car, that you might start to realize it’s been over six years, and I still haven’t found my way back to the person I was before the accident.
These last six years have been years of constant growth and recovery. They say that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. The accident has taken things from me that I may never be able to get back, but surprisingly it has also given me so much. I have come to appreciate the little things in life. I have realized that I have more internal strength than I ever thought possible. I am so much more patient now than I ever would have been. I understand the importance of taking breaks and taking care of myself, and I have a way better idea of what balance is. I have been able to help other teenagers who have suffered concussions by talking about my experiences and influencing the concussion protocol at my high school. I’ve also met some really inspiring people who have overcome so much. People that I never would have met if I had remained on my original, ‘planned’ path. Most importantly, I have a much bigger appreciation for my friends and family. They’ve stuck with me through everything and there is not a day that goes by, where I don’t think about how grateful I am to have them in my life. I don’t know what I’d do without them.
They say your life can change in a second. Luckily for us, life is made up of many seconds, some good, some bad. So, even if right now you’re struggling, just keep holding on, because things can change in a second and a good one is just around the corner.
We don’t always get to choose our path in life, but with time and a little help, you can always forge a new one.