The Bluest Night
Or, what showed me I'm not invincible. (I'll chill with the Didion references now.)
Ten years ago I was about to turn 18. I had four years of college ahead of me, and my entire future ahead of me. An entire life. It would be a new beginning for me, a chance to be myself, whoever that would end up to be. I was excited to find out.
And then everything screeched to a halt. Almost literally overnight.
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I don’t remember what happened myself; everything from that day is a muddled version of what other people have told me along with what I can piece together. All I know is that I fell on the stairs in the house I grew up in, probably slipping because I’d been wearing socks, and hit my head on the unforgiving slate floor three steps below. According to my brother and sister (who were home at the time and had to do damage control) I was fully lucid when it happened. I told the EMTs where I was, what day it was, where I lived with some sarcasm. Of course I knew those things, I was fine. And then I felt or saw the blood coming from my ear and I knew something wasn’t right. I lost all filter and had a feeling I might, as I said, fucking die.
By the time I got to the hospital (10 minutes from my parents’ house with traffic), the doctors in the ER didn’t know what was going to happen to me next. The impact caused a buildup of pressure in my brain and it was officially a traumatic brain injury. I’d fallen and gotten concussions before when I was little, being the fearless and often risky kid I was, but it’d never been this bad. How I went so long, I’ll never know. I was placed in a medically induced coma for four days while they monitored me, even drilling a hole into my skull to give my brain room to expand. During that time it was touch and go; I was probably in the worst shape I’d ever been in.
I knew where I was when I woke up. I knew I was in the hospital, but I didn’t know why. When my mom explained the whole situation to me, as my head ached like hell and I was dizzy from all the painkillers, I was literally in shock. It seemed so random; I can get around independently at home and in places where I feel safe and comfortable, but I do fall more than the average person. My balance has never been the greatest, and my movements are pretty awkward. I’ve had a bunch of scrapes and bruises before, some pretty serious ones, but this was a whole other level.
I was scared and confused. I was sad. I was afraid. All the not knowing was terrifying: having a literal gap in my memories, and not knowing what the end result would be. I spent two weeks total in the neurology ward — I probably could’ve gotten away with one, but being in so uncomfortable and in so much pain meant I refused to eat more than a couple bites of anything while I rested and tried to gain some sense of what the hell was going on. I was scared I was going to throw up anything I ate. I lost over 10 pounds. I was so loopy I remember seeing people’s faces but didn’t remember a word they said.
Most of all I was angry. I was angry at myself for allowing something like this to happen, for being so stuck, for being so out of control of my own body. Not that I was ever completely in control, but after 17 years I thought I could handle it and predict what it’d do most of the time. I thought I knew it better than anyone else; it’s mine, it’s the only one I have. All the doctors could tell me was they’d have to wait and see if I’d walk the same way again, if I’d be able to do what I did before, or if I’d have seizures or more brain damage because of the injury. Who was I now? Who would I be from now on?
The last week I spent in the hospital was rehab, and by this point I was miserable. Two weeks of nightmares, questions, confusion, and near constant crying left me exhausted. It was the first time I’d ever said “I don’t care if I don’t wake up tomorrow,” and “Would it be better if I’d just died instead?” and meant it. I’m known for generally being optimistic and not letting things get me down, and everyone around me had enough reasons to worry about me. So I didn’t tell anyone how I really felt; instead I was upset most of the time and quick to snap. I fought with my speech therapist, hated getting dressed for physical therapy every day, and literally wailed at my rehab specialist when she told me I’d have to take the upcoming semester (my first) off to recover. Everything seemed pointless when I barely knew what was happening to me anymore. When all my plans for my future, for myself, were turned totally upside down.
I went home the week of my 18th birthday; it was anticlimactic and quiet, which is just what I wanted. I was on strict instructions to continue to rest, not overwork my brain, and let myself heal. I felt better being at home, but the energy from my time in the hospital followed me. I cried at least two or three times a week. I could eat again, but I couldn’t sleep. When I did I’d dream I was tied down to a hospital bed and unable to speak. I constantly thought about what would’ve happened if I had died. Would anyone outside of my family really care? Everything scared me, but at the same time I was listless and bored. I wanted my old life back.
The accident cast a shadow over my time in college, when I finally got to go. It felt like everyone could see I was hiding something, like the anxiety and sadness were written on my face every day. I was lucky to have recovered so well, but I didn’t feel like myself at all. I’d been shaken to my core and was still putting myself back together. Not that I gave myself a lot of time to think about it: I threw myself into my schoolwork and all the new experiences as a distraction. Thankfully the lasting affects aren’t really physical: no more brain damage, no seizures, no hearing loss. I do, however, now have a wicked case of positional vertigo that has nothing to do with my inner ear, more anxiety, and post-traumatic stress.
The anxiety makes me scared to do things I could without any problems before, even walk. The fear of falling and being hurt again is strong. I know my body can do it, but my brain says no. I’m acutely aware and afraid in close social situations. I probably had some degree of anxiety before I fell (what with all the abnormal and traumatic things I went through during the bulk of my childhood, which turned me into a weird kid) but it’s come out in full force since. I finally gave in to my stubbornness and started taking medication four years ago. I struggle to not see asking for help as a weakness, but I held out for too long.
I still have a lot of ups and downs; every day, sometimes every hour, is different. I still have a lot of anxiety about a lot of things, most of which I know are illogical and ridiculous, but my brain doesn’t know that. I’m still triggered by what probably seems harmless to people who don’t know. But compared to ten years ago, the person writing this is a far cry from who I was at 18 — which could honestly be its own entirely separate essay. I finished undergrad, lost and gained friends, grieved, lost myself for a bit, started figuring out who the hell I am, did a master’s degree in less than two years, got my first job, lived alone for the first time, and started liking myself more. I never did get my old life back, and I do still think about what could have been, but I think what I ended up with is better than what I’d imagined. My 18 year old self would probably be in awe of my current self, which is kind of scary but also really amazing.
Really enjoyed this piece. Thank you for sharing your story.
Good post. None of us are invincible, but it is a lesson we would all prefer to learn later rather than sooner. Having said that, it is sometimes precisely the hardest lessons that make the biggest difference.
>But compared to ten years ago, the person writing this is a far cry from who I was at 18 — which could honestly be its own entirely separate essay. I finished undergrad, lost and gained friends, grieved, lost myself for a bit, started figuring out who the hell I am, did a master’s degree in less than two years, got my first job, lived alone for the first time, and started liking myself more.
Relatable, minus the master's degree (I'm working on that part though). Ten years ago I wasn't in a great place either, in terms of life, mental health, and all that other jazz. But things got better. Here's hoping things continue to stay better for all of us.