7 Ways to Overcome a Major Setback (or a minor one too)

A great majority of my time is spent thinking about how my experiences can be of service, help, or inspiration to others. And one day I’ll share some rosier parts of my life, but there’s still a bit left unsaid about my journey this past year.

I had survived a terrible car crash that left me unable to walk faster than a snail’s pace, put my own pants on, or wash my own hair. Miraculously I didn’t have a single broken bone or internal bleeding, but I did suffer from a very jammed hip, glass in my hand, a concussion, whip-lash, and of course, anxiety around getting back in the passenger or driver’s saddle again. Whether it’s a collision, an illness, an injury, or a burnout, I’m not alone in my experience – I was riding a rollercoaster called life when my cart took an unexpected turn, and I was thrown from my anticipated path and left to pick myself up, dust myself off, and choose to get back in line again. This was the largest setback and traumatic experience I had ever gone through, and it’s through my therapy and healing that I’ve learned that perhaps someone else is out there feeling as lost and confused about how to get back to “normal” as I did. 

While I’m still attending treatments with my chiropractor and physio therapist, I hope to make a full recovery, and start working on the goals I had set for myself pre-collision. The last 14 months have been focused on getting my body back to a healed state, and throughout the rehabilitation process I’ve learned to navigate though yet another piece of life that doesn’t come with a manual. So, knock on wood you never have to ear mark this section for your own use, but here are 7 things I’ve learned to overcome a major setback.   

1. Find a doctor or a professional who listens to you with empathy and curiosity.

Building my recovery team wasn’t perfect, but I eventually found my MVPs.  Within the first 24 hours of the collision I had a team of medical professionals to handle my vitals; ensure that my neck wasn’t broken, and that I had a ride home from the emergency room. No pleasantries or comfort, but they got the job done. I understand now that the ER treats and discharged patients as quickly as possible to handle the next trauma victim, but I left the hospital feeling overwhelmed, still in shock, and with no understanding of how I was going to feel better again. 

Like, to sum it up – they popped a wheelchair beside my bed and said “you can leave now”.  

The next day I scheduled an appointment with my family doctor to document my baseline injuries, and get my ER paperwork in the system. As the collision was out of province I had to be my own liaison and transport my paperwork from one provincial medical system to the other, otherwise records tend to get lost between the two databases. I was examined at arms length, asked rudimentary questions, given the prescription pain medication I had asked for and was asked to check in after a month’s time for a progress report. I could speak coherently, “was in good spirits”, according to my medical records, and walked my own damn self into the clinic (albeit slowly), so by all accounts I’d be fine. But how was I going to feel good again? I knew that rest and Tylenol 3’s weren’t going to cut it.    

It wasn’t until I saw my chiropractor and physiotherapist a week later that I was handled with empathy and compassion. I was given assistance to lay down and sit back up on the patient bench. I was treated gently and kindly, with lots of eye contact, and was asked a lot of questions. Most importantly I was asked about my mental state for the first time.  Through normal conversation it was finally identified that I was suffering from a concussion, the first time I’d heard this condition applied to me. My chiropractor, who knew me before from my running “tune-ups”,  recognized the change in my demeanor. I was slow to respond to his direction, and I was easily confused, and while there wasn’t much he could do to help me recover from a mental perspective, his compassion, genuine interest, and regard for my holistic health was finally a refreshing experience.    

I often feel the burden of booking appointments with medical professionals;  paying for parking, waiting far too long in the waiting rooms, only to feel like I haven’t been heard or cared for in the way that I need. But if I’ve taken anything away from my experience of receiving clinical care versus compassionate care, it’s to keep seeking help until you get what you need. Whether that’s another opinion, another set of questions you haven’t been asked, or a warm hand to help you up.    

2. Seek out counseling and mental health resources.   

This is something I wish I had done sooner. Major setbacks may or may not be painful or terrifying, but they certainly are laden with change. Change in routine, financial status, and mindset.  Doing a complete 180 and sitting on the couch or working toward slow walks around the block wasn’t my ideal method of burning off after dinner treat calories, or training for my next half-marathon. I relied on running and working out to manage stress and body image, but with a sudden change in routine I was left floundering and anxious about losing every muscle I’d ever built (turns out those things come back).

I got in touch with an e-counsellor that I could chat with from home, because finding a ride to yet another doctor’s appointment wasn’t in the cards,

and I actually found it easier to discover myself by taking the time to type out my thoughts. Through a few messages back and forth we determined that the amount of change I had gone through was leaving my otherwise busy-bee self with a lot of down-time, and little direction on what I could work on next. I found some attainable goals to work toward, and felt a sense of drive and accomplishment again.   

As far as dealing with the driving anxiety, that required more help. I started seeing someone who works with me on grounding and relaxation techniques, and keeps me accountable to document my pain management outside of our sessions. For the first time I heard someone outside my close circle validate my invisible injuries and empower me to take charge of my own rehabilitation journey. A “Yas, Queen!” when I needed it most.  

3. Ask for what you need.   

Actually, tell someone about what you need. As people heard about my experience they reached out with well wishes, words of gratitude, prayer, and offers of assistance. Aside from the occasional ride request and handing over my workload to my wonderful colleague, I didn’t ask for anything! And I’m not proud of this. Mike and I struggled to keep up with our housework, to run our errands on time, and to make a balanced meal.

We suffered together in silence and resentment,

instead of simply saying, “Hey Bestie, would you mind bringing us some groceries and popping in for a visit?” or “Hey Mom, our house is a disaster, would you mind helping us with a load of towels or fresh bedsheets?” You don’t think your best friend wants to share a pint of ice cream and watch a movie with you? Or that your mother isn’t itching to come tidy up that room of yours? I GUARANTEE people want to help you when you need help most, but people are often afraid to overstep boundaries, cause offence by doing something for you, or they simply don’t know how to make your life easier at that moment. Ask for help. Receive it graciously. And return the favor when you can.    

4. Thank your body.   

In May of 2018 I completed my first half marathon 3 minutes faster than my goal time. I had run farther and faster than I had ever run before, and I was the most grateful for my body I’d ever been. But the next week I was frustrated with myself for still having achy muscles and for not having the energy or desire to work toward any new goals. I was angry at my body for wanting to rest. Fast-forward a few months to October or so, three months post-collision, to when I was waking up every morning feeling like I was 95. Achy, stiff, in need of a chiro adjustment. It wasn’t until my chiropractor told me that our bodies hold onto a lot of the pain from an incident, well after we have healed from the trauma, because of the stress our bodies hold onto. I went home determined to wake up feeling my own age, and I realized the commitment to physical therapy was one part of the healing journey, but commitment to minimizing my stress and increasing my gratitude were the others. I began to thank my body for getting better each day.

I became proud of keeping up with the homework my physiotherapist had assigned me, and the extra distance I was slowly able to add to my weekend walks. I certainly wasn’t able to run faster or farther than I had in May, but I was moving faster and farther than I had since July 24, and for that I was grateful.    

5. Celebrate the little wins. Again.   

We’re never good at something the first time we try it – the first 5 kilometres, the first note on an instrument, the first day on the job. But eventually we find our stride and we forget about how challenging something once seemed. Setbacks bring us back to what was once uncomfortable, and we relive the feeling of uncertainty. We know the hurdles that are ahead of us this time, but our pride is bruised because we’ve already shown ourselves and others we could clear them, and now we are back at the starting line.    

In order to let go of stress and increase my level of gratitude, I made a commitment to thank my body. With that came showing kindness and encouragement to myself, as I would toward another person. So I set a new bar for myself, and I started celebrating the little wins, again. I checked into Strava as if I’d never set foot on a running path before, and I proudly recorded my first walk/run. Albeit I ran a total of two minutes, but that was my new first two minutes. Can I get another “Yas, Queen”?  

6. Keep setting goals.   

When I realized my recovery would take longer than I expected it to (realistic expectations don’t come naturally to me, I’m learning) through the encouragement of my e-counsellor, I decided that I needed something to work toward, if not another half marathon or the glutes of a goddess. I needed something low impact, and I needed a challenge. So I bought myself a swimsuit, a cap, the whole nine yards and I jumped into the pool at my gym, fully expecting that I was going to swim a couple of laps and call it a day. Which is basically what happened.  But then I went again the next day I pushed myself a little further, and then I brought some friends, and some days I secretly raced against strangers, and after a while I was setting distance goals and time goals, and I totally created a new sport for myself.

Setting these new goals and working toward something completely different not only kept me moving, which is one of the healthiest ways to physically recover, but it sort of killed the time until I could return to my old interests. It also showed me that I was pretty good at something else, which is always a confidence boost! I’m not signing up for a triathlon anytime soon, but at least now I know it’s in the realm of possibilities.  

Self-editor's note: Since writing my experiences in #6, I've had yet another set back in that my SI joint is too agitated to withstand repetitive motion of kicking while swimming. While hella frustrating, my sentiments remain the same. I've simply set less physical goals for myself until I can get my pain under control again.   

7. Remember your experience.   

The first day after my collision I was the most gracious I’d ever been. I was so lucky to be here. I was lucky to live this life. This “high” stayed with my for a number of weeks. I couldn’t be angry for what happened. I couldn’t be angered as I once had over petty frustrations. I thought I’d always have this new outlook, this attitude of gratitude.

But, nothing lasts forever, and each day I work to remember the good, forget the pain, and keep my heart full of everything I have to be thankful for.  I want to forget the fear that I experienced, the panic that I felt. I want to forget the sting of glass, and the heat of the sun beating down on me as I waited for help. I want to forget the sound of the crash. I want to trust that cars around me are going to make smart decisions, and that I’ll continue to have someone watching over me. As frightening as my experience was though, there is so much that is now a part of me that would be a shame to forget. I never want to forget the feeling of gratitude I had after I knew I was going to be OK. I want to remember the kindness of the strangers that helped me, bandaged me, and comforted me. Sally and Todd, who held my head on the pavement, and kissed me goodbye in the ambulance. The kind eyes of Doug, the paramedic who never left my side, and the jokes he told me to keep my mind off the pain. The gentle company Tatum blessed me with in triage. The messages of hope, prayer, and condolences I received even weeks later.    

See, setbacks happen, in different degrees, to everyone throughout their life.

What may be a large impact to one person may be a small impact in comparison to others, but we can all embrace them, learn from them, and grow into more resilient creatures along the way. It’s my hope that my setback will give hope to others who may fear their own, have recently experienced one, or are on the road to recovery after some time.

Xx

D

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