One of my earliest and most frequently recalled memories is eating a warm tomato, picked right of the vine, on the way to elementary school. I can still remember the taste, the smell, yes, even the temperature of that fruit that I picked from my grandma’s garden before we left in the morning. I think about this moment so often I’m not even confident it’s real anymore – and the significance of it isn’t really all that clear, except that I knew I wanted to replicate it.
So last spring, I set out to start my own tomatoes from seed for my first garden that summer – and I’m not proud to say it, but I obsessed over it! I found the perfect most sunny spot in the whole house (the front guest room) and had Mike move the furniture out of the way to make room for my new project. I positioned the seed pods just so over the heat vent so they could benefit from the heat and the blowing air (tomatoes need a breeze, you see). I checked their water levels every morning and I checked their growth every afternoon. When they outgrew their pods I replanted them and re-staked them and turned them and moved them. And March turned into May and I had a forest of tomato plants growing in the living room that I’d need to host 30+ women in for a bridal shower. I planned a garden party theme and half intended to incorporate the tomato plants into the décor (sorry, Tatum).
I was so excited to finally plant these little babies in our outdoor garden beds, too eager in fact that I set them out a tad early and ended up covering them with blankets to protect from frost each night, and uncovering them each morning so they could absorb the warm sun and become acclimatized. “Nigh’ night lil’ matos,” was a normal phrase in those days. As they grew I learned that I needed to prune them back on several occasions. We re-staked them again when they flopped over from weight. I prayed for them when hail was threatened. I watered them diligently on the few hot days we were blessed with. I bragged. I oggled. Like I said – I was obsessed.
And finally, after more than a half a year of work I ate my first tomato on an early September evening, around the time kids would go back to school. And it was warm, and juicy, and tangy and ripe with fond memory.
So I don’t share this story to be a literal nightmare to the tomato-hating portion of the population. I share it because for the first time in a while I was spending a lot of time on something that was giving me a lot of reward in return (aside from a nutritious and delicious snack).
Horticultural therapy, if you haven’t heard of it, is defined by the American Horticultural Therapy Association as “a process in which plants and gardening activities are used to improve the body, mind and spirits of people.” The therapy itself is usually facilitated by a trained therapist with specific goals in mind, but while you don’t have to necessarily seek professional guidance to see the benefits of other therapy methods such as meditation, pacing, and other anxiety-reducing strategies, I don’t believe you need to work with a horticulturalist to see the benefits of gardening and working with plant-life.
So here’s how my new project of growing tomatoes (and other veggies) has been helping me with my recovery:
I built more fond memories. It’s been hard to participate in a lot of activities that would leave me with new experiences under my belt, so having the capacity to engage in a hobby and interest that brings new sensations and memories is really exciting. The smell of earth, the cool splash of the sprinkler, the progress photos on my camera!
I gained a sense of purpose and accomplishment. I put in the work, and gained the reward.
I engaged in gentle exercise; puttering around the house to find light for the seedlings, tilling small shovels full of soil, and pruning plants allowed me the opportunity for light movement inside and outside of the house. I took many light load trips, watched my movements when bending and turning, but I was off the couch and out and about.
It taught me patience and acceptance of imperfections. Each seed I planted didn’t produce a tomato plant, and each plant grew didn’t produce a tomato. But I put in the effort anyway, and proudly accepted the yield I was granted.
It showed me physical proof that setbacks are temporary and not a true demise. Leaves heal from hail damage. Wilted plants bounce back stronger from drought. Pests can be managed.
I was given a new identity, conversation starter, and way to bond with others.
I increased my consumption of organic, nutrient-rich matter, which helps all bodies be their best versions.
I played in the dirt – which actually has a number of health benefits on its own.
I built, and continue to build new and stronger support systems. Neighbors popped over to see what we were growing. My garden mentor gave me all the time in the world. I felt energized by the passion of the workers at my favorite gardening centre.
While I don’t have a thesis or an experimental design or a research grant to back up my support of the benefits of horticultural therapy-ish, I’ve very much attributed the joy, purpose, and pride that I felt last year to the work that I’ve put into our garden. And the therapy will continue this year, not only for myself, but through my extension of sharing this with others. I’d welcome anyone to join me for a glass of wine, and some soil searching (see what I did there?).
When I threw around
the idea of starting a blog, I figured I’d use the platform as a catalog for
the things I was interested in; recipes, workouts, crafts, and fun date night
ideas around the city. I loved keeping busy, and I LOVED sharing things with others
that I know they would enjoy.
When Mike and I went
to Ireland for our honeymoon right after our wedding, I didn’t sleep for 5
nights. The jet lag hit me harder than ever, but I spent those sleepless nights
jotting down ALL of the interests I wanted to share on my new blog. I was going
to try it all and share it all, with you – all 5 followers! But a month later,
after the crash, I had many a sleepless nights once again, only they were
fueled with flashbacks and loud bangs, heavy limbs, a feeling of dread that I
wore like a smelly housecoat. The ideas that filled my phone and my journals
all seemed trivial and surface-level, and quite frankly, insignificant to
explore anymore. Life seemed like it was worth more and less all in the same
moment; more than silly life lessons and how-tos, but less in a sense that what
I shared wouldn’t make a difference in any grand scheme of things, anyway. I
was in a dark place.
Before, I only
experienced pain when I inflicted it upon myself in the form of a tough
workout, or a clumsy bruise from rushing around. I only felt sadness when I let
outside factors break through my barriers. I only wanted more than what I
already had, because gratitude doesn’t come naturally when you’ve never lost
anything. After, when I had real pain, the kind I knew wouldn’t get better with
a rest day and a good stretch, when I felt real sadness, real pity for myself
and fear for my future, when the only thing I wanted anymore was what I wished
away the day before, I didn’t have the resiliency to keep my creative spark
alive. I had snuffed my own flame. I was exhausted, and bitter that I didn’t
have the energy or creativity to be the next Jillian Harris.
Here I am, though, a
year and a half later, reflecting on how sad and sorry I was feeling for
myself. I’ve done a lot of exploring to discover the new me, and I’ve found a
more refined version of myself. One with a few more cricks and cracks, some
harder surfaces and some different interests. I have gratitude to replace what
I took for granted, and more respect for what keeps me grounded. And a whole
new journey to share.
Last spring when my
recovery plateaued and my pain returned, it became pretty evident that I wasn’t
going to bounce back to the runner I was before. I couldn’t contribute to
settling into our new home as much as I wanted, and when I pushed myself I paid
the price for weeks afterward. I said no to more things than I said yes to and
I thought to myself, “what am I ever going to share with people besides
this trauma?” My people would say “lots of things”. I’ve been my
own worst critic, I’ve attended my own pity party long past closing time, and
it’s time to reignite my spark for the sake of getting some creative juices
flowing and finally providing my 5 followers with something to read.
So, I think I’ll
start using this platform as a catalog for all of the new things that I love,
because I still love keeping busy, and more than ever I love sharing what
sparks joy, what I’m grateful for, and where my journey of healing and growth
is taking me. Thanks for following along.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
It’s been exactly a year since the scariest day of my life – when I saw the flash of white air bag and mistook it for “the light”. I said out loud “I’m not ready to go yet, I’ve not lived my life”.
People ask me what it feels like, coming up on a year. It’s an anniversary date I never thought would apply to me, but today I’m celebrating it as I would any other accomplishment in my life. With some reflection, and a bit of bubbly.
Goals and achievements looked different for me this past year. Some more obvious, like walking to the end of the block and back, graduating from two physio sessions a week to one. Straightening my own hair when the stitches healed (thanks for the help, Mike!) And some, less obvious, but more impactful. Writing an email using the proper grammar, finding the right words during presentations at work, pushing through the fatigue and grogginess of the concussion.
The pain, too, shall pass, and each day gets easier. I’m thankful I live in a city where I can make a physio appointment at the drop of a hat, and that my employer provides me the means to afford it. But what has been easier to take for granted this year has been all of the opportunities this downtime has afforded me.
Catching up on Netflix with my boo, reading all of my book club reads on time, sleeping in (a bit) on Sundays, and putting my heart and soul into my new love, gardening. Maybe I’ve hit early retirement, but my cup runneth over with personal growth in a way racing all over the city like a mad woman never gave me.
Every day isn’t rosy (except in my perennial garden, those roses are legit), and keeping perspective is hard, but each day, and especially today, I remember that I declared aloud one year ago, “I’m not done yet. I’ve not lived my life.”
A lesson in perspective hits hard. Like, really hard and really fast.
I recently spent a fabulous 5 days soaking up sun, bevvies, and downtime with my bestie and her crew at their family cabin. Mike and I had, for the first time in a long time, found ourselves apart for the weekend – he was having an equally sunny and fantastic weekend at our friend’s bachelor party in Montana. While nervous to drive out to the cabin alone, I knew a 6 hour solo venture would be worth the R&R at the end, and I’d ridden this route nearly every summer for over 16 years. Nothing to worry about.
While at the lake, I had my usual bouts of insecurity, though thankfully the lighting in the bathroom was ultra flattering, and I was rocking the tan leftover from my wedding (proving that baking in a tanning bed for 6 weeks truly does build up a good base tan). I was feeling the effects of two weeks of honeymoon indulgences in Europe, a lingering hangover from Stampede treats, and then struggling to get back on the wagon once we returned to normal life. I promised myself that when I got back home I’d cut back on the Hawkins Cheesies, I’d eliminate milk from my diet, I’d certainly start meal planning and food prepping. I’d make more time for mindfulness, spend less time on social media, work on this blog, damnit! I’d be a better wife, a better daughter, a better teammate at work. I’d show my boss how driven I was, the value I added, the career path I’m paving for myself. We’d start trying for a baby (though, not trying, trying, just not NOT trying, ya know). We’d find a house that we loved, we’d save more money, eat out less, love more, waste less. And I was so, SO excited to start training for my next half marathon (which I’d obviously run faster than the last).
So, sun shining, I worked to set the guilt of further indulgences aside, and instead grabbed a soda water between bud lights and rice crisps (seriously). My bestie assured me I still looked bangin’ in my bikini, and YOLO, enjoy yourself, girl. I’d get to commence beating myself up once I got back to reality at home. No time for self-deprecation at the lake.
Tuesday afternoon rolled around and I’m back my car, prepping myself for my super safe drive back (remember this is my second time on this route alone, now). Check all the safety boxes; safe driving shoes, sun glasses, opened water and snackies, and a playlist that will keep my attention on the road until my first stop. Quick text to ol’ hubber to let him know I’m on the road and it’s 10 and 2 on the wheel, baby. Go time. I was driving toward my new goals list. En route to improving myself. To live my best life. This playlist is alright, but I’ve heard better. Will need some new music for my next race. Add that to the list.
Then it all stops. It matters not. Out of nowhere a truck pulls out in front of me and my car slams into it. Loud, then bright white, then silent.
I’m out of the car now, I’m on the ground with complete strangers who are holding me, talking to me, wrapping my cuts, keeping me safe. I’m in the ambulance on the way to the hospital and I’m being told I’ll be OK. I’m in triage waiting for blood work, and tetanus, and treatment for the shards of glass in my hand. An X-ray to determine the severity of damage in my hips. I’m strapped to a board with a neck brace on for nearly 5 hours. I’m alone and waiting for my bestie to hold my hand. Waiting for her to update Mike, and my mom, and my boss to tell her the work that I had planned won’t get done. And why am I still adding to the list?
I’m home now, bloodied and bruised, but no broken bones or stitches required. My car exploded on impact and I walked away from it like a mother trucker. I can’t move more than 500 meters without pain in my hips, and I can’t lift my own legs in and out of the car – the car that Mike drives because I’m too shaken and likely still too concussed to drive myself. I write e-mails at work that make little sense some days, and it takes me longer to process simple instructions. I can’t make a full dinner at home without sitting to take a break, or just giving full directions from the couch. Sleeping is interrupted because I can’t roll over without squashing my bruised hips or using my upper body to hoist over my heavy legs.
So perspective. It hit me hard and it hit me fast. These days, instead of beating myself up for only running 5 km, I celebrate walking to the coffee shop and back, and swinging my legs into bed on my own. The bloated tummy I used to huff and puff about at the end of the day gets a break, as the lymph nodes in my hips are slowly draining, and my organs are healing from digesting codeine and Advil. The argument over whose turn it is to clean the bathroom is officially redundant.
Maybe my new perspective will last, but likely it will fade. I’ll grow impatient again, and I’ll create new goals to chase. But for now I threw away the list, and I’m doing what feels right, for the first time in a long time.
How do I top an introduction post greater than that of Mr. Wright? It’s simple – I can’t, so I guess I won’t. Here goes MY first post. My husband – ceases to amaze me with his love and support. This space was his beautiful and thoughtful wedding gift to me, an extension of his even more thoughtful vows, and the integrity he brings to our relationship every day. But you didn’t stop by to roll your eyes at my epic love story, so I’ll keep it short and sweet.
In January 2018 I had finished my fourth Whole30 program, and jotted down my reflections and learnings. I wrote sloppily in bed one night, with the intent of tucking my notebook away and recycling it at the next spring-cleaning like I had always done. The reflection was cathartic, but it’s likely I hadn’t composed something that wasn’t already common knowledge. It wasn’t until I (reluctantly) shared my evenings work with Mike, that his interest manifested into encouragement that perhaps someone else would like to read my version of this “common knowledge”. But as a wise mentor and friend infamously nags, “Someday is a code word for never” and while I entertained the idea of starting a blog, my perfectionism and insecurities got the better of me and I convinced myself that someday someone might be interested in my contributions, but for now no one would spend their cup of coffee reading about my take on a healthy recipe, my latest fitness interest, or ‘witty observation’ as Mike generously puts it.
Thanks to an epic nudge, a small domain fee, and a few much anticipated tech lessons, my husband has ensured that never is not an option for me, given me one of the greatest gifts of all – the confidence and platform to formally share what I love and what I know.
I look forward to sharing the bits of my creative energy and corners of my interests that peek out of my standard 9-5 corporate, suburban-dwelling, simple life. So whether there are none, one or a handful of you – welcome, and if you have any tips to share about blogging along the way, please reach out!
A personal place for you to share your amazing story with the world. An outlet for all your intellectual insights, culinary creations, partner killing workouts, witty observations, and adventurous spirit. Life is filled with precious moments to reflect on. I look forward to creating memories with you to share, and forever fanning your creative flame.