The Value of Understanding Stress Following an Accident on Black Ice that “Totalled” My Car

It was a perfectly normal morning. The drive back up the mountain is always beautiful no matter the weather. I noted that the road had just been gritted, I was thinking about whether it was worth cleaning the car with the muck spraying up from the road, and looked forward to having a cup of coffee when I got home.

The next thing I knew I was staring through the windscreen thinking “Is this it?”. There was a resounding crunch of metal and plastic and a massive jolt when the car stopped careening forward straight into an embankment.

It had hit black ice and in a split second the car had shot across the road, over a ditch and into very solid mountainside. There was zero time to take control or evasive action. I later learnt exactly the same thing had happened to a car further up the mountain moments beforehand. Obviously, gritting and studded tires are ineffective with black ice.

Following the impact, and testing limbs, head and body, I realized that I was still alive and not seriously injured. My back hurt, my glasses had flown to the floor and my phone and purse had disappeared but I was OK.

In no time at all, before I thought of getting out, a truck stopped and then a car. Help was at hand.

In a somewhat dazed and wobbly state, I got out of my car, walked by the debris that had come off as it hit the bank, and I was helped into Dale’s truck. He took me to the comfort and warmth of my home, and my longed-for cup of coffee, before continuing on his journey. A wonderful, kind human being.

At this point I became truly grateful – for still being alive, for not being badly injured, for my home, for my welcoming cat and for how gently and kindly I had been treated. And since then, my heart has been warmed by the thoughtfulness and kindness of everyone I’ve been in contact with. My heartfelt thanks, love and appreciation to you all!

During the three days since impact, I have observed first-hand some stress responses as they materialized, and through my understanding of stress I’ve been able to allay panic and fear and help myself.

I share some of these experiences with you.

Carry on as normal: this can be a reaction following a stressful event. I cancelled appointments, handled insurance, towing of vehicle and other matters related to the accident. I vacuumed, dusted and saw clients in spite of backache. The shock and reality had not set in!

Shock: stress response. When I stopped being busy, I became aware of how dangerous the situation had been and how extremely lucky I was. Without seat belt I would have smashed into or gone through the windscreen. Had a car been coming down the two-lane mountain road, the impact would have been far worse.

Fear: stress response. Mind chatter – this is a dangerous world, I’m not safe, how can I drive on that road again? – which, with effort, gradually turned into I am safe now.

Cold feet and hands: sign of active stress response

Loss of appetite: sign of active stress response

Couldn’t keep food down: likely stress response but noted in case it continued and was a symptom of something else

Swelling and bruising: from the seat belt and jolt on impact. Applied ice.

Pain: mostly in back – took anti-inflammatory and applied ice. Didn’t take pain killers until the third day because I didn’t want to hide any symptoms that might occur and need attention.

Slight Loss of Memory: sign of active stress response. Knowing that stress affects memory, rather than getting frustrated or worried, I forgave myself for not remembering precisely where the car came off the road, or that I had an ice pack in the bathroom drawer (used bag of frozen peas instead)

Lack of concentration: sign of active stress response. For the first 24 hours I couldn’t focus on the book I had been reading. My mind kept drifting off in different directions, so I just waited ‘till I could concentrate and then read while soaking in the bath as my muscles relaxed.

Stayed awake for first 12 hours to observe myself: In spite of feeling cold and tired, I made myself stay awake for over 12 hours before trying to sleep, to observe my body (see if there were any additional symptoms), check my mind and emotions

Flashbacks – unable to sleep: sign of trauma and active stress response. After midnight, when in bed and I began to relax, flashbacks of the moment of impact repeatedly invaded my mind – I saw the embankment coming towards me, heard the crunch and bang and felt myself propelled forward and then jolted into my seat. I turned all the lights on and didn’t sleep ‘till daylight. I kept telling myself that is the past, I am safe now and over and over again I played in my mind and imagination (seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling myself there) some of the beautiful views and lovely drives and walks on the mountain, where I have always been safe. No flashbacks after that first night.

Soaked in warm water with Epsom salts and lavender oil (many times): to relax and ease muscles.

Applied ice pack (many times): to freeze and relieve pain.

Slept and slept: when we relax our body heals. Knowing there was no concussion, I am happy to relax, sleep and allow my body to heal.

I share these experiences with you, in case something similar happens to you or someone you know or love, then maybe you will be able to identify the stress responses and apply similar strategies.

My focus now is on how to speed the healing process and return to “normal life” stronger and healthier than before. I plan to regularly swim in spite of the sub-zero temperatures outside, to have massage, float in the flotation tank and to give myself other healing and nurturing treats. Things I’d been putting off ‘till I’m not sure when. I am worth it! So are you! Don’t wait.

What can you do to nourish yourself?

Wishing you a wonderfully happy holiday.

With love,
Gillian.

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