Standing on My Own Two Feet.
“The most important thing about recovery is to pass the message on.” ~ Maurice Gibb
I lay in amazement from the previous night’s discoveries. A part of me I never knew, a surge of a lifelong hidden pain, secretly emerged from the ocean of my thoughts. Just moments ago, I had begged the Universe to help and guide me, as I’d been feeling very sad, and unaware of what to do. That is when a wave of memories, as big as a tsunami, hit.
I was 11 — an innocent, smiley, happy child with blonde hair. I remember that day so clearly. I was beaming with happiness. It was the last day of school. I was so proud. Now I was big. Next year I would be in junior high, no longer a youngster in elementary school. Excitement filled my heart as it was the first day of summer, June 21st. Three months of fun, laughter, and play were ahead, and I couldn’t be happier! Life was a fairy tale for me.
Like every Friday afternoon, my brother Prometheus and I were waiting for the bus to go to Tang Soo Do School. We waited on a long dirt road that led to an intersection of two other roads. We stood near a donkey and a water trough where farmers brought their animals to drink. As usual, we were dressed in our all-white Tang Soo Do outfit. Everything seemed to be going wonderfully, except for the bus being late. As we waited, traffic went by.
I started getting tired of standing, and asked my brother who was sitting down leaned up against a Stop sign if I could sit there. “The bus will be here any moment,” he replied. So I just stood there waiting.
Suddenly everything stopped. I heard a car screech, and thought to myself, “Another crazy driver.” There was a lot of smoke all around me, and I could faintly see a red car spinning around and coming towards me. Then I must have blacked out, because I had no idea what happened to me. When I regained consciousness, my legs hurt tremendously. I found myself lying on the dirt road, several feet from where I’d originally stood.
My all-white outfit was not white anymore; it was covered in dirt. My legs felt weird and different, like they were not part of me anymore, disconnected from my body. Almost like they were partially in the ground. The pain was excruciating.
I was very confused, and felt much fear. I didn’t know if I would live, if I would be crippled, or lose a leg. I felt very weak and tired. I just wanted to sleep, and hoped to find out, when I woke up, that it was all a bad dream. Now with both my femur bones broken, my reality switched by 180 degrees.
A year of horror began: Being rushed to the hospital, the doctor cruelly yelling at me to stop crying as he violently placed a cast over my legs. Being inserted with a catheter, embarrassed and exposed in a room full of people. Being told I must be rushed to Athens as my case was too serious to stay on the island. Enduring excruciating pain as I was constantly being moved from room to room, bed to bed. Almost losing my leg.
As the doctor had placed the cast around my one leg too tightly, blocking my circulation, I was just an hour away from being amputated. Waking up in shock with these huge alien-looking metal things now extending into my legs. My bum rotten and cut from not being cleansed properly by the nurses, after going to the bathroom in the bedpan. Being bedridden, unable to walk for seven months, separated from nature which I so dearly love.
The worst pain? The changing of my bandages twice a day in order to keep the holes in my wounds open around the eight metal rods, until they healed. Waking up one morning covered in ants feeding on my open leg wounds, and unable to jump up and shake them off. Finally given crutches after seven months, and realizing I no longer remember how to walk. Having the bars removed by the same alcoholic doctor who almost cost me my leg, gasping for air as he used no anesthetic or pain-reliever.
This is just the physical pain, it comes and eventually leaves forever. But even after it is healed, what remains, and that which is central to it all, is the emotion behind every experience. That day I lost everything in the blink of an eye.
After my request from the Universe for help, I began crying uncontrollably, like I never knew was possible. It was like a river rapidly and forcefully pushing through. Images of this long-past journey flashed through my head. All the memories were accompanied by this deep pain that cannot be described, and I was unaware of its existence. It just came out of nowhere, and hit me just as if it were that car.
Suddenly I received an influx of profound insights, understandings about my life patterns, cycles, and ways of viewing things. It all makes sense now. Such a small event shaped the course of my life. I will share some of my insights here.
I never really believed in romantic relationships. Possible, but a rare occurrence, I thought. The only person I could truly count on was myself. Pessimistic when it came to marriages and partnerships; thinking In the end, it doesn’t work out. I blamed this belief on psychological explanations, my relationship with my parents, their failed marriage, a society filled with adultery and divorces. Now I understand where this belief really started.
During my recovery, all the people around me who I thought loved me, and whom I loved, just disappeared. My friends vanished. My parents were wrapped up in meeting my physical needs, and so emotionally absent. I felt truly alone, abandoned, lying there day after day. As a child, I transformed this into a reality where all those who love you, and those you love, disappear. Relationships you thought you had, changed and turned out to be unreal.
From then on, every time in my life I experienced a difficult or sad moment, I felt alone, which would subconsciously bring to the surface those hidden feelings from my accident. Therefore, I concluded that all relationships eventually did not last.
We become so preoccupied with physical and material things that we forget that which is probably the most important. My parents were so involved in giving their support to meet me during my recovery that they forgot the most significant matter of all, something that naturally happens in most cases of injuries and disabilities around the world. As we are not experiencing these things ourselves, we perceive them through our eyes.
It is not easy to juggle the taking care of a person and, at the same time, knowing what the other is going through.
Social support and relationships are key predictors to emotional recovery. Our bonds with family and friends can be deepened, or the opposite can occur. Being in a position of perceived lack of emotional support, it provided me with an understanding of the value of caring, and expressed feelings.
Perhaps the greatest present from all this was that it raised my compassion, and my empathy, so that I can take this experience and in turn use it to help others in my life and profession. It has provided me with some essential tools to use as a therapist and support person.
Any event, small or big, can have a greatly traumatic or vital effect on our lives. The severity does not depend on the size of the event, rather on the emotional impact it has on each of us, and how we experience it. What can be highly traumatic for one can be nothing for another.
A seemingly small act of a mother, one day telling her child they are stupid, can have a larger or similar effect on someone in the long run, than the effect sexual abuse or loss of a family member or friend can have on another. We cannot judge people’s emotions or impose ours based on our own perceptions, values, beliefs, and the way we live our own life. Every person is different with individual needs, journeys and paths.
“I’m glad I lost myself, cuz I’m gonna create a better one now.” ~ Nouf Alfadl
Before the accident, I viewed life as an adventure, a place of mystery and excitement. After the accident, I managed to regain this sense, the magic returned, perhaps becoming even stronger. This provided an inner strength, a belief in myself, a trust in the world that no matter what happens, we can rise up and endure it all. No matter what comes, I would choose to see the beautiful things, to laugh and take in all the wonderful gifts life has to offer.
I was forced to turn within and be my own support system, to believe in myself.
Life comes with its ups and downs. Giving us the tools to learn, expand, grow and truly get in touch with who we are. We can lose our legs, our arms, our voice, our sight, but that which cannot be taken from us is our being.
When you lose everything, you come to understand the value and the importance of life and so much more. How fortunate humans are to have been given the gift of living, breathing, feeling and moving. That in itself is the greatest gift of all. If I could turn back time and change this event, would I? Absolutely not.
I am incredibly grateful for this experience, and every moment of my life, as it has brought me to where I am now, and I look forward to both the good and bad that lie ahead: the sorrows, joys, traumas, laughs, tears, hugs, disappointments and love. I await with open arms.
“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” ~ C.S. Lewis
Gaia (Γαία) Giakalli is a therapist, writer, photographer, dancer, cultural anthropologist and nature-dweller. She loves creativity, and nature, especially trees. Her passion is connecting people with nature, in which she has spent most of her life in solitude, contemplating and enjoying its wisdom, and empowering people to be their authentic selves, reconnecting them to their true essence and calling in life. You can connect with her on The Tree Mouseion of Creativity, Gaia Giakalli World Productions, Facebook or Twitter.