Wednesday, July 25, 2012

When Life Will Never Be The Same Again

Note: This post is in memory of the victims of the Aurora theater shooting.  My heart goes out to all of those affected by this senseless tragedy.

          November 3, 2010, I was in an accident.  I was walking across the street, on my way to work, when a man in a Nissan Sentra ran a red light and hit three pedestrians, myself included.  I looked over a millisecond before impact; in that millisecond I learned what it feels like to be unable to flee an impending fate and to think that death is imminent.  This terrible knowledge lingers with me to this day, weighing me down with a frightful sense of the fragility of life.  I can no longer trust that drivers will obey the basic laws of traffic and I now know the full pain of driving mistakes.  
          As a fellow victim of a senseless trauma, I am reeling from the tragedy of the Aurora theater shooting.  I cannot fathom why a person would commit such a violent act of hatred towards a group of innocent people.  I have been trying - and failing - to put my very deep sorrow into words.  My heart goes out to all of those who have been affected by this tragedy, whether they were in that theater or love someone who was.  
          Life will never be the same again for these survivors.  Never again will they have the luxury of walking into a darkened theater in eager anticipation of spending a few hours in mindless entertainment.  Never again will they be able to watch - or hear - of Batman, without suffering flashbacks and ghastly nightmares.  Never again will they have the luxury of trusting in the goodness of strangers.  
          The media loves to concentrate on the bravery and resilience of survivors.  And in the first few weeks following a tragedy, survivors are strong and brave.  But the true test of survival is when the media cameras move on to the next story.  When the friends of the survivors forget and move on to their next phase in life.  When the survivors find themselves alone, with no one but their own thoughts for company.  That is the point when mettle begins to crumble, superhuman strength begins to wane.
          Right after the accident, I was strong and brave.  I made jokes - my words slurring from the morphine and the traumatic brain injury - about getting into a fight with a car.  I fought to let my grad school advisers know where I was and what had happened.  I fought to start walking again, one slow painful step at a time.  I fought to return to school and the life I had before.   I was a “success”, an “example” of the resilience of the human body.    
          But what I neglected - and what most of the people around me were oblivious to - was the emotional impact of the accident.  The pain and the physical recovery were the easiest hurdle to overcome.  And yet I used up all of my willpower just clearing the first hurdle.  By the time I realized the full emotional impact of my accident, I was drained of strength.  
          When I returned to my old life, I found that my old life no longer fit.  I had changed - I just didn’t know how.  Between the anxiety and the nightmares, I found myself unable to handle the high-stress environment of grad school.  I was forced to withdraw from my Ph.D program and re-evaluate the new person that I had become.  Almost two years after this accident, I still suffer from severe panic attacks and nightmares, all involving cars and the awful inevitability of fate.  
           And so I ask you to be sympathetic towards trauma victims.  I will never understand what the victims of the Aurora theater shooting went through.  But I do know that their lives will never be the same again.  I would urge you to lay aside the partisanship, the blame, the finger-pointing, and focus on the victims.  Focus on their physical and emotional recovery.  Focus on who they are as fellow human beings.  
          I am a believer that our experiences shape who we are as a person.  We cannot choose our experiences but we can choose our responses.  I am still sorting out the effects of my accident but I do know that this accident has caused me to become more thoughtful, more empathetic towards other human beings.  The victims of Aurora will spend years doing the same.  As a nation, we need to use this tragedy to reflect on who we are as a people and to become more empathetic, more aware of our shared humanity.  


  1. It's heartbreaking that trauma is so common in our world. The survivors of the Colorado massacre have joined the ranks of so many others who have survived violent trauma: refugees, war veterans, crime victims, childhood abuse survivors, domestic violence survivors, accident victims, and so many more. It boggles the mind when we realize how common trauma is, and how much we as a society have to learn about it. If nothing else, we as a society must learn to treat trauma victims with respect and empathy.

    1. Thank you. From my limited perspective, we all have a lot to learn when it comes to understanding what other people are going through.

  2. Your struggles are both incredibly unique, and yet part of a large human condition. I think that too often groups try to set themselves as apart from other groups that have survived a trauma. I used to think that specialized support groups actually keep people apart more than bring them together.

    I really appreciate you ability to honor and identify with survivors of a different kind of trauma. It reminds me of why I always admire you as a person, and as a friend. I love that you are learning who you are, and understanding that who you are now will always be different than who you would be without the accident. Your strength and courage help me on my hard days. You remind me that we are all better when we work on being better at who we are, rather than what we thought we might have been.

    Thank you for being my friend and finding ways to remind me how to be a better person, even when I am gorked out. ;-)

    1. Thank you so much Julia. And I hope the pain wears off soon. I am also a little gorked out as well, I've been needing some extra anxiety meds this week. I really do think that the point of our life on this earth is to try and be the best person that we can. We all share a common bond of humanity and I think we need to remember that.

  3. I was too young/stupid to realize my first two near death experinces were in fact near death experinces. My third, first recognised, was getting hit by a car.

    I never had nightmares, though I did have some anxiety about impending death until my fourth brush(fliping a motorcycle at 50mph).

    I dont know if it will help you or not but I can share a realization I came to

    You are going to die. There is nothing you can do to stop it. It can happen at anywhere. It could happen today, it could happen twenty years from now. And you have no control.

    I know that it may seem harsh and depressing but its also increadably freeing. Ofcourse I dont think I really understood it until that time I fell off a cliff(#7).

    1. I don't think I'm ready for that realization yet. But if that is what helps you cope, then I am glad you have been able to come that conclusion.


I love hearing comments and I welcome all viewpoints; however, I request that if you do choose to comment, please do so in a manner that is constructive and respectful of others.