Showing posts with label anxiety. Show all posts
Showing posts with label anxiety. Show all posts

Friday, August 31, 2012

A Stranger's Kindness

                I had a minor panic episode this morning while walking to a doctor’s appointment.  I was crossing an intersection when a car drove by, the driver yelling something at me.  I jumped in fear; my heart constricted and my lungs contracted as a wave of dizziness washed over me.  My body froze as I stood on the sidewalk waiting to return to a state of equilibrium. 
A crossing-guard noticed my reaction and asked if I was okay.  Without much forethought or conscious effort, I found myself telling this concerned stranger all about my accident and my fear.   Two years ago, I was hit by an elderly driver while walking across the street.  I was on the crosswalk with two other pedestrians – the driver drove up onto the median and hit all of us.  I was the first person to get hit – my head went through the windshield, leaving me with a mild traumatic brain injury and a laceration above my right eye that required 100+ stitches and missed slicing my eye by less than a millimeter.  The crossing-guard was sympathetic – she listened to the babbling of a stranger with patience, her face a mirror of empathy. 
I explained to the kind woman that my life at the moment is about balancing my fears – I panic at the sight of on-coming cars, which leaves me with the option of either panicking while driving or panicking while walking.  A few months ago, when I was trying to drive again, I was almost hit by another driver.  I came very close to blacking out from the incident, which has left me with a deep-seated fear of causing a car accident from my anxieties.  At this point in time, I choose to face my fears while walking.  At the very least, I can stand on the sidewalk until my fear subsides. 
In return, the woman told me about her fear of driving – she was rear-ended last year.  Now whenever she sees a car behind her, she is anxious that she will get hit from behind again.  I told her I was sorry to hear about her accident and we commiserated about Houston traffic.  She told me I was strong, which brought me to the point of tears – I do not feel like a strong woman.  We talked for another ten minutes, about life and marriage and family, before I had to leave to make my doctor’s appointment.  I thanked her and said good-bye. 
I wish I had given her a hug.  Or told her just how much her sympathy meant to me.  

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Re-examining Priorities In Light Of A Near-Death Experience

          Two years ago I was the typical ambitious grad student; I worked my way through college and graduated from Cornell University with an honors degree.  I then enrolled in a Ph.D program in developmental biology at a top-ranked medical college.  My motivation defined me - I was content to put in the long hours necessary to complete my schoolwork and begin developing my research project.  My life's plan was mapped out for me - Ph.D, post-doc, professorship in academia.  School was spent in a blur of studying and lab-work; I was relentless in working towards my goal.  Life was school and school was life.
          And then, at the beginning of my second year of grad school, I was in a life-altering accident -- I was hit by a car while walking across the street, in the type of freak accident that people hear about on the news but never imagine will happen to them.  There were a total of three pedestrians hit - I was the first to get hit and sustained the most serious of the injuries.  My head hit the windshield, completely shattering the glass, and resulting in a mild traumatic brain injury.
          I was lucky - my physical injuries healed within a matter of months.  The brain injury took a little longer - for about six months I had a mild stutter and I got dizzy every-time that I tried to work out.  But the emotional imprint of my accident turned out to be the most lingering effect.  I developed an acute fear of cars, which in the car-centric city of Houston is prohibitive to maintaining a normal life.  Between the acute panic caused by my accident and the everyday stress of working in a high-charged grad school environment, I turned into a sobbing, hysterical mess.  For the first time in my life, I was unable to fulfill the responsibilities expected of me.  I no longer knew who I was - I had always defined myself by my work ethic and my ambition.  Now I was incapable of working a full-time job, let alone a graduate program that demanded every ounce of my concentration.  I was forced to withdraw from school and redefine who I was as a person.
          This accident has forced me to examine who I am as a person.  During the accident, when I saw the car heading towards me a millisecond before impact, my last thoughts were not about my career options or my life as a grad student - my last thought was the achingly sweet look on my husband's face as I kissed him good-bye that morning.  The idea that I might never see him again crushed my heart.  
          And so now I am at a point where my days are centered around my pathological fear of cars and the unsettling feeling that my life is no longer defined by how busy I am.  Withdrawing from grad school has wreaked havoc on my self-esteem as I struggle to understand how I have changed in light of a near-death experience.                
          I am now re-examining my priorities in life.  What I have discovered is that my priorities in life are centered around family.  Once my life has settled down - once I am at a point where I can live a functional life again - I will return to school and the pursuit of a career.  But when I do return, I will return with the attitude that although a career can be fulfilling, my full heart belongs to the people I love.