About a month ago I was chaperoning a youth group trip to Atlanta. We were leaving Six Flags and our small church bus was involved in a wreck. A pickup truck collided with the front driver's side of our bus. We skidded across three lanes of traffic, jumped a curb, and then hit a large pole on the side of the road. When we hit the pole my head was slammed into the seat in front of me, causing my lip to split right under my nose.
I was transported to the nearest hospital for some stitches and to make sure I didn't have serious brain damage. A few hours later, I was discharged. Thankfully our group was able to return to Savannah with minimal injuries. Needless to say, the experience was very scary.
I remember the entire accident and I remember it happening in slow motion. I remember thinking as we were traveling across lanes of traffic "this is going to be very bad, I need to be prepared to do everything I can to make sure everyone is safe and OK."
When our bus stopped moving I was frantically looking around evaluating how everyone was, until I realized at that moment that I was the one that was not OK. I ran off the bus and sat down covered in blood as the rain began to fall and wash the blood down off my face and down onto my shirt. My brain was in emergency mode. I wasn't actually processing much of my own situation.
The next day I headed back to Savannah and really had more time to process. I talked to my parents and had one of those nice long cries. I was able to look at the situation as a whole, I thought it was over it, except for the stitches I still had in my face.
A few days later I started my summer Calculus class. It was 55 miles away from my house which means I have been spending more than two hours a day on the road. I didn't think driving would be a problem after the accident. I was extra aware of the cars around me but I had convinced myself I was fine and ready to move on.
Three days into my daily drive I was driving in the left lane on the interstate. A large pickup truck with a very long trailer was about to merge onto the interstate. Instead of merging into the righthand lane, the truck decided to merge all the way into the left lane, basically right on top of where I was. My only option was to drive into the grass median on my left to avoid getting thrown off the interstate. I stayed in control of my car, but my emotions were out of control. I spun into a complete panic attack and began sobbing because my body and my brain remembered the feeling of the accident and how similar the two experiences were.
I had made the mistake of thinking that I could convince myself that I was fine (a mistake I often make). I was under the impression that I had allowed myself to process what had happened and I was ready to move on. What I forgot was that the body and the brain do not forget trauma so easily. I had forgotten how taxing emotional and physical healing can be. I was exhausted because when I closed my eyes I still saw our bus colliding with the truck and it was keeping me up at night. I was in pain because my neck, head, and lip were constant reminders of the week before. But most of all I was still so full of feelings that I had yet to process.
The fear, anger, compassion, gratitude, and love that I experienced through the entire experience are not feelings that can simply be felt and then put away, they are ones that I will think back to often and process for months to come.