A Car Accident Rescued Me from My Wrong Life

Sometimes help comes in unlikely ways.

I'm so glad I got hit by a car.

It had been a rough few months. I was working at a startup company while supposedly moving toward a Ph.D., and I’d just had a breakup. Relational and financial crises aside, I also was sick of being in school. I spent a lot of my free time dreaming about how nice it would be to work in an office that had windows, cell reception and a steady paycheck. Some of my work had me literally crying over how little I understood of it, and I found myself swearing bitterly a lot every time something else went wrong.

The accident happened on one of the first nice days we'd had that year. All the snow had finally melted, and spring brought with it the glorious promise of fresh air, green leaves blowing in the wind, and romanticized visions of summer where mosquitoes don't exist. On my bike ride home, my path crossed the entrance to a parking lot. A man with two little girls in the backseat turned into the lot—probably to bring his daughters to the adjacent playground—and didn't see me.

By the time we braked, it was too late. I’m thankful I don’t remember the impact. My tightly-laced shoes flew off in opposite directions and I was suddenly on the ground looking up at an SUV. The license plate was on the asphalt in front of me.

"I'm fine," I reassured the bystanders who swarmed around me in alarm. Then I tried to stand up and realized my legs felt like they were on fire. I couldn't move the lower half of my body. "Oh, ow," I announced.

"Where's my bike?" I craned my neck, trying to see behind me, but I couldn’t twist too well. My poor bike was lying on the ground ten feet away. "I can't feel my legs. Is my bike okay?" Paramedics arrived and finally got me strapped onto a stretcher. They wheeled me toward the doors of an ambulance. "We need to take my bike with us," I demanded. One of them sighed, went off to get my bike and shoved it in next to me.

I spent the next two months on a couch, unable to walk, recovering from heavy bruising in my bones, and in a whole lot of pain.

I barely got up at all during the first month. It was the worst pain I’ve ever been in, and each tiny decision—such as whether to venture to the bathroom or to the kitchen for a glass of water—was agonizing. Did I want the water badly enough to get off the couch, knowing the effort it would take and that I’d be aching furiously for hours after? Just how badly did I really need to pee?

I was fortunate to have friends and family who took very good care of me, stopping by the couch with company, comfort and clean clothes. (My bedroom was up a flight of stairs and so going there myself was out of the question.) They carried me around the house and to the bathroom, brought me food, and regularly called to check in on me.

After about a week of this, I experienced an odd, vaguely familiar sensation. I recognized it as something I had felt a long time ago, but couldn’t quite remember: my muscles started to relax. The tension that I perpetually carried, as if something heavy was weighing down my shoulders (textbooks, perhaps?), was starting to ease.

Oh no, I thought. This is not good. But as the days passed I stopped resisting the terrifying realization that had been threatening to bubble up: this was better than being in grad school.

Being stuck on a couch, unable to walk, alternating between Percocet that made me high and pain that made me frightened and exhausted, was preferable to being in grad school.

This was not a pleasant thing to realize. But eventually I drew the conclusion that I should probably try something else. So I quit one semester shy of graduation, taking a leave of absence I wasn’t sure would ever actually end.

Many wise and wonderful people in my life did not think leaving grad school 90 percent of the way through was a good plan. And on paper, they were absolutely right. But I was now being dragged along by a reality that I couldn’t avoid. My soul, which had begun to feel such relief, would not let me stay any longer. It had tasted freedom, and it knew better now. Against all common sense, something in my subconscious (or possibly God) was putting its foot down.

So I finished up as much work as I could at the startup and found a new job. The pay was regular, the work was interesting and didn’t involve staring at equations all day—and I even had a window. After a few months at this position, I started to feel like a real human being again. In retrospect, it's amazing how easy it had been for my misery to seem normal.

Had that driver never come along and hit me, I would have run myself (further) into the ground by forcing my way through to the Ph.D. Being unable to move and in constant pain finally forced me to sit still long enough to assess the damage the academic environment, worries about money, and self-imposed pressures had wreaked on my psyche. I had been forced to pause long enough to hear the whispers of better possibilities.

I’m grateful that I—miraculously—wasn’t permanently injured and can walk and bike again. I’m grateful for work that doesn’t try to compress me into the wrong shape and pays decently, and I’m grateful for all those who walked alongside me through my recovery.

But I’m also grateful for that massive car that came along and hit me. Sometimes rescue comes in the most unlikely ways.

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