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What I Wish I Knew After the Accident That Changed My Life

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I want you to take a minute to imagine something.

Imagine this. You’re 18, you’re traveling the world, living life to the fullest, adventuring with your friends. You go cliff jumping into a river, an activity you’ve done countless times in your life – off so many cliffs, into so many rivers. You’re in one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever seen, and the weather is perfect. Your friends take turns jumping into the freezing cold water, their shrieks of joy and adrenaline echoing back up the cliff to you as they free fall into the water below. It’s your turn, you’re so excited, you walk to the edge, push all your weight into the balls of your feet as you prepare to jump, a feeling so familiar to you, something you’ve done a hundred times before. But then, the unthinkable happens.

The gravel shifts beneath your feet, the slight downward slope of the cliff edge claws at your center of gravity and you slip, suddenly your feet fly out in front of you, and you’re falling. Horizontally. And the worst thing is, there’s nothing you can do about it. You free fall like this for 35 feet, landing on your back, on unbroken water. You don’t know this yet, but this is the moment where your life changes forever. You black out when you hit the water and you later hear your friends’ retelling of the story, how they heard all the air leave your body upon impact, and the rescue that followed and you thank your lucky stars for your strong, quick acting friends who pulled you out of the river.

You later learn, this type of fall should have killed you. It’s nothing short of a miracle that you’re alive. I want you to remember that, OK? Don’t ever take this for granted.

For weeks after the accident, your body is one giant bruise, a galaxy of every shade of black, blue and purple. You feel the pain coursing through every part of your body so you don’t immediately notice the shattered collarbone, the broken ribs or the damage you’ve done to your diaphragm, or realize the effects this will have on your body for years to come.

You’re 18, you think you’re invincible, you think you’ve come out of this relatively unscathed, with a few good bruises and another gap year story to tell. You’ve also never been more wrong.

Fast forward three years, you’re experiencing all sorts of health issues, and you’ve been to countless doctors, naturopaths, etc., trying to find answers. They run simple blood tests, and they all come back clear, you’re fine, totally fine, your doctors assure you. Their advice ranges from hopeless, to downright ludicrous; you get told you just need to drink more water, get more sleep (more than the 14 hours a night you’re currently getting) and, the icing on the cake, to stop being so dramatic. You’re fine, just fine. You’re a perfectly healthy 21-year-old. Only, you’re not.

You get disheartened, and stop pursuing medical help, your symptoms slowly getting worse and worse. Two years later, a friend recommends you to a doctor who might be able to help. So you book an appointment and off you go, with the lowest of expectations. He runs the standard blood test, with the results unsurprisingly coming back clear, you’re fine, totally fine. Only you’re not. And this time, it’s different. He says to you, you’re young, this is not normal, and he tells you that he will fight for you until he works out what’s wrong. And here’s the amazing part: he doesn’t let you down.

After months and months of testing, and more blood tests than you can count, he finds it. A series of gene mutations you were born with, which you’ve carried your whole life unaffected, that are set into motion by a traumatic event. Such as a physical trauma to the body. Like falling off a cliff. Which low and behold, carry the exact set of symptoms you’ve been suffering for the last five years. Bingo.

Finally, some good news. You and your doctor are overjoyed that you finally have a diagnosis, something concrete to work with. You can finally silence that little voice of doubt in the back of your mind that wonders if maybe you are just “crazy,” because now you finally have a diagnosis, this is the good news. The bad news is, it’s a gene mutation, there is no cure. There are treatments which will manage your symptoms (that is, if the treatments work for you, and spoiler alert: they don’t) but there is no cure. This is something you will fight, every day, for as long as you live.

And you will fight, you’ll fight like hell. Because despite the bad days and the downright awful days, there are good days too, and there will always be good days. Sometimes there will even be great days. Remember that.

You’re going to torture yourself over the “what ifs.” What if you never went that day. What if you had picked a different cliff. What if you weren’t so adventurous. What if it had rained the night before and washed clear the gravel you slipped on. What if you fell at a slightly different angle and didn’t shatter your collarbone. What if. What if. What if.

Take my advice: don’t do this to yourself. Please, whatever you do, you cannot do this to yourself. It’s no way to live. What happened to you, happened for a reason. And maybe you don’t know what that reason is yet and maybe you’ll never know, but you have to trust that. What happened to you, happened. And no matter how badly you may want to, you can’t turn back time. So don’t look back. Sure, this isn’t the life you had planned out, it’s not even remotely close to the life you imagined and dreamed of, but it is your life and you only get one shot. So no matter what circumstances you find yourself in, don’t forget to live your life. I know it sounds cliché but in this case it is more true than most; it’s a miracle you’re alive. Don’t forget that.

Imagine. Imagine this happening to you. I don’t have to imagine, this story is about me.

Getty Image by Lord_Kuernyus

Originally published: May 26, 2018
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