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PTSD: Why I Went Back to the Site of My Car Crash

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As I attended an outpatient rehabilitation clinic twice a week for my physical injuries after a car crash, I found myself experiencing reoccurring nightmares and constant flashbacks. I was aware they were not getting any better; if anything, they were getting worse. How long would it take for these unsettling feelings to go away? Would these nightmares ever go away?

• What is PTSD?

The nightmares consisted of me losing control of a vehicle, and I was waking up sweating, my heart racing. I was reluctant to mention anything to my doctor as I felt uneasy and I was hoping the nightmares would lessen as time went on, but they weren’t. I eventually shared my concerns with her and she reassured me it was quite normal to feel this way after experiencing such a horrific crash. I was immediately referred to a psychologist. A psychologist? Me? Another appointment to add to my never-ending list of medical appointments? Where would I find the strength? Who would pay for these treatments?

I don’t remember much of that first appointment, other than feeling extremely vulnerable, nervous and reluctant to even attend. I was in extreme pain and had no idea how I was going to sit in one position for a 50-minute appointment. I had to assume the first appointment was just a “meet and greet” involving paperwork while being asked to share my memory of what happened the day of my crash. Oh yes… this was just the beginning of a long list of medical professionals who would ask me the same questions over and over about that day. The psychologist seemed sincere and mentioned that one of his specialties post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I had all the symptoms. My treatment plan was approved and so it began.

I was also aware I was struggling cognitively due to my head injury and found it extremely hard to share my feelings about these issues, but I had found a “safe space” with this complete stranger. I could discuss all my fears, pains and struggles. I was not sleeping, I was experiencing flashbacks along with nightmares and I was struggling physically, emotionally, mentally and financially. I had a lot of issues and this safe space held no judgment at all.

Seeing him was rather difficult at first, not only because of the extreme pain I was experiencing but the added stress and anxiety of getting to another scheduled appointment. I don’t know where I would be today if I did not seek treatment from him, though. He was a kind and patient man who taught me coping mechanisms I still use today and will most likely use for the rest of my life. My first psychologist has since retired and when I find myself using his coping mechanisms to get me through a difficult moment, I wonder if he is aware how much of a difference he made to my life as a survivor of a crash.

One recommendation he suggested was to visit the site where the crash happened when I felt up to it. Apparently, this is quite common as he informed me this was an important part of the healing process, and even though I did not remember much of that morning, he explained to me that visiting the site often allows for a new understanding of the crash. I delayed going for quite a while, as I did not feel up to the task. I wasn’t sure how I would react and it was well over an hour drive to get there.

When I eventually found myself at the exact spot where my crash happened, I didn’t really feel anything but sadness and loss. As I stood there, I found myself trying to understand how the driver did not see me that morning, waiting to turn. I understood how the crash happened only by what people had told me. As it was a busy street, I did notice quite a few vehicles were going over the speed limit and I felt anxious, standing there as the cars zoomed by. I also noticed two memorial crosses on the other side of the road, close to where my crash happened, and although I was grateful I had survived, I also felt remorse for the families who must be struggling with their loss.

Whether you are in treatment and it is recommended to visit your crash site, or you just decide on your own that it is time, please make sure you are up to the task. Do not put yourself at risk and do not rush it. I picked a day with good weather, I picked a time I didn’t think would be busy with traffic and I also took someone with me. It is so important to bring someone with you for support as you don’t know how you will react once you are there. If you find yourself never wanting to visit your crash site or find yourself avoiding the site, that is OK too. It’s all about your comfort and well-being. Remember to be your own advocate and always check with your legal representative about coverage for medical treatment.

A version of this article was previously published on

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Originally published: June 25, 2019
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