On Christmas Eve three years ago, I was involved in a car accident that changed my mental and physical state entirely, both as a human and an artist. I have spent many years dealing with the pain that I’ve held in my body since that day. Everything happened so fast. One moment my parents and I were listening to the Fugees on the radio and the next moment we were slammed by the airbags in the car and everything went silent. I remember in that split second before impact praying that no one died because I knew that it was going to be bad. Luckily, the worst of the injuries were my own and the car that I was driving was the only thing we had to say goodbye to that night. The other driver and my parents left with minor injuries, though my arm was an absolute mess. I will never forget the image of my bone sticking out of my arm and how limp my hand was in that moment. I had broken my elbow and shattered my wrist entirely, leaving a team of doctors with the job of rebuilding my wrist out of metal. A five-inch metal plate and ten screws were used to put my wrist back together again. 

 

I went through a very dark patch right after the accident when I was heavily sedated for my pain. I wasn’t moving much from the couch, which had become my new bed during my healing process,  unless it was to go to the bathroom. I think that not being able to move freely at the time made me not want to move at all. I think any artist can relate to this: any freak accident feels insulting to our physical body in a weird way. Our bodies are our instruments and when our freedom of movement becomes altered or limited it feels like a part of us has been taken away. Especially when we have things lined up for the future and it feels like they are suddenly stripped from us. It can seem like you no longer hold the same value you held previously. I felt like I had let myself and the people I was working for down because I wasn’t able to show up. I created a hole for myself mentally that I thought I would never get out of. To add to that, I had received a new bionic arm without any warning. I held a lot anger inside for many months after towards the driver that caused the accident, but I had to remind myself that it was in fact an “accident.” 

It feels a bit foolish now, but at the time it felt so heavy and real. I really struggled with accepting the long healing journey that I knew was ahead of me. I didn’t want to have to be out of dance for four months, I didn’t want to have to relearn how to do simple everyday tasks like picking up my toothbrush or bending my arm to touch my face or do my hair. It was hard to accept the restart that was given to me by the universe. I was not planning for any of this to happen and that was the hardest part to get through. I struggled with the unknown as well as the physical, mental, and emotional pain. What I did know and what remained my constant was the fact that I wasn’t going to let go of my love for movement. The healing process from any injury is a journey in its own, each completely different, but all telling in their own ways. It all seemed to get easier with time, but it was incredibly hard to remain patient with my healing body while everyone around me was carrying on with their daily lives. Being a freelance artist means time is money and experiences are valuable. It carries with it the unspoken pressure to keep going. Nothing is permanent, but in times that feel devastatingly hard to get through, we often forget to just trust the process.

Shortly after my last surgery, I threw my body right back into the studio. Luckily for me I was home in Jacksonville, North Carolina. I got to be in the space that I grew up in. The studio where I first fell in love with dance welcomed me with open arms. It was simply the safest space to rediscover my reassurance in my own body again. Dancing became something that I feared in ways I never understood or thought about prior to the accident. Throughout my training, nobody had ever really put physical limitations on my body. As a professional artist, what I could and couldn’t do physically had never before been in the foreground of my mind. Physically speaking, I have always had a confidence and a willingness to throw myself into anything; I didn’t fear the outcome of something going wrong or causing me pain. Now, that little cloud of fear and doubt comes in waves when I am asked to do anything strenuous with my right arm. Months after being back in my craft I realized I had placed an invisible layer of bubble wrap around the whole right side of my body because of the fear I had of messing up my arm again. When I imagined the pain that I had felt the night of the accident, my body would tense up and I would stop dancing with that arm. Floor work was uncharted territory (sad thing, because the floor is one of my favorite places to exist) and partnering was incredibly intimidating because the trust that I had in my own arm strength was no longer there. I wanted to think that I was back at it but the fear I held inside was so undeniably real and present that it was affecting my dancing. With any injury there is the process of having to learn to trust the body again. Trauma lives inside of us long after the incident or trigger is gone and I still bump into mine from time to time. One idea that has helped me get over my fear is the thought of leading with my whole body rather than zoning into my place of pain. Thinking of using your whole body at once lessens the pressure on what feels inadequate or “not ready.” It took me some time but now I understand that our bodies will take care of us; we just have to get out of their way. 

Throughout my healing process I journaled a lot. I always come back to my journal to remind myself of the things that I forget. I would love to share some of those thoughts here:

 

  • This is not a race but a process of patience, love, and understanding.

  • Meanwhile the body persists and through it all it will come back, even if it is different. Different is okay.

  • Resting is equally if not more important than driving forward without a clear intention of why you’re pushing in the first place.

  • Allow yourself to be the mater of your body. We are the ones who get to choose!” 

  • Our bodies already know what they are doing, we just have to physically ride whatever wave they might be on.

  • In times of uncertainty, remember…now it’s like this…

  • Patience and time don’t have to equate to checking out.

  • Your body will take you to where it can function. Agree to it, move through it, and believe in it.

  • Don’t be afraid to fuck shit up again!

 

I never felt more in love with my body and what it is capable of until the accident. I never knew how strong it was. I love how fragile yet capable our bodies are. Honestly, these days I forget that it all happened, unless of course it is one of the colder months and my arm feels way stiffer and about 20 degrees colder because of all of the hardware inside. Four years later and I am still learning that we are never done healing. There is no deadline to finding comfort in your own body and everyone’s healing process will be different. We just have to remember to listen to our bodies when they’re shouting out at us for help.

 

If I can give any advice when it comes to healing from an injury it’d be to be cautious that your “careful” doesn’t turn into fear. Rather, just let it be the measure of the care that you give to the thing. Make sure that your healing doesn’t get in the way of your physical possibilities. You don’t want your care to put a hold on your body. The rest of you has got it taken care of. Your ears have you, your eyes have you, your heart has you, your body has you! Take the time that you need to heal. You aren’t missing anything and your body will thank you along the way. The accident just reassured me that life will always continue to move forward, life lives us, and we are just here to be the vessels to help it carry on. We have to carry on and we will. No space can exist in the now except the one that already does.

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