Car Accidents, Self-Compassion, and Other Summer Adventures

Imagine driving down the highway on a bright summer day. The wind flits across your skin, the sun filters every car around you in a lucid glow, and your vision shifts down for just a second. Then, the moment you look up, your life ends.

Exhibit A: wrecked car, with some supplies on top.

Exhibit A: wrecked car, with some supplies on top.

I acknowledge my melodramatic word choice. However, when the accident happened, I felt like my entire world – and not just my car – had crashed. After fidgeting my limbs to see if they still worked and checking to ensure that the other driver suffered no injury, I proceeded to have a little bit of a meltdown. When the super kind police officer walked across the highway to address me, I recall saying something along the lines of, “oh my gosh, I am so sorry, I think my entire mental schema as a responsible young adult has ended, my psychological self-concept has exploded, I sense an existential crisis beginning…”

But then, it happened: the police officer gave me a “sir, you need to calm the heck down” look. And after that, something even better struck me: self-compassion. I guided my mind toward kindness and mindfulness with the following statements:

“Thomas, you messed up. You messed up, and that is okay.”

“No one is injured, the other driver’s car only has minor scratches. A lot of people get into car accidents, and that does not decide their worth, just like this does not determine yours.”

“You will learn from this. It is okay to feel stressed, however, remember to be kind to yourself, because this will pass.”

Exhibit B: what I bought after my next trip down that same highway. Proof that the bad time passed.

Exhibit B: what I bought after my next trip down that same highway. Proof that the bad time passed.

Just like pretending not to find Ariana Grande’s music catchy, self-compassion can be a lot easier said than done, in particular when you have grown up learning to criticize yourself. The good news: you can teach yourself kindness and mindfulness by reading, meditating, practicing techniques, seeing a therapist, and more. Just like compassion toward others, self-compassion involves honoring and accepting your emotions instead of negating them, recognizing that many others share in your experiences, and treating yourself well, as you would a best friend. Society stresses trust and caring toward others: now, we can channel that within ourselves.

If you have read any of my blog posts in the past six months, you know my life kind of sucked this past semester. This summer I have worked on healing myself, through reading and writing, through mindfulness and self-compassion, and through seeing a counselor, who once called me the nerdiest Psychology person he has ever met. And while I feel tempted to hide my past posts or to erase them, I know I do not need to, because I accept that difficult things happened and that I have grown from them.

Several posts ago I mentioned “Break Free,” how the song inspires me, and how at the time, during that dark January night, I felt weak, broken, pained. Since then, I have made mistakes and I have learned from them. I have developed and matured. I recognize that breaking free does not mean erasing your imperfections or shielding yourself from vulnerability. Breaking free means, to me: living with compassion and understanding, treating yourself and others with empathy and acceptance, and of course, becoming stronger than you were before.

I am doing my best to accomplish all of those things, one step at a time. I hope you join me.

Exhibit C: summertime bookshelf (feat. Psychology poster thing). So many books, so little time.

Exhibit C: summertime bookshelf (feat. Psychology poster thing). So many books, so little time.

I apologize for the lack of posts as of late. Between full-time research, part-time work, and other life adventures (like a visit to the ER, which I will write about sometime soon), I have been busy. However, I cannot wait to catch up on writing and on responding to blog comments, messages, etc. As always, you can get more updates from my Goodreads and my Twitter.

Questions for you guys: have you ever been in a car accident before, and how did it go? Do you see the ~magic~ of self-compassion, or do you think you could apply similar principles in your life? Have you read any good books this summer? Looking forward to exchanging thoughts again, soon, and I hope your summers have been fantastic.

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24 Comments

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24 responses to “Car Accidents, Self-Compassion, and Other Summer Adventures

  1. I was hit by a truck owned by Burger King. And another time, a woman rear-ended me TWICE at a stop light. It took a long time before I could drive in the rain without cringing.

    • I am so sorry to hear about both of those experiences. It definitely can take awhile to recover, especially when the impacts of the accidents are as tremendous as yours.

  2. elaineleah

    I’ve never been in a car accident, but it’s one of my worst fears – this post & your thoughtful commentary gave me a lot of peace! So very glad you’re okay and clearly continuing to #slay.

    • Thank you for your concern, Elaine! Also, I love your current stream-of-consciousness Twitter feed. It is reminiscent of a modern-day Virginia Woolf if I may say so myself.

  3. Yes, one large one and a couple minor ones. The first one was rather scary and my fault, there was a fair amount of damage to my car, not much to the other driver (she had a van). It always shakes me up. As to good books, yes I’ve been reading some pretty good books as you have seen and commented on. Yay for Outlander books!

    • Oh, I am sorry to hear about those accidents, even though your sharing does make me feel less alone (selfish, I know). I guess at least these incidents remind us to remain careful no matter how comfortable we get. Glad to hear that you have been reading some good books as of late!

  4. I don’t drive, but I was in a bus crash once and was so busy looking after the other kids (it was when I was at school and I was the Bus Prefect for the local service) that it didn’t hit me till I got to school and everything was OK, at which point I turned into a mess. It’s fine to be upset by these things.

    But I practise self-compassion if I feel depression coming to claim me – I have a list of things I do to look after myself and centre myself. A very simple list – read for an hour, have a bath, sit in the garden, but sometimes you need it in front of you in simple terms to be able to do it.

    Wish I’d learnt that at your age – so well done for knowing this already.

    And yes for good books, too – I have just (re)discovered Arnold Bennett who creates a lovely world to escape to.

    Take care of yourself!

    • I agree that it is perfectly appropriate to feel upset when accidents happen; it would be almost odd if we did not react in some way after a shocking event. I am glad to hear that you are able to practice self-compassion in tangible ways through strategies that you know work for you; it is in large part because of the readers of this blog and the book community on Goodreads that I have discovered mindfulness, self-compassion, etc. (:

      Thank you for dropping by and for gifting me and others with your insight! Hope you had a fabulous weekend.

  5. Oh my goodness. This post hits close to home (sorry for my reckless choice of words), but is a very insightful post nonetheless. You reminded me of Brené Brown when you wrote about self-compassion; the more you practice kindness, courage, and mindfulness, the more self-compassionate you will be. I am so glad to hear that the accident was not fatal in any way, though, and although I cannot relate to being in a terrifying car accident, I do know what it feels like to have a critical internal voice. It is always a victory when you can overcome that self-deprecating voice, and I celebrate with you!

    • Could not be more honored that you mentioned Brene Brown, her thoughts on vulnerability inspire me so much! Thank you Elayna, for always being an empathetic listener to my online posts and for always showing your solidarity with me through our shared imperfections. It has been amazing to see both of us grow over these past few years and I cannot wait to see where we take our lives next.

  6. Oh dear. So glad you weren’t injured! I was sideswiped once and totally broke down — very scary and overwhelming.

    Keep healing. This too shall pass. And someday (perhaps you are beginning even now) you will see this season of your life as necessary and good even though it hurt so much.

    Glad to see that you posting, even if it may be sporadic. 🙂

    • Thank you for your continued support! You are right that though these times did hurt (and still do, in a way less focal way), I am already learning and growing – and I cannot wait to mature and find even more meaning from these experiences. Hope you are well and that I can hear from you again soon!

  7. Whoah, good thing it was a minor accident, by way of injuries, I mean. I’ve never been in one but my friend has, and for awhile after she was always a bit sensitive to loud bangs and noises.

    Glad to hear your summer’s going well otherwise. Sounds like you’re getting a lot of work done 🙂 Hope we get to read a snippet of your work at some point.

    • Thank you, friend! I’m still a little fearful of driving but it is better to be more cautious than less cautious, especially when you are in a scenario that involves something as potentially dangerous as driving.

      Just because I trust you (and I doubt anyone will read the comments, ha), I’ve actually submitted two separate things for publication! While I kind of doubt that either will get accepted, I am super appreciative of the writing process. Hope you are doing well, too! (:

  8. As a new reader (and friend?), I’m not too familiar with what you’ve had to overcome to get to where you are now. But that’s not the point of this comment. I’m leaving this message of encouragement to say that the forward you see is the same direction I’m heading towards too. Could I familiarize myself with the past? Yeah, I could. But the person who left those kind words on a few of my posts is the one I met; he’s the one I’m familiar with.

    So, yeah, I’m glad you’re okay, Thomas!

    And it’s definitely cool beans that Break Free is a song you feel strongly for (it was one of my shower-belting tunes a while back).

    Cheers,
    Joey via. thoughts and afterthoughts

    • Aw, Joey, this means so much to me! I definitely consider us new readers of each others’ blogs, as well as e-friends. I appreciate your sincerity as well as the snarkiness you display through your blog. Looking forward to sharing even more thoughts in the future!

  9. I know I shouldn’t joke about it but I totally imagined your encounter with the policeman to be as you described. It just sounded so you. Anyway, the most important thing: I’m glad you weren’t physically hurt. And that you were able to learn from this, though I know it still just sucks.

    I haven’t been in an accident myself but a couple of days ago my dad received a call from a hospital in Vietnam letting our family know that my uncle was in a big car accident. I actually just found out today that he has arm paralysis due to the impact. I’m not really close with that uncle (this is my dad’s brother), but I’m sure his wife and kids are taking it hard.

    If I was under the same circumstances as you or my cousins, I’d feel bitter and think the world was going against me and my family. It must be the remnants of my last months as a teenager (haha, I’m kidding, I do believe age is just a number). I know being in a car crash (big or small) is different. And I know it’s different when you’re the one directly (like you or my uncle) or indirectly involved (like my uncle’s family). But it still can be a traumatic experience. It’s amazing how well you treated this. It really shows that you’ve become stronger after the events you’ve had to overcome in the past. We’re around the same age but it still surprises me every time how profoundly mature you are, Thomas. As always, thank you for sharing!

    • Aw, Summer, thank you so much for your consideration and for sharing that anecdote about your uncle – I am sorry to hear about the accident and I hope that his family is doing okay. I do believe that we make the conscious decision to be stronger than we have been before in the face of trauma; as Viktor Frankl writes (he was a Holocaust survivor and an amazing psychotherapist): “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

      Also because I forgot to mention it in my last post, I am so grateful that you got into blogging via K-Pop and Michelle’s blog at the Innocent Lam, as your thoughtfulness and dedication to improving yourself is always a pleasure to read! Hope you have had a wonderful weekend.

  10. Honestly Thomas you have gone through so much… Yet you still keep your head held high, and fiercely unapolagetically (did I just use an adverb to describe an adjective?!?!) for that matter. Hope your busy-ness is treating you well, and just wanted to say that you are the best.
    Grace 🙂

    • Aw, thank you so much Grace! No worries, feel free to break any and all possible grammar rules on this blog. (: Your continued support throughout the years means so much to me, and I hope you are doing well this summer too!

  11. So relieved to hear that you’re okay! Seemed that you handled the situation well, despite your reservations. Your temporary hysterics, as awful as it sounds, cracked me up because you were so clearly yourself even in the wake of a minor trauma! i.e. the use of the phrase “mental schema”. Bravo, Thomas. You are awesome. Take care of yourself!

  12. Oh wow, glad you’re okay! Poor car though. I have only been in a very minor car accident once (while still learning to drive) and even though it wasn’t my fault and no one got hurt, it was still quite a shock. Everything happened so fast and I kept thinking this couldn’t be happening/real, must be a dream… On the outside I was super calm and collected though. That’s just how I’m in stressful situations, even if I’m freaking out inside.

    Anyway, yay for getting the Hyperbole and Half book, I love that book. Hope you’re enjoying your summer!!

  13. That looks like quite the car crash. I’m sorry you went through that, and that you overcame it. I really adore this post. I’ve had three crashes (two of them this year) and although none of them have been my fault, I feel like I’m the one responsible for them because they’ve happened so many times. I’ve hated myself for having them. I never once stopped to think “Hey, maybe it wasn’t your fault. Maybe this stuff happens to everyone.” But I should have, and I will now. Like I said, I adore this post. Thank you for writing it!

  14. Thomas, first and foremost, I am so sorry you had to experience a car accident! When I was home for winter break, I crashed into a car while parking (I know, pathetic, my parking is just SO BAD) and I am still so scared to park as a result of it. It made me question my confidence and brought all kinds of self-doubt to the surface so I admire your resilience and strength and your ability to find the silver-lining in this, as you do in all, situations.

    That being said, I also want to apologize for not being able to comment on your previous blog posts. I read your blog diligently but I find it so hard not only to find the time to comment, but to find the words since so many of your posts hit so close to home. I’m terribly sorry about what a difficult last semester you’ve had but I want you to know that you are a source of inspiration for me–and others too, I am sure of it. I went through a bad friend breakup around the same time you did, though less dramatic in nature since my friend in question just…stopped bothering to hang out with me and ignored all my attempts at rekindling our friendship. And I thought we were best friends. Friendship breakups are so hard and yours was so painful, just to read about, but I found some other incredible friends as a result of not hanging out with this one and I know you will too because you are such a wonderful person. I also firmly believe that everything happens for a reason. J came into your life for a reason and left it for a reason and though you may not be able to see that reason today, someday you will.

    What else? Your letter to your self made me cry because I was the same way when I was sixteen–all I wanted to do was get into college and escape my home and, in doing so, escape all my problems. Of course, things don’t quite work like that but…they kind of do, too.

    Your posts about moving on and reinventing yourself and finding the courage to go after your dreams and passion to help people…everything you write and do is just incredible, Thomas, and despite the difficulties this year has brought you, I want you to know that I am so grateful for the honesty of your posts–they have made me feel less alone–and that I (and the greater blog community) are always here. I may not always comment, but you always have my support.

    I’ve been wanting to leave this comment for awhile and I’m truly, deeply sorry I haven’t left it before. You’re amazing and I love, love, love the way you write. I hope the remainder of your summer is wrapping up well, Thomas, and best of luck on the GRE–you’re going to ROCK it! 😀

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