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My Story of Paralyzing Shame
Experiencing a car accident and its repercussions on my mental health.
Friday. December 2020. My sister, her boyfriend, and I leave my dad’s lakehouse and head towards the city. As I drive through the country road, my sister’s boyfriend’s business call is the background sound, mixed with Harry Styles’s voice.
“We are not who we used to be, we are not who we used to be, we are just two ghosts swimming in a glass half empty, trying to remember what it feels to have a heartbeat.”
Do I have a heartbeat? I wonder. The car goes off the road and turns upside down in a matter of seconds. I can’t focus my sight through the rough movement. “Catalina!” my sister shouts while the pulse in my ears is the only thing I feel. These moments are supposed to be fast, but this one was excruciatingly slow. The first thing that comes to mind is, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
The world is upside down. I press my left hand to the windshield and put on the handbrake with my right hand. Tiny shiny pieces of glass fall down. My handbag lies on the roof together with a water bottle, a hand sanitizer, a hand lotion, and my collection of Hilary Duff’s CDs.
“Is everyone OK?” I say. I turn off the car, and the music stops. I see everything upside down. My hands are now pressed to the glass-filled car roof.
“We’re not who we used to be. We don’t see what we used to see”
Moments later, my sister moans, “yes.”
“I’m sorry,” her boyfriend says, “I just had a car accident; I’ll call you later.”
He’s still on the phone?!
I try my door. Useless, not working. I look around
Was this written in my bones? In the future, when I recall my life story, was this supposed to be in its pages? My memories have always been fleeting; will this leave an empty seat, or will shame always occupy one?
That’s what I felt then, and that’s what I still feel today: shame.
My sister’s boyfriend’s door works. I take my seatbelt off, and gravity pulls me to the roof. Freeing my legs, I crawl to the backseat and get out. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” I grab him on the shoulders and apologize.
My legs can’t bear my body’s weight, so I slowly cross the road and sit.
What a sad sight.
I hear loud steps. Two men riding horses approach this scene: Three young people sitting at the edge of an empty country road with their backs towards an upside-down car.
That’s what I do: turn my back on ugly things. I’m an expert in ignoring the ugly. I have boxes of my stuff at places I don’t want to return to. There are topics I don’t talk about in therapy. And now I have a thousand kilograms of crushed metal. I turn my back to it too.
I want to go home and take a shower. Let the water run through my hair and neck, feel it go between my fingers. Or even better, immerse myself in ice-cold water. Let my muscles contract even more until everything is so tight I can’t move.
Instead, I sit. I look at my hands and realize they are shaking. Have I been shaking this whole time? There’s blood. So much blood. I wipe them across my chest, and onto my shirt. Still shaking, no blood.
I approach the metal scraps, crawl, and take my Hilary Duff CDs out. My childhood! I think. Please don’t let anything happen to Hilary. Metamorphosis’ case is broken, and the CD is untouched. I sit with my childhood in my hands.
A year and one month have passed.
Although it’s always so much easier to fix objects rather than people, I haven’t done either.
The crushed metal was towed and is still at the lake house. I’m still on anxiety meds.
“Why haven’t you done something with the car?” are words I often hear. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t do this by myself.
Whenever I open my phone, my “Reminders” widget greets me. “Do something with my car”
Last year, a few weeks after the accident, I started dreaming of the three of us upside down, fastened by seatbelts.
It wasn’t the accident that weakened my mind; that had happened before. Meds were fighting my crippling anxiety. But the crash was a tipping point, an excuse for my fragile mental state, an explanation.
On a few occasions, I compare my younger self to my present self. How can a person know everything at eighteen but nothing at twenty-seven? At eighteen, I lived in a foreign land with no language knowledge while taking good care of myself. I was invincible.
At twenty-seven, I need hand-holding.
I’m still sorry. I’m still ashamed. I’m still sad. I’m still thankful. Shame is the heaviest of those four; it’s so powerful it’s paralyzing. I’ve been stagnant for thirteen months. Sometimes, while sitting in my therapist’s office, I think about how saying just one word about my shame may make me speak another. And it will be easy. And she won’t judge.
But I can’t say it to her. Instead, I only can write it to you.