Finding Healing in Pain
You can’t expect to Live life on the edge without falling sometimes
This is the story of the craziest healing journey of my life.
2019 is a big year. I think we all have grand aspirations and goals for the year, and January seems to be a month of great energy. Yet more often than not, life doesn’t always go how we plan it. I set out for Asia on a one-way ticket. All of my adventures thus far have been one-ways. I like to leave things open ended to allow the universe to give me the experiences I need and unfold in divine timing. I didn’t have any concrete expectations for this trip, but I was leaving myself open to new experiences, new human connections, and adventuring through the beauty of Vietnam and Indonesia. Vietnam was a magical experience. Jonah and I spent two weeks riding motorbikes through the mountains of Northern Vietnam, meeting up with different friends who were also traveling the country, dancing in the mountains, hiking through rice fields, taking many sleeper busses, learning about the toilet systems in Vietnam, staying in dingy hostels, and eating as much Pho and Bahn Mi as we could find.
After two beautiful weeks, we changed our vibe completely, embarking upon a new journey to Indonesia. We met up with friends in Bali on our first night, and were immediately greeted with polar opposite experiences to Vietnam. We were staying in a gorgeous villa in the center of Canggu. We had endless drinkable water at our disposal (harder to find in Vietnam), we had beautifully crafted showers and bathtubs, and we had a gorgeous blue pool in our living room! The first night ended with everyone doing backflips off the roof into our pool, and I learned how to do my first front flip right there in our living room! I was so excited by the amazing humans and positive energy I was surrounded by. The next day, I did some yoga, went exploring around local cafes, and ended the day at a restaurant on the beach with an infinity pool, drinking coconut mojitos watching the sunset over the ocean. I find opportunities to dance wherever I am these days, so sure enough, we started an dance party in the pool, celebrating life with all of the strangers around us. I was in awe. This life was so different than anything I had experienced before. I was so grateful for the beauty around me.
Boy am I glad I got to use my body those first 36 hours. I got so much joy out of dancing, doing yoga, and learning how to do a flip. The next morning I rode the motorbike to the store to get some avocados for breakfast. I was stoked at how independent I felt riding the bike by myself. I had learned how to ride a motorbike just 6 days ago in Vietnam, and loved the feeling of freedom it gave me in Bali. The trip to the grocery store went well and I felt very confident. I arrived back at our villa and tried to pull into our driveway to park the bike. The corner was very tight to get around and it was marked by a sharp concrete edge of a construction site. I lost control and the bike tipped over. I jumped off trying to save myself but in the process my hand rolled off the handle, sending the motorbike with more energy forward. If you are sensitive to injury stories, I recommend skipping ahead to the next paragraph about my healing process. To keep a painful story short, essentially the motorbike crushed my left leg and while it was revving forward, ground my leg into the sharp concrete edge. In shock, I went to get up, thinking I was just badly scraped. I felt a sharp pain and looked down at my leg. I’m pretty sure I screamed immediately because there was blood everywhere and I could see a gaping hole in my leg. My heartbeat was pulsing through my exposed flesh, the gash covered my entire left calf, and I could see my bone exposed. I called for my friends immediately - they both stopped in their tracks and their faces turned white as they saw what happened. I started talking super fast. In shock, I wanted to get the wound cleaned as fast as possible, and my brain was racing, wondering if I would need to amputate my leg. My friend scooped me up into his arms and loaded me onto the back of a truck with some local construction workers. A local onlooker jumped on board with us holding my hand to make sure I was okay.
They took me to a local clinic where my shock resided a little bit. I asked the doctor over and over again if I was going to lose my leg, but legally she couldn't say anything other than “we’re doing the best we can do” - which kind of freaked me out even more. Luckily Jonah was a godsend in this situation. He gave me comforting advice, told me everything was going to be okay, and gave me his opinion which I trusted because his Dad is a doctor. Without me even asking, he started playing all of my favorite songs for me to calm me down. I started crying right then and there not because of the pain, but because of how kind his actions were. My mind was blown, and my heart was so happy, that he was doing so much for me without me even asking. Loving actions from good friends go such a long way. From there on out I was calm. I remember turning to Jonah and saying “well, at least I got to dance my ass off last night!”. I pushed away the thoughts in my head wondering when I would be able to dance like that again. I repeated my mantra to myself and breathed very intentionally to calm myself down. I’ve been using the same mantra to meditate for the past few months, and it goes like this:
(breathe in) I am happy.
(breathe out) I am calm.
(breathe in) I am at ease,
(breathe out) with whatever circumstances come my way.
(breath in) I am strong.
(breathe out) I am free.
I was lying down there in the clinic in immense pain as they inserted an IV to help the pain subside. Before the painkillers hit, I repeated this mantra over and over and over again, doing very intentional breath work as I sent healing energy to my leg. I visualized this light of healing energy traveling from my heart down through my left leg. Whether you believe in the powers of thoughts or not, I can say confidently that at the bare minimum simply focusing on something else helped me get through the painful experience. They began the process of transferring me onto the ambulance. It was very painful as the bed shook and jolted. I continued to breathe intentionally, repeated my mantra dozens more times. In the ambulance ride to the hospital I felt this wave of calm wash over me. What I knew all along, finally came back to me: everything is temporary. We drove as fast as we could through the chaos of Bali traffic (to sum it up - if I would have been actually dying and relying on this ambulance to get me to the hospital, I probably would have been screwed). Everything is temporary. I am happy, I am calm. I am at ease with whatever circumstances come my way. I am strong, I am free. Jonah continued to play my favorite music for me and I started dancing in the ambulance to remind myself - life is magic, even when it’s not.
When we got to the Denpasar hospital it was simply about getting through the pain. I was alone for most of the process as I got x-rayed, as I waited in my bed for the results to come back, the girl next to me puked for an hour straight… After hours of examinations, shots, and IV’s they finally came back and told me none of my bones were broken. I immediately started laughing out of joy! How?? The accident seemed so severe, that I was overwhelmed with happiness that it wasn’t more serious. They explained that my muscle had been almost completely severed, and they would need to stitch my insides back up. They injected 3 shots of anesthesia directly into the wound - incredibly painful. During the pain I played music on my phone, repeated my mantra, breathed, and eventually just removed my soul from my body and took it to a different place. I didn’t want to be in my body at that moment. I envisioned my soul drifting away from my body, flying above the palm trees, watching the ocean waves, and visualized the calming beaches I had been dancing on the night before. I visualized the taste of mangos, and papayas, and avocados (they didn’t let me eat or drink anything all morning, and the accident happened on my way back from the grocery store to get breakfast, so I was pretty obsessed with food at this point). Before long it was over. They told me I couldn’t go in water or put any weight on my foot. They wrapped my leg up in a small splint and cloth bandage, gave me a pair of crutches, and called it good.
I’m not sure if I was hopped up on pain meds or if I was just blissfully grateful that the accident wasn’t worse, but I went home in positive spirits. I arrived back at the villa with my friends just 6 hours after the accident, hobbling past the scene of the crime - blood stains still covering the concrete. I learned very quickly how to maneuver on crutches, and learned very quickly that I wouldn’t be running around like I normally do. I was still pretty happy and stoked to be okay, but as my friends started discussing the plans for the week it all kind of hit me. We were planning on leaving for the beautiful island of Gilli in a few days, and no where in my mind did I think I wouldn’t be able to go. I had been dreaming of this for so long. The island has the most crystal clear beautiful waters, and I had brought my underwater camera housing so stoked to capture the most beautiful underwater photos while diving. I set that dream aside knowing I couldn’t go in water for awhile. I decided I could just hobble around the island and avoid going in the water, right? I think my friends knew better but didn’t want to dampen my spirits.
It took about 24 hours for me to finally realize - this injury was going to significantly impact my plans. I was in a ton of pain as the painkillers from the hospital wore off, and each day I continued to learn new things I couldn’t do. I’m normally incredibly independent, so it killed me having to ask my friends to help me move things, get me water, cook food, etc. They were all incredibly generous and kind in those first few days of recovery. Jonah would go to the store for me and get me whatever I needed, they would ask me what I wanted from the restaurants they were going to as I stayed behind. I put on a smile, but it was killing me. saying goodbye to my friends each morning as they left to go surfing, left to go to photoshoots, left to go meet up with our other friends to go out. Beyond the everyday difficulties, this would significantly impact my work. I make my living as an “Adventure Photographer”. This means every trip I go on, I am on contract with different brands to shoot lifestyle photos of their products while I am going on crazy adventures and traveling. I had no idea how I was going to break the news to the two brands I was working with on this trip, that they wouldn’t be receiving photos from Bali adventures, at least not for a long while. I had no idea how long this injury would impact me or when I was going to be able to continue my work as normal again.
I realized that dealing with the pain was the easy part. The true challenge was the mental battle every single day, dealing with the challenges of an aggressively abrupt change in my lifestyle. Dealing with not being able to be as independent as I normally am. Feeling like a burden on my friends as they took care of me. That feeling took over me most. I felt like a burden every single day, regardless of how much my friends told me they just wanted to help. It’s funny how the more you feel fear, the more you manifest the very thing you’re feeling. In my college years I suffered from severe anxiety and depression, and have since traded that in for mindfulness, meditation, breathing, and a greater level of overall happiness and peace after pursuing my passions and changing my life. However, my fear of being a burden, manifested itself into the most severe anxiety attack I’ve had in years. My mind convinced me that I was this huge negative sore on the whole group, despite the reality that my friends just wanted me to be okay. I felt trapped. I couldn’t breathe. I physically went numb. I was lying on the floor in tears, in uncontrollable panic. My friends sat with me stroking my hair, holding my hands, and telling me I would be okay. The attack lasted for what felt like an hour, before I was able to calm down again enough to eat breakfast and take my pain medication. When I finally recovered, I realized it was funny - all this time I was so worried about being a burden, that I made myself into the biggest burden I had been so far, taking time out of my and my friends time, to panic about this fear that wasn’t real.
I forgive myself for that, it’s all a learning process. Several days after the accident I had to have a very candid conversation with my friends. There was no way I was making it to Gilli with them. There was no way I could continue the trip as normal, there was no way I could go on the adventures I had planned. I said goodbye to my friends as they left for the island, and made the decision to continue my recovery in Canggu by myself. I’m no stranger to traveling alone, but traveling alone and injured is a different story. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I knew I could do it.
I fully believe that everything happens for a reason. This experience taught me that I am resilient, that I am strong. It taught me that there is love all around me, I simply need to open myself to it. It taught me that I can find joy even in pain, that I can find light in darkness. It taught me that freedom is a state of mind, rather than a state of being. This journey reinforced that everything is temporary. Things may seem dark or bleak or hopeless at times, but in those moments, all we need to do is understand that everything always works out as it should. Everything is going to be okay. In the darkness, having intention with your attitude, your thoughts, your mindset - are the only things that can light your way through. There is a solution to every problem, and there isn’t much that time can’t heal.
2019 is a big year. We will all experience abundance as our dreams and goals come to life, but I think there is one thing we tend to forget when looking forward to a fresh new year. I think we often mistake success and joy in our future, for lack of challenges… but challenges will never go away. They will never be over. That is the beauty of life. When we tell the universe we want to grow, when we ask to level up, it doesn’t just hand us those things. It gives us the challenges we need, to learn the lessons we need, to level up.