How A Freak Accident Taught Me The Importance Of Slowing Down

I, like many women, am a multitasker. I like to do 15 things at once. I’m the type of person who is on my computer or reading a magazine while also watching television; who has 17 open emails on my desktop at one time (all of which I will send within seconds of each other); who likes to go, go, go. I’m an early riser, high energy and a fast talker. I’m a person who sleeps well but not a lot. I could probably count on one hand the amount of times I’ve sat on a couch and watched a marathon of anything all day—movies, Netflix (which I don’t even have), you name it. I’m, simply put, not a “sitter.” I am most happy on the days in which I rise early, work out, and then am productive for the rest of the day­—that’s when I feel the most content (oh, and contentment is not a feeling I come by very often).

This is not all to humble brag that I’m a productive person, it’s rather to explain to you the type of woman I just am. And I come by it rightfully: My mother has never done one thing at a time in her life, and my father, at 74, continues to work, consult, sit on boards and generally keep the schedule of a man in his 40s or 50s.

So when on July 25 of last summer I got in a freak surfing accident that resulted in a life-threatening infection, an eight-day hospital stay, two surgeries and more medications (and more horrific reactions to said medicines) than I could ever recount, you can imagine how difficult it was for me to accept that my life was suddenly coming to a very abrupt—and painful—halt. Not only could I not work out or get several things done in a day, I couldn’t do anything. Standing up was tough, getting to the bathroom a downright feat. Making a lap around my hospital floor? A seriously impressive accomplishment. I had so many stitches holding my thigh together the doctor lost count; I had crutches for weeks and a PICC line implanted in my arm for the IVs I had to continue to have after I was discharged from the hospital. Once home, the most I could do was sit on the couch, and, eventually, I began getting rides to work to spend a few hours at my office each day, which felt like a huge deal. Life—as I had known it—had changed for the foreseeable future, which left me with a lot of time to sit around and think about why it was I kept myself so busy in the first place.

Photo: Getty Images

We live in a world that is constantly on. You know the deal: Everyone is always connected, all the time. We have laptops, phones, iPads and about a million other devices than ensure we can reach people anywhere, all the time. The current state of technology is a dream for a person like me, a person who doesn’t mind working after-hours or on weekends. A person whose personal life blurs easily with her work life. In this day and age, it’s hard for anyone to slow down, to take time for themselves, but for someone like me, it’s nearly impossible (not that I ever tried very hard).

But when something happens that suddenly makes you stop and take stock of your life: what’s important, what isn’t, and also who is there for you when you really need them and who isn’t, a lot becomes real clear, real fast. The irony is that when you can’t do much of anything, it suddenly becomes frighteningly clear what makes you happy—it’s the things you miss the most. For me, I realized how much being surrounded by friends and being social played into my happiness. For a few months leading up the accident, I had taken on a tremendous amount of freelance work that left me so busy I had little time for friends, even on weekends. But once I couldn’t be with them because of the injury, I understood how much joy being around people who I love and who make me laugh brought me. And yes, being active was something I missed desperately too. Not just working out for working out’s sake. I missed the ability to get up and move, to be in control of my body, to be strong. I promised myself that once I was able, I would get back into shape and try to never again take for granted how blessed I am to be able to do it.

Photo: Getty Images

But on the same token, up until that time I always, always pushed myself. I went surfing on days when it there weren’t good waves, when the weather sucked, when I was tired. And I was like that with everything: I got up early to work out every day of the workweek even if I woke up feeling completely run down. I never let myself have excuses or a pass. I always had to do more, do better. The accident taught me that sometimes it’s ok to give myself a break. The waves weren’t good the day I got hurt, and the tide was low. I should have just skipped surfing that day, and for the longest time I wished I had. Now I realize that’s what it took to make me slow down and take a much-needed breather once in a while.

I realized some other, smaller things, too. For one, I couldn’t make my daily Starbucks run when I was hurt so I started to make coffee at home. Not only are there obvious cost-saving benefits to that change, I found that coffee tastes better when you make it for yourself, and those morning moments of drinking it at home are some of my favorite of the day. It’s such a calming start to the day, as opposed to always racing to Starbucks to stand in line and stress about being late to work. Just the smell of coffee brewing in my apartment puts me in an instant good mood and starts my day off in a peaceful way.

Photo: Vanessa Jackman

As you can imagine, being laid up for months of healing and recovery meant that there was plenty of couch time and plenty of television, whether I liked it or not. And I realized that even that, too, can be good for you. Sometimes a person just needs to sit and turn off their brain, and just be. Prior to the accident I always thought that equated to laziness. Now I know that judgment was a harsh and unfair one. In fact, perhaps it was actually me who was the lazy one. If you fill your life up with enough distractions, you can actually make yourself so busy you don’t see what’s missing. Before last summer, I had created a world so full of work and working out and running around that I not only didn’t take time for myself, I didn’t leave room for anything new or unexpected, sometimes not even leaving time for the people who lift my spirit. What I came to understand over those months of recovery was what I was missing out on—while I was hurt, yes, but also well before that too. I was not only refusing to sit down to relax, I wasn’t ever taking a minute to appreciate. As it turns out, there is a whole lot to be appreciative of. Unfortunately for me, it took a bad decision at low tide to see it.

I won’t pretend that I am a totally changed woman; I still talk too fast, don’t sleep enough and am obsessive about workouts, especially now that my leg functions like a real leg—one with an incredibly large scar—but a real one nonetheless. But these days I make sure to leave time for my friends, to sleep in if I feel like I need to and to generally give myself a break. Believe it or not, I also make time to sit just on the couch, especially to sip a delicious cup of coffee—sometimes I even do it without reading a magazine at the same time.