It’s exactly a year ago today that I got whiplash from a car accident on Curaçao. At first, I thought I had needed to learn a wise lesson (‘slow down!’) and that a few months later my life would be back to ‘normal’. I now realize things will never be the same again. Not just because I haven’t recovered completely in physical terms yet, but especially because I have come to realize that the ‘old Esther’ may not actually have been that good or that much fun…
Don’t misunderstand me: the thing I want most is for my head to work normally again, at the old speed and at any given moment. And that I can do sports again; jumping, dancing, going crazy, without having to first wonder whether something may go wrong in my neck, back or hips. But the ‘old Esther’ had other things on her mind. She was living a life of high speed, and the ‘turbo button’ was always turned up as far as it would go. Work, sports, travel, friends, other fun things, and preferably all at the same time. Nothing and nobody was going to stop me. Not even the injuries I often suffered, or the colds and other inconveniences that often got in my way.
The accident was a clear sign for me: ‘this is as far as you go’. It felt as if I had to start focusing on other things. But how? I only knew the turbo feeling. The feeling of living on the edge, of survival; the adrenaline.
After a few weeks, my physiotherapist finally said I could try my first yoga lessons, very carefully. Private lessons so that I could slowly get back in touch with my body. Kirti was the best teacher I could have wished for. But God was I cross with her after the first few lessons! I had expected to be able to DO something again. That’s always been my way of solving problems and confronting challenges. In stead, Kirti asked me to lie down and to breath towards my right-hand index finger… Seriously. For forty-five minutes! During the next session it was my shoulder’s turn: breath in, breath out, feel… I was furious. I didn’t want to feel, I wanted to do something.
But hey – she also taught me (breathing) techniques to reduce the tension on days on which I suddenly had enormous cramps in my hip, neck or shoulders. Being able to immediately reduce a cramp or pain yourself reduces the feeling of panic that can creep up if you can’t get the pain under control. For the first time I started recognizing the point of the sessions: in the future I would no longer be dependent on physiotherapists, massages or doctors. If I could learn to heal myself, it was certainly worth it.
I was still cross though: during a stretching or breathing exercise, Kirti would often say to me that I shouldn’t be so serious. That I should smile. Why smile? I was in PAIN. I was BUSY doing something about it. There was nothing fun about it… But I continued bravely anyway. I agreed with myself that I simply had ‘to get through this’. I only had enough time for a few lesson, before I left Curaçao again for the Europe. I was going to have to sort things out with these basics in yoga.
I told myself I ‘had to’ do an hour of yoga each day. I noticed that my body was getting suppler and that my head was clearer. Slowly I started discovering the use of it all. Totally withdrawing, breathing, feeling, making room. The more space I developed in my body, the more space I felt in my head. The smiles appeared on my face more and more often … Kirti would be proud of me!
But as I got better, I increasingly skipped a yoga session. It was no longer top priority on my list. Because I was ‘too busy’ (with what?), didn’t feel like it, or ‘would do it later on’, which never materialized of course, the frequency of the sessions declined. The days I did start with an hour of yoga, I felt great and swore to myself I would do my exercises each day. I had planned to be as free as possible from work for the first six months after the accident. I had been assured that I would be ‘much better’ by then.
And yes, I noticed the progress. And so I started working more and more. Lectures, workshops, and writing my Digital Nomad/Global Citizen book that I really needed to finish. But as soon as I was ‘under pressure’ (it was as simple as someone talking to me while I was working on the computer, or having a group of people around me), my head exploded. I no longer had a filter for background noise or other stimuli, while before the accident I was able to close myself off completely, even in a room filled with people. I had to rediscover myself: what I was capable of and what was too much. Comparing myself to my ‘old me’ was pointless.
I secretly admired my former speed of thinking. At the time I had never reflected on all the things I was capable of. But all the things I was now managing, like giving a lecture (after which I would be broken for a week), writing every now and then, and sometimes doing fun stuff, made me want more. Without realizing it, I turned on the ‘turbo button’ for just a moment each day to check if it still worked. I did realize that I would have to forge a new direction, would have to start feeling comfortable with the new me, because it was all too easy to slip into my old ‘track’ as I started feeling better.
And every now and then I would get a glimpse of that feeling of old, of clarity and adrenaline. On days I had to give two lectures and I managed. Whenever I had such a clear head that I managed to finish part of the book. When I travelled to the Netherlands and didn’t get sick. It was so tempting to resume my old habits and hook into that adrenaline. That rush!
I decided I needed help learning my new habits. Together with Joia I did a 30-day ‘flow opener’ session ‘to change tracks’. To become aware of the fact that for all those years I had unnecessarily been in ‘survival mode’ and that I was allowed to switch to the enjoyment track. By reflecting on it for 30 days, each day, the new habit gets the chance to stick.
I also attended a five-day silent meditation course that gave me a beautifully clear head. It all brought peace in my head and life. It felt so good. I thought I had found the ‘new me’. All of a sudden everything accelerated. After a nine-month delay, I decided it was time to really finish the Handbook for Global Citizens. And I managed to concentrate for a few hours each day; it was wonderful! This was followed by weeks of writing, editing, design, more editing, and even burning the midnight oil every now and then, like I used to. In the meantime my boyfriend and I were on the road in a camper van from the Netherlands to Mallorca, after which I flew back to the Netherlands for the book launch and various interviews and workshops. My turbo was working again! I used it gratefully every day. Because ‘I had to’, right?
But after a few incredibly fun, busy weeks, the turbo button failed all of a sudden. And so did my head. I had headaches for weeks. When that ended, I had a mental ‘short circuit’. My surroundings irritated me and I couldn’t handle anything that needed my attention. I turned up on the wrong day and at the wrong time for appointments. However often I checked an appointment or flight time in my agenda, it went wrong anyway. I missed three flights in short succession. Something that had never happened before. The third time I turned up at Schiphol too late despite furious checking beforehand, enough was enough, and I ended up crying my eyes out in frustration at the airport.
‘OK, I get the message’, I told myself. Without realizing it, I had ended up in the old rut and apparently it wasn’t good for me. So back to basics again. Yoga helps me. My body feels stronger. I still realize the more room I create physically, the greater the positive effect in my head. But it remains a challenge to do the things I want to do from a feeling of calm. And not to want to do all the things I used to do. It means making choices. On the days I feel clearheaded, it is as if nothing is up. But I know the tables can turn unexpectedly. And so I have to find a new sort of balance. A way for dealing with my energy ‘sustainably’; not ‘spending’ more than comes in. In short: finding strength in my weakness. Some days are better than others. And then the shiny, tempting ‘turbo button’ seems to be blinking my way again…
In short: I am no way near there yet, but I know I am on my way to somewhere that is better and more attractive than where I was. Will you join me on my journey?
⇒ Do a quick check of your own energy: is it sustainable? Do you put in as much as goes out? When and how do you use your ‘turbo-button’?