A few years ago I was in a serious car crash. Although I didn’t fully realise it at the time, the effects of this crash shook me in profound ways. In all honesty a huge part of me wishes that it never happened, but at the same time, I’m glad it did or else I wouldn’t be the person I am now. Nonetheless, it has shaped my outlook and philosophy in ways that I never could have expected. Fundamentally it has shown me just how challenging facing fear really is.
The background of the crash is relatively mundane. I was driving to see friends at night and was running late; a bad habit of mine when it comes to socialising. This might lead you to think I was speeding, but I can promise you I wasn’t. In fact, I was deliberately going below the limit by a fair amount. As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and not speeding didn’t help the situation that night. There was barely a moment between driving along a winding road to being mounted on the edge of a fifteen foot drop.
As I drove through the dark I approached a ridge, and it was only when I was at its crest that I saw a thick white line. In amongst an overgrown hedge was a sign for a junction that I had entirely missed, and as I crossed over that line I was travelling at around forty miles per hour. Opposite the junction was a steep bank lined with trees. The bank was all I could see as the car progressed. As my brain engaged with the image of this natural mass I could feel my legs lock as my foot pressed on the brake as if I was trying to touch my toes to the road beneath. My arms swirled as I twisted the steering wheel sharply to the left, and as my brain travelled in slow motion, my mouth repeatedly let out one word; fuck.
The car turned sharply, but the brakes locked in the process. The skid marks behind the car would eventually indicate where they had locked up. I remember being able to count the trees I came so close to hitting in my head. The total was three, and I thought I had hit the fourth. As it turned out, the car had instead mounted the bank so violently that the entire front of the car’s underside had been ripped out beneath it, stopping the car from underneath. I was in complete shock, but somehow I was completely physically fine. If I had been hurt I probably wouldn’t have stepped out so tentatively. It was lucky that I did.
As I opened my door, I placed one foot out first. Some part of me didn’t trust what was waiting outside the car. I attempted to touch ground, but there was nothing there. I looked out from my door and saw nothing other than branches and leaves. It was only when someone came to tow the car that I could have a real look. The drop was enormous and sheer. As the car was being towed away the man who had wrapped a chain around it said that he had been doing his job for more years than I had been alive, and that I was the luckiest person he had ever helped. He showed me where the car had skidded, how I nearly had a head on collision with at least two trees, how close to driving straight off the edge of that ledge I was, and how close the car came to rolling into the path of oncoming traffic. I was lucky to be alive.
Pretty scary stuff right? It shook me up completely. I got home and waited for my parents to be angry with me, but instead they just told me how glad they were I was ok. That destroyed me completely, I felt so small because I knew how close I had come to breaking my parents’ hearts. I ended up pushing a lot of feelings down about the crash in the most cliched male way possible. I started drinking more, and feeling numb to a lot of things around me. I didn’t know how I felt, but I knew I didn’t like it. I made a lot of jokes about the crash and laughed it off. It was two months before the shock peaked. Someone asked how I was doing and I broke down in the middle of a pub garden. A question that simple was all it took.
The effects of that crash have seeped into many other aspects of my life. For a long time I felt distant from a lot of the things I enjoyed, and I didn’t really feel like myself compared to who I had been even months before then. I had issues with my confidence and I didn’t really know what to do. I don’t think those things have ever really been fully resolved, especially as I didn’t talk about things straight after the crash, so things have been buried deeper than I probably understand.
I think that all of this does a pretty extensive job of establishing my experience of fear, but facing it is something else entirely. As soon as I had the opportunity to drive again I knew exactly where I wanted to go. I knew I had to return to where I crashed the car. I had to drive through that same place, and retrace that route so that I knew I was ok. In a small way I felt like this was me facing fear. I thought that getting in the car would be enough, that it would be a way to stick up two fingers to my horrible experience and make me feel alright. It helped, but it wasn’t really enough.
Learning to face fear is something that I am still working on. Just like that drive through the place where I crashed, I think a lot of stuff we do in life that appears to be facing our fears is actually us doing our best to overcome challenges that are only one aspect of the bigger issues, and fears, in our lives. After the crash, I wasn’t afraid of cars, and I wasn’t afraid of that terribly designed road. What I took time to realise was that I was afraid of losing everything, and being alone. It took time to realise that nearly dying was the scary part, not the bit involving the wheels and engine. That was my overarching fear, and ironically that fear of dying really stopped me from enjoying life.
While it took a long time to understand what that fear truly was, and how my experience had awoken it, I have definitely learnt from it. Sometimes I feel myself getting worried about things, I feel afraid of the future, I over think decisions I make. All of that tracks back to my overarching fear. However, facing fear for me is about not letting things get in the way of living life on my terms or living in the fashion that I want to live. It is about embracing a willingness to just say fuck it, and enjoy life.
Currently, that process of enjoyment has been closely related to establishing both Exit Left Magazine and the relaunch of Exit Left Apparel. I have done my best to overcome my own self doubt and get on with life instead. That is exactly why I am proud to say I have done a number of things recently. I have invested my own funds into both businesses, even when I panicked about whether it was the right thing to do. I have reached out to other people consistently to see if they would work with me, even when fear of rejection and judgement made me anxious. And I have kept writing content about my experiences, even with the realisation that other people might think negative things about it. I have faced fear, and while I do not doubt that there is even more to come, I am ready and willing to take on that challenge.