The Moment When I Was Forced to Slow My Life’s Pace
There’s been an ongoing conversation in my head that’s been happening for a while. It usually goes like this: “What can I take off my plate? How can I slow down? How can I make more room for me to just be me? What can I say no to so that I can schedule more fun?”
Then I look at my @BestSelfCo Planner and the entire page for the day is filled, down to the last minutes, including my reminder to call my mother before bedtime.
Last October, I had the world’s best shopping moment. My loyal pair of shoes met their expiration date, and I was on the hunt for replacements. My best friend told me that Banana Republic had an incredible sale. Indeed they did. I found a $128 pair of shoes for less than $40. I walked out of the store admiring the receipt and headed to brunch to meet a friend when I walked into an iron bench. OUCH! Like O-M-G! It’s a year later and I still have a visible bruise on my left knee. When I met my friend and told her what happened, she had two comments: “You need to slow down, Terri. Let me see these shoes!”
I am a firm believer that the universe talks to us each day. As an (imperfect) Christian, I am also a firm believer that God talks to us in every way. So was I overlooking a much-needed answer? I’ve often heard that we make the same mistakes until we learn our lesson. When we learn our lesson, does a gate of new opportunity open for us?
In September, I began to hear crashing sounds like a car accident. It usually happened while I was getting dressed or preparing for my day. And it wasn’t the first time it happened. I’ve been in car accidents in the past, or have had friends in car accidents, and I’ve heard this sound right before they occurred. My cousins and I joke that it’s our Creole spidey sense working overtime.
On Thursday, September 12, I heard the sound again as I started my day. And this time it was very loud. I was in Washington, D.C., for work and told myself it was likely to be construction because I was so close to Connecticut Avenue.
It was a great day for me. I had some incredible work-related meetings and saw some friends I hadn’t seen in a year. I headed to a late-night reception with one of my Penn classmates that I adore and another political friend that I hadn’t seen in forever! I was deep in a conversation with a former elected official and an R&B superstar when I heard the crash again. But this time it was real: A sofa came down on my head! I know it’s hard to believe, and every time I tell the story I have to repeat myself. So here it goes again. Someone lifted a sofa — as in “a large piece of furniture” — to see if their cell phone was underneath it, and that crazy time, place, space thing happened to me with a BOOM!
And, yes, it was now Friday the 13th. As crazy as it sounds, I remember every moment of that accident. I’m not sure how, because the pain was excruciating. My friends went into overdrive for the next 30 hours to ensure I was taken care of in every way. If you were part of my tribe that day and you’re reading this, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’m not sure there’s ever been a moment where I felt love and safety more.
The medical diagnosis of my injury unfolded over the next five days, and it came down to a very simple line, “You have a traumatic brain injury and you could feel the impact of this injury for the rest of your life. The most important thing you can do is rest.” And then I heard words that I didn’t expect: “You must unplug from life for at least two weeks. No work, no screens, nothing rigorous. You must let your brain heal.”
I was trying to wrap my head around finding the stranger who did this to me, understanding that I had a concussion and whiplash and trying to figure out what to do with my everyday life. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know this year was the year of my grind. I decided to complete a master’s program in 10 months, finish writing a book, start a second book, begin to pitch my TEDx talk, volunteer on community boards, still work full-time to pay the bills (and very important work) and be a more present friend, daughter, sister and wife.
How the heck am I supposed to unplug for TWO WEEKS?
That’s when I began to laugh, not in a snarky way, but in the way you laugh when you feel enveloped with comfort. I immediately thought, “When God sits you down.” And I said, “I hear you, Lord, I surrender. Please give me patience and grace while you show me the way.”
As I write this from a coffee shop, my eyes swell with tears. Did you know that after a concussion the side effects include high emotions? For me, that means I cry. I cry a lot these days.
But could it be that God was giving me the runway to rest, to think, to assess what’s important in my life? To show me that all the things that I thought needed to be on my plate weren’t necessary? The world will turn on its little axis without Terri for 20,160 minutes or 14 days. And that was if I was lucky, I could need rest or move slow for months.
How does one find a gift in something that is so physically painful? How do you find clarity among chaos and confusion? I asked myself those very questions every hour during the first couple of days that I was home.
I grabbed an old-fashioned composition notebook and began to write. I wrote out the things I wanted to write about in the future, including the outline for my second book. I wrote out a list of the people I needed to call to say thank you. I wrote out what I didn’t want to continue to do and people I need to cut out of my life because they were negative energy.
Since starting an Ivy League graduate program in August, I’d been moving really fast. There’s so much to do every day to stay on top of coursework. Earlier this year, I was more intentional about creating space to process, but the pace of my course didn’t allow for much of that before my accident. I made a list of things I hadn’t stopped to process in the last quarter. Quickly I realized most of the noise I had created was because I hadn’t stopped to smell the roses.
When God sits you down, you get to do all of those things. The things that you thought you were too busy to do, but you were moving too fast to realize they weren’t getting done. But only if you choose to do them.
Here’s what life looks like in my third week of dealing with my concussion:
- Family First: I’ve begun to take some time each night with my husband to talk. It was the end of week one when I turned to Lem and said, “Wow. We haven’t sat on a sofa at the same time and just talked since we lived in our own apartments.”
- My Body Matters: I am a survivor of a traumatic brain injury. And my doctor told me I was lucky because the way the couch came down on me, I could’ve been paralyzed. I’ve committed to starting each day with no less than 30 minutes of taking care of my body. It can be stretching, walking or spinning. I need to show my body that I respect it and care for it every day.
- Soul Sundays: Am I taking care of my soul? Before this injury, I started working with a breathing coach as a way to connect with my emotions and begin to slow down my life (see, I really was trying) and was moving into meditation. I’m clearing my schedule on Sundays to give myself at least two hours of focused soul time.
- Prioritize Pace: We control the pace of our lives, and this is something that goes unrealized. Take a moment to simmer on it. You can slow down that meeting at work to hear others more. You can slow down your schedule to put more time into fostering relationships. You can get to bed a little later because you choose to meditate. You can do all these things if you prioritize the pace of your day. I hope this makes Angela, my executive coach, smile.
As far as the rest of it, I’m not so sure. I’ll report back to you on how it’s going in a couple of weeks. The thing about concussions is that they manifest in each person differently. Some days I am strong and others I just crawl in my bed with a migraine. I’ve been sleeping a lot! I’m a self-reported 4-5 hours sleep type of girl and last weekend I had 14 hours in one day, y’all! I’m giving myself the grace not to set alarm clocks on Sundays for a while.
That also means that I need to pace myself. Since I got injured, more than 150 people have called to check on me. I choose not to return calls because doing so would keep me from resting. I also choose not to return calls because every time I tell this story, I begin to cry. If you were among those that called me, I hope you can respect that decision. Know that I appreciate your call so much and consider this a much-deserved update.
I have to again thank everyone who took care of me those first days, especially Tamaria, Kenneth, Tiffini, Lemuel and my mom (with her prayer warriors). I have an obsession with flowers, and my house was filled with beautiful flowers for days. Thank you to my flower and fruit basket angels, too. I also must thank the tribe behind #MovementMakerTribe including Sarah, Peyton, and Brittany who helped keep things moving. I truly have felt supported and loved during this period.
As we look at the last 90 days of the year, these are the intentions I’m prioritizing in my life. And maybe finishing a book that I hope you will read. Hold me accountable, #Firestarter! Ask me how I’m doing or send me a note of encouragement. What are you committed to during these last three months of the decade? Yes, we are wrapping up a DECADE in 90 days. This isn’t going to be easy, but what is ever easy in life?
Wondering how my weight loss journey is going? Right before this accident, I shared with you through Instagram that I was going to power through a serious weight loss program for the rest of the year. I haven’t been able to work out for obvious reasons, but I’m down 8 pounds in four weeks! I haven’t had a glass of wine (or a single drink) and I haven’t died. Only 7 more pounds before I hit my goal weight. You geaux, girl!
As I close out this post, one thing is certain: I am listening more and walking through my gate of opportunity. And if God or the universe ever sits you down and gives you a gift of focus, I hope you will, too.