Coping after an accident
August 17, 2014 11:02 PM   Subscribe

I was in an accident recently and I need advice on coping.

I am NOT seeking legal or physical health advice so please stick to the mental health side.

I finally felt like my life was on the right track. I was happy, enjoying life, and feeling positive about the direction I was going. Then I was hit by a car while biking recently.

Suddenly I'm depressed. I don't want to leave my apartment. I feel anxious though the only time it's because of something concrete is when I walk. I feel like basically cars have a death wish for me (especially when crossing the crosswalk and cars are making right turns). Some of that is anxiety and some of it is real. While I'm not having flashbacks If I go outside I have visions of cars crashing into me, of bombs exploding, of gunfire, of explosions. Honking makes me nearly jump out of my skin.

I have altered my route to go through residential streets or areas where cars just seem ...nicer but I can't totally avoid the busier streets. I have always been super aware of the danger of cars, I'm naturally risk averse but I'm on such high alert when just walking on the sidewalk it takes me a long time to get anywhere.

I have no friends or family and am on an extremely tight budget. I also don't drive. I know everyone will say therapy but this happened so recently I'm hoping it will lessen in the next few weeks.

I'm not suicidal but going through this completely alone has been really hard. I've had a lifelong struggle with making friends so it's not by choice I find myself without a single soul to confide in.

My bike was repaired and I am still riding, I just walk on busy roads and ride in safer areas where cars aren't so aggressive.

Looking for advice on coping with accidents, especially if I can't avoid the situation as I have to work, go grocery shopping, etc.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Anxiety is also real, as is PTSD, they're just a different kind of real.

I wasn't hit but I was run off the road at one point, and I will admit: I still can't ride a bike and really enjoy it anymore. It was strangely probably a big chunk of why I started driving. But all of this is a very natural part of what happens after something like this, so I think an important part of coping with it is just accepting that this will also take some time to heal.

Especially when you're on foot, you've got time to stop yourself, to experience the anxiety and go through some analysis of the situation: What are you afraid is going to happen? What is the real risk of that? What is actually likely to happen if you cross this street? What happened at the last crossing? Learn to breathe deeply and reorient yourself in the moment. If it doesn't start improving then start making plans to get appropriate help from a therapist as soon as you can, but it probably will improve a bunch in coming weeks/months.
posted by Sequence at 11:18 PM on August 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is PTSD and a good accident attorney will get your treatment covered by the other party's insurance company.

You are not thinking clearly because you are in shock.

This is what you need to do.
posted by jbenben at 11:21 PM on August 17, 2014 [19 favorites]

A work colleague of mine went through this about a year ago. Almost exactly the same situation and she also lives alone, and for some reason kept a lot of it to herself.

She did get herself to the doctor nice and quick and file the insurance claims which I think helped, but she also walked to work for a good few weeks and changed her route.

After a while the memory faded and she was back on her bike.

I think just give yourself some time and don't be too hard on yourself for a few weeks. Do what you need to get the main things done like work and feeding youself, and then hide inside for a bit.
posted by Youremyworld at 11:25 PM on August 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

I agree with what everyone else says. Something else that occurred to me: if there is a bike advocacy group near you, would you feel comfortable reaching out to them for support?

My local bike org takes bike/vehicle accidents very seriously, the community is very supportive, and I think folks in general would want to support you however you would find helpful. You might be able to find another local biker who'd go on some buddy rides with you for a while, or it might help to chat in person with other people who've been through the same experience.

It takes some time to get over the shock of something like this, for sure, and don't feel bad about being shaken up. Do whatever you need to do for yourself in the meantime to practice good self-care and feel safe again.
posted by cardinality at 11:33 PM on August 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

The bike advocacy will definitely know of a good team (lawyer+ doctor) to help you cope and get your treatments covered.

I know you think maybe you can cope on your own, but I've been there and it is soooooo much easier with proper medical (mental health) care.

Don't do this alone. It's very much OK for you to receive help and care.

Good luck.

(Seriously, get this covered by insurance. It's the one aspect I did not push to get covered, and I ended up mostly unwilling to travel by car (in Los Angeles!) for about 3 years after my accident. Don't be me. Seek professional treatment. *hugs*)
posted by jbenben at 11:49 PM on August 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

"Then I was hit by a car while biking recently."

I had a kidney stone, loosed by an early morning sneeze, and it made me scared of everything, traffic, daytime, nighttime...everything.

A neighbor might be helpful to go shopping.

"I have no friends."

posted by vapidave at 12:31 AM on August 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

Are you averse to counseling? Like have you had a bad experience? Or do you just not want the hassle of regular visits? I'm wondering if your work offers an Employee Assistance Program. Our system is paid for by our employer and is only six visits. It's really just for small bumps in the road or to get people set up for longer term counseling if that's appropriate. It might be a good middle ground for you to get back on track.

(A few years ago, I was riding behind my husband on his motorcycle and was hit by a car. I was pretty flinchy for a while but I can tell you it does get better.)
posted by Beti at 12:39 AM on August 18, 2014

I was hit by a car while running for the bus in 2003, and I am still a bit scared of cars. But I am loads better than I was in the days and weeks after the accident. Take the good advice here, but also, give it some time. Don't get upset that you're having intrusive, distressing thoughts, if that makes sense - it's natural, it's normal, it will probably ease on its own as you move around in your community without further disaster.
posted by gingerest at 2:33 AM on August 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

Hi there, a car knocked me off my bike two or three months ago, nothing major, and at very low speed, but I felt really shaken up by it. I'm sorry to hear about what you're going through; some of what you describe sounds really familiar, especially the bit about cars honking (I still panic a little when I hear that). However, apart from being a little more cautious on the road, everything's pretty much back to where it was before the crash.

I wish I could tell you that I found out a great method which sorted everything out, but there wasn't really anything like that. Instead, what made the biggest difference was time, and taking it slowly. The fact that you're riding your bike through quiet areas is really good, keep trying to build from there, but don't push yourself or head outside your comfort zone too fast.

A few other cycling specific things that helped me: I read loads of information online about cycling safely in cities (just googling terms like that and going through all the results). Although I didn't really learn anything new, it helped my confidence to know I was doing the right thing on the road. I also started looking around me a lot more when I'm on the road, try making an active effort to look over your shoulders as often as you can (or install mirrors if that's difficult). The extra awareness of what's going on is really reassuring. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I remind myself I'm not in a hurry. It doesn't matter if you're breaking a long way before intersections, having to stop at every set of traffic lights or moving slower than any other road users, I just stick to what I'm comfortable with.

I hope that some of that's helpful from a practical point of view, from a psychological point of view, I'm afraid I'm woefully unqualified to comment, but speaking to someone or finding someone who is qualified sounds like a good place to start. Also, if you want to send me a MeMail for any support, to chat about biking in cities, or bitch about cars, feel free to get in touch.
posted by Ned G at 3:12 AM on August 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

Nthing to look at some treatment, OP. But I will also add that literally everyone I know who has been cycling-as-commuting for several years has been hit by a car, more or less seriously. Every single one. I myself have been hit twice (not at fault, either time): once on a bike, and once walking across a pedestrian crossing when a dude ran the light (!).

The first time, especially, really put the fear in me. I was always a careful rider, but had never as a result really thought about getting hit. I found afterwards I was terrified of getting on the bike. I didn't ride at all for over a month. And then when I started back up, I didn't go long distances, I avoided every slightly busy road, rode on the footpath a lot, lot more. Even stopped the bike sometimes and started walking with it, it was just too much. I found myself taking these incredibly circuitous routes to avoid traffic hot spots, and I was very, very jumpy/paranoid.

In time, most of that anxiety left me, and I started feeling more normal on the bike. Note: I say "most of". I never went back to my former levels of cockiness/courage and was more careful and even less inclined to take any driver/indicator/etc at face value. But you know, that extra caution was not really a negative thing, I wasn't afraid just more alert, mostly.

So by all means, investigate counselling, but know that these feelings after a bike accident are incredibly common, if not the norm, and most people learn to enjoy cycling again given time.

Best of luck OP, hang in there bud.
posted by smoke at 3:12 AM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

When you drive, as well as when you bike, you have certain simplifying illusions about other drivers and how they will behave. Once, when I was driving, a car made an illegal left turn across my path and I couldn't stop in time to avoid a collision. I remember that I couldn't believe anyone would do such a thing. Aside from the no left turn sign, could he see me? My reality didn't include the possibility of anyone doing what he did.

Several months ago, a truck decided to make a left turn while I, biking at his right, was in his way. I could not get out of his path in time and was hit. He didn't see me. He didn't even stop. The police weren't interested in pursuing him. It turns out, non-fatal hit-and-runs aren't a priority with the police.

When I got home from the hospital, it was a while before I could bike again, but when I did, everything felt different. When I saw a car, the possibility that he didn't see me, which before never was a factor, now was always present. I also had a new fear. What if he did see me but decided to intentionally run me down? It could happen. It happens in TV dramas all the time. I'd tell myself this is extremely unlikely but, at the same time, I had to admit it was not impossible.

Now, 9 months later, I am back to my previous self. Well, not completely. I still am more watchful of the traffic around me, but I don't go around terrified when I bike. I understand the difference between possibilities and probabilities on an emotional level again. All that changed was time.

In a way, it's like fear of flying. Airplane crashes do happen, but they are statistically rare. Like winning the lottery, that tax on those who are poor at math. Over time I learned to trust the world again and I even bike the route on which I was hit. It feels a little different as I ride through that area, but I recognize that what happened is unlikely to happen again. After all, I'd been biking accident free for decades.

By all means, get counseling if you can. Even on a tight budget, there should be something available if you seek it out. But also remember that over time things will get better. They did for me.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:13 AM on August 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

I should add that having a lawyer going after the driver that hit me also makes me feel less like a victim.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:21 AM on August 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

I know everyone will say therapy but this happened so recently I'm hoping it will lessen in the next few weeks.

Therapy! I am begging you to call a local therapist and see about getting a referral to somebody who will see you on a sliding scale. Such therapists do exist, and right now you really need one to help you through something nobody should ever have to go through alone.

Please don't just wait and hope this gets better. Seeing a therapist will probably be the biggest thing you can do to help yourself get through this. Also, even after this passes you need to do something about coping with having zero family or friends, and a therapist is a good idea for that too.

I think group therapy could be good for you. It sounds like you need a safe place where there are people you can confide in.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:47 AM on August 18, 2014

Can you rent/borrow a car and drive it?

Being behind the wheel, and being bike-friendly as you drive, may help re-write that memory a little.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:20 AM on August 18, 2014

Contact Active Transportation for crash support referrals and resources. Here is a page talking about how common the symptons you are having are, and how they often only last a few weeks. You can call them at 312-869-HELP (4357) or email them at

I have also been hit by a car on my bike, and it takes a while for things to go back to normal, but I ride my bike every day like nothing ever happened and rarely think about the incident unless I'm passing through those intersections. It gets better.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:43 AM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your description sounds like classic PTSD to me, and I can tell you from experience that professional treatment and medication made all the difference for me. If you can't get treatment quickly because you don't have insurance that covers it, nthing jbenben's advice above about lawyering. Speaking as a recovering victim of violence, I can also tell you that seeing some kind of justice done can contribute to one;s peace of mind.

In the meantime, if you're in the U.S., check with your county's mental health association. Even if your budget won't stretch to therapy there, they may be able to hook you up with support groups where you can talk to people dealing with similar situations.

Some things I've learned in therapy for anxiety:

In addition to medication, deep breathing helps me a lot in panic situations. Breathe in slowly through your nose, expanding the very lowest portion of your abdomen first and then filling upward from there; hold for a count of four, then exhale through your mouth of a loose "f" sound (the resistance from your teeth keeps you from exhaling too quickly). Repeat as needed.

Give yourself permission to be freaked out. Being affected by this is not some kind of personal or moral failing; it's a perfectly natural expression of the human instinct for self-preservation. Remind yourself of that as needed.

A mantra can be helpful. Maybe try repeating to yourself as you walk, "You're going to be OK. You just need to make it to the next intersection." When you get to the next intersection, change to "You're going to be OK. You just need to make it across this street."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:06 AM on August 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Anxiety can/does have a bio-chemical component. I have serious medical problems and, in recent weeks, I have been having biologically-based anxiety attacks. It is slowly getting better and I am working on addressing it mostly as a medical issue (because, in my case, it clearly is medical in origin). So I don't think you can entirely separate this issue from physical health stuff.

Also, I will second this:
When you drive, as well as when you bike, you have certain simplifying illusions about other drivers and how they will behave. Once, when I was driving, a car made an illegal left turn across my path and I couldn't stop in time to avoid a collision. I remember that I couldn't believe anyone would do such a thing. Aside from the no left turn sign, could he see me? My reality didn't include the possibility of anyone doing what he did.

And I will say that if you figure out what piece of the equation went wrong on your end and learn to better address that piece you will likely feel more secure. That is not to say it was your fault. But if you were (for example) making an assumption that was not accurate and it contributed to the accident happening and you can rejigger your mental model so your assumptions are more accurate (or whatever adjustment needs to happen), then you will calm down some.

There are all kinds of things in life over which we have little or no control. Yet there are things we can still do to impact the outcome even while not having control over some of the factors. And taking control over the piece we can take some control over can really help us calm down.

I have first hand experience with issues like that. So I can say with some confidence that even though there is a piece you absolutely cannot control, you can address some other things and learn to relate to this issue in a way that stops being so hair-raising.

((HUGS)) if you want them.
posted by Michele in California at 10:31 AM on August 18, 2014

You have suffered a trauma. You are experiencing moments of post-traumatic anxiety and stress. This is not uncommon.

I had a, shall we say, rapid introduction to pavement while on a moped which did leave me with physical trauma (mainly a broken leg that required surgery). It also left me with psychological trauma that was pretty strongly triggered by seeing anyone on a moped. And the city I live in loves its Seamless moped delivery.

For me, it did lessen on its own. I won't have a full on flashback response to seeing a moped anymore. It took maybe 6 or 9 months. But I also have no need or desire to ever be on a moped again. You do need to continue walking and biking.

You need to seek treatment if this is not getting better. While PTSD isn't well understood, it is known that allowing symptoms to get worse creates its own feedback cycle, where now the symptoms happen because they are repeated and ingrained.

The VA has a good website for self-screenings for PTS-D, and includes a section on "watchful-waiting" if you do not want to seek treatment right away.
posted by fontophilic at 11:24 AM on August 18, 2014

I was hit by a car while biking, it didn't put me in the hospital or anything, just out of commission for a few days. There was about a year after that when every time a car angled in my direction I had a full on adrenaline rush. They eventually got less severe and now the panic comes and goes so quickly I don't notice it so much. It sounds like you are dealing with more than I was, but maybe it will be helpful to know that things eventually got better, it just happened almost imperceptibly slowly.
posted by velebita at 11:53 AM on August 18, 2014

I bike everyday and a few years ago was knocked off my bike by a driver of a pickup truck and was injured.

First, as many are saying the type of PTSD you are feeling is totally normal. I felt it too - but for me it manifested a lot more as as anger instead of depression. Here's what helped me:
  • Going after the driver. This is not legal advice but it helped me knowing who the driver was and that he would face consequences. I filed a police report immediately (luckily, laying on the ground my first thought was to get the license plate).
  • Getting back on the bike as soon as I was cleared by the doctors. This meant riding around with a splint on one wrist/hand for a couple of months. I was definitely jumpy/more nervous for a while.
  • Being even more assertive of my rights on the road once my injury was as healed as it was going to get. Basically, never assuming that everyone is going to do the reasonable thing but rather help them out by only giving them the option to do the reasonable thing.
I'm hoping it will lessen in the next few weeks

It definitely could! It did for me. It might take longer or shorter. Therapy might help. This is different for everyone.

Again, not legal advice, but if you have filed a police report or are able to do so - get a lawyer. Everything was handled for me via my car insurance rep, but since you don't drive you will probably need a lawyer. Just on the practical side of things it was so much easier for my physical therapy billing etc. Document everything - physical and mental trauma. Along with all medical costs and my bike repairs I was reimbursed for my damaged bike bag, wrecked clothing, bandages I had to buy, gas I used because I had to drive for a while, etc. If I went and got counseling/therapy that would have been covered too. I did not actually sue the driver but settled for a decent sum (on top of the other costs) in the end. Money doesn't solve everything, but it rarely hurts. Plus, it helped me feel better that the driver did face some consequences, even if they were relatively minor.

Feel free to contact me via memail/email if you want more details or just want to commiserate.
posted by mikepop at 12:05 PM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

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