Petrifying, horrifying, fast-paced, time-freezing, surreal; There is not a single word to fully describe the experience of being in a car accident. With it being the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S., it is no surprise that anyone who has survived one isn’t quite the same afterwards. After mentally accepting what happened, which takes more time than anticipated, you are bombarded with the question that has no definite answer — What the hell do I do now?
I was recently involved in my first car accident, both in general and as a driver. The feeling of impact, the squeaking wheels, the lack of control, it all happened so fast yet seemingly in slow motion. Luckily, everyone involved was safe, so I thought that everything to follow would be fine. What I didn’t realize is the moment the accident was over, there was a new storm brewing that would rain on me for months.
It wasn’t until after hours of waiting, filing a police report, crying on the phone to the insurance company and eventually getting my car towed to a repair shop that I realized my troubles were only starting. Though I can’t express enough how happy I was to be safe, I didn’t realize the aftermath of the accident could make me just as anxious as the accident itself.
Questions immediately arose in my head: How am I going to get to work? Where do I go to buy a car? What is the process of an auto loan? Why is it all so expensive? Fixing this mess seemed more difficult than fixing my totaled car. Buying a new car, getting a loan, getting it insured, getting it registered; They don’t teach you about this stuff in high school.
The whole process was draining, I just wanted to get a car and carry on with my life again. There was constantly new responsibilities and more payments, I had no idea what to do and felt like I was doing everything wrong. I had wished the entire time that I looked more into things such as credit scores and loans before a desperate time when I needed to. One of the worst parts about the experience is that I didn’t realize was how much you change as a driver after a car accident.
The first time back on the highway after my accident was terrible. My hands were shaking holding the wheel, I couldn't bring myself to drive the speed limit and I immediately had to hit an exit ramp and park for awhile to calm my nerves. It felt like I was never going to get over this fear and that I would never be comfortable behind a wheel again. The anxiousness from the accident carried on through life for months after. I still don’t have the confidence behind a wheel that I had before I realized I wasn’t invincible. It wasn’t until I finally bought a new car, completed everything to make it insured and legal and got myself back on a normal driving schedule that I felt like the situation was finally becoming resolved.
There were a lot of lessons learned throughout this whole experience and a lot of advice that could be given. First off, when it comes to anything, but especially car accidents, never think it won’t happen to you. I used to see them all of the time and tell myself, “That’ll never be me, I’m a safe driver” but sure enough, it did and it turned my world upside down for a long time. Always be cautious and defensive when driving, you never know who you’re on the road with.
The second most important lesson I learned was to learn about insurance and the loan process. Not having a clue about what to do, it was extremely overwhelming to learn about all the different fees and deadlines. Educate yourself on loans and the importance of having a good credit score, it’s something I wish that I’ve done before I had to do it. In all, stay educated about “what if” scenarios. Have a decent plan thought out if you’re in an accident or if your car breaks down. Know who to call first and what to do to be safe, even keep some supplies in your car for such incidents like blankets or water.
Lastly, my best piece of advice is that it’s going to take awhile to get back to normal, which applies to any form of trauma. There are going to be moments of extremely heightened emotion, whether it’s relief that you’re okay or fear of it happening again. It’s important to take some time to mentally recover, which I ignored and immediately tried to jump back into my routine and allowed the fear of crashing to manifest and linger longer than it should have. Everyone responds to traumas differently and when it comes to such horrific experiences like a car accident, there’s no time limit for recovery. Just, as always, take care of yourself first.