This is probably the longest post I’ll write on this blog for a long time if not ever. Throughout almost a decade, following my near-death experience at the hands of a vehicle, I’ve really thought about how my outlook on life has changed and how to best deal with the challenging situations that arise in life. I would like to share what I’ve learnt with you. I hope it will help many find strength during adversity to cope and overcome it.
Let’s get into the story of what happened.
At the age of 14, on 7th July 2008, I was struck by van with the nature of hit-and-run. Man vs Van, Human vs Machine: the great life-threatening match-up I could never have predicted. I was hit with a devastating sucker blow in an encounter I believed would be impossible, no matter how often I had read about such events in the media.
After analysing the details of the police investigation. I was convinced the makers of the Marvel Avengers movies somehow got access to my file and drew inspiration from it to create their mind-blowing action scenes. I may actually be the real-life Marvel Black Panther or Power Man, after surviving such an experience with my body intact.
I digress (I just can’t help my obsession with action scenes involving superheroes and supervillains).
After returning from my secondary school’s summer fair, my mother sent me to my uncle’s house in the early evening to pick up a blender, as the one in our kitchen had malfunctioned. My mum was planning to cook one of her delicious Nigerian soups. It was ogbono soup (mmm, my favourite) if I recall correctly. I remember seeing a red traffic light indicating for vehicles to stop and an opportunity for pedestrians to cross the road safely. I began to cross the road to reach the bus stop to catch a bus back home.
I don’t remember anything between impact and waking up at hospital. I briefly came out of my coma, to give my name and my home phone number to the emergency services, and then forcefully fell back to sleep.
So let the details of the police investigation take over from here (the details come from my witness statement quoted word for word. I didn’t edit the final copy nor did I read it out in court; I apologise for any grammatical errors.)
… the aforementioned van, being driven by the Defendant’s insured, hit me as I was crossing the road. I have no idea how fast his vehicle was travelling, although I believe that as a result of the impact I was thrown across the road. There was a stationary bus idling at the bus stop which I had intended to catch; I learned from the witness reports that I landed next to the bus’ rear tyre. I believe the quick thinking and reactions of Ms Gilbert and the passengers may have saved my life; I understand she shouted to the bus driver not to do anything before coming to my aid.
Now this part sounds like a scene from a Captain America movie.
Within her statement Ms Gibert explains that she heard a screech, followed by a loud bang, and turned to see what had caused it. She states that she saw me flying towards her and a stationary white van. I understand the driver of the Peugeot Van looked at me, then at her, before driving away.
Okay, here I lay my most persuasive claim to having some of that super solider serum running through my veins.
…this vehicle sustained damage as a result of this collision, requiring a new windscreen and repairs to the bonnet.
(If this doesn’t convince you that I’m the real Black Panther or the Power Man I don’t know what else will. I mean, how on earth did I not break a bone in at least my lower limbs… aged 14! To be honest, how did I even survive the impact. I remember looking at a mirror in the hospital ward, while I was checking if I could walk normally, and asking myself, ‘how?!’ Human machinery truly is remarkable.
I then suddenly woke up, laid out flat on a hospital bed, with only underwear on and in severe pain (my headache and bodily pain were, to put it simply, excruciating). The doctor asked me to place my head into some kind of pressure-applying head bag (which I now understand was used for a CT (computerised tomography) scan) for the purpose of checking for brain damage. It felt like my head was being squeezed by a pair of heavy-duty pliers, the kind an intelligent Tyrannosaurus rex (T-rex), with a lab coat on, would have used to crush the head of it’s prey. Long story short, it really hurt.
The result: no brain damage.
Phew… but there was definitely some kind of mind-shift, even in my disorientated and shocked state, because it was on the same day I found out exactly what I wanted to do with my life. This realisation arose from what I call positive damage (I will explore this in a future post). However, I was still not aware of what happened to me. I was no conscious, but what happened! The doctor informed me of what had happened and I was left dumbfounded.
This is the full list of injuries I sustained:
- Crack fracture to my skull (took the medical team 3 years to suss this out).
- Subconjunctival haemorrhage (bleeding inside the eye) – made me look like I had gone a few rounds with Iron Mike Tyson.
- Lacerations and bruising to both hands and right wrist.
- Lacerations and bruising to my head and face.
- Bruising to my right thigh.
My parents then arrived. My mum rushed towards me as soon as she saw me and, not realising how badly bruised and in pain I was, and gave me those life-giving embraces.
My father and I have the kind of relationship where I don’t need to read his facial expression to understand how he feels. I just need to switch positions with him and then I can assimilate his emotional state. He was certainly delighted that I was alive. Then for the rest of the evening, before I was discharged the next day, I was fading in and out of consciousness… great.
Okay, that’s the story over and done with.
Now, what did I learn from this radical form of life coaching? (I will continue to refer to my witness statement during the rest of this post to add context to my points).
Being abnormal should be a source of encouragement
Are you a wandering generality or a meaningful specific. – Zig Ziglar
Being strange, looking strange or acting strange means you have something everyone else doesn’t – it’s your advantage. My scars remind me of my physical and emotional resilience and shows me how far I have come. I looked at scars, remember what I survived and tell myself: what or who can stop me from reaching my goals?
When I returned to school many people were horrified by the state of one side of my face. However, by developing my self-reliance and effective individual stress management strategies (e.g. boxing and meditation) I developed what scientists call stress resilience and overcame self-defeating thought processes. These processes can take quite some time to develop so you must begin now, if you’re not deeply immersed into these processes already, to develop yourself into someone you would be proud to meet. Daily improvement has to be a major driving force in your life to achieve the career and quality of relationships you desire.
I walked around in public with the injured side of my face facing walls so it would be out of view to as many people as possible. I remember regularly asking my mum if I’d ever look like my normal self again. But as time went on I realised that while my face was disfigured, the experience helped me to figure out my purpose in life. I have a perspective in life that not many people live to materialise. This is my advantage and I’m going to put it to good use. Having a different view of things is something to be proud of and the very thing that can shake up society for the better.
One does not become fully human painlessly. – Rollo May
My so-called strangeness or ‘being different’ is actually an asset I can use to tell a story, which I am doing here right now, to help inspire others to live fulfilling lives. I believe this is my purpose in life. Shouldn’t it also be yours? Shouldn’t you always push far outside your comfort zone and have belief in your potential no matter how hard things get or appear to be. We have heard of countless stories of people who suffered adversity, bounced back and command respect from society even while they’re not alive. A lot of these people reviled for being strange. Don’t you want to achieve something worthy of such recognition for providing great value and changing the lives of those around you?
Embrace your strangeness. Wield it as a sword to cut through the naysayers and reach out to those who are in most need of your talent you may be hiding away to do a potentially boring job you passionately hate. Use your passion to pursue something which provides real value to your life. The benefits of following your passion heavily outweigh the mythological benefits of failure to take action. You have nothing to lose but a whole life of different worthwhile experiences to gain and grant to others.
Urgency is a must
I believe the quick thinking and reactions of Ms Gilbert, the passengers may have saved my life; I understand she shouted to the bus driver not to do anything before coming to my aid.
If the bus had moved I would have been a goner for sure. It shows why we have to act with urgency to make a significant difference in someone else’s life. This is what being human is all about. The only way I can repay the act of the extremely kind woman is by acknowledging my life wasn’t ended prematurely because I have a purpose to fulfil. I have a legacy to leave and that is what I’m determined to do no matter how painful things become. I faced sudden death head-on, what else is there to fear? Don’t let fear stop you from being great in the territory you were born to rule.
I urge to develop a sense of urgency if you’re busy dilly-dallying. Take action now! You may lose the functioning body you have next week through something outside of your control. If you have weight to lose, get on it now! As the years go by this becomes more difficult and increases the risk of premature death. It’s in your hands – JUST DO SOMETHING. Even if you believe you don’t have all the tools you need just make a start where you are with what you have and more resources will find you. Stop talking about your potential to do something and start acting; there are only so many tomorrows. Drive into yourself the philosophy of START NOW or at old age you’ll just be asking yourself ‘what if?’
Ambition is a moral imperative. – Jesse Jackson
There are always a group of people out there who need your version of inspiration in whatever field it may be. Keeping quiet because of fear and conformity is doing many an injustice. Just as someone saved my life when I was down for the count you can definitely do something just as significant for someone else. What are you waiting for?
We have a choice to think positively
I was offered a facial reconstruction for the areas of my face which had healed somewhat unfavourable, but I declined. I said myself what had happened has happened whatever state my wounds were going to heal into I was going to learn to accept it. Plus, I remembered vaguely, from a science lesson, how young skin can heal as closely as possible to the original skin more favourably than an older person’s skin – I had hope.
The scars faded away greatly and what shone through was my enhanced self who had accepted his new form, something like Wolverine getting his indestructible adamantium upgrade to his, by superhuman measure, useless and breakable claws made of mere bone. I made a choice to accept my circumstances and learn to deal with it without allowing myself to fall prey to depression.
Soon after, leaving hospital I wanted to play football with my friends and ride my bike. I didn’t let my state make me give up on my passions. What stopped me were the painful sensations in my limbs but I learnt the importance of enduring through periods of adversity and not allowing myself to fall into victim-hood. It was only I who could make this choice. I could have chosen to blame someone forever but I chose to turn the situation around and realise how strong I was mentally and the appreciate the gift the experience had given me to use in my journey to make my dreams become a reality. It’s taught me how to keep going no matter how long delays seem to be.
It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters. When something happens, the only thing in your power is your attitude toward it. – Epictetus
Yes, the experience was traumatising, it was tough and I had the disturbing flashbacks but, the longer one speaks of pain the more one feels that everything in life is out to hit he or she and run. This mentality is pessimistic and debilitating. In fact, this mindset will bring greater trauma to your life later down the line. How can you live in peace with such thoughts?
The anxiety and concern I felt regarding my scars was very troubling however, it paled in comparison to the difficulty I experienced when crossing roads. Initially, this was an almost impossible task; I experienced heart palpitations and muscle spasms when approaching roads. Prior to the incident I had been considerate of crossing safely; afterwards I would become short of breath, struggling to take the first step. I would only use designated crossing areas, often going some distance out of my way to find one. Even when I had found a pedestrian crossing point and the green man was flashing it took all of my confidence to step out onto the road. Whenever possible I would wait until other people were crossing. I didn’t want to the first one to walk out into the road.
How could I let myself develop a phobia of crossing roads forever when I was freely given a further opportunity to be alive and make a difference in the world? What good purpose would this serve in my life when I had been given the rest of my life to live. This realisation has helped me to eliminate the fear of beginning new things. Accept whatever is thrown at you and make something from it. Acknowledge how you feel but don’t let negative thoughts take over your life.
I had a year and half worth of cognitive behavioural therapy to get back to my normal self through tools recommended to me. This helped immensely and now I know how to make sure I don’t linger in a low state again. Find tools to help you cope with life’s troubles so you can continue to be positive in life. You can’t control all of your circumstances anyway so it’s important to be able to easily access these positive mindset tools (I particularly like: ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ question).
Everything you experience in life builds your character and tests your spirit. Even though the incident and its aftermath weren’t pleasant, I’m glad it happened because it has hardened me for the purpose of not fearing things which aren’t inherently harmful to my survival. Don’t focus on the adverse event, whatever it maybe, focus on the opportunity to do something about your situation no matter how insignificant it may seem. What you will find is that these small details add to your compelling story. This is what leaving a legacy is all about.
Be positive so others around you can also be positive.
Always get back up when you are knocked down
When life knocks you down, try to land on your back. Because if you can look up, you can get up. Let your reason get you back up. – Les Brown
I can’t imagine myself going through a more traumatising situation than this near-fatal experience. I recovered and got back up and I’m actively pursuing my passions, no matter how many failures I must go through. I don’t care how many times I must fall to reach my destination, especially when any setback pales in comparison to the collision I survived.
After getting back up after a fall I feel more grounded in myself and more aware of surroundings. The more experience you have the more you can give out and this increases your value because you have a wide range of perspectives to delve into. Being more valuable equals more success. A single perspective, not known to somebody else, can change a life for the better. This is guaranteed when you reach out to the people who need inspiration from your experiences. This is something to be proud of and take advantage of. Never let yourself shrink away from adversity. I learnt that failures and challenges are required to refine my character and develop into my ultimate self so when a bad time comes around again I have a head start.
Whatever your present environment may be, you will fall, remain or rise with your thoughts, your vision, your ideal. – James Lane Allen
If you have the physically ability to get back up, no matter hard it make seem, you have to make sure you get back up. You have to because you still have more of you to give and you still have your potential to explore. Those who have the intention or desire to follow their passions but don’t possess the physical ability are either living with regret or are wishing they were just give a chance. Those of us who have the ability are in a privileged position – don’t make mockery of the talents you were given.
If I didn’t let myself be humbled by my experience and then develop a victim mentality I would have lost many opportunities, to improve myself, and ended up very far behind in life. My experience showed me that it wasn’t simply existing that was important but how I use my gifts during my existence. Failure to use our gifts only results in regret and a poor mental standard of living which has a direct effect on the state of our environment. Say no to these things and never give up. You were given your gifts because a positive result is bound to happen if you’re committed to focusing in on your strengths and use them to the best of your ability.
As a result of this understanding, I learnt the world really doesn’t revolve around me or any of us. What we do with our gifts and passions are most crucial. Serve because the unique manifestation of your gift is bigger than you. The only thing which makes you different to the next person is your mind with its unique arrangement of thoughts and potential abilities.
The following quote puts this eloquently.
The only thing about a man that is a man . . . is his mind. Everything else you can find in a pig or a horse. – Archibald MacLeish.
If we didn’t know we’re going to die one day there would be no motivation to do anything important. So use this as motivation when making life choices. Failure is just a warning to tell you that it can be permanent if you refuse take consistent action.
Alright enough of that.
Now get back up and keep going.
Act now to secure your future
There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them. – Dr. Denis Waitley
Whenever the thought of giving up come into my mind (it comes into everyone’s minds in one way or another), I think about the reasons why I’m doing what I am doing. I think about my future family, my contentment, how I would be in the next 5 years, 10 years and so on if I give up now. Don’t give up on that exercise routine, don’t give up on your career ambitions. There’s always a way. I don’t care how long things take or if I have to fall into a pit of fire to get to my goal. The path of least resistance is the path of mediocrity and the surest way to remain average for the rest of your life. I always remember that I was given another chance to live after my survival and it drives me to leave a great legacy. Lack of action can ruin your future in a way you can’t imagine until you start to experience it. Don’t let this happen to you.
You have to be superhero or heroine of your own story. Your life should be exciting not a monotonous bore. If you want to make the most of your life, you have to differentiate yourself from the 95% population who live for Friday and instant gratification as part of the narrative we’re force-fed from when we take our first breath. Be part of a small percentage who take action and are proactive in building a better life for themselves and others. Living a life full of days is not about partying every night or what society defines as fun. It’s about experiencing everything that life has to offer and the only way you can do this is by putting yourself far outside your comfort zone and growing into true success defined by you and you only.
We should always strive to improve the quality of our lives and this practice has a ripple effect on the lives of others. I’m a firm believer in this and I have seen this effect many times over. How do you be the star of your own story? It’s by having positive intentions, channeling them through your passions and taking deliberate action.
In this story I was the superhero of a spontaneously directed action scene and the van was the villain (well, it’s my story; I can choose who the characters are and besides the van driver drove off and lied about what caused damaged to his vehicle – that’s a villain in my book). You can’t wait for someone to save your life; you have to intervene to save your own life sometimes. If I wasn’t active and exercising when I was younger, it may have increased the likeliness of an early grave for myself or severe injury. These actions may have saved my future because build-up of my physical strength would have conditioned my body to withstand shock. Start working on your projects now because you never know when it may come in handy to save your life or someone else’s.
No matter how familiar you are with something failure can still come
As a regular visitor to my uncle I would have crossed and re-crossed Southwark Park Road within the last year at least 20 times without an incident of any kind.
Whether you’re an expert, guru or whatever title one uses to communicate mastery of their field you can lose it all if you make one critical mistake. We must always assess our situations, even positive situations, to ensure that leaky areas are always patched up. Success needs to be maintained.
Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive. – Andy Grove
We must never get complacent, it may be very costly.
My survival of the incident has shown me that we must never ignore the chance of failure no matter how successful one becomes. This is a good thing because it keeps us on our toes and teaches us to adapt whenever failure decides to enter the room. For those well-versed in Dragon Ball fan terminology, this adaptation can be likened to a zenkai boost which arises when a Saiyan warrior, notorious for his or her arrogance before and during a battle, suffers a near-fatal injury and his or her body learns from the experience and toughens up as a result.
Applied to real life, this greater strength helps you to cruise through situations which may arise again. How does one achieve this zenkai boost and a higher level of performance? It’s by stepping out into the battle that is life and taking action. Therefore, always be prepared for inevitable failures, learn its valuable lessons, be strengthened and grow and then execute at a higher level.
Never take anything for granted
At home the pain and my physical limitations were present.
For the following 2 weeks I could not do very much at all. I was unable to go to school and so spent my time at home in bed. My mum had to help me in and out of the bath, as well as bring me my clothes so I could get dressed. I found dressing to be painful, awkward and somewhat frustrating however, I wanted to manage on my own. I still required help when doing my shoelaces up as I could not reach that far forwards and my hands were cut up and sore…. Whenever I did get out of bed I tried to walking around too much; every movement just seemed to make the pain worse. I found that even watching television seemed to make my headache, and the area around my right eye continued to sting and throb.
At school the pain and my physical limitations were present.
Following my return to school, around 1 month after the incident, I found I had difficulty with longer assignments as my wrist would ache after writing for more than a short period of time. I also developed regularly headaches when trying to concentrate in class. Even just sitting at my desk made my bones aches; the first weeks back at school were extremely difficult for me. I was unable to resume my usual sporting activities due to my injuries; this was very hard at accept as, in particular football, was a very big part of my life at the time.
If I had lost my hands or a leg or suffered brain damage, a lot of my ambition chasing would have been cut short and I would have been questioning everyday (if I had a questioning faculty left) why did this have to happen to me, I was just a kid! The pain and limited mobility I experienced was that of what many people experience well into their old age, preventing many from completing what they should have done when they were younger and had more energy. By this time, it’s too late. Through my prolonged pain I realised I couldn’t waste what had been given to me, while I was in my youth. I could have easily been killed or forced to use mobility devices for the rest of my life. I’m thankful to still be able to stand on my own two feet and I’m not going to waste this gift. Don’t waste yours either!
Once bitten, twice shy
Meaning: an unpleasant experience induces caution.
Whenever someone experiences a negative situation they can either decide to be more vigilant or go ahead and do the exact same things which increase the likelihood of the same unfavourable outcome. After surviving the collision I always make sure a vehicle has stopped at a traffic light, or a vehicle is extremely far off from the point I want to cross a road, before I make an attempt to cross. I don’t take any chances because being too trusting without any validation can cost you your life or your happiness or even someone’s else’s. Before you give your trust to someone or something, make sure your analysis is thorough before committing because the hurt you may experience may affect you, your family, your friends and anyone else you come into contact with for very long time or forever. You don’t need to put yourself in such situations. Make sure you consider all options and make informed and wise decisions.
Caution is king. However, don’t be excessively vigilant because this is an extreme which can hinder progress and cause you to miss valuable opportunities. A healthy balance is key here.
I’m extremely grateful that I survived my encounter with a van with my mind and body fully functional. However, I’m glad I learnt the lessons I did at an early age so I can apply true principles to better my own life. Adversity may seem like punishment, but if you look at it positively you gain insight into approaches to better your experience of life.
My experience changed my outlook on life and I see every bad outcome as something to learn good from. This pushes me to think more critically about my environment helping me to make good decisions and help others as best I can. What I ask you to do is never give up on your goals, don’t take your time from granted and apply prudence in all your dealings in this world. I believe if anyone persists hard enough and long enough they will definitely reap the fruits of their labour and write a story he or she and future generations will be proud of and build upon.
We all want a smile on our faces when it’s our time to go. Your perspective and appropriate action after negative experiences will dictate how big that smile will be or if there’s one at all.
What lessons have shocking events in your life taught you? Comment below.
If this post resonates with you why don’t you share it. Maybe the outlook of this message will inspire someone else to start living the life they were born to live.
Image credit: Hit and Run in Fourways / ER24 EMS (Pty) Ltd. / Flickr