“Everything you want is on the other side of fear” – George Addair
These words hold profound truth, but how easy is it to really turn that page? How easy is it to pick up the pieces after a life-altering accident, an awful medical diagnosis, a separation or divorce, or perhaps worst of all, a devastating loss? I’ve experienced three of the above, and I’ve learnt so much about myself through it all; my strength, my fight with faith… and most importantly, my courage.
1. A vehicle accident
A devastating car accident in 2009 literally changed the course of my life and put me where I am today. The loss of my best friend, my soulmate, in 2015 made me realise that there is no timer on grief; and a medical diagnosis of my own, shortly after in 2016 made me revaluate everything I thought I knew about life, hope and faith.
In reality, I shouldn’t be alive. The doctors said it and deep down I knew it. What started out as a normal day with clear and sunny skies turned into horror when a car veered out of its lane and turned in front of my car. Attempting to avoid a head-on collision I swerved violently, my car hurtling through a wall.
How I managed to unbuckle my seatbelt and miraculously launch across to the passenger seat when I saw my car was headed directly for a tree, still leaves me speechless. Who was watching over me that day? Who gave me the strength to be able to do that? Awake through it all, and expecting at any second to lose consciousness and terrified I was still going to die, I was able to call my mom and paramedics, with the help of incredible people who stopped to help me.
I broke every bone on the left side of my body including my cheekbone and ribs. My spleen was pierced and I had severe nerve damage to my leg. What was there to be positive about? Why did I survive? I asked myself over and over the following months, and then years, as I tried to recover from those severe injuries. The constant flashbacks and nightmares didn’t help. But surely there was a bigger plan? I knew I had to look for it.
What I learned
The car accident happened at a time when I had no direction. I was freelancing as a journalist and wanted so badly to launch my own business but I was paralysed with the fear of change, the fear of failure. Accidents like that are a stark reminder of how much time we have to do the things we want to do and exactly three months after my accident, I launched my website, Rave Review. Starting my website has given me the most incredible opportunities; I’ve met people and interviewed people I might never have and I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without it. Every day is an adventure and I get to wake up and do something I really love.
2. Loss of a friend
The second experience that required courage was the loss of my best friend, Charl, when he lost his short battle with lymphoma. This was by far the most devastating loss I’ve ever sufferance. When I think back over the last four years, I catch myself wondering what he’d be doing if he hadn’t left us when he did. Hearing his diagnosis was one of the most difficult conversations I’d ever had with him and the word “cancer” still makes me shudder, but I never doubted his courage to fight it. But a mere few weeks later, he was gone.
“It’s true that we never know what the next person is facing, so always be kind to them and yourself, and have the courage to walk with courage, even in the face of insurmountable obstacles.”
I knew I had to come to terms with it because the sun would still rise in the morning and set at night. But I didn’t know how I’d navigate life without him – and I’m still not sure. He believed in me and showed me what true friendship was. He was my sounding board, giving me strength in difficult times and sharing my joy with each success and milestone. We loved and believed in each other. He was my guy, the one who was always looking out for me – and he taught me that to be loved by the right person, I had to first love myself.
What I learned
The loss of Charl made me realise just how rich my life was for having had his love for over 10 years, and the lessons he left me with. I feel him with me and I know that he would want me to really live. He would want me to get up every morning and kick ass, achieve greatness while acting with kindness. He’d want me to continue to walk the path of self-belief without ego and to be the best, most authentic me that I can be. I will do all of it, honouring the way he lived his life every step of the way.
Most importantly, he would want me to love whole-heartedly and to risk it all on someone who deserved me and who I deserved in return. Grief doesn’t heal with time, but it’s what we do with the time that allows us to carry on, not move on. There is an empowerment that comes with grief and I think I finally get it. Grief is just as intense an emotion as is love, but there will come a time when you think of the one you’ve lost and a smile crosses your lips before a tear.
3. A medical diagnosis
A few months after Charl passed away, I got severe chickenpox but recovered quickly. A few months later, shingles hit and I relapsed about five times, damaging every nerve in my body for the foreseeable future. It takes one second to damage nerves and years to get them back to health. The pain was excruciating, and I went from fit and active to unable to wake up and get out of bed. My body felt like a car that wouldn’t start.
I went from doctor to doctor who all wanted to prescribe neurological medications, brain-altering stuff, for a condition that could heal itself tomorrow, and so I refused. Together with my GP and surgeon, we mapped out a treatment plan, preparing for flare-ups and getting back to health. It’s been exactly a year since my last flare-up.
The condition changed my life. I couldn’t attend many events, and it was difficult for my family, friends and co-workers to understand my condition. Often when something like happens, you have to deal with ignorance and nastiness, and receive very little empathy. But my goal was reclaiming my life, and everything and everyone else took a back seat.
What I learned
I’ve always had empathy, but this condition has allowed me to not just show empathy, but to really feel it. It’s also taught me to appreciate the people who stood by me through it all and who were strong for me, especially on the days I didn’t think I could be strong anymore. I had to learn that some people couldn’t be there for me in the way I needed and that’s okay too. It’s true that we never know what the next person is facing, so always be kind to them and yourself, and have the courage to walk with courage, even in the face of insurmountable obstacles.
Never be afraid to start over again. After all, you’re not starting from scratch; you are starting from experience. As the great Winston Churchill once said, “Fear is a reaction, but courage is a decision”. Perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn from life is that through the hardships, we should all walk with courage, with resilience and just a little bit of hope.
Mandi Strimling is a South African-based journalist, blogger, social media influencer, and media personality. She owns the website, Rave Review, which has fast become South Africa’s favourite online accessory. Mandi is also a content creator, has an addiction to makeup, sports and has a soft spot for a good cheesecake.