Friday, 5 February 2010

The train accident

We all have experiences that define us and make us who we are. I have several, but this is definitely up there.
This is the train accident that happened ten years ago today.

I was 19, studying in Europe, and taking a night train home from Amsterdam to Florence. Around midnight the train derailed and jack-knifed, my friends and I were thrown from our seats (the far left carriage was ours) and nine people died. Fortunately, we climbed out and were OK.

The train wreck is an awful thing to reminisce about and something that doesn't come up lightly in conversation. But ten years on, it's still a part of my story.

Looking back I find truth in the adage 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger'. My faith, though definitely and thoroughly shaken, was rebuilt on a more solid foundation. This encounter with death made me appreciate life more and forced me to confront personal issues I could have easily kept swept under the carpet for years. Like many people who've experienced difficult things I can say in hindsight, though I wouldn't want to go through it again, I am a better person for it.

But... though I am a better person, I think that what all this 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger' business leaves out is that often what doesn't kill you (but comes close) leaves you with the unfortunate souvenir of anxiety and fear. Anxiety and fear didn't make me stronger, but made me weaker and proceeded to shrink my world.

Suddenly, everything was out of my control. I mean, if a train can come off a track, what else can derail? My life became a constant risk assessment, complemented with breathing issues bordering on hyperventilation and irrational terrors. Very exhausting. But unless you're Woody Allen, anxiety is also difficult to talk about.

The more I've been honest about anxiety, the more I've found that lots of people suffer from it to varying degrees too. I've found that being open about my fears and things that may embarrass me allow other people to open up and know they're not alone.

I could say tons about the train accident and the journey I've been on since then. I'm very thankful that I've worked through most of the difficulty, and the train accident remains just a little scar that, though I know it's there, doesn't cause me pain anymore. I'm also extremely thankful that, unlike nine of the other people on the train, my life didn't end that night and that I've been given so much in the past ten years. I know that I'm lucky/ blessed.

But really what I want to do is mark the day and say this happened. Things like this happen and, with grace, we move on and it's OK.


Nadine said...

Beautiful post Alisha. It brought tears to my eyes. I can't believe it has been ten years.

I had an incident last year (nothing like your train accident) but it definitely shook me and I am still battling anxiety from it in certain situations. And I always have anxiety when I fly.

It's so comforting when others share their anxiety - thank you for sharing yours.

I'm so glad you were okay that night ten years ago because you are an awesome friend and although we are miles apart, I am blessed to have you in my life.

alisha said...

Thanks so much Nadine.

I think an incident doesn't have to be major to bring on anxiety. (I've found that deep breathing exercises, though simple, do a lot to help.) I have anxiety when I fly too, which is strange because my accident was with a train. I really hope your upcoming flight to Japan isn't stressful - a gin & tonic usually goes a long way. :)

Robert said...

Hi Alisha- found you thru Rachels blog. Thank you for sharing this and for being so open about your experiences with fear and anxiety. My father died from cancer when I was 8 and it caused me the same shocking thought you shared about the train derailment- *if he can die what else can happen?* I feel embarrassed and ashamed alot inside because Im a believer and yet i have such a struggle with fear, so I try to share on my blog, hoping as you said to find others who share similarly.

I am inspirwed by your words and your perseverance Alisha!!! I hope your journey home will continue in a peaceful fun way :)

alisha said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
alisha said...

Hi Robert, Thanks for stopping by and sharing. It is difficult as a Christian to deal with fear, because although prayer and faith go a long way to help, it's a psychological battle as well. Fear is spiritual, but also very easy to overspiritualize in the church context I've found. It's easy to feel like fear is a weakness, but there's no shame in experiencing it. Thanks for being open about your journey too.

La Dolce Vita said...

Wow, Alisha! What a story! Fortunately all went well...
I have never been involved in an accident while traveling, but after 9/11 I am always pretty anxious before to board a plane. When it has taken off, then I calm down. Probably all the safety measures and controls before the gates area that stress me...and then I remain's kind of a mood I probably build up in my mind. But I can't help.

I have added your blog to my favorites. Your writing really inspires me. ;)

amyrenee said...

I remember that night, and many uncomfortable car rides in Malibu in the aftermath :)

Crazy it's been ten years.

My sister sent me a little note on my cancer anniversary last year, on the front of which she had written, "It's I'm So Happy You're Alive Day!"

I will share the same sentiment with you, today. I'm glad God chose to keep you around a little longer cause you're a keeper.

alisha said...

Mario, I'm sure after 9/11 there were many people around the world signing up for fear of flying classes! It certainly compounded my own anxieties and I still don't love flying, though it's gotten better.

Thanks for adding me to your favorites. :)

Amy, I'm glad you're still around too!

ianandmonica said...

Ahhh, we miss you both so much! This is such a deep post. We are reading these too! I wanted to comment of the fear and anxiety part. I can't help but think about the context we are living in right now. Being in Haiti has reminded me of this moment in many of the Haitians lives. Many live with this fear as the earth continues to tremor. Yet they continue to press on in an amazing resilient way. Indeed, Haiti will be stronger. Like you.

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