As a college student heading home from a New Year’s Eve party, my friend was hit by a drunk driver. She was lucky. She came out relatively unharmed, with just a sprained shoulder which recovered quickly. However, she suffered emotionally and financially for years to come. Her car was totaled along with her confidence, leaving her without the means to drive for quite some time. Even after she saved up for a new car, she refused to drive at night or in the snow for fear of getting into another accident.
Eventually my friend got the help she needed to move past her fear of driving, but I wish she’d known how to access those resources right away instead of waiting so many years.
If you’re in an accident, the trauma can be devastating, but there are things you can do to ease your recovery as an accident victim, whether your accident was minor like my friend’s or something more serious.
Contact Insurance Early
No one likes to deal with insurance, but it’s important to get in touch with your insurance company soon after an accident. Starting the process early will ultimately make this unpleasant task easier. Having the accident fresh on your mind will help you recall important details.
That said, give yourself a few minutes to calm your nerves a bit before you call. You want to be sure you’re cool and collected when speaking with the agent to ensure you can describe the situation as accurately as possible. For instance, if a chair flew out of the truck in front of you and hit you, you need to say that. Panicking and saying, “IDK—I was just driving along and out of nowhere there was a chair in the road and I just hit it” will technically make you at fault. (A little tip my insurance agent let me in on.)
Give yourself some time to regroup and think through what to say before making that call. So where do you start?
The first step to successfully dealing with insurance is to carefully document your accident. Write down everything you can as soon as possible, including contact information for everyone involved in the crash. If there are witnesses, gather their contact information as well. If you can, take photos of the scene and the accident.
Be persistent and assertive when you contact your insurance company. Careful documentation of your accident and subsequent medical care will help you determine how much your claim is worth. Stick to this amount, and don’t let the adjuster low-ball you.
Get the Medical Help You Need
See a doctor as soon as possible after your accident, even if you think you’re fine. You can’t always tell the severity of an injury based on how bad it looks or how much it hurts. Head injuries, which are extremely common in motor vehicle accidents, are easy to brush off as “just a headache” but can actually be very serious.
Sometimes getting the medical help you need can be a challenge. Healthcare doesn’t come cheap, and you don’t always know how much insurance will cover until after the fact. If you’re struggling to afford medical care, look into low-income options like sliding-scale or free clinics.
If you’ve suffered a severe or debilitating injury, grief may be another obstacle to getting the treatment you need. The loss of ability or independence can be a shock to your system, leaving you too depressed or in denial to go to appointments.
If grief is holding you back, focus on taking care of yourself and building a strong support system. Friends, family, faith groups and mental health professionals can all keep you afloat and help you get the care you need.
Harness Your Anger
It’s alright to feel angry at the drunk driver who hit you. Like any other emotion, anger is normal and healthy as long as you handle it right.
Taking legal action is one way to use your anger productively. With the help of an attorney, you can leave with a sense of justice and compensation for your losses. If it is justified, seek the help of an attorney to rectify the situation.
Another healthy way to harness your anger is through activism. It can be empowering to get involved with initiatives against drunk driving or to even start your own.
Sometimes, though, you just need to vent your frustrations. Here are some safe and healthy ways to release pent-up anger without taking it out on yourself or your loved ones:
- Writing: Put your anger on paper through journals, poetry or letters you never intend to send.
- Art: Art is another way to put your feelings on paper. No talent required here — splattering red paint on a canvas or drawing stick-figure caricatures of the driver who hit you are perfectly effective options.
- Music: Make yourself an angry playlist or listen to the same angry song over and over. Sing along or play air guitar to make it more personal.
- Sports: Getting active is a great way to release anger from your body. Go for a run — angry soundtrack optional — or take up a martial art like taekwondo or boxing.
Whatever you do, don’t bottle up your anger and wait for it to explode. If you’re struggling with lingering resentment, don’t be afraid to contact a mental health professional to help you work through your feelings.
Conquer Your Fear and Get Back on the Road
After an accident, getting back behind the wheel of a car can be scary. Motor vehicle accidents can be very traumatic and may result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), driving-related phobias or other anxieties.
Be gentle and patient with yourself. A commitment to self-care is one of the first steps towards recovering from a traumatic event.
You don’t have to recover from this all on your own. Here are some tried-and-true therapies that can help you take control of your anxiety so you can get back on the road:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This popular therapy teaches you how to identify negative thoughts and react to challenges in healthy, effective ways.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): This trauma-focused approach helps your brain to “digest” and move past trauma using eye movement and other stimuli.
- Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP): This therapy helps you to face your fears by starting small and working your way up, making it a good option if your accident left you with a phobia of driving.
- Support Groups: Hearing from other victims can help you feel less alone. Look for local or online groups for survivors of vehicle accidents. If you were seriously injured in your accident, you may also benefit from a support group for people with acquired disabilities.
Recovering after a car crash can be a long and winding road, but it’s not impossible. With the right medical, emotional and legal support system, recovery is well within your reach.