Multiple Sclerosis, a Car Accident and Social Media: Three Experiences That Taught Me One Lesson

Jamie Tripp Utitus
Written by
Jamie Tripp Utitus

I almost killed someone.

I typically get up for work at insane hours in the middle of the night when most fun people are just stumbling in from the night before. I tell myself it’s because I like to write before my students get to class (I’m a teacher)—I have trouble focusing (maybe it’s cog-fog) so I get to work early and write when the building is ghostly and I can hear my thoughts loud and clear. But perhaps there’s a part of me that knows I have multiple sclerosis and subconsciously wants to be seated before anyone else is there so no one needs to see me if I fall or walk funny.

My morning routine is pretty religious. But one day, I didn’t wake up as early as I typically do. I was late!

Eventually I was in the car, driving. It was dark and pouring rain. I was rushing. I was sipping my coffee and it spilled and burned my hand. I looked down to put it in the cup holder and I looked up, a second before I smashed into the back of a truck.

I didn’t know who I hit or how they were and I was desperately trying to get to them. I couldn’t see well. My knees kept buckling. And then I saw children and I tried to run toward them. I cried out to them, “Are you okay? It was all my fault! I am sorry.” And the male guardian said, “No, we are not okay.” I pleaded with him for forgiveness. I kept checking the children. Looking at him I could see a tear under his eye and the guilt of what I had done just gutted me. What I had risked for a stupid burn, a cup of coffee, was just unforgiveable.

The paramedics made me get on the truck. I noticed there was one gurney and there was no way I was taking it. It was my fault. I was not worthy of a gurney or a check-up. I kept asking when they’d check them. As I sat there, they were kind and much more forgiving than I thought I was entitled to. And then I remembered, I have multiple sclerosis. I didn’t know if I should tell them? I figured I should because there’d be no harm if I was wrong in telling them, but if I should have and didn’t, there could be a problem. They seemed unphased by the news.

My face, surprisingly, was not broken. But my spirit certainly was. I could have killed someone’s children and I don’t know how I’d cope with that.

I didn’t give myself permission to think about the value of my life. I was so deeply wounded by the idea of hurting theirs. I retreated, avoiding telling “my story” as some sort of punishment for the mistake that I had made. But an interesting thing happened when I finally did as I always do, and allowed myself to open up online. Social media was a lot more forgiving of my actions than I was.

People are kind, they are forgiving. Much more forgiving than we are of ourselves. It reminded me of the power of my online network and how important it is to heal. And it reminded me, and still reminds me to this day, of the power of words and feelings. Words I wrote down that morning. Feelings of guilt, safety, children. My lesson of that day? Nothing is more important than paying attention to what’s in front of you. Whether that be your loved ones, a classroom or a big truck.

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