Six Lessons Learned After Six Months of Being Shot

It’s official. It’s been six months since I started living life with a little extra piece inside of me, the bullet, aka Tijewky (named her – yes she’s a lady – after Tijuca, the neighborhood where the accident happened). On February 28th, the last day of the festive Brazilian Carnaval, I was laying in the hospital bed, surrounded by people in costumes and glitter, overhearing the sound of drums as parades ironically proceeded outside.
Now, let me be blunt here – this blog is more for me. Sorry to crush you. I do care about how you feel, and how you’re doing, but this blog is for me to realize that even though my life has pretty much returned to normal six months after getting shot, things are not exactly normal beneath the surface.
Life happens, and it happens fast. I usually make a conscious effort to take time away from my laptop, and journal all of the things I keep to myself, but I figured we might digest the realities of what’s going through my mind together on this one.
You ready? I’m not sure if I am, but no time like the present.

So the reality is my body has limits now, despite me pretending it doesn’t.

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Five years ago, I never used to say things like “my body is telling me to stretch, eat more broccoli, lay down, etc…” that I would hear my artsy or athletic friends say. At first, I thought it was pretentious in a weird way. The kind of thing only a “I do my monthly groceries at Whole Foods” type could get away with saying. By no means was I the Whole Paycheck groceries kind of gal, so I just canceled out the idea of being that person.
Now, I have no choice but to listen to my body, which reminds me every single day that it is indeed a separate and independent part of me. What’s clear now is that if my body is treated properly, it can work in conjunction with my mind so that everyone, including myself and my ego, can be happy.
I’ve never been one to have good back health. I worked at a chiropractor’s office at the age of 16, basically creating an addiction to cracking everything from my knuckles all the way to my lower back by doing my specialty move, squeezing my butt cheeks. Now with the bullet, things feel stiffer, and in the words of Akon, “locked up.”
All five of the Brazilian doctors told me I was fine. The American doctor I saw directly after I returned home in March told me if I hadn’t come in with the CD of my MRI showing the bullet was less than an inch away from my spine that he wouldn’t have believed me.
I scheduled a follow-up appointment a full month after my body took on the shock, the same American doctor looked at me, asked me how I felt, and without conducting any further tests told me to buy a lottery ticket because I was one lucky girl.
Clearly, the only advice I needed was the kind that would come from listening to my body, and most importantly Tijewky.
From that moment, I knew that the bullet and I had to work together if we were going to come out on top.
I pushed it on months 1 and 2. Damon and I had a kayaking trip directly after, no more than 20 days post-accident where I still had bandages on, yet managed to perform on-camera, carry a heavy kayak, and feel relatively normal, despite the lower back lock that has now become a part of the day-to-day.
After going hard in the gym, my muscles got tender and reminded me that even if my mind was strong, my body had limits that I needed to respect.
If I work too hard, and my body tells me to chill out. If I don’t listen to what’s going in under the skin, I’ll pay for it in pain.
What’s your body telling you?

A lot of people can’t handle real things.

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One thing that actually came as a huge surprise to me is that my closest friends and even family kind of brushed off what happened. It’s almost like YOU have to pretend to be perfectly fine for THEM, and that’s bogus if you ask me. The smallest sign that you’re not ok post-trauma will make you a plague among your friends, who used to be down for anything. It was actually scary to see how my closest circle of friends would want to avoid the ugly by pretending it didn’t happen.
Rarely did I get asked how I was doing after the initial 10 day period of sharing the news with them. And that’s the craziest part, you’d think those closest to you would want to know more than just “how are you doing” on a superficial surface level.
I decided to bring it up to one of my realest and closest friends. I asked her one day why she hadn’t asked me how it actually was on a deeper level than just hearing me tell the play-by-play on what happened. I confronted her, and asked if she didn’t feel close enough to ask me things other people might feel invasive asking. Because one learns a lot about life from a traumatizing experience, and I was more than ready to share it with anyone curious on what near-death feels like.
The conclusion? People are uncomfortable with discomfort. I’m a storyteller, I’d bring them to my exact moment with words that could take you on a journey in my mind. After all, the moment repeats in my mind more often than you’d think, so at this point I can probably craft you a Hollywood movie scene.
People may “love you,” but who’s really willing to share a moment of your pain, and more importantly, try and absorb your learnings? Not many. Who’s willing to even ask you about your truth, no matter how dark it may be? Even less.
We can’t expect anyone to want to feel what we feel, but it came to a surprise when I realized most people don’t bother asking because they don’t want to even try to handle it. Something scary, yet avoidable to others is a reality for a lot of us that we can’t just bury with superficial and fluffy conversations.
Empathy is truly a limited commodity, if you find someone who’s empathetic, keep them close.

Anything can happen at anytime.

People ask if I suffer from PTSD. It’s a real thing, and yes, I do believe if you went through something traumatizing involving an unfortunate instance of violence, you’d be on high alert with any abrupt sound or motion.
About two months in, I was still a little jumpy anytime someone walked behind me, or a skateboarder skidded nearby – still not my favorite things. Unpleasant sounds to normal people became a warning of “violence to come” for my brain. Six months in, I luckily don’t exactly jump at loud noises, but I do have a shifted mentality that anything can happen at anytime. Graphic things can play out in my mind, and I don’t freak out because I know they’ll probably not happen, but it’s almost like a sixth sense that’s a part of me now.
The ignorance that we live in safety most people are privileged to live their lives thinking is no longer a luxury I’m granted, because I saw and experienced the ugliest side of surprises.
But that thought doesn’t scare me, it just makes me appreciate the beautiful moments that much more.
Being very aware that it could all be over gives you a profound sense of gratitude for the fact it isn’t over yet.

Everyday is a new opportunity.

I used to think this before the accident, but it’s undeniable that every single time I graze my hand on my back because Tijewky is flarin’ up or itching (random reminders of her existence in my life), I think to myself how thankful I am I can use my legs, and every other part of my body for that matter. Even if a little less than your average person without foreign objects in their body.
My morning routine consists of doing a little shake, almost like a “we still got it,” dance.
I see my muscles are armor for my organs, which I purposely train on almost a daily basis.

People may be going through things you have no idea about.

On months 3-4, the scab became a scar, and I learned to have no shame in the circle almost smack dab in the middle of my back that’s exposed when I wear my all-time favorite style of shirt – the crop top that looks like I stole from a 3rd grader.
I go hard at the gym and flaunt my scar slightly wondering if anyone would ever imagine that the small circle near my spine came from a bullet, and I doubt it. Knowing that I have this insane story makes me sensitive to the fact that everyone has their own set of stories that we might never imagine.
Clearly what I have to live with every day isn’t anyone else’s problem, or business for that matter, so a lot of times it just won’t come up. How do you even bring that up? “I got shot six months ago, I’m ok.”
So it doesn’t come up a lot of the times because it seems like surface conversations are usually crowd favorites – my all-time least favorite.
The fact that someone can get to “know me” without knowing about a huge event that definitely transformed me just makes me want to actively get to know everyone that I cross paths with beneath the surface.
If we’re humans capable of sharing our experiences and gains with others, why not try and learn a thing or two from someone else’s life?

The mind probably holds 60-80% of the healing power

This whole time, somehow I thought my wound was on the right side of my back. I don’t know if it was because of the X-ray mirror image that I had for reference, or because a bandage covered the wound for so long that I didn’t even bother to confirm which side it was on.
My left foot would tingle within the first days, and I was relieved that it wasn’t the right foot because to me, it meant my left leg must’ve obviously trying to over compensate for the fact my right leg was probably weaker because my back muscle was just punctured on the right side (or so I thought).
I didn’t let the tingles stress me out, because it didn’t seem alarming since my left foot tingled, and I was under the impression my right side was the injured side. Months later, when everything was basically healed, I come to find out it was actually on my left side, and I immediately thought, “ignorance is bliss.” If I would’ve known that my left leg was having a reaction to the left side bullet wound, I probably would’ve stressed and made the situation worse, making healing a longer process.
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I’m sure I could go on and on about the life lessons as the months progress because after all, healing is a process. What I do know is that moments alive are far too fragile to not be giving ourselves a fair chance to be happy and healthy on a daily basis.
A lot of how our lives unravel is luck, it’s true, but what about the parts we can control?
Tijewky just told me to tell you to live the hell out of life.
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