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After the Fall: How a Little Trip Put My Life Back on Track

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I paused and did a 360-degree scan, desperate for someone in sight, or at least in earshot. Finally, in the distance, straight behind me, I spotted four people looking my way. From where they stood half a block away, surely they could see the pain and desperation in my eyes as I sat alone on the cold concrete, shocked that I had just flown through the air and collided with the hard, gravel sidewalk. I made eye contact with one of the women -- so I thought -- but she turned away.

OK, I was in this alone. I closed my eyes, turned my palms up, and peeked out of one eye first, afraid to assess the damage. My gloves had torn on both hands, exposing two bloody palms. Admittedly, it hurt worse than the damage was.

I could handle this. I took a breath, counted to three, and forced myself to stand up and continue on my way.

---

The fall happened a year ago, on March 16, 2013. That morning I had woken up and decided to pull my life back together. It wasn't that things were in shambles. It wasn't that anything bad had happened. It was simply that I had all this noise in my head from all the wrong places, clouding me from living my regularly scheduled life.

So setting off on this run was the beginning of getting back on track. And as I sprinted through the blocks of my hometown of Hoboken, N.J., the endorphins were kicking in, and hope was starting to carve its way through the noise. A new frozen-yogurt shop was opening in town that day! The daily special at the deli two blocks away was my favorite roast-beef-and-mozzarella sandwich! A new 5K race was launching in town, and maybe I could run in it! These were all "silly" thoughts of sorts, but they were the kinds of nuggets that brought an inward grin that I had been incapable of for the previous few months.

And just as all those light, happy thoughts floated into my mind, I took that fateful tumble. Yes, the timing was ironic. Yes, it was even more ironic that after walking a mile home, I realized it wasn't my hands that were the most busted-up part of me: My knees were gushing blood endlessly, yet I was somehow oblivious to the pain. And boy was it ironic that after planting in my head the notion that I was fine, I ended up under the X-ray machine in the ER 24 hours later, being scolded by the nurses for not coming in right away. ("You needed stitches, but it's too late now. Let me guess: You were out partying for St. Patrick's Day and waited a day so you could sober up?")

All those ironic twists should have stressed me out and boomeranged me back to my stoic, mummy-like march through life, yet they didn't. Luckily, I limped out of the hospital with just two bandaged knees. Somehow, dealing with the physical pain made it easier to figure out where my head really should be. I was sick of being off-track and basically tired of being tired. The hint of spring in the air was giving me hope (even if the hint of snow in the air is probably what caused my fall!), and when I set a goal for myself, even if it's as simple as getting my favorite Fiore's Deli sandwich that day, gosh darn it, I am going to get it.

That's the spirit that's driven me all my life. I wasn't going to give in and let my life continue in this haze, simply treading water, with no destination. Why was I letting all this external head noise get in the way of my life?

So as I learned my daily routine of cleansing and patching up my literal wounds, I also learned to thrust my life forward. After watching in awe (and envy) as my social-network feeds filled with single female friends traveling alone, I set off on my first solo trip, pounding the pavement of Stockholm and gliding through the fjords in Norway on my own. After determining, "I'm so not a runner," I completed the first-ever Hoboken Racing Series, finishing four races in town during the year, including one just three weeks after the fall. And after gazing at Manhattan from afar for years, I landed an absolute dream job in the city, with the smartest and savviest coworkers, whom I learn from and am challenged by every day.

And then there were the little things too: simply learning that it's OK not to say "yes" to every obligation that comes up, reconnecting with people who give your life a positive spin, and just being honest and telling it like it is, and not just to the people you come across in daily life but to yourself too.

It's easier to go down the rabbit hole than it is to pull yourself out of it. And on the way up, you may stumble (literally). It took a helpless fall for me to take control of my own life -- and to speak up and fight for myself instead of sitting back and letting the drama floating around get the best of me.

I count my blessings that my injuries were all bandageable yet significant enough to propel me to a place where I feel so much happier (and sturdier!) on my feet a year later. It wasn't a big fall, but it was a big moment for me.

---

A couple of months ago, I sat in a cramped doctor's office as a brusque nurse stabbed my left knee, which has the more prominent of the two scars, with a gigantic needle. She promised the shot would lessen the scar -- as would the $120 bottle of creme she convinced me to buy.

But after rubbing that putrid lotion on my knees night after night, I've begun to accept that my scars aren't going away. They may not be pretty, and they may not be perfect, but they are a part of me -- and part of the journey that got me to the new-and-improved, joyful life I live today.

2014-03-17-RachelChangKnees.jpg
Weak in the knees: My taped-up knees helped me recognize the people in my life I needed the most: the ones who came to visit me and distract me from the pain, the ones who brought me bandages and ointment when I didn't ask, and the ones who helped navigate paths with minimal steps, which hurt to walk down for months after. Oh, and that one who said to me, "Boy, you look like a mess!"? So not in my life anymore!

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