Twenty Two

warning: long and veryyyyy personal post. I’m trying to be more open and honest about my experiences with my health issues and everything that I have been through, if only so it inspires someone else to get through their own struggles, health related or not.  This wasn’t a very easy post to write- but these experiences have shaped who I am.

I’m writing this post to say goodbye to twenty two- I turn twenty three tomorrow on August 7. And, honestly, this goodbye is an easy one.

Twenty two was the hardest year of my life.

I thought that it would have been one of the years when I was in terrible pain, had a million doctor’s appointments a week, and was dealing with crippling emotions from my car accident (I was rear ended at 17 on my last day of highschool), but it wasn’t. It was this past year when I was forced to grow up the most. 

Twenty two started off innocently enough, just after my move to Atlanta, which I had never been to before I took my one way flight the day after college graduation. My birthday being in August, I had settled in for two months at my new job, and the shiny-ness of a brand new place and fresh career hadn’t quite begun to wear off. 

But by September it did, and I was all alone, in a new city, where I pretty much knew no one and distance with Ryan was feeling further and further. My training gradually declined at work and the demands of my first real job began, and I felt way over my head working in finance with my marketing background. I remember sitting at my desk, speechless, around September when everyone was talking about the equations for duration and I didn’t even know what the word meant. I felt like the stupidest person in the room. 

It wasn’t all bad- in some ways all these challenges were exactly what I needed. Starting over, starting fresh, is hard. But it’s supposed to be hard. With those kinds of struggles come growth- I firmly believe that it takes feeling like the stupidest person in the room to feel confident and self assured in any situation. (Now when I don’t know something, I’m like ‘yeah, IDK, but let me tell you about my SEO for my blog. Ha!’) 

Moving alone, without Ryan, was the best decision I ever made. Well, it honestly wasn’t really a choice- Ryan had already put in for a transfer to Atlanta to follow me here, but it took some time for it to happen. As hard as it was, the six months of time apart for me to be on my own was so important. It taught me how to be independent after being in a relationship for three years when I’d never had to be. 

I made friends on my own and I built myself a community both in and out of work. Going to church by myself was the first time I felt like I had really moved far. I remember showing up and thinking, Wow, Han. You’re really at a new church. I realized it was the first time I had ever gone by myself (I always had my family or Ry). But it turned out to be wonderful- it made me build my own network from the ground up, and I made a lot of great connections there. 

Most of it I would do all over again, and encourage any other person to do the same. These challenges were really the side effect of blessings- they meant I had the opportunity to start over in a new city and the chance to get a great new job. They made me stronger- I consider moving to a new place one of those things that everyone should do at least once, like backpacking Europe in your 20’s (I wish! My health didn’t let me) or living alone (tried it, didn’t like it). 

Making it on your own builds character, confidence, and self reliance. I’m so grateful for the opportunity I had moving to Atlanta- I had the chance to experience another part of the world, and live life independent of a safety net where family or friends can come scoop me up if something doesn’t go quite right.

But the moving, the adjustments, the new job…I wish I could say those things were the reason 22 was so hard. I wish the story could end here. But it doesn’t. Because this past fall, every single part of my five year health nightmare came to a head, and I went to trial because the insurance company would not settle over my medical expenses.

In October, barely three months after turning 22, I was forced to speak in front of a jury of 8 strangers, the girl who hit me and her family, and recount every detail of the worst moments from my health struggles. My parents couldn’t even be in the room. After moving on from everything I had been through- invasive doctor’s appointments, adjusting to a brain injury that affected my memory, painful treatments in the form of injections all over my body, and so much more awfulness- I had to describe them in detail. Then, I was cross-examined by the meanest, cruelest lawyer I have ever met. It was literally gut wrenching (I can’t tell you how many times I threw up last fall). It was the worst experience of my life. I have never felt weaker, or more afraid, or more horrible than I did that day. 

And I lost. 

I was misdiagnosed as having minor injuries just after the car accident, and it cost me everything in the trial. I didn’t get anything- no medical bill payments, no pain and suffering money (I was hoping to buy myself a car with it if I got any), nothing. Somehow it feels embarrassing, like I’m the one that messed up. But it just inexplicably happened, and ironically I actually did quite well on the stand, according to my lawyer, but that didn’t matter in the end. 

It felt like everything I had been through didn’t mean anything. It felt like it didn’t matter that I was the victim. I had stopped for a school bus making a turn, endured five years of bad health and doctor’s appointments and pain, and eight strangers and one nasty lawyer told me that it wasn’t true. A group of people objectively decided that there wasn’t enough proof that my neck, head, and permanent spine injury were caused by this girl rear-ending me. In a world that is constantly fueled by external validation, I was crushed. 

I hadn’t slept through the night for over a month before the trial. I used to panic every time my phone rang, worried it was my lawyer calling to talk strategy. It was worse when he called me at work, because I always ended up crying in the bathroom after. Then after the trial, I had nightmares almost every single night for months, waking up in a sweat and re-living the cross examination. I remember groggily sitting up one morning in early December, realizing it was the first night that I had slept through since September. 

The hardest thing about twenty two was learning that life isn’t fair. I thought I learned that with the car accident- and I’ve adjusted and grown so much from it that I’ve accepted what happened to me. It’s easy now to say that it made me stronger and shaped who I am. But this was one of those things that was so unbelievably unfair, so hard to spin in a positive “oh what doesn’t kill you” or “God has a plan” type of way. It was so awful, so gut wrenching, and for nothing. It ended with me going back to Atlanta alone, where I had to return to a new job and re-adjust to a new life while starting the healing process all over again. I’m still trying to figure out the meaning of it. But maybe there isn’t a meaning, and one day a year from now I’ll wake up when it isn’t so fresh and I’ll be a little less hurt. 

I barely told anyone I knew that I went to trial. Blogging about it is pretty scary, especially knowing that a few people from work read this blog. But it’s also therapeutic, and as I move forward to twenty three I want to put everything out in the open and fully move on (I suppose I could do that without publishing on the internet, but oh well). Only two people at work knew where I was going when I took a week off for the trial, and it was the reader’s digest version- this just hasn’t been something that I’ve shared with the world. I was planning on maybe mentioning it if it went well- I had sort of pictured myself coming back to work and telling everyone how the nightmare was finally over.

I almost threw up the morning I was back in the office and a bunch of people asked me how my vacation was. It was the worst day- returning to normal life while it felt like the last five years of my life had been building, building, building to this huge, horrible event just to be completely shattered. And I just sat there, politely smiling and pretending like I had the best week at home. Most of my friends didn’t even know what happened, as I had just met them and it all seemed like too much. ‘Hi, nice to meet you, I’m going to trial next week’ just seemed like the worst thing to say (how does one even bring that up in conversation?). 

That was the low point- the rest of twenty two just got better and better. I accepted that I couldn’t change what happened, and I made the choice to not go through an appeal as it was too emotionally draining for me. For a few months I was just on autopilot, taking everything one day at a time. I made some more friends, continued to adjust at work, and Ryan started visiting more and eventually even moved down here. By February, I felt like everything was finally okay- as I got back on my feet and moved on, I even started this blog. (And for the first time, I can say that I’ve actually always wanted to start a blog, but never did because my lawyer told me I couldn’t.) 

Then the pandemic hit, and I think y’all already know how that story goes- home, work from home, blessed because I still have a job, but simultaneously not loving living alone while working from home and being by myself all day. The pandemic was pretty tough on me after everything- 2020 was my first year without any restrictions from a doctor or lawyer. And then we were all forced to stay home. But in another way, it wasn’t that hard for me to adjust- like I said, it’s been five years of me finding ways to enjoy my life despite restrictions. 

Things have been really good since spring though- after adjusting to COVID-19, it’s been great to have the blog to focus on, and everything feels like it’s behind me. Healing from awful experiences isn’t easy, and I’ve been dealing with a continuous one since I was 17. But now, after everything, life has been so so good- it feels like the storm has passed. I can move on and just be.

That’s how I want to be at twentry three- just me, Hannah, not Hannah-with-the-car-accident. Just Hannah.

I healed from my health issues, and outcomes aside I crushed that lawsuit and being put under immense pressure like that…I did it. I prayed for this moment- yes, I wanted a victory but either way, I’m here. The health issues are over, the lawsuit is over, I have moved on. I’m in a new city, surrounded by newly-made friends and a job that I am lucky to have and enjoy. I have a new church, a blog, a family and boyfriend that loves me, the opportunity to volunteer, a roof over my head, food on the table- I have everything I need. 

Because at eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty one, and twenty two, when life felt impossible and I wasn’t sure if I would ever have good enough health to move and get a job, or if the lawsuit would ever end, this life is what I wished for on my birthday. And in this moment, all those wishes came true.

And now, for the first time since I was seventeen, I get to make a new wish.

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