7 life lessons I learned from my recent whiplash injury

I have a confession to make: I moaned and felt quite sorry for myself last week. At times, no matter how hard I tried to remind myself how far I’ve come or what a lot I have to be thankful for, I just couldn’t stop feeling upset.

The day after I took part in my first 5 km race after recovering from a chronic illness, I ended up with a whiplash injury. Not through a car crash, but through a v̶e̶r̶y̶ slightly embarrassing incident (more details in lesson 6 below).  

Having been so happy to have finished the race the day before, it was tough to suddenly be barely able to move, definitely unable to swim or run and to need to rest so much again. It was also scary for a while as it felt like I was going to need to depend on others to get things done again.

But I’m much better now and this injury reminded me that sometimes things which seem negative can teach us so much. And these are the 7 life lessons I’ve learned from this whiplash injury:

1.    Expect the unexpected.

With visualisation being an important part of neural retraining, I’ve started planning more than ever before in the past 6 months. This injury just reminded me that at times you have to expect the unexpected.

2.    Unexpected things that happen after you've been very happy about something else can really upset you.
I think I felt even worse when this happened because I was so happy about the race. But I’ve really come to believe that sometimes the bumps along our journey are there to make the victories feel even sweeter

3.    But don’t allow yourself too much time to feel sorry for yourself.
For a while after the injury I kept questioning why this had to happen just as I was starting to feel so much better. And when something like this happens, it’s normal to spend some time feeling sorry for yourself – or at least I hope it is. But what’s important is that you don’t allow this to last too long because it only makes things worse and pulls you down more.

4.    It’s easier to be upset about little things when most other things are going well. 

Funnily enough until 6 months ago, I used to tell Dermot that there was so much going on that I didn’t even feel down about things like not being able to train. And that had he told me before I was ill that for months I wouldn’t be able to do any training, I would have taken it really badly. 

Sure enough this time round, I was very upset about having to stop swimming and running. I think being upset about little things when most other things are going well is very normal. And although as I said I don’t think there’s anything wrong with allowing yourself to be upset for a while, it’s also good to try to keep things in perspective. 

5.    Injuries can happen in the silliest of ways.
When I started running again in January, I built it up extremely gradually and made sure to incorporate strength and conditioning exercises into my routine. I did this because the last thing I would have wanted once I was getting better was to end up getting injured. But this injury is definitely one of the silliest ones I’ve ever sustained. In fact, maybe it’s just me but I didn’t actually realise you could get whiplash from anything but a car accident. Turns out you can. (Ok ok we’re getting to what caused it next). 

If you're injured or in pain, going to the right health professionals can really help the healing process. In this case, I definitely got better quicker thanks to my physiotherapist Kristjan Briffa and masseur Derek Stafrace. Thank you! 

6.    Take the steps you can take to look after your neck and back.

Although my neck pain was caused by an accident, it was still a bit of an eye-opener for me about how important it is for us to look after our neck and back. In fact to my colleague Hannah’s amusement (since to start off I had to improvise a bit), I’ve now made some adjustments to my desk setup both at work and at home. 

7.   And don’t try to fit too many things into your day.
Not quite a life lesson but I also learned this:  Don’t go down a ladder facing forward...especially not a slippery one. 

Yes I’m very embarrassed about it but that’s how I ended up with whiplash. I was going for a swim and wasn’t sure the sea was deep enough to jump/dive in from the top of the ladder. So I wanted to just go down a rung or two before jumping in. But without thinking, I started going down facing forward. The rung was extremely slippery and my feet slipped off. But I was still holding on so I jerked my neck forwards and backwards and this jerking movement is what caused the whiplash. 

I know that was silly (Dermot was quite shocked when I told him). But I literally wasn’t thinking. To some extent, I blame this on the fact that I was rushing to fit a million things in that day, as so many of us tend to do. And I wasn’t even thinking about anything as I went down that ladder other than that I wanted to get into the sea as quickly as possible.  

So as my illness and recovery have shown me many times, sometimes it’s important to just take things a little slower. The great thing is that this ends up giving us more opportunities to appreciate the beautiful things along the way. Plus as I now learned, it can also save you from silly injuries like my recent whiplash.


Question: Have you learned any life lessons I didn't mention after an injury? If so, please leave a comment below.

PS – Should you wish, you can subscribe to receive updates via email at the top of this page.