Why Me?

October 26, 2012 at 12:27 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

I got into a pretty bad car accident Wednesday morning. I was driving home from dropping off Andrew’s backpack at school (we forgot it on the first trip). The roads were icy in patches, so I was driving slowly. I was being careful, puttering along on in second gear, but my mind was racing with thoughts of how to structure my day ahead. I was in a very good mood. The day before I had returned from an amazing four days at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. I was buzzing with energy and ideas.

Out of seemingly nowhere, a maroon car barreled down a side street and blew through her stop sign. I locked the brakes, laid on the horn, and tugged the wheel away from her car. But I couldn’t stop in time, or turn in time. She plowed into the side of my trusty Subaru. My glasses flew off my face. My chest hit the steering wheel, directly where my defibrillator is implanted. My car sailed across two lanes and came to a crunching stop in a yard.

“Why me?” I thought, as I dialed 911 with shaking fingers. I thought it again, when the paramedics were initially concerned that the impact had jolted loose the defibrillator’s leads buried deep into my chest. I thought it again as I watched a bruise blossom on my chest, and my neck locked up and my knees and ankle swelled. “I never get a break. I don’t even get a week without some health catastrophe.”

That morning, after my dear friend Martha picked me up at the accident and sat with me until Jay dropped out of a major meeting on a work trip and came home, I settled down to watch season two of the breathtaking show Breaking Bad with Jay. In one particularly gripping episode, Walt (a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher who gets diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and begins manufacturing crystal meth to provide for his family), learns at his doctor’s appointment that his brutal chemo regimen did its job and put his cancer into remission. He is nearly as shocked at this positive development as he was upon learning the dire news. “When I got the diagnosis I asked, ‘Why me?'” he said. “When I learned about the remission, I again thought, ‘Why me?’”

I chewed this over for the rest of the day. Why would he say that? It made total sense that he would question his fate when he got bad news, but why doesn’t he take the good news and run? Then it finally hit me—right in the solar plexus of my self-pity. It’s all too easy to see the bullets that hit us, but not the ones that miss us. We fixate on the awful amalgam of events and fates that bring us into danger (for me, the forgotten backpack that put me on the road at that particular moment, the ice on the roads, and the speed of the other driver), but not the equally mysterious forces that save us from something worse (my car sacrificing itself to protect me, the low speed I was keeping). Let me put it another way. When the ambulance drivers were monitoring my defibrillator’s suddenly odd behavior, they told me that two 911 calls came it at the same time. One was mine. The other was about a 27-year old woman who was walking to work, and then slipped and fell on the same icy roads I was driving. She is not getting to blog about her mishap, though. By the time the ambulance arrived, she was dead. She had hit the ground at exactly the wrong angle, at the wrong force. Why her? Why not me?

It’s funny, when you’re able to stop the chain of morose, self-aggrandizing thoughts that start with a self-pitying “Why me?” everything changes. I was able to appreciate the wonderful friends I have. Martha left work to come take me home from the cold accident scene. Jay put me ahead of an important work project and came home to care for me. We have excellent car insurance. I was alive. The other driver was alive. Andrew was not in the car—where he would have been sitting directly where the other car hit me. The police were kind and caring. I did not need immediate surgery on the defibrillator.

I’ve asked “Why me?” countless times in my years in Chronic Town. “Why me?” when I got diagnosed with a chronic and potentially fatal disease when my baby was only three months old. “Why me?” at every chemo infusion over the last four years. “Why me?” at all the weight I’ve gained. “Why us?” when I see my husband or my son struggling with my illness.

Asking “Why me?” is a good starting point, but, like Walt, we’ve got to keep asking it. “Why me?” that my doctors quickly diagnosed my disease, before I had a fatal heart attack or stroke. “Why me?” that I have good health insurance in this crazy country that leaves so many uninsured. “Why me?” that tough treatments like regular chemo actually swatted back the sarcoidosis and let me return to a somewhat normal life. “Why us?” that my husband and son are healthy and happy, that we love each other, and are weathering these years in Chronic Town together.

Have you ever got stuck on the first part of “Why me?” How did you learn to see your many blessings, regardless of an obstacle? How do you get beyond self-pity?


  1. Elena Aitken said,

    Oh my goodness, girl! I’m so glad you’re okay. That’s terrible.
    It’s so easy to fall into the ‘why me?’ but then…you know, you just have to push past it because it wasn’t you.
    You’re here and that is awesome!
    I hope you feel better soon.

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Thanks, Elena. You’re so right–just push past it. It’s crazy how quickly life changes. We’ve got to focus on the good and be grateful for it.

      It was so wonderful to see you last week. I am in SIWC withdrawal.

      Thanks for taking the time to write a comment,

  2. nancymhayes said,

    I am so glad you’re safe Rebecca. Your story brought tears. As youngest daughter Erin says …… “MOM, Your don’t ski the trees, you ski the spaces.” Have a lovely weekend.

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      I love your daughter’s saying. “You don’t ski the trees, you ski the places.” So true.

      It’s good to hear from you, Nancy. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.


  3. Leanne Shirtliffe said,

    Wow, Rebecca, wow. Your perspective continually amazes me. Like Nancy, I too had tears.

    So glad you’re okay and that you’re moving forward in spite of being stopped in your tracks.

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Thanks, Leanne, for such kind words. I am trying to keep moving forward–one slow step at a time.

      I really appreciate you reading and commenting here.


  4. sepiastories said,

    Holy CRAP, hon! Glad you’re OK!
    I’ve been where you are; perhaps not as serious. I was diagnosed with MS back in 2005, and all i could think of was going blind or ending up in a wheelchair. Neither of those things has happened, and I’ve managed to stay relatively healthy. I keep myself sane by seeing every day how bad my symptoms AREN’T.
    Hope things continue to stay stable and you don’t suffer any ill effects from this. Take care of yourself. And it was good to meet you at SiWC. 🙂

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Thank you, Silk,

      I am so glad that your worst fears about MS did not come true. I knew sitting next you in the manuscript review workshop that we understood each other.

      I love your perspective–focusing on what you haven’t had to contend with. That’s pretty darn brave.

      I look forward to staying in touch. Thanks so much for checking in here.


  5. Barbara Barnes said,

    I am so glad you are okay-enough. I am so glad you were close to St. Petes. I am so glad you have a close relationship with an attorney. I am so glad Andrew was not in the care. I am so glad the OTHER side of the care is where the impact was. I am so glad you weren’t driving while feeling sick and not well.

    Self pity has its purpose I think. My experience is that it is saying “why don’t you just hold still and recognize this fucking suck out loud situation, get the crying done, and then move ahead slowly?”. Instead we get stuck in the self pity trap, and, since its hard to hit a moving target we don’t hold still long enough to mourn and then move forward.

    How do I get out of it? Humor, going to bed early, smelling a horse, praying for others, Tonglen.

    And, I try (emphasis on the word try) to count my blessings a lot. Ever since I learned that the chemicals emitted in response negative thought patterns are more physically addictive than heroin.

    Call anytime.. we all get five minutes at least of complaining every day… so use them wisely. lol.

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      As always, I learn something from you Barb. I had no idea that negative thought patterns could become addictive, but now that you’ve said it, it makes total sense! And you’re right, self-pity does have its purpose. You just can’t stay in it.

      I love being in touch with you. Keep with the horses!


  6. Randy Bekkedahl said,


    I am glad you got to go to the writers conference. You are such a good writer and convey events and emotions so well that I love reading your blog and look forward to each one.

    I am so sorry the high of the the conference got busted by the accident, but llke the others, am glad you are okay.

    As far as pity parties go, I am just now coming out of one. During September I was diagnosed with pulminary hypertension and obstructive lung disorder to go along with all my auto-immune disorders. But I took it in stride and did well with the news. Then I got a MRSA infection on my leg and had to deal with that (always scary for immune suppressed people) and did fine dealing with it. Then two weeks ago I was told I had diabetes, out of the blue, no lead up like rising sugar counts, etc. Just boom, you have diabetes. And it sent me into a tailspin. I think part of it was that my wife was also struggling (she has MS and Lupus) and it all seemed too much to handle. I dealt with it by writing about it. Nothing that will ever see the light of day, just journaling my innermost thoughts.That helped get the negatives out of my system and once that happened, started working with the doctor to get the blood glucose under control and once I started seeing positive results from that, the pity party ended. (thank goodness) Now if the blurriness in my eyes would go away…..

    Thanks again for sharing your story. It is always a pleasure.

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Hi Randy,

      You have so much on your plate. I admire your courage and your resilience. I got diagnosed with Pulmonary hypertension, but then they reversed the diagnosis after doing an electrophysiology study. But I got myself good and scared about it, so I have a small idea of what a HUGE thing it was for you to hear that. As for the diabetes, are you still on prednisone? I developed diabetes just like you (no warning signs) after being on 80 mgs for a while. I had to do the insulin injection and modify my diet…and then, once I dropped down to 40 mgs of the prednisone, it went away, just as mysteriously as it arrived. So, maybe there’s hope yours will do the same?

      It makes total sense that all this would send you into a tailspin. You are brave and amazing to have emerged from that. I hope you are feeling a little better, and that your wife is too.

      You are in my thoughts,

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