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As I handed a 5-hour ENERGY to the Conoco gas station cashier, I rationalized to myself, “I might need this.”

The remaining minutes of October faded slowly into the night as I took the wheel of my co-worker’s vehicle in rural Stillwater, Oklahoma, with an hour or so separating myself from my apartment in Norman.

Oct. 31, 2015, wasn’t a bad day.

It delivered my first personal encounter with the city of Lawrence, Kansas. It was a place I dreaded with its relentless hills as I trudged through the University of Kansas campus with a pair of cameras on my back en route to a half-filled stadium to cover a Big 12 football game for The Oklahoma Daily. There I saw OU’s dominating 62–7 win over the inferior Jayhawks from the sidelines as a rookie on the Oklahoma football beat.

My mind swelled with frustration.

“Why couldn’t I have adjusted my camera to get a clearer shot of Sterling Shepard’s touchdowns?”

The thought raced through my head repeatedly like a broken record.

As I tried to move past my incompetence and looked ahead to next week’s home game against Iowa State, I kicked back the energy shot and settled in for the final stretch of our one-day work trip to Kansas.

I felt fine. I wasn’t sleepy in the slightest. My senses seemed to be all in che–

• • •

Lost and freezing, I sat on the hard ground somewhere in Guthrie, Oklahoma. My face, covered in blood, looked up at the night sky. I wasn’t sure where my friends were or what the unfamiliar man approaching me was doing as I sat on a patch of grass covering the Interstate-35 median.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

I didn’t know how to reply. I thought I was fine. I remember listening to a song. Seeing a deer. Losing control of Scott’s car.

Then nothing.

I asked him where my friends were from the paper.

I became frantic as he questioned me more about what happened — he seemed convinced alcohol was involved  — and my anxiety heightened as I bled more and became more self-aware of my pain. I eventually learned the stranger was a paramedic and didn’t realize for the next 66 hours that I wasn’t going to be able to walk.

As I pleaded with him to help me find my phone, my co-workers from The Daily settled my nerves some as they made their presence known by their calls to me from afar as I was helped into an ambulance on a stretcher with my next stop being OU Medical Center.

The trauma of it all didn’t truly hit me, however, until I arrived at the hospital in the early hours of Nov. 1, 2015, and was surrounded by family as I awaited to hear what injuries I endured.

• • •

Yearning for answers, the doctors determined I suffered a nasal fracture, a head laceration, a broken right rib cage and multiple bones around my spine were fractured.

I don’t know how I survived the wreck, but I’m constantly reminded of it every day as I look at my left wrist decorated by a pair of scars, as well as the scar from where my head cut open. It still splits my dark brown hair but isn’t noticeable unless I lift my bangs.

The weight I’ve gained since the wreck also reminds me of my inability to do much of any physical exercise during the six-week period I was forced to wear a neck brace.

It was six weeks of pure hell for someone who hates depending on others; mainly because I’ve never had to rely on many before.

There was no option for me. I had to have someone around to help me shower and change clothes for a month and a half. Painkillers were the only way I could fall asleep, and if I woke up for any reason in the middle of the night, that was for the most part all the sleep I was getting.

I tried to avoid cars at all costs. Any oncoming traffic I deemed to be driving too fast triggered myself into thinking someone’s vehicle was going to slam into me.

The worst of it for someone like me was sitting and lying down all day while the world carried on, and I was stuck waiting for my back to heal on its own.

I went through so much depression and fear, and at times the pain and anxiety felt so unbearable to the point where I couldn’t breathe and didn’t know if this torment would ever go away.

“I should’ve died that night,” constantly ran through my head. An outer force didn’t allow for it to happen, but the complete destruction of Scott’s car shows me how lucky I was to live to see another day, to walk again and for my co-workers in the vehicle to not have suffered nearly the same injuries I dealt with and still must manage a year later.

• • •

Depression didn’t take long to show up at the doorstep of my brain. Like an unwanted, annoying relative from out-of-town, depression didn’t alert anyone ahead of its visit and wasn’t ready to leave anytime soon.

No amount of medication or any other substances could make me feel any more human. My thoughts were as dark as the pitch black Oklahoma sky that my bloodied face looked up at somewhere in Guthrie the moment I returned to consciousness the night of the accident.

My family, friends and doctors did everything they could to make me feel comfortable. I’m so grateful for all the people who did what they could and showed me their love following the accident. Especially you, Alyssa. I owe you my life for your selflessness and compassion to hold my hand through all the pain.

Whether they visited me in the hospital or sent me a text message, all of it meant something to me. All of it reminded me how important life is, how people can truly care and help you get through anything.

Every day I wake up is a gift.

I still suffer from anxiety. I still suffer from chronic back pain. And I’m still emotionally scarred from the traumatic experience.

But as I embark on a new chapter in my life, I know I won’t see certain people as often following my graduation at OU. And I hope I can make enough time for all of you as my formal education concludes within the next year.

For those who’ve been in my life for any amount of time, whether it’s been for a few months or all 22 years, I love you. And I hope everyday I can come closer to repaying you for lifting me up when I was at my lowest point. The point where I felt like I was never going to realize the goals I had been working toward since I was 9 years old and first told my mother I wanted to be a journalist.

Your love strengthened me. And as hard as I worked before the wreck, the accident allowed life to slow down and blessed me with the chance to appreciate the one I was given.

It didn’t stop me from thinking depressing thoughts, but I had people to help me cope. No one, no matter the extent of their battle, should have to deal with depression alone. I’m finally getting counseling for it all and trying to find myself again.

Don’t wait.

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