You are here: Home » Case studies

Journaling and Therapy Helped Me After Surviving a Car Accident and a Late Pregnancy Loss

“I vividly remember one day a few months after getting hit by the car when I wondered if my life would ever feel peaceful, pain-free, or joyful again. I was simply getting in and out of the passenger seat of a vehicle, my whole body gripped with pain and stiffness when I experienced a flash of fear that my health would never improve.”

Hello! Who are you?

My name is Maggie Winzeler. I’m a women’s wellness advocate, writer, coach, and business owner. I specialize in helping people find holistic and wholehearted solutions for their wellness.

I’m a mother of three children and one sweet dog. My husband and I have been married for 10 years and both attended UVA for undergrad although we met while we lived in Washington, DC after college.

My passions include women’s wellness, human rights, reading an array of spiritual non-fiction, good wine, breakfast foods, running outside, adventures with my family, and collapsing on the couch in a heap of exhaustion with my husband at the end of a long day.

Most recently, I founded a social impact startup called Every Woman is Worthy ™ to address the self-esteem and self-worth crisis that holds women back, including dismantling harmful and oppressive cultural narratives about what defines a woman’s value. 

💡 By the way: Do you find it hard to be happy and in control of your life? It may not be your fault. To help you feel better, we’ve condensed the information of 100’s of articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet to help you be more in control. 👇

Cheat Sheet Download Thumbnail

Don’t Miss Out On Happiness

Find happiness with this 10-step mental health cheat sheet.

What is your struggle and when did it start?

I have suffered from PTSD twice. Each experience took me on a unique path through various symptoms. Here are the details:

Back in my early twenties, I was hit by a car while biking to work in Washington, DC. It was a busy intersection (18th and Florida). I knew how to navigate it on a bike in the morning hours before traffic picked up since I rode through it every day.

I did my routine of checking behind me before giving my hand turn signal. I saw a car in the distance. I made sure that my hand was stretched out wide so that it would see me, just in case, although I knew from its distance that I had plenty of time to make the turn, especially since I was in the right of way. Unfortunately, the distracted (and speeding) driver plowed straight into me.

As a result of the accident, I suffered from chronic back pain for years in my twenties. My body will never be quite the same. I have to work hard to keep my spine aligned and to stay calm through nerve pain a few times a year. I may have occasional flare-ups now, but I feel healed. The beginning of my journey was quite different though…

Physical pain combined with mental/emotional trauma from the accident made me very anxious, sleep-deprived, inflamed, and hopeless. For several years straight, my heart was racing, and I was in pain most hours of the day.

At night, I struggled to calm my body down after countless hours spent working on my feet doing personal training and coaching runners. I’m sure that my non-stop pace of work exacerbated the fight-or-flight period of my trauma recovery.

Most nights, I would be lucky if I got 4-5 hours of decent sleep before starting a nearly 10–12-hour day on my feet again. It was a vicious and painful cycle, and I didn’t feel that I had a way out because I was in a commission-based job without paid benefits for time off or health insurance.

My second experience with PTSD was quite different in nature.

Many years after the accident, I experienced a late pregnancy loss in the second trimester following a poor prenatal diagnosis. When I went into the hospital for a routine pregnancy removal, I experienced a medical emergency due to my uterine artery rupturing. Thankfully I was in a hospital setting and the doctors acted swiftly, but I had to have an emergency vertical c-section.

I was minutes away from a life-saving hysterectomy because the doctors couldn’t find the source of the bleeding. I got lucky that a young and talented doctor specializing in deep pelvic surgery was passing by and got called into the room. She saved my fertility and life.

PTSD felt much different the second time around following my pregnancy loss and emergency. There was heavy grief like nothing I had ever felt, complicated feelings because of the poor prenatal diagnosis, heightened awareness about the complexities of women’s reproductive health needs, and physical pain from what my body endured.

Also, I had to accept parts of myself that I had never explored before. I had to embrace unanswered questions, a new prominent scar on my formerly smooth stomach, and concerns about what a subsequent pregnancy might look like.

I was so scared to get pregnant again that for a time, I was mentally preparing myself to die if I became pregnant. In my head at that time, that was the risk I felt I had to be ready for. 

If you’re struggling through PTSD, I hope you know that you’re not alone in your fears and overwhelm even though it almost always feels that way when you’re in the thick of it yourself.

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

I vividly remember one day a few months after getting hit by the car when I wondered if my life would ever feel peaceful, pain-free, or joyful again. I was simply getting in and out of the passenger seat of a vehicle, my whole body gripped with pain and stiffness when I experienced a flash of fear that my health would never improve.

At that moment, I felt like I was 80 years old and struggling even though I was merely in my twenties. I slipped into a period of darkness and depression, experienced episodes of binge eating as a coping mechanism through overwhelm, and had a few lingering thoughts about how I just didn’t want to exist. I wasn’t suicidal, but I desperately wanted a reprieve from my chronic pain. I couldn’t even escape through sleep. I was tormented.

After a few years, my back pain would retreat for brief spells and then rear its ugly head at other times. One day, I fell to the ground in an elevator in my apartment building. My back pain came out of left field and knocked the breath out of me. I fell to my knees and dropped the groceries I had been carrying.

They spilled all over the ground. I couldn’t stand and no one was around to help me, so I stuffed the items into the bags and dragged them down the hallway as I crawled in desperation and tears to my apartment door.

The hardest part of the pain that I experienced was that it was invisible. I didn’t have any broken bones and I was still on my feet gritting my teeth through the daily grind of a physical job.

To everyone on the outside, I probably just looked like a slightly puffy and tired version of myself due to weight gain and fluid retention from constant swelling.

PTSD once again wreaked havoc on my sleep and body following my pregnancy loss and emergency. I woke up every morning with the worst pain in my jaw, neck, and shoulder from clenching my teeth so tight. I experienced a lot of disturbing dreams but felt the need to stay in bed for almost 12 hours at a time.

This was likely due to a combination of blood-loss-induced anemia, grief, and changes in hormones following the loss. My days were brief, and sunlight was scarce as the days inched closer to winter.

At the same time as my loss, the world was plunging at a fast pace into the depths of death and collective grief due to the winter of 2020-2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a time of tremendous darkness in the world and my personal life, and I was left largely in solitude to deal with my trauma.

One day I was crying so hard while trying to get myself dressed for the morning that I decided to just lie down in the closet. I stayed there immobile for probably an hour, wondering how I would ever feel like myself again. I couldn’t fathom a future in which I wouldn’t feel the heavy grief and overwhelm that I was experiencing. 

If you’re dealing with PTSD, I hope you know that the period of isolation and darkness does eventually end, but it takes work and advocating for yourself to get help.

Maggie Winzeler 3

👉 Share your story: Help thousands of people around the world by sharing your own story. We would love to publish your interview and have a positive impact on the world together. Learn more here.

Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

Following being hit by a car, I gradually – over many years – gained an understanding of how to manage back pain and get myself out of it quickly if I threw my back out somehow. Even still, I was worried about having chronic low-grade pain for my whole life, especially with a desire to have children.

How would my body stay strong enough during a pregnancy to avoid this pain? What if I had to have a c-section and my core underwent further physical changes and challenges?

There were a lot of worries that I carried for roughly five years at an age when people assume that young adults are carefree and enjoying the spoils of a youthful body. That was far from the case for me. My load felt very heavy.

One morning at church, I remember thinking to myself “I don’t want to hold onto this pain any longer.” I said a simple but profound prayer, surrendering the future of my pain and body to God. From that moment on, a shift happened for me.

My pain no longer owned me. For me, letting go of that last 10% of the pain and holding on was crucial. In letting go of trying to control it, it stopped possessing power over me.

My grief journey and PTSD following the pregnancy loss took a different healing journey than my accident. The grief was extremely profound for the first year following my son’s loss, and I still experience unexpected moments today (over three years later), but I have learned to accept a lot of life’s lessons along the way.

I have examined myself in the deepest and most true parts of me and I have emotionally, mentally, and spiritually explored the near-death experience and epiphany that I had in the hospital after bleeding out.

For me, the isolation of the pandemic was painful following my loss, but in some ways, it was exactly what I needed to take the deepest dive ever into myself and my values. In that span of time, my faith and worldview expanded in profound and healing ways.

The time feeling alone with all my thoughts, questions, and fears created quiet space for me to reflect, write, do trauma therapy, study, and redefine the kind of life I want to live; one where my pain can give birth to purpose. This eventually inspired me to launch Every Woman is Worthy

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

Following any type of unexpected accident, violence, or incident that creates PTSD, it’s imperative to be patient with yourself and to advocate for your needs. PTSD doesn’t go away on its own. It leaves a mark on our bodies and must be processed and addressed within a safe support system, ideally with a therapist. 

For me, EMDR therapy was taxing but imperative for moving forward from my grief. In EMDR, you heal your trauma with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. In other words, you work through a healing process for how your mind stores what you went through.

EMDR in combination with writing about my experiences helped me process and decide how to move forward with my life. A good friend who is a psychotherapist also recommends Somatic Experiencing as an effective therapy technique for trauma.

In addition to therapy, I also relied heavily on gratitude journaling, which studies show can improve happiness. Even on the worst days, you can stretch your mind to find something to be grateful for; how nice it was to sip hot coffee for a few minutes quietly in the morning or a break in the rainy week that allowed you to sit outside in the sun for a little bit.

Grief and trauma take a huge toll on us and often take our minds off of our present circumstances. Gratitude journaling helps us with mindfulness, optimism, hope, perseverance, and bringing ourselves into the present. It helps us with embodiment. 

After being hit by a car, I also tried an array of physical healing approaches including nutrition, physical therapy, cupping, chiropractic care, dry needling, massage, acupuncture, meditation, deep breathing, etc.

At the end of the day, healing is seldom a factor of one single “silver bullet” that fixes everything. Healing necessitates different approaches at different stages, which is why it’s so crucial to be your own advocate, stay flexible, and become thoughtful about your unique needs.

Even in situations where you get the “right” type of help (for example: a physical therapist to help with physical trauma/injury and healing), you may have to go through a handful of providers before you find one that helps you in the right way for your unique needs.

I visited over half a dozen physical therapists in my recovery and they each took a wildly different approach. If I hadn’t advocated for myself to keep working hard to find the right fit, I might still be in chronic pain today. 

It was because I never gave up on myself or my needs that I can sit here and write this with confidence that whoever is reading this can find help. It might take longer than you expect but don’t give up. You will come out the other side of this more intuitive about your mind/body connection and how to care for yourself when things get tough.

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

I’m very open about my struggles, in part because I’m an extrovert but also because I know how healing it can be when people are willing to break down the walls that divide us and become vulnerable.

For example, being open about my late pregnancy loss and complicated circumstances created space for so many people to show up for me during the pandemic and even share about their own complicated pregnancies, losses, and emotions.

Even though my loss was during the height of social distancing and pandemic precautions, people were still courageously and lovingly showing up at my doorstep to quickly drop off homemade meals, gifts, flowers, sympathy cards, and more.

An enormous outpouring of compassion, empathy, and support came rushing towards me after I shared on social media that I had just attended our baby’s funeral.

It’s so important to remember that we are all connected by similar emotions and heartaches and that most people desire to be kind and caring if we give them the opportunity to be. That said, it’s also important to guard your heart in situations where you’re unsure if it’s safe to open up about your struggles.

You may notice that some people are callous, or they try to bypass your complex emotions with platitudes and quick solutions. Hear me when I say that this is about them and their emotional immaturity, not about you.

Don’t let those situations jade or discourage you. Keep being tender with yourself and remember that navigating these day-to-day interactions is a part of the healing journey.

Keep working to find safe spaces, communities, therapists, partners, friends, and even theologies that can uplift and support you in the ways you need.

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

Your struggles possess the power to make you stronger and softer at the same time and in the best ways. My life wouldn’t look like it does now without being hit by that car over 15 years ago and enduring my late pregnancy loss and emergency. 

I’m very serious when I say that too. The accident affected the romantic relationship that later turned into my marriage, my ability to help relieve my clients’ physical pain, and the deepening and widening of my faith as I searched for a sense of safety and peace. 

My pregnancy loss led to a more nuanced understanding of disability awareness and the complexity of women’s reproductive health. It also challenged me to learn more than ever before about women’s collective wellness and rights worldwide and pushed me to enter into spaces and conversations I hadn’t dared to before. 

Also, I was very fortunate to go on to give birth to my daughter. She is currently a young toddler who delights everyone she encounters and roars loudly – and proudly – like a dinosaur from the bottom of her bitty belly. She feels like my soulmate and bright light after living in the shadow of death for a time. 

All this to say that you never know how your struggles will change your life, for better or worse (oftentimes for both).

At my son’s communal burial with other babies lost in pregnancy or their first month of life, the interfaith chaplain explained to us that we get to decide how to move forward from our pain, grief, and trauma. We get to decide how to let it inspire us to live more full and purposeful lives.

So, that’s just what I did. I launched a business called Every Woman is Worthy in honor of my son and all that his loss taught me about grief, love, oppression, healthcare, women’s rights, close calls, and second chances at life.

Every day, I wake up and learn how to grow this small business so that I can make sure that other women know their value and don’t give up on themselves. I get to uplift marginalized and oppressed women and make a real impact in their lives. I never would have had the vision for this startup brand without having to fight my way back from the darkness.

My son Jake was with me for a mere four months, but his legacy through what I’m putting in motion could last many lifetimes. I do everything in his honor and know he is with me even now, in ways that I think perhaps were always meant to be.

You get to have choices in your pain; you can feel it, writhe in it, get lost in it…and then you can climb out of it holding on tight to your purpose for a meaningful and wholehearted life.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

I recommend reading The Body Keeps the Score because it affirms that the trauma you have experienced is very real, but also offers hope for how to reclaim one’s life. It’s a long book but highly rated and worthwhile.

Everything Happens for a Reason, And Other Lies I’ve Loved is a wonderful book about spiritual bypassing and the toll that disease and trauma can take on our lives. Kate Bowler has an excellent and raw narrative voice that allows people to fully feel their pain through her own story while releasing the outrage that comes when people “just don’t get it.”

Sometimes, bad things just happen, and they can’t be explained. We can decide how to move forward from them without needing an explanation for “why?”

Killing the Black Body is a profound and important book to read for anyone who cares about women’s reproductive health. While I can’t say it helped me “heal,” it did help me assess the world around me after my eyes were opened to the difficult and nuanced situations that pregnant people endure and are confronted by.

This book is a sober assessment of systems steeped in racism and oppression against women. Anyone who cares about healthcare, healthcare access, or healthcare/reproductive legislation should read this.

The Language of Letting Go is a lovely book of meditations for codependency, but I found them very useful following getting hit by a car. Although the contents of this book are fuzzy to me since it has been many years, I do remember it being pivotal in the mental and spiritual shift that enabled me to let go of my back pain and decide to move on with my life before feeling “perfect.” 

Christian Mystics is one of my favorite books ever. I feel that it holds a lot of healing in its pages. In a world where many people are leaving the Christian church in the wake of abuse, trauma, and disillusionment, I’m finding that there is in fact a way to address our whole selves and holistic needs within the context of the faith – and, in my humble opinion, that way is through studying the mystics.

Those who have deconstructed their faith following trauma will find hope in mystical perspectives and language. In fact, I would go so far as to say that people of all faith backgrounds can find enlightening takeaways in these brief daily meditations.

Where can we go to learn more about you?

You can learn more about my startup brand and its mission on our Website and Instagram page. Additionally, you can stay tuned on my personal coaching website and blog (undergoing updates soon) for a forthcoming webinar course about overcoming back pain.

The main takeaway from my struggles is that you are worthy of healing, love, belonging, respect, wellness, and so much more.

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

Cheat Sheet Download Thumbnail Clean

This Cheat Sheet Will Help You Be Happier and More Productive

Thrive under stress and crush your goals with these 10 unique tips for your mental health.

Want more interviews?

Continue reading our inspiring case studies and learn how to overcome mental health struggles in a positive way!

Want to help others with your story? We would love to publish your interview and have a positive impact on the world together. Learn more here.

Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

Leave a Comment