How A Traumatic Hike Accident Inspired Me To Be More Authentic on Instagram

There are a handful of times in every person’s life when they go through a major personal transformation such as puberty, marriage, and childbirth—to name a few

Photo: Courtesy of Jacqueline Fardella

Photo: Courtesy of Jacqueline Fardella

There are a handful of times in every person’s life when they go through a major personal transformation such as puberty, marriage, and childbirth—to name a few. There are also transformational times in people’s’ lives that are much less conventional. Times of trauma and loss. Times of confusion or hurt. As much as others may want to be a solid support system because these times are so individual and so personal, it makes it much more difficult to empathize. I recently got into a major hiking accident and was lucky enough to receive unwavering support from my friends and family. But I also began getting support from a most unlikely source—social media. This experience has made me realize that as hard as it is for others to imagine walking in your shoes, the best way to paint a picture people can relate to is simply by being honest.

You can find a number of models and influencers on social media—Instagram especially. I myself am a model/influencer. I have friends that are models and influencers and I have even lived with models/ influencers here in L.A. Most people are just watching us on outlets like Instagram or Snapchat, and the majority of what people really see is work. They don’t typically get a deep look into what our lives are like. Now, regardless of what I am lectured, I have never been very serious with my social media. I am a light-hearted person. I love to laugh and have fun, and that is the type of content I want to share with my friends and anyone else interested. I don’t want to put up pointless selfies or work photos everyday. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, and in all honesty the models who post that way typically have larger followings. But alas, I am a rebel at heart! Since my accident, though, I’ve noticed the viewers on Instagram had become increasingly more enticed by my posts.

A little over a month ago, I went camping with some friends in the Angeles Forrest. We set up shop and decided to hike this trail that led to a beautiful little waterfall. We hiked and hiked, then hiked some more—no waterfall. Finally, we decided to head back. Along the way, one of my friends thought they saw the falls through some trees. There was a trail leading down, so a few of us went to check it out—eureka! We found it! The only problem was that we were at the top and none of us knew how to get to the bottom.

Photo: Courtesy of Jacqueline Fardella

Photo: Courtesy of Jacqueline Fardella

As I stepped over some rocks, I lost my footing and slipped into the creek. It was such a gentle current, I wasn’t even worried at first. A friend tried to help me up, but the river floor was covered in slick, small rocks, so I slid and we missed each other. The current began pushing me downstream and as I went further I realized I could neither stand, nor crawl my way out. One friend was standing on a rock beside the drop and turned to see me just in time, but couldn’t grab me either. In a flash before my eyes, we reached for each other and I just went over. Those were the most surreal few moments of my life. I literally thought I was dreaming. The drop took mere seconds, but in my head it felt like a lifetime. I went through countless thoughts and emotions. First, disbelief. Immediately after, I prayed to God there was a cushion of water below. When I looked down and saw barely a puddle, it was all survival mode. I knew I had to have a plan for hitting the ground. I had to aim for a clear landing and make sure however I landed I was protecting my head and spine. My plan was to attempt to distribute my weight as much as possible so that no one, specific area would take the full impact. I couldn’t just land on my feet from that height and I was already falling sideways. In my mind, this was 10-second damage control. I finally landed and for a split-second, I thought I was out of the woods.

Then a wave of mind-numbing pain began radiating throughout my body. I heard people calling me from above but I couldn’t speak. I had to force my vocal chords to yell through the pain. It has never been easy for me to ask for help from people in life. This was the first time I truly wanted to cry for out help, but I couldn’t even speak. Eventually I was able to force the words out. I screamed in agony, “I need help!” All I remember is closing my eyes then hearing a splash from someone jumping into the water and feeling them try to pick me up and carry me, but the pain was unbearable.

My left leg was hanging and I was devastated, thinking that I had completely shattered my hip. I kept thinking that I’ll never be able to dance again. For anyone who knows me, one of the first things you learn about me is how much I love to dance. It was my first love and passion since two years old. I swear on all that is holy in this world that I have never screamed in my life the way I screamed that day. Every slight movement was pure, unadulterated torture. I had to be moved, so two of my friends lifted me up and carried me as far as I could go, off to the side of the falls. I laid there in agony, while one friend sat beside me and held my hand tight. One of the girls was in the military, so she came over, checked and cleaned my wounds right away. A few others in the group were still up on the trail and didn’t see what had happened, but sprung into action and headed back towards camp for help. They tried to corral my friends’ dog, Jax, but she refused to leave my side. We lied there for hours waiting for help to arrive and with no way to contact the others to see what was happening.

I began shivering uncontrollably at one point, which caused massive pain. Everyone banded together and wrapped me up in all their t-shirts. Soon after, a few hikers who were passing by came down to help. They had a small inflatable mattress so I wouldn’t have to lie on the wet dirt and rocks, and wrapped me in a big, warm, sleeping bag. I’ve never been so touched by the kindness and generosity of others as I was on that day. It was getting close to sunset. We began talking about our options if help didn’t arrive soon. But I knew I didn’t have any other option. I couldn’t move a centimeter, let alone be carried up and down the side of a mountain. I have never wanted to be in a hospital so bad. I’ve always loved the outdoors, but all I could think lying there was, Eff NATURE!

They talked about sending someone else back to camp. I looked to my friend next to me and said, “Please don’t leave me.” He assured me he’d stay by my side, and I never felt so comforted in my life. Just before sunset, an EMT arrived on the scene. I could feel the collective sigh of relief. He asked me a bunch of questions to make sure I was cognitive and didn’t sustain any head injuries, then slid me onto a board. Before I knew it, a medevac was overhead and our whole group was waving it down—there were t-shirts swinging and people waving and yelling. It was such a surreal moment to be watching this helicopter in the sky, trying to find me. The EMT asked if I had ever been in a helicopter before and I said no, then he said “Well, today’s your lucky day!” I knew he was trying to make me feel better, but if I could describe just how minuscule I cared that I was going on a helicopter ride that day in comparison to the strife I was in, I would.

Once I realized I would be hanging free in a Dominos pizza delivery bag by a wire, I became slightly concerned. In the end though, there was nothing I was more afraid of than dying next to that waterfall. As they packed me into this bag, they kept yelling that I needed to flatten my leg, which was physically impossible for me at the time. They eventually were able to strap me in safely and zip me up, leaving only part of my face exposed. I remember the propellers swirling all the dirt, debris and leaves everywhere. It kept hitting my face and I could barely breathe until we lifted off the ground. Once we started ascending, the pressure from the propellors began pushing down on my legs. I screamed the whole way up, trying to put my arms over my leg to shield it from the added air pressure. When we finally arrived to the hospital, I cried real tears for the first time. I had been transferred onto a few different stretchers and backboards up until this point, and every time I had to be moved was just as excruciating as the last. To give you a frame of reference: by this time, it has been about three hours since the fall, I am still in the same condition from how I was picked up and I have not received any pain meds.

They rolled me off the chopper, through the rooftop, into the hospital and the first thing they said to me was that they had to transfer me onto a bed. I immediately broke down in tears and begged them to leave me on the stretcher because I could not handle the pain of being transferred again. I could see the compassion in their eyes, but I knew they would do what they had to do. They kindly apologized and said they would make it as gentle and quick a transition as possible. I said, “I know” knowing full-well there was nothing they could do to minimize what I was going to feel. So I took a massive inhale and gave them the green light. I felt bad for whoever was a patient on that hospital floor. Hearing that kind of howl would probably make me want to high-tail it out of that place.

I got into the E.R., they checked me out, then asked me if there was anyone I’d like them to call. I’m from New York originally and that’s where most of my family still is. It was the middle of the night by this time in NY, and I debated for a second because of course, this is not news you want your parents to pick up the phone to. I had the nurse make the call and my mom was on the first flight out the next day. This would be her very first time in California. Meanwhile, my surgery was scheduled for the next day as well. The procedure entailed installing a titanium rod into my femur and pins into my hip joint. They were to make three incisions, although I didn’t know this at the time, so I had no idea what to expect in terms of stitches and scarring.

By now, the general public has a good idea of the pressures of being “perfect” in modeling and entertainment. We like to call it in the industry, “aspirational.” I am going to be completely transparent here in saying that, as much as my scars come with a certain amount of pride, I can’t say they don’t also come with an attachment of serious concern in regards to my career. My first concern going into surgery was whether I would be able to dance and do aerial again. Dancing was my first love and passion and is something I consider essential to my happiness and wellbeing. Plus, one of my dreams is to be on Dancing with the Stars— it’s going to happen, I swear! On a practically equivalent scale of importance, was how obvious the scarring would be. I was lucky to have the most phenomenal surgeon who heard my concerns, took them seriously and did the most optimal job I could hope for. Scarring was inevitable and only time will tell the final outcome, as it is still healing. Even thus far, my scars are nowhere near how I imagined they were going to look. Most people hear stories and concerns like this and blame the leaders in the industry. They say it’s “superficial” or “it shouldn’t be that way.” In a perfect world, they are completely right. But the fact is, there is a reason the industry portrays an “aspirational” image, and it all comes down to the people. To you and me, and everyone in between. They are a business and it’s what sells. People want to be perfect. They want to feel like they look amazing, like that “perfect” model who’s wearing those jeans. “Does my butt look like that when I put these on?” Maybe, maybe not. It doesn’t really matter because that image already got you to grab those jeans and try them on, didn’t they?

Perfectionism is not only seen in entertainment though, it really is across the board. Take a look at your social media feeds. Consciously, everyone knows that everyone else is trying to portray some degree of unrealistic perfection, because on some level, we ourselves are doing the very same thing. Everyone wants to look like they have it together and they have this great, “aspirational” life. But nobody has that life because it doesn’t exist. Everyone—I mean everyone—has ups and downs and sometimes I feel like I even have sideways. It is not smooth-sailing 24/7. That’s just Reality 101.

In 2006, a study conducted by Valkenburg, Peter and Schouten linked the effects of social media on self-esteem. It determined that a person’s reactions and relationships formed due to social media, directly influences whether one’s self-esteem and, in turn, well-being, increased or decreased. There are certain pressures and expectations as a model to portray this kind of “aspirational” image, not only for your clients but now for social media as well. Social media followings now play an integral role in your livelihood. Your job becomes your life. Not only do you have to make sure your skin stays clear, your nails look a certain way and your weight remains consistent, but you must make sure you give people a reason to be interested in you online.

Social Media has become the credit score of the entertainment industry. Your job no longer entitles you to clock out after your day of castings or wrapping on set. You’re forced into this kind of odd, pseudo-celebrity status. It is the ultimate fake-it-till-you-make-it. In not conforming to this, you are not only risking losing work, but gaining potential jobs you may not otherwise have had the opportunity for. I have seen people get work they would never in a million years have booked had it not been for their large followings on social media. It’s hard not to admire that from where I stand. Just like anyone else on social networks, it can also be discouraging at times, when you feel like just being yourself isn’t good enough. You start questioning yourself—maybe you really do have to be so contrived in order to gain approval? It’s ingrained in us to want to be accepted and liked, so deep down—for all of us—it’s about more than just getting the work.

While I was in the hospital, I decided to start posting some photos of my experience. Originally, I did this with the intention of a more practical way to let all of my friends know what was going on. That may sound like the worst way to break serious news, but truth-be-told I was exhausted and it became overwhelming to let people know individually. There was always a check-up, physical therapy, meds, or something going on at my hospital bed.

Now, these weren’t my prettiest photos ever. I was in a hospital gown. I had dirt, leaves and debris still in my hair from the swirling wind stirred by the medevac’s propellers during it’s descent into the forrest. You can bet your ass I wasn’t wearing makeup. You can also bet your ass that I put that Instagram “pretty” filter on. It was all I had man! So I threw a few photos up thanking my friends and family for all of the thoughtful get-well-soon deliveries, along with a few updates.

Photo: Courtesy of Jacqueline Fardella

Photo: Courtesy of Jacqueline Fardella

As days passed, I would go on Instagram and noticed my “likes” kept growing. I decided to check my analytics and found that these posts were the most viewed and commented-on posts I had ever had. I was amazed at what an immense response they received. Strangers liked my hospital pictures? Who would’ve thought? But, I realized two things from this. People, in general, want to be supportive. They want to contribute positivity. These people, although many of them don’t know me at all, still felt the desire to send me well-wishes and positive energy. Number two, people respond to true authenticity. Life is not perfect, and when someone who is supposed to portray any degree of perfection for a living puts themselves out there and publicizes their imperfections, it’s refreshing and encouraging. It helps to eliminate that imaginary line in our heads that divide us. Trust me, there is no line.

Photo: Courtesy of Jacqueline Fardella

Photo: Courtesy of Jacqueline Fardella

Once I understood the impact of these types of posts, it made me wonder how else I could connect authentically. So I decided I would continue publishing my healing journey. I noticed you really have to stay aware, though. There are certain things you are used to not sharing, especially when it comes to the bad and the ugly. One thing you would not know from social media is that since my accident, I haven’t been able to go home. This is why I have posts from all different areas in California, rather than being back in good ol’ Los Angeles. Unfortunately, my apartment building had many stairs leading in, which is an obstacle I cannot yet physically tackle. I have had to live for over a month without all my belongings: clothes, shoes, makeup, toiletries, etc. Of course, I went to the store and got some replacement items for the time being, but being displaced is a whole additional set of obstacles and a hardship in itself. Luckily, I have some wonderful friends and family that have gone above and beyond to help me in my time of need.

So there you have my second big post of authenticity. Despite the trauma, displacement, the guilt I feel that my friends had to encounter something so harsh, all the discomfort and pain, I am thankful to be alive and even for the kind of injuries that I have sustained. I am proud of my journey and the insurmountable amount of knowledge I’ve gathered from this experience. I tell everyone that I believe this was meant to happen in order to bring my life in a precise direction. That one definitely freaks people out, but even if this could’ve been prevented—why would I want to harbor on that?

These beliefs help me to sleep soundly at night. They help me to continue moving forward with faith and a positive attitude. Every single medical professional I saw—from the first EMT on site, to every nurse and surgeon, told me how lucky I was. I am so grateful everyday that there were angels with me, not only in spirit, but in the form of friends. And even though things are still far from perfect—I have yet to find a new home and am still only on one foot—there are so many wonderful things that have come out of this experience. In losing my home, I was offered to stay with distant family I hadn’t seen since I was a little girl. All of the sudden, I have gained a full family in California! I’ve been able to reconnect with them on a deeper level, and bond even closer with my mom in the process. And with my story, I have been able to spread more positivity and inspiration than I ever thought possible. I truly believe every obstacle is an opportunity if you treat it like one, and this adventure has been no exception.

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accident Instagram optimism Positive thinking Self Love social media
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