When Everything is Upside Down

January 27, 2021
Mary-Ellen Hynd | When Everything is Upside Down Blog Post

Sometimes life feels like it’s upside down and sometimes it really is upside down. Both situations can be equally terrifying.

For many, the global Covid-19 pandemic has turned life upside down in the harshest of ways. Lives lost, businesses of all sizes shuttered, unprecedented strains on the healthcare system, and especially, frontline and essential service workers. While we celebrate the good news of a vaccine, uncertainty about the future well into 2021 looms and life can still feel upside down.

To turn something upside down: To cause a lot of change

 and confusion in a situation or in someone’s life.

My life was actually turned upside down in the summer of 2017 in Iceland. It happened on a second trip to the land of fire of ice with a dear friend and traveling companion. The plan was to drive around the entire country to explore some of the more off the beaten path places. I would do all the driving as I could drive standard which was fine with me!

We had taken advantage of Iceland Air’s one-week stopover. From Iceland, I would head to Paris where I was excited to be presenting on the topic of values at the OuiShare Fest Conference, and then spend a final week in Croatia. Being away from everyday life, work and family responsibilities for an extended period of time meant there was much to do to ensure everything was in order before departing.

Iceland Air flights leave Toronto before midnight, arriving in Reykjavik at 6:00 am. My mind was racing from all of the preparation activities leading up to the trip and I felt like I did not sleep at all on the plane. We were excited to land in Iceland, picked up the rental car, and stopped for a wonderful breakfast before setting out on the Ring Road.

It was a beautiful sunny day. Our destination was the town of Grundarfjörður on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, home to Kirkjufell, Iceland’s most photographed mountain. While I did not feel drowsy, my insides felt like they had been turned inside out. Adrenaline and the beauty of Iceland pulled me forward. We chatted in the car as good friends do.



All of a sudden, I was awakened by my friend yelling at me that I was driving the car off the highway. The car was fast approaching a hydro pole with a steep drop on the other side.  We were traveling 80 km an hour!

Startled, I attempted to straighten out the car but the momentum was too strong in the other direction. The car spun around several times, crossed over to the other side of the highway, and flipped over twice before landing on the roof.  We ended up hanging upside down by our seat belts – the car came to rest in a bed of lupins beside a jagged rock face (pictured above).

Within minutes, other drivers helped us out of the car and the police were called. We were in shock but remarkably, otherwise fine. The police told us we were very lucky as there are many car accidents in Iceland. My alert friend in the passenger seat and wearing seatbelts saved our lives. Within hours, we had a replacement rental car and continued on our journey.

So why am I sharing this now, when for months afterwards I couldn’t even talk about it? Firstly, to draw your attention to the dangers of drowsy driving. And secondly to share that you don’t have to wait for an upside-down experience to take stock of your life.

“It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that

 you begin to change, grow and transform.” Roy T. Bennett

What was scary about this experience is there was no nodding off to signal that I was too tired to be driving. One minute I was immersed in conversation with my friend, the next minute I was headed off the edge of the road. I’ve since learned that a driver might not even know when he or she is fatigued because signs of fatigue are hard to identify.

Some people may also experience micro-sleep – short, involuntary periods of inattention.  According to the National Sleep Foundation, in the four or five seconds a driver experiences micro-sleep at highway speed, the vehicle will travel the length of a football field.

I consider myself a cautious and careful driver. A summer job for Brewster Transportation & Tours in the Canadian Rockies required a chauffeur’s license and ingrained in me to pull off and sleep for a minimum of 20 minutes if I ever felt tired driving. I’ve done this for years – it works and is much more effective than drinking coffee.

In the four or five seconds a driver experiences micro-sleep

at highway speed, the vehicle will travel the length of a football field.

Curious to better understand the risks and incidents of drowsy driving, I came across more staggering and sobering statistics through the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Sleepiness can impair driving as much or more so than alcohol.
  • Driving after going more than 20 hours without sleep is the equivalent of driving with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08% – the maximum legal limit in Canada and the U.S.
  • You are three times more likely to be in a car crash if you are fatigued.
  • The prevalence of drowsy driving fatalities is likely more than 350% greater than reported.
  • Drowsy driving affects everyone, but those under 25 (males especially) make up an estimated 50% or more of drowsy driving crashes.

It’s clear that drowsy driving is a prevalent and serious public health issue that deserves more attention, education and policy initiatives. Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, an initiative of The National Sleep Foundation since 2007, takes place the first week of November following Daylight Savings Time – November 7 – 13, 2021.

For me, this was a life-changing event – what if the accident had been worse? It was the wake-up call I needed to take stock and re-assess many aspects of my life. What needed attention? Was I fully honouring my values and sustainability? What did I need to change? As a solopreneur, it motivated me to get my business affairs in order including adding disability insurance.

The good news is you don’t need to wait until a pandemic or life-threatening situation turns your life upside down to take stock of your life. If you are fortunate to be staying “safe at home” during the Covid-19 pandemic, this may be an opportune time for reflection and action.

Looking at the Wheel of Life below, on a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you in each area? If this was a wheel on a car, how bumpy would the ride feel? Which area of the wheel is calling for your attention right now? How will you respond with focus and meaningful action?

To remain alert and avoid drowsiness, The AAA Foundation provides some valuable tips to stay alert and avoid drowsy driving:

  • Getting plenty of sleep (at least six hours) the night before a long trip
  • Scheduling a break every two hours or every 160 kilometers
  • Drink a caffeinated beverage if needed. But since it takes about 30 minutes for caffeine to enter the bloodstream, find a safe place to take a 20-30 minute nap while waiting for the caffeine to take effect
  • Traveling at times when you are normally awake, and staying overnight rather than driving straight through the night
  • Stop driving if you become sleepy; someone who is tired could fall asleep at any time.

I hope sharing this experience struck a chord and makes a difference for you too. Stay safe and please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences.

Pass it on 

Hi I’m Mary-Ellen

ICF Accredited global coach & organizational strategist known for unlocking potential & moving ideas to meaningful action through leadership, sustainability & communication. It’s my job to make you shine!


  1. Sylvia Link

    It’s certainly important to make time for personal reflection – not only when we feel “upside down” but also when things feel like they’re going fine. Thanks for the reminder to slow down!

    • Mary-Ellen Hynd

      You are so welcome Sylvia! We all need that reminder.

  2. Leslie Hetherington

    Thank you for sharing your upside-down experience and wake-up call. I suspect many of us feel a little upside-down as we begin to inch out of this pandemic and realize our wheel of life is off-balance due in part to restricted opportunities over the past 14 months.

    • Mary-Ellen Hynd

      Yes, the pandemic has definitely shaken up our worlds in unexpected ways. The Wheel of Life is such a powerful tool to revisit – a reminder of all of the different areas that make up our lives and what might need more or less attention.

  3. Maliha Aqeel

    The Wheel of Life is such a valuable tool for self reflection. I remember completing it when I did coaching with Mary-Ellen and it opened my eyes to what I needed to prioritize in my personal and professional spheres in order to have a more balanced and fulfilling life.

    • Mary-Ellen Hynd

      I so enjoyed and appreciate our coaching time together Maliha and am glad to hear that completing the Wheel of Life was valuable for you. Here’s to balanced success professionally and personally going forward!

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