Last week, I got a brief respite from my crazy work schedule to spend some time with Fiona. We spent Thursday evening at East Love, a fundraiser for the Red Door Family Shelter here in Toronto.
The event included a raffle, for which they were only selling a limited number of tickets. Those who purchased tickets were guaranteed a $200 gift bag, and had the chance at winning one of the five $1000 bags.
“See, this works for me,” I said to Fiona as we got our table. “The last time I ever won anything raffle-y was when I was five and I won this huge pink elephant. This way, I’m guaranteed to get something.”
“You never know. Maybe your luck turns every thirty years.”
We had a brief squabble where I accused her of aging me a year (I’m still only 34, but she claims her math works out because I’m in my 35th year), and then spent some time catching up and keeping our eyes out for the servers passing out food.
There were four speakers lined up for the night, all of whom were discussing resilience. We had a great vantage point of the stage, being at one of the tables that lined it. The speakers were all incredibly passionate, and within minutes I was feeling inspired.
Within moments after the fourth and final speaker started, I felt a knot in my stomach. Now, I know that I’m not psychic, and I’m not sure I really believe in that, but my body immediately started to react with dread… not because the speaker wasn’t great (she was!) but because her story seemed to be building to something all too familiar.
I won’t get into details, but suffice it to say that the incident she described had some similarities to the incident that led me to develop PTSD. In hindsight, I should have got up and got some air as soon as I realized that’s where the story was going. Instead, I kept trying to reassure myself that I’d be fine, and that it would be awkward to try to navigate the crowd to get to the doors.
Let me tell you: it was way more awkward to navigate the crowd while I was having a full-blown panic attack. (Although to be fair, everyone did step aside to give me room.)
I had a flashback–the first one I’d had in quite a while. It was… intense. Before I really knew what was happening, Fiona had expertly got me away from the table and was leading the way to the door. (I don’t think I say this often enough: thank goodness for Fiona! She also told me later that a woman behind us had tried to reach out and pat my back reassuringly. Thankfully, Fiona knew that would be a recipe for disaster and managed to wave her off.) As we were walking, I realized with horror that the weird noise I could hear was coming from me; it was a combination of a sob and a moan and a weird whine as my lungs tried desperately to get air.
We made it outside, and the organizers gave us the space we needed while I rambled some nonsense to Fiona (I remember saying over and over again “I didn’t know” for some reason) and shook violently. At some point, a looky-loo came out to try to find out what was going on, but Fiona went into body guard mode and got him the f–k away from me.
Once I regained my composure (mostly), we headed to the ladies’ room where I could let out some (more) tears in private and then clean myself up. (Side note that’s not important to this story: my graphic liner still looked flawless even after all that. That’s now the second time that Stila’s liquid liner has lasted through something difficult.)
Not wanting to completely ruin Fiona’s night (my words, not hers; she 100% would have supported whatever I wanted to do, and did not once make me feel like the burden I surely was), I went back in with her just in time for the raffle.
I can’t remember if I actually said it out loud to Fiona, or if I just thought it (my mind gets extra fuzzy post-panic attack):
“The last thing I want is to win something and have to go up in front of everyone after having made such a big scene.”
(Before you try to say, “Oh, I’m sure nobody saw,” remember that we were at the front. We had to walk past at least 100 people to get out of there, and it’s not like what was happening was super subtle. People definitely saw.)
I pulled out my raffle ticket, willing the host not to call my number. My heart dropped as the first ticket number they called of the five winners
“…Did they say 5-2 at the end?”
“I think 9-2,” Fiona responded.
I had hope. Then they re-called the number.
It was definitely a 5.
“Oh, fuck me,” I mumbled, making my way once again through the crowd–the same crowd that just saw me dash out, mid-panic attack–as they called my number for a third time.
I shakily approached the stage where one of the organizers hugged me, and another excitedly yelled, “YOU JUST WON A THOUSAND DOLLAR GIFT BAG!!!!” I feel terrible for the poor guy because he was so excited and I was just completely bewildered. I It would be like if Oprah gave you one of her favourite things and you just stood there dumbly and said, “Oh…” His energy level was Ellen Degeneres, while mine was more like… Kristen Stewart on Xanax.
(I’m pretty worried that I came off as really ungrateful, which is not the case at all.)
Despite all the drama, I went home feeling glad that I’d gone. Yes, I still feel really terrible–disrespectful, even–for having to leave during one of the talks, and I really hope that she didn’t notice the disruption. (I guess this is a good lesson in listening to my body.) But, I got to spend the evening with one of my very favorite people (obviously the best part), helped raise money for a fantastic cause (they exceeded their goal of $10,000), and came home with an absolutely amazing gift bag:
(There were sunglasses in it too, but those aren’t pictured because I’d already worn them and forgot to put them back in the pile for the photo.)
It’s actually kind of funny to me now–not the panic attack part (that will take a bit of time to get over, I think), but the fact that I would win something right after it. I mean, of course that would happen to me. Of course it would!
My mom told this story to one of her coworkers, who got a good laugh from it before telling my mom: “You know what? I think she belonged there. Because going back in after having a panic attack and facing that room again? That’s pretty resilient.”