I have been doing presentations for Crisis Intervention Training with various first responders for a good four years now. It was the first public presentation of my story that I did, and I do generally about four a year for two different regions. I get a lot of compliments for how lively and animated my presentations are. I tend to speak a lot of truth to power at these as I answer any and all questions they ask as honestly as I am allowed to. I enjoy them. I am a rare individual who feels most alive when I am doing public speaking. It’s a challenge to hold the interest of a room full of people when you are discussing things that many of them feel simply do not matter. These are people who have been told to take emotion out of the equation, and I am telling them to put it back in. It’s a hard job, but I, for one, 100% love it. Like any job, the more I do it, the better I get at it, and I was pretty damn good to begin with.
But this week when I was doing my presentation something happened. Something that has never happened before in my life. I love a stage. I love talking, and I love talking to people. I have never had any fear in front of a group of people, whether I was speaking lines for a dramatic piece or telling my story, I always light up as soon as I am on. My brain slows down, I’m thinking like five lines ahead about what I am saying, I am watching the faces in the crowd to see if I am getting everyone’s attention. It started normal, I began telling my story, but the order was wrong. I felt alone. and I got scared.
And then I had a full panic attack in front of a room full of police officers.
I imagine it was the situation that most people fear the most. I started sweating. My mouth was completely dry. My chest hurt. I could not figure out what I was supposed to be doing.
And the fear. Oh god, the fear came down upon me like an avalanche.
I tried to stifle my tears, which I think I did. I asked my contact to come help me as I watched a room full of fourty people witness my ultimate embarrassment. I tried to vamp but all I wanted to do was run back to my car and drive it off the nearest cliff. I watched all of my goals go down the drain. I could feel that this was the end of my career, my hopes, my dreams and everything I worked for. I was just proving him right, I was, in fact, a fraud.
There were some moments of stammering as I watched my contact come running up. As I looked around the room I saw that it was not joy that I saw in their eyes. They weren’t happy I was failing, they were concerned. They were scared for me. I wondered if I could just pass out. I wondered how bad my blood pressure was, I wondered if my blood sugar was low. I prayed this was some kind of health issue. Physical health, not mental, just this once, dear god please let me be dying.
As my contact tried to do her best to cover me, one of the medical officers approached and asked me to sit down, just so he could make sure I was alright. I asked if we could chat outside. We went into the hall and asked how I was doing. I was so confused. This had never happened before. He asked me about my haircut. He did an amazing job of distracting me. I kept insisting I wanted to do questions. Maybe I could turn this around still. I HAD to turn this around. Once I was calm we came back.
This was a teaching moment. It actually ended up being amazing. All of the staff talked about how, not that they would wish this on me, but they got to see what a panic attack looks like and how you can recover. They got to see what terror looks like. They got moments in a controlled setting that would mirror exactly what they might experience. But to me, the most important thing is that they got to see that recovery is possible.
I get a lot of compliments about how I am willing to be so vulnerable in front of others, and normally I just kind of dismiss it. This time I showed an unexpected side of myself and I would agree that most would just run away and quit. But not me, I’m trying to figure out how to reproduce that moment. So That I can share it with others. There’s so I many bullshit cliches that apply to this, “The show must go on” blah blah blah. I’m proud of absolutely everything I have survived. The last year has been an absolute shitshow for me. The highs, the lows, all of it has been a vicious brutal year.
But I’d rather ride the rollercoaster than the merry go round.