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Archive for February, 2010

My world is changing

On New Years Eve in 1996, my brother and I had dinner with our family and then quickly begged to be dropped off at Mel Lastman Square. To help ring in the new year the city was throwing a free concert performed by the Foo Fighters, and I wanted to be there so badly. I remember discussing a designated meeting area, taking off my glasses and putting them in my pocket for safe-keeping, and charging into that mosh pit as a fearless little asian kid. Elaine and I squirmed our way to the front, jumped around a whole lot, and then did some crowd surfing. Somewhere along the way, I lost my glasses and no one showed up to the meeting area, but I was okay because I stumbled my way blindly to a payphone and pumped in a quarter and fumbled with the home phone number to get my daddy to pick me up. And I had a blast. The joy of being in a concert with all that live music, of being with a bunch of people who were there to enjoy it as much as you, it was thrilling!

Two months ago, I took a trip to Mexico with my husband. We travelled around the Mayan Riviera, exploring ruins and snorkeling in caves, and swimming to find turtles in Akumal Bay. And while I was scared, I tried my hand at scuba diving. It required a lot of patience on the first day, but I was able to complete all the tasks in the pool – clearing water from my mask, finding my regulator airsupply mouthpiece if it fell out, lowering and raising myself in the water, how to breath properly. That isn’t to say that this took effort – the lesson was supposed to last 3 hours and I was there for 6 because I just couldn’t make my way to the deep end of the swimming pool. I kept stopping and scrambling back to the surface, fearing my air supply would suddenly fail me and I’d die a death of suffocation if I couldn’t make it back to the top in time. But with a lot of work, I did it. And I was so proud. I went back to the resort feeling like I’d accomplished something amazing and that I’d conquered my fear.

The next day of certification, we got into a little fisherman boat and made our way out over the choppy water to a popular first-time diver site. It was 10m deep, and pretty wavy on the top. The short ride there was enough to get all the butterflies going in my stomach, and the second I put on all the gear and the weight belt, I felt certain I would drown at the bottom of the ocean. With a lot of coaxing, I was little pushed over the side of the boat and flopped down on the water in my inflated vest, clinging wildly to the old Mexican fisherman captain in a speedo named Alberto. No amount of encouragement could make me go any deeper into the water than just the surface. The open ocean frightened me so much – I feared getting swept out into nowhere by a rogue current, I feared getting eaten by some quickmoving fish (or shark!), I feared just taking in a gulp of water and choking and no one could save me fast enough. My head was full of uncertainties and just thinking of all the possible ways I could die made my breathing shallow and nerves frayed. I was having a massive panic attack. I never let go of Alberto my first time down, and begged to be let back on the boat but everyone insisted that I just needed to get used to the idea of breathing through these tubes submerged under water. How does that NOT sound like certain death people?! Eventually I forced my brain to focus, and began to slow my breathing down. The water was clear, the current wasn’t too bad, and before I knew it, Alberto had slowly deflated my vest a little bit so my head was just inches under the water. And I was okay. My head was in a constant battle with some subconcious that I was going to die, but it seemed under control. I was over the moon with joy.

But trying to get down to 10m, that was a huge struggle. The further down I went the more scared I became. Every time I looked up and saw the surface of the water further away, I knew inside that I was moving further away from being able to breath freely and became more dependent on this piece of equipment that was my only air supply. And to make matters worse, I still had to complete all the same drills I had done the day before in the pool – remove my mouthpiece and find it again, fill my goggles with water and clear it out, control my breathing so as not to bob in the water, constantly remember to breath out when the mouthpiece is removed to ensure my lungs won’t collapse, it was all a lot to take in for my poor body that was already having a freakout. In my state, the proudest moment was when I actually touched the floor of the ocean 10m down. I looked up, had a freak out, calmed myself down but I never let go of my instructor’s arm. I clung onto him for dear life. I just couldn’t enjoy scuba diving because I was constantly afraid I would die somehow. It’s truly a horrible feeling, when you’re given this amazing opportunity to experience something new but you’re just too afraid to try. In the end, I couldn’t shake the fear (I couldn’t breath properly, I was queezy the whole time, and I just looked like I was going to cry constantly), so I insisted on being taken back to the surface. Where I proceeded to throw up constantly due to the boat rocking.

Last week, I got the chance to volunteer as an athlete stand-in for the Opening Ceremonies with two friends. It was the last dress rehearsal before the real deal, so they had a ton of lucky people who got tickets to come see the rehearsal as audience members and a bunch of people to pretend to be athletes so that VANOC could do a full run-through end to end without stops. It was very exciting to get to walk in as a member of team Canada, and even more exciting when we saw the Great One himself down in the holding area. What fun! The show was fabulous, we got to see all the performers live and I felt awesome when everyone cheered as we walked into the stadium! At the end of the show, the organizers asked the athlete stand-ins to wait in their seats for a while to let the rest of the crowds clear out. We stayed an extra half an hour until the stadium had cleared before we got the okay to move out, but it turns out the crowds were still outside and the organizers hadn’t directed the leaving audience as to where the possible exit paths were. People were piling out into the open night outside BC Place but immediately became stuck because they didn’t know where the best exit was to get them to the sky train, or to downtown, or to the parking lots. It wasn’t chaos because no one was shouting, but it became crammed really quickly. To the point where we all just started getting more and more squished as more people piled out of the stadium with nowhere to go. I stood there, short and unable to see any exit paths, being shuffled more closely into the people surrounding me, and with no possible moves my brain began to fire warning signs: no one knows where to go! what if a riot ensues due to all these fustrated people? can this platform hold the weight of all these people here? if I lose my friends I’ll just be pushed around forever before finding a way out. I could get crushed if I trip over something and fall. there’s not a lot of fresh air here with all these people surrounding me who are taller than me. The fears and concerns continued to pile up on me and I felt the familiar tensing in my chest. My breathing became shallow as my friends discussed an exit strategy. I grabbed wildly to Heather’s jacket and she immediately sensed my fear: “hey, how are you doing? look at me, it’s okay. stand a little taller, on your tippie-toes. wes is going to find us a way out, we’re starting to move.” I immediately tried to get taller for some fresh air, and once we started moving, I felt better. But it wasn’t until we were not only unstuck, but far from the crowds in Heather’s apartment that my chest stopped squeezing me and my brain had calmed down. I felt embarassed that my friends had to witness this side of me, and fustrated that this fear was slowly taking over me.

On the night of the Opening Ceremonies, I boarded a bus at midnight with A to get ourselves home after the festivities. Two stops from our apartment, the bus suddenly filled up with drunken partiers who were making their way home as well. And when I say filled up, I mean filled. It was rammed. A and I had a seat but it was facing all the standing people and they were loud and rowdy and sometimes unstable and suddenly my head started swimming with fears again. I gripped A’s hand tightly and tried to take deep breathes from the stuffy air until it was our stop. After squirming out of the bus, A looked at me with concern but I couldn’t really explain it. I know it makes no sense logically – I used to be fine with crowds. I used to love rushing into a mosh pit, I’d willingly brave hordes of people for free samples and crammed subways after concerts back home were all part of the norm.

Yesterday I demanded we leave early from the Our Lady Peace concert in Richmond because I was worried the skytrain would be packed if we left at concert end. Who does that! But even though A and I made it onto the subway platform early, it seemed quite a few people had the same thought in mind and were headed downtown to continue the party. Drats! I told A I needed a seat by the window that wouldn’t allow people to be hovering over us, and shoved him forward the second the train opened its doors (before the people even started coming out, I know I’m awful) to secure me said seat. He did a good job though, my husband, and as I sat down and the train filled up with happy concert-goers and Canadian fans (we had won a medal earlier that day), I put on my headphones and began to watch on old episode of Grey’s Anatomy on my video player with my head down to avoid looking at the crowd. The air was warm to begin with because the train was heated but it took a lot of effort to control my panic attack and I constantly felt like I was going to throw up. When the crowd started singing or chanting, I squeezed A’s hand and turned my player louder to drown out the noise. When my brain somehow thought about my fears, I was sent into shivers so badly my whole body shook and I couldn’t see my little video screen because my hand was moving so much.

I’m not sure what’s wrong with me, or why this fear has suddenly taken over my life – right when the city has become the most crowded too, how unfortunate! It makes me fustrated when I think about it and how it’s affecting me; I can’t get onto the skytrain now without my brain having to be actively trying to calm me down. I just want to be the girl who can go into crowds again.

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