I have my share of fears and phobias. For example, I am truly afraid of walking down stairs. Look, I’ll admit that I’m a pretty quirky person. I can recite the alphabet backwards with ease in English and French, and I like to proclaim “Crumbs!” when I’m angry. Yes, even for me, being afraid of walking down a staircase is pretty darn weird.
Before you judge, there’s a reason why I have this fear. In 2009, I almost died falling face-first down a marble staircase, and I have suffered from a bit of PTSD ever since. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition triggered by a traumatic, terrifying event and how I fell down those stairs is the definition of a terrifying event.
I was in New York City with friends for one of the coolest events I have ever experienced: the debut of my first off-off Broadway play. We had had a mildly successful run at a theatre festival and I was treating the cast to dinner at one of my favourite Manhattan restaurants for our final night. I spent the day roaming around for cast gifts and the night preparing myself for our celebratory dinner. We didn’t make much money during the run, but the experience of being able to write a play that had a theatrical run was incredible. We were literally on cloud nine!
I had just spoken to my mom on the phone, as my mom, my brother, and his girlfriend (now wife) were on their way back to Toronto after seeing my show.
Then, my stage manager and I left our tiny rental apartment to go to dinner.
I remember wearing my knee-high boots, jeans and a cute black top. My stage manager went ahead of me. There was a woman in front of her and one behind me. I made it down a couple steps of our windy staircase, and then lost my footing completely, somehow propelling myself forward. I remember screaming and trying to get my hands in front of my mouth to protect my teeth. It felt like both fast-forward and slow-motion, and then I landed. Face first, legs straight behind me.
I remember people came out of their apartments. The women in front of and behind us screaming, and my stage manager protecting my head. When she heard my scream, she turned and put her hands out to “catch” me as best she could. Her presence likely prevented a concussion and essentially saved my life. I looked at my hands. I had taken a couple of nails off and there was blood. But my teeth were okay. I was aware of where I was. It really pissed me off that I didn’t have travel insurance. I always got travel insurance, so this was Murphy’s Law just biting me in the butt.
But I didn’t think calling an ambulance was necessary, because I could hear my parents voice proclaiming “You’re going to be fine!” My parents come from the school of “Just calm down, you don’t need to go to emergency for that.” It sometimes really drives me nuts because they are wrong now and then!
After she helped me back up,I felt like a snow globe… shaken and slightly off-kilter. But I could put pressure on my feet. I could stand. We called her mom, who happens to be a nurse, and she asked me a number of questions. We deemed I had a very close call, but I’d be okay.
I was still alive and breathing with no broken bones.
The padding of my boots likely protected my kneecaps.
I’ve heard that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. Looking back, I don’t know if that experience should have humbled me or taken me down a notch. But it was a hard reminder to look where I was going.
This may be crazy, but even in my shock,we did keep our dinner plans – though at a restaurant close to our Lower East Side apartment – because I insisted we still go and that I was okay. My cast was concerned, and we raised a glass to good luck and everything that brought us to New York in the first place. I was on a high of the run of the show and the insanity that I had just fallen face first down a staircase.
And then reality set in a few hours later.The pain settled in shortly after, and the flight home was uncomfortable for a multitude of reasons- but I remember Howie Mandel being on our flight and somehow I knew I’d get home okay. (I have this dumb thing of spotting famous people on my flights and reasoning we’ll be fine, as they are a celebrity! They must get to their next gig!)
Months later, the PTSD started. It continues to this day. I will be in a chair, working on my laptop, then see that staircase and feel myself falling all over again. I have to remind myself where I am, and that I survived.
To this day, I have to grip the railing of a staircase when I walk. I can’t run down the middle of them to hop on the subway- I literally can’t move if I can’t hold the railing. Picasso once said, “Everything you can imagine is real.” I try to see that quote for the positive message that it is. But it applies to traumatic experiences as well. The brain can be tricky like that. I don’t judge myself, though. I experienced a traumatic event, and I know that my body remembers it. And best of all, with a little self-love, I know that I am safe and okay.