Dressed in layers, I headed to Sharonville to teach my regular noon yoga class. Everything was normal.
Despite the weather, I smiled, pulling into the workout club lot right on time. I felt utterly grateful. I have bipolar disorder, and having had two serious episodes in the past I’m fiercely grateful now for every day that I’m well.
I thought about the past three years and my fight to get well — the relentless work, the persistence. Nostalgic, I thought about how strong I felt and what it took to get there. I was a warrior.
Grabbing my iPod and keys, I ventured into the workout club, waving hello to Judy at the snack bar as usual. I marched downstairs, cranking up the heat as my students trickled in.
I started teaching. My voice felt strong, and there was a certain flow and energy present in the room. But just as I was bringing the clients into deep relaxation, a fitness instructor ran into the studio yelling, “Sorry! Does anyone have a Chevy Cavalier?”
My yoga clients froze in their poses.
Startled, I swallowed. “I do,” I said quietly.
“Someone broke into your car,” the instructor said. “The police are out there.”
Then I realized I’d left my purse in there. I soon felt a thick, black anxiety blanket creep over me, head to toe. I noticed my heart beat. I held a hand to my chest. Ah, the familiar throb of a panic attack.
“Fuck!” I yelled in front of my yoga clients. I apologized for my language and headed outside. I walked in slow motion.
Glass was everywhere.
Big chunks, little chunks, inside the car, outside the car, littering the ground. The purse was gone. My mother had given me that purse.
The cop tried talking to me, but I was in shock mode. Silent, I half-listened, looking right through him, as if he too were made of shattered glass.
When something traumatic happens, sometimes I have flashbacks. PTSD. I envisioned the moment when I was in an ambulance, headed to the UC emergency room. I thought about the times I was so sick I didn’t even know my own name.
I knew that high stress levels could lead to a serious bipolar relapse. I saw hospital corridors. I saw flashing, fluorescent lights. Police lights, hospital lights, ambulance lights. Lights. I tried talking myself out of it, the way my doctor had taught me.
How I feared the stress. I feared that I might get sick again. I feared that more than any criminal. My disease could take out any thieves with one breath. The cop gave me his card and told me to call him later.
Suddenly, I came to, kicking into a different mode — all business. I tried remembering what was in the purse. Credit cards, checks, my license, cash, everything important, all of it revealing. I had no idea what to do first.
Damn, I wanted a cigarette. Those were in the purse, too.
Freezing, I drove home with the wind whipping through the place where the passenger window was supposed to be. I visited the bank. By then, the criminals had charged up my account and my cards, putting all of them over the limit.
I made a list. Then the list grew. Phone attached to my ear for days, I made calls, crossing off the list. Checking it twice.
I cancelled accounts, started new ones, ordered cards, contacted the credit bureau, got a new license, fixed the car window, contacted insurance and talked with police. When I thought I had it all done, more messes cropped up.
After three days, there was still the feeling of violation. I couldn’t sleep due to nightmares and stress. More problems with accounts and cards.
The fear was back, the fear of getting sick again. God, it ate at me.
I learned my lesson, but that day it never crossed my mind that someone would steal my life. Now I’ve become obsessively aware of where my purse is at all times. And if somene walks too closely behind me, I’m hyper alert. I make fists.
At least in my new driver’s license picture I don’t look like a serial killer, like I did in the last one. And I learned how to recreate my financial life.
Things work out — maybe not immediately, but they do. I got to know the club staff more. They helped me clean the glass off my seats. They let me borrow phones. Mom and Dad loaned me some cash until I got my banking straightened out.
When people rob you, it’s truly world-upturning. I had no idea until it happened to me.
So be careful out there. To those criminals: You might have gotten my shit, but you didn’t win. It might be the season for stealing, but it’s also the season for people reaching out.
Most of all, I learned that I handled stress with dignity. And in the end I didn’t get sick.
Instead, I felt stronger. And I realized that even if I did get sick again I’d have the loving support of many. I wonder if those criminals could say the same thing.
CONTACT C.A. MACCONNELL: firstname.lastname@example.org