Can I Tell You a Story?

Actually, it’s kind of a long story. (My family would tell you I don’t tell any other kinds of stories.) (TLDR: a long time ago, I almost got arrested for a hit-and-run, and now I’ve got parking issues……) I recorded this video, take a listen HERE. Or keep reading…..

The short version of the story is that on a recent Saturday I parked in a parking garage, and I had to have my husband come unpark for me. I’ve been driving for a long time, so that’s kind of weird, but let me give you the longer version of the story (which my family will tell you is the only kind of story I tell, and that’s fair).

So I parked in a parking garage in an angled parking spot. When I came back from the farmer’s market with my berries and rhubarb and such, I got in the car and started to back out. My giant minivan (and I’m 4’11, okay, so let’s take that into consideration) has these proximity alarms, the ones in the front, the back, and the side that go off when you’re getting too close to something. The proximity alarms kept going off—BEEP BEEP BEEP—very disconcerting, telling me I was parked too close to the car next to me. So I stopped. I tried… I went up, I went back, I went up, I went back.

I couldn’t make the alarms stop going off, and I was terrified that I was gonna hit the car next to me, so I stopped. I couldn’t leave the spot.

Does that seem like an overreaction? Let me tell you why I couldn’t. Several years ago, I was in the same parking garage, to see our kids’ orthodontist. I had all three of my kids (who were vaguely between the ages of 8 and 12 ). We were leaving the orthodontist’s office—same parking garage, same kind of angled spot—and they’re loud, they’re boisterous, they’re punching each other, they’re just doing what kids do.

I said “Hey guys, did you hear that? I think I just ran over a Starbucks cup.” Because there was a little crunch, and the kids all said “No, Mom, we don’t know what you’re talking about?” Punching, boisterousness, and shenanigans continues, so I pull out of the parking garage.

Several blocks away, there’s a police officer off to the side. I think “oh, he’s gonna get somebody,” and as soon as I pass him, he turns his signals on. It was me! He came up to my window and said “ma’am, I need to see your registration and identification.” “Oh gosh, Officer,” I said, “I’m so sorry, this is the one day I didn’t have my purse with me. I forgot it, I left it at my house but we’re very close to my house, I can tell you where it is, I can tell you who my insurance is, the whole thing.” He seemed very stern. I asked, “Can you tell me why you pulled me over?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, “you’re being investigated for a hit and run.”

I laughed (yeah, hot tip, don’t do that) and said “No, oh no, no see there’s been a mistake. We just left the orthodontist office, there’s no hit and run.” I didn’t know what he was talking about.

“Ma’am,” he said, “you are being investigated for a hit and run.” Now I’m freaking out. He asked “Were you just in a parking garage?”

“Well, yes,” I answered, and he said “Well you just pulled out of that parking spot, and you hit the car next to you.”

“Oh, oh my gosh” I said, “I had no idea, I thought I’d run over a Starbucks cup.” He said “Ma’am you backed out and hit that car and you did it right in front of another police officer who was sitting right behind you in the parking garage!”

lmmediately I said, “I am so sorry, I had no idea I’d hit another car, oh no.” He repeated “I need to see your driver’s license and registration,” and I said “oh yeah, see remember my purse at home? I’m so sorry and again, this was not intentional, I’ve never done that before. I had no idea I’d hit the other car!”

Then he walks around my car and says “Ma’am, this car kind of looks like the car of someone who might do that, and then say they’ve never done that before….”

Yikes! Okay, so up until this point, I’d felt very proud that in my relatively upscale affluent town, I didn’t mind driving my minivan around with a few scrapes and bangs on it (because again, I’m 4’11 and I can’t see over the front of the van, so there’s been a couple of curbs bumped. But that’s it, I’ve never hit anyone before, ever.) Anyways, I’d felt really proud of that up until now, and now I realize he thinks it makes me look like a criminal serial hit and run person!

Then he says “Ma’am, can you please tell me the names and ages of the children in your car?”

I realize “oh, my gosh, he’s writing down the names and ages of my kids, is he calling Child Protective Services? Are they gonna arrest me? Are they taking my kids?” The whole time the kids are in the back, saying “Mommy what’s going on, what does the police officer want?” and I’m saying “no, everything’s fine, kids…”

He lets me off after he says the other police officer is still in the parking garage, waiting, and he’s going to send me back to the parking garage to put a note on the car with my registration and insurance information. I wrote it down in front of him, went to the other parking garage, and set it all straight. Unfortunately it happened to be a Mercedes that I had hit, and it was a very expensive tail light to pay for, but I digress.

The point is, after that day, I got so nervous driving around police officers, even though I had in fact done nothing intentionally wrong, I didn’t get arrested, I didn’t even get a ticket, and he was kind about it (after he began to believe me). Every time a police officer drove anywhere near me I got nervous—my heart would race, my breathing would pick up, I would be afraid I was going to make a mistake. I would do everything in my power to let the police officer behind me go around me, pass me, whatever, so I didn’t have to drive in front of him—to the point that once my husband was in the passenger seat and we needed to switch lanes, but there was a police officer behind me. I could. Not. Do. It.

My husband said, “you need to switch lanes,” and I said, “I can’t, there’s a police officer behind me and I’m too nervous.”

I had legitimate post-traumatic stress disorder from just that particular incident, and it is a tiny tiny tiny kind of PTSD but for me, it was real. It was fascinating and awful at the same time because I could not control my body’s physical response to this anxiety. My fight or flight response kicked in without my permission, and no matter how many times I told my brain, “we’re fine, it’s fine, you’re fine,” my brain did not believe it. It believed that we were in Mortal Danger.

Several years have since passed , and finally I can now generally drive like a normal person in the presence of police officers, and I don’t get all weird and too anxious.

BUT this was the same parking garage—the same parking garage I was parked in Saturday, the same parking garage where my stupid proximity alarms kept going off, telling me I was too close to the car next to me—and it kicked back in. The anxiety, that racing heartbeat, my breathing…I could not control it and I could not make myself back out of that spot. I called my husband, he commiserated, and I told him “I guess I’ll wait here and see if they come out. If they come out soon, they’ll leave and I can back out.”

I sat there for 30 minutes. Thirty minutes!

I finally called my husband and said “they’re not leaving, they haven’t come out, nobody’s here. Will you come help me?” Bless his heart, my sweet husband came and backed the van out for me and then got back in his car and drove home. Only then was I able to continue on with my day and with my errands.

What’s the point of this? Well, first of all, it’s kind of silly and embarrassing, and I am a firm believer that if you have silly embarrassing things happen to you, you should share, for the potential giggle or laugh. Because otherwise, what is the point? But also, I believe that if a difficult thing happens and you can share it, maybe it will help other people.

I do the work that I do in mental health because of my nieces, who have lived with extremely significant PTSD. These encounters with police officers and parking issues have given me just the tiniest taste of what they go through on a daily basis, and the tiniest taste of what people with anxiety disorder go through on a daily basis. It’s hard: you can’t talk yourself out of it, you can’t talk your brain out of a response based on a nervous system you don’t control.

I thought it was an interesting, kind of embarrassing, kind of silly story, and I hope either you recognize yourself in it, or it gives you a little peek into the experiences of people with PTSD or anxiety. (In the meantime, I just want to reassure you that in the future I’m going to focus on parking really well!)

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