Out of control
Meetings and holding presentations or reporting to groups of people are not my thing. I am basically a shy person and do not like to be in the middle of attention. I have gotten used to it over the years and by now I receive compliments for doing good and lively presentations. However, I become insecure immediately if I feel I am not totally competent and do not know the topic extremely well. It can easily happen, even now, that I turn bright red in the face out of embarrassment for saying or doing something that others do not even notice.
I had my own company until some years ago. It was a children’s English language school for kids of preschool and primary school age. It quickly became very successful and because of its success, I was interviewed and reported on frequently by local and national media. I was even on German national TV once to demonstrate why my concept of teaching young children English worked so well.
At that time, German parents wanted to give their children a head start with a 2nd language but they wanted it to be done without pressure and without overloading their kids. So the concept was to not teach but rather immerse the children in the language by playing with them, only using English language and authentic English materials. At that time, there was no comparable offer available. I hired native English speakers as teachers and devised a constructive play programme together with my initial partner, an American who had the educational background. This worked extremely well, kids loved to come to the local English play groups and could soon successfully answer simple questions and remember English rhymes and games.
Before this started, I needed to first overcome my fear and learn how to speak in front of people. I had always felt easily intimidated by people, even by children. But I had no choice, I wanted and needed to make people aware of my offer. I was totally convinced that the idea was great and well founded and we had just the right materials and motivated teachers.
I started organising parent meetings at private homes, at kindergardens or primary schools. This meant, I needed to learn how to be in the spotlight and talk in front of many people. I not only needed to explain about how the play-teaching and total immersion in the language would work but sometimes also needed to demonstrate it for sceptical parents. The first few times at a parent get-together, when looking at their eager faces in front of me, I totally panicked but managed to overcome this and go through the programme. In time, I got into a routine and became more self-assured and was even able to manage and answer professionally and with compassion the most critical questions from concerned parents – I had become a good and convincing sales person!
Even though, I had, to a large extent, overcome this fear, was much more self-assured and confident, in stressful situations and particularly when I was not well prepared, the great panic would flare up again.
Stress and fear – aorta rupture
And this happened on the day when I had my acute ascending aorta dissection. It was as if my ability to block off panic and fear during, what I perceived as very stressful situations, had finally been stretched to the limit and suddenly burst at that particular time.
I suddenly had this ripping feeling above my chest up to my neck and jaw right after I had finished my report about the Brussels workshop to my colleagues that day.
The pain was not extreme but I knew immediately that there was something seriously wrong because I did not know this sort of pain and it did not go away, but stayed. Panic set in and I very soon felt that I could not sit on my chair any longer but needed to lie down. My colleagues around the room looked curious and concerned when I said that I was not feeling well and needed to lie down. This situation alone would under normal circumstances have been extremely embarrassing for me but I was already beyond that feeling and just wanted to lie down and rest.
I started shaking of cold and fear and when my colleagues asked whether they should call an ambulance, I agreed.
I realised at that point, I was at a point of no return, that I was not getting better and that something was happening to my body that I had no control over.