Earlier this week, my Bachelor/ette watching buddy in New York and I were alerted to a book signing with Chris Harrison, the host and one of the producers of the show, from our favorite blog on the show. The Barnes and Noble bookstore in Austin at which it was being held is only ten minutes from my house. As we messaged back and forth, my friend helped me get the enthusiasm to face the possibly insurmountable challenge of attending Wednesday night. Quite honestly, if the treatment I am undergoing right now hadn’t hit a breakthrough point on Monday, I couldn’t have gone; last week it would have been impossible. Next week it might be impossible again, but on Wednesday at around 5 pm, I realized my health was actually going to allow me to do this.
However, I’ve had false starts with many events in the past. I don’t get my hopes up until I am actually engaged in the event. I know all too well that it could all fall apart before I get there due to health-based logistical complications. Furthermore, I haven’t attended an indoor event with a large crowd of random people in a chemically saturated environment since 2004. That’s 11 years. The last time I walked in a bookstore was also probably in 2004. While I’ve been able to do much more over the past two years than I previously could, especially than in the six years that I was homebound and the two that I was almost bedbound, I still had no idea if my body was going to be able to handle it. I was worried about parking (because anyone who lives in north Austin can tell you that the parking lot at the Arboretum is weird and often overcrowded). I was concerned about too large of a fragrant crowd wearing perfumes that my body can’t tolerate, and I worried about the store itself being more than my chemical sensitivities could handle. As a result, I took my grocery list with me since Whole Foods is only a few blocks away. Then, if I had to leave without attending the book signing, I would not feel like the effort of getting dressed and heading out was a complete loss. I’ve learned from past events that this is one of the things I need to do to find a silver lining when an event falls through for me.
When I arrived at the parking lot, all of the five or six disabled spots were taken, but someone walked up to his car in one of them as I pulled up. I offered gratitude to whatever higher powers gave me the closest possible parking spot and headed in hoping that was a sign of good things to come. It was. I was able to tell from the parking lot and the noise level when I walked in the store that the crowd was not huge; at that point it was probably only 50 people though by the end of the night it was likely closer to 125. Feeling confident, I bought a copy of The Perfect Letter, and then headed to the second floor area where the signing was taking place. Here I met the first challenge of the evening: The escalators to the second floor were either broken or turned off. So I was left with a choice: Either walk to the far end of the store where the elevator is and then traverse back to the gathering area, or climb the escalators manually. Which was least taxing on my body? Since my knees weren’t in bad shape last night, I opted for climbing the escalator which my body handled.
Upon reaching the second floor balcony area, I faced the next major challenge: There were no more available chairs. It was already standing room only with about ten people mulling around. Given the pain and issues in my lower half of my body right now, standing right now for more than about five minutes is a physical impossibility for me. I approached an employee, let her know that I am disabled, and verified that it was ok to just sit on the floor. I’ve been at other events at other locations in the distant past where employees get very snippity about fire marshall rules and not sitting: SRO means literally standing. However, this employee didn’t seem to care, so I sat next to a bookcase where I could get partial back support. In retrospect, I wish I’d brought my backjack, but it’s a lesson learned for similar future events I might attend. At past points in my life, I would have been very self-conscious about the fact that I was the only person sitting on the floor, but after so many years of bodily limitation, I’ve learned to do what I need for my body and ignore any judgment, verbal or nonverbal, that comes my way.
After Chris Harrison spoke for an hour, the area was rearranged for the actual book signing which was done in order of wristband grouping. I was somewhere in the middle of the crowd, but there was no way I could stand in the line to wait. I approached the employee who was the gatekeeper for things, let her know my situation, and asked if I could go sit in a chair until it was my turn. She was quite friendly and willing to accommodate; I know she’d seen me sitting on the floor through the earlier part of the event. When my group got to the front of the line, I let her know that I was willing to wait until the end of that group if she would just call me up when it was my turn. Most mercifully, she immediately plopped me at the front of the line at that point since I’m guessing my face was starting to show my pain and fatigue levels at that point. I got my photo (above) and my book signed and headed out, walking back down the escalators.
The recovery process began when I got to my car as I had to just sit there for a few minutes and let my body decompress from the work it had just done for me. Once I got home, I began doing the things I have to do to support my liver in detoxification to ensure that I wouldn’t get a migraine or a fibromyalgia flare from the event. By the time I headed to bed two hours later, my body was very cranky about what I had put it through, though after an hour of in ice pack on the worst pain, I was able to fall asleep. The next morning my body was very sore, but I can’t tell how much of the pain I have was from the event and how much was from the therapeutic treatments I had on Wednesday morning.
So after all that, was it worth it? Absolutely. I picked a great speaker for my return to book events. It’s not always the case that someone who is a good author or a great tv star makes an equally entertaining public speaker, but in this case, Chris Harrison is just as successful in front of a crowd as he is in front of the camera. I never know how much other people perceive of what I pick up on, but to me, it seemed as though Harrison was actually a bit nervous for the first few minutes as he began talking. By the time he switched to the question and answer part of the evening, Harrison was totally in his element. The fabulous sense of humor that we see glimpses of on The Bachelor/ette came through loud and clear as he talked extemporaneously on whatever topics the crowd quizzed him on. Harrison also maintains a grounded sense about him despite the circles he travels in. When he discusses people such as Matthew McConaughey or Nicholas Sparks, he isn’t dropping names or showing off. He’s just talking about the guys he’s spent some time with.
The evening was filled with a great deal of laughter, and I felt like I came away from it with a better understanding of the behind the scenes efforts that go into making The Bachelor/ette. I would have loved to engage with Harrison about a few of the issues I have with the show, but given that I was on the floor in the back and that I know my questions aren’t the typical ones, I just chose to enjoy others’ questions instead. I was thoroughly engaged for the entire evening. If I’d had to pay an admission price beyond the optional buying of a book, it would have still been worth it. An evening with Chris Harrison makes for fabulous entertainment!
Part of why I enjoy The Bachelor/ette so much is because of the allure of the travel. The idea of international or even domestic travel is still a fantasy in my life, so watching others enjoy their travels gives me hope for when I am able to travel as well. Even though attending this book signing might seem like a small step toward travel to most, my closest friends recognize what a huge step forward it was for me in the long journey of my recovery. As part of that slow movement forward, I find great pleasure in rediscovering the world around me that I haven’t been able to engage with for so long. I would bet money that I was the only one at the book signing who found incredible awe and pleasure in the setting. Seeing so many books on the shelves was a truly amazing sight for me, almost as though I had never walked in a bookstore before. I am so grateful for this illness-induced perspective on life that lets me find the wonder in things that most people wouldn’t think twice about. This awe for our society and the world around us is one of the things I hope that I carry away from living with chronic illness and keep with me for the rest of my life.
UPDATE 5/28/15: I sent this post to the manager at this location of Barnes and Noble who was in charge of the event. He responded quickly and politely, apologizing for the first bookseller who did not follow the proper procedure for helping the disabled; he will be addressing the issue with her so that she is fully informed for future events. He let me know that there are always additional seats held back for situations like mine so that I should not have needed to sit on the floor. He also explained that the store has wheelchairs available for helping to get customers to the second floor area, a courtesy I would not have expected. Finally, he said that the escalators are always turned off for events like this because of noise issues but that they are easily turned on and off at a moment's notice for a situation like mine. I appreciate all of this information so that any future experiences I have at that store will be much more accessible for me.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance