Welcome back to the peer column! I hope you enjoy this month's installment:
A Day in the Life
This year I decided to go the
Día de los Muertos celebration at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Now this is not my usual milieu because I suffer with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and going out after dark and large crowds trigger sever anxiety. However this year I decided to go anyway. Before I go on I should tell you that I always create an emergency plan when I go out or if I know that there will be big crowds wherever I will be going. Here is a sample of my everyday emergency plan; 1. Cellphone, 2. External battery, 3. Whistle, 4. Pepper spray, 5. Fidget toy, 6. Exit strategies, etc. I hope you are getting the picture of what I do before I go out anywhere. For the
Día del los Muertos celebration I needed my father with me because I know he will always protect me and he is strong enough to do so where I might not be able.
The night of the celebration was coming up and every day I would go back and forth in my head, "Yes, I can do it! Or no, this is a terrible idea!" When finally it was the day of the celebration, my stomach was upset (another common anxious response I have), but I said I would go so I had to do it. I got dressed up and was as ready as I could be for the night. Now this is a big celebration that gets bigger every year the year before the event planners estimated 40,000 attendees to the event and this year the number was estimated at 50,000. So yay more people to surround me and make me panic it was a good thing my mother didn't tell me how many people were attending because that could have caused me to say a definite no. The three of us arrived (my mother, my father, and me) and we walked to the entrance of the cemetery. The first thing I see is a long line of people waiting to get in. Not a very good sign. As soon as we get into the cemetery it gets a bit better because now people are spreading out, so I am no longer crowded and I could breathe easier.
I will give a brief description of the lay out so you can understand what I am talking about in the rest of my tale. The event had 4 stages for music, dance exhibitions, and even skits. There were Aztec dancers in full costume: the head dresses full of feathers, faces painted or not, and they have noise makers that are tied around their ankles that sound every time they move (see attached image). The Aztec dancers walk around the cemetery performing and displaying their costumes. Another important part of the celebration are the
altares or altars. The altars are our way of paying our respect to our ancestors and our deceased loved ones be it sister, brother, mother, father, or even beloved pets. A typical altar includes photos of the deceased, food that they enjoyed, candles, flowers, and incense. At the
Día de los Muertos celebration there where 90 different altars spread out in the cemetery to be viewed by the visitors. There were also face painting booths where visitors could pay to get their faces painted like
Calaveras or skeletons. There were also food and drink booths as well as merchandise booths.
We started to walk around and found the first stage where there was traditional
folklorico, Mexican folk dancing; we stayed for a while then decided to visit the
altares, before it got too dark. The
altares were all different some for a specific person or family, others for a certain cause, and even a few for beloved pets. Each altar tells a unique story through there decorations. My first cause of true alarm happened when we were viewing the
altares. We became surrounded by a pretty large crowd of people. When this happened I began to panic. I couldn't find a way out, so I started having trouble breathing for me my anxiety almost always results in me hyperventilating. Luckily for me my mother was right next to me I don't think she understood what was happening to me, but I grabbed her and dug my fingers into her arm that was the only way I could communicate myself, since I couldn't talk. She understood and began to talk calmly to me and move me out of the large crowd. Though it felt like I was stuck there for an hour I knew it was no more than a few minutes. I took a few minutes to catch my breath and then we continued walking around. The next time I began to panic was when we went to get food the long lines and crush was overwhelming and this time I was alone. Once again I started to hyperventilate but I had a bowl of soup in my hands so I focused on the smell and the warmth coming from it to ground myself and relax enough to find my parents which I did.
After dinner we decided to walk around and finish looking at all the
altares, so we did and we even saw some of the Aztec dancing. The reason my mother wanted to go specifically to this
Día de los Muertos was because one of her favorite Colombian bands was going to perform that day. Of course she wanted to get as close as possible to the stage which I couldn't do and I told her this beforehand so that she and my father understood what I needed to feel safe. My mother went to go into the crowd in front and I stayed behind where there was a lot of room to move around and I wasn't crowded in anyway. The band that my mother wanted to see was of course the last of the night, but I had my spot where I wasn't crowded and my fidget toy that I used when I got a bit stressed and the rest of the night passed without any more incidents. We finally left the event around 11 pm and that was the end of my day.
Well I hope you have enjoyed my "Day in the Life" column perhaps some can relate to my story and to others this is new territory. I have attached a few photos of Aztec dancers and well as an example of an altar. I look forward to any comments questions or if you would like to share a "Day in your Life" feel free to send it in although please be careful what you write so that you don't trigger anyone else.
Person with Lived Experience aka Peer