I went back and forth on writing this post. I really didn’t want to shine a spotlight on something negative that happened over the course of two magical, amazing, full-of-love-and-happiness days — and I didn’t want to relive what happened and re-traumatize myself. But then a 37-year-old man recently died in a luxury building in Williamsburg in an eerily similar situation (read: unbelievably similar!) and it could have been me. And could have been my new husband and my friends and my family mourning me, not celebrating with me on August 27th. And it made me rethink things.
I think this post can and might help some people. And that’s why I’m writing it.
But first, the backstory to provide some context.
The day after I was very privately married on my rooftop, I was set to have an “engagement party” and when we got there, guests would find out we were already hitched (surprise!!) and that the party was a toast to our marriage and new life as husband and wife. (More on our process and decision-making to come in future posts, but this is the part that is relevant.)
The morning of the party, and my first day as an official wifey, I headed out to SoulCycle for one last workout and some sweat therapy. I was as calm and happy as could be walking home after. I met my husband and his dad and best friend briefly in the basement of our apartment building (also a new luxury Williamsburg building) where they were getting in a workout of their own. I had to be at the hair salon by a certain time so I headed out and took the elevator from the cellar up. I was the only one in the elevator and hit the button for floor 5 and it started to move. Somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd floors there was a jolt. Not like an elevator getting stuck. Like the cord on top bouncing and almost snapping back straight. I flew from the side of the elevator in front of the numbers to the other side by the door opening. The elevator shook for a bit and then went totally still. I was stuck. I tried pressing the alarm, hitting the call button. No response. I tried my husband but he didn’t have his phone out because he was at the gym. I tried my mom and also no answer. I called my husband again, and left a long voicemail. I then tried my mom a few times but still no answer and I didn’t have the heart to leave her a voicemail. I had a thought that I might die and I didn’t want her to have that message from me. My voice afraid. I kept telling myself over and over again that if this was it, at least I told my husband and our families and a couple of our closest friends how much I loved them, in person, just the night before and that morning. After pacing nervously for a few seconds I realized I should probably stay still. I called my dear friend Danielle who had come in for the party and was renting an apartment in my building. Danielle is the personification of a calming force and she answered.
Danielle was saying all the right things and then the call button was answered by the front desk and I notified them of the situation and they sent someone to me. Danielle too was on her way and was getting my husband. While she was coming to me, still on the phone with me, I heard my husband and his friend’s voices from above. My new father-in-law (also an consummate calming force) was there with them. I instantly felt safer but still panicking inside.
I knew I had to calm myself and I heard them trying but then saying they couldn’t open the door. A building person was there as well. The only voice I did not know.
When he came back and finally opened the door, I was looking up at all of them, as I was literally in-between the two floors. The opening was at my chest level, above me — the 3rd floor. The building guy looked at me with terror in his eyes. Everyone else was trying to pretend to be calm. Looking at the new bride. On her big party day. With widened “save me!” eyes. In her sweaty gym clothes (a new t-shirt from my sister in law that said “Mrs”).
I told my husband, in colorful language I’m sure, I wanted out and he quickly and sternly told me to stay put and not move.
But the look in the building guy’s eyes made me overcome with a sense of urgency.
I threw my gym bag out of the elevator and went towards the opening. The minute I did so, I could sense the building guy wanted me out of there too and fast. A man whose faith prohibits him from touching my hand on any other occasion, looked at me with those terrified eyes and reached for my left hand to lift me. As soon as my husband realized we were doing this, he instinctively grabbed my other and they pulled me out so swiftly and there I was… Out of the elevator in seconds… Alive… And I immediately felt my heart racing even faster than before, but paired with a tremendous relief.
Until my husband then told me what happens to people who do that and then the elevator moves, which is hardly uncommon apparently. I honestly don’t know if I never knew that or if I just blocked that knowledge in the moment. But I basically had a second silent meltdown. The knowledge that I could have been decapitated or had my body severed… it was enough to make me nearly faint. Many times over. And I felt so guilty and bad for my family and friends who would all be celebrating us in just hours – because that decision could have left them mourning for us instead. I felt scared, foolish, vulnerable, emotional and filled with anxiety.
And then my hands started shaking.
So why tell this story?
First and foremost, because if anyone doesn’t know NOT to get out of an elevator when something like this happens, now they know. Stay put!!! It’s literally a potential life or death scenario. I was so lucky I was physically unscathed. My thoughts and prayers go out to the recent victim in my neighborhood who was just 37 (my age).
More, I want to share the 3 steps I took to get myself from full-on panic mode to peaceful, present and thankful for my life and all those I love. Steps I took to be able to resume a day I felt more blessed than ever to have.
And while most brides don’t find themselves in such extreme situations, they still may feel extreme anxiety throughout the bridal process and particularly on their big day.
And really these calm-restoring methods can work for anyone, on any special occasion (or even more mundane but still stressful ones).
So if you find yourself struggling with anxiety or a panic attack, these tips may help. And I truly hope they do. Because full disclosure, I’m obviously no doctor (and if you suffer from chronic anxiety or frequent panic attacks you should absolutely see one) but for me they worked and worked fast.
The first step for me was to silence the noise of what-if and to stop the auto-replay of what happened.
To do this, you have to focus on a single thing. And that single thing is the life within you, that I was so grateful for: the breath. I know, it may sound hippy-dippy crunchy-granola etc etc. But who cares if it works.
For controlled and purposeful breathing, I used a clinically-proven method I learned way back from Caroline Bouton (who teaches biofeedback methods in NYC) which is to breathe in for 3 seconds and out for 6 seconds for a series of 10. The longer exhale will help to calm and center you.
Returning to the breath and using it to rebalance and refocus may be all you need.
On this day, I personally needed a bit more. Especially when I had to tell people like my mom and the girls at the salon what had happened. I was breathing again but still fighting back tears and a lingering sense of fear. I was okay but shaken.
#2. Seek people who calm you.
My husband is a rock. Not just for me, but especially for me. It’s who he is. And feeling safe around him is the norm. So having him there to look me in the eyes and assure me that I was fine made me feel more fine. The same goes for his dad, who he gets his rock-ness from no doubt. Having his dad assure me my emotions and reactions were normal made me feel more back to normal.
My friend Danielle too is the perfect mix of a sweet and gentle nature but also a rational and strategic mind. With and without words, she was able to make me feel less foolish and guilty, make me laugh, and make me stick to schedule and plan (giving me a much-needed distraction) without ever downplaying the situation or my feelings.
When my best friends Joanna and Emily arrived, they too were just what I needed. I don’t even remember what they said anymore. But their presence soothed my anxiety.
Even the girls (and guys) at the salon. There was just a lot of love and support and it made all the difference.
So when you are feeling like you may break down, seek out the person or people who calm you. They will carry the weight of your fear and panic for you, until you forget it’s there.
And this doesn’t have to be literal either. This could be in real life. Over the phone. Or even just the thought of them and knowing they love you. For those not near or no longer with you, the last way is one you can use to reconnect and find comfort in at any moment.
#3. Deeply feel their affection.
Whether it’s a hug or a hand-squeeze or a kiss on the head, it’s hard to be held hostage by any past fear or future worry when you are receiving a gesture of physical love.
Feel it deeply. Focus on it. Get lost in it. Like with the breath, let it be the only thing for that moment.
The very affection that is given by loved-ones and even strangers as a means to protect and care for you – over time – helps return you to a place where you can do it on your own.
And then you can appreciate your special occasion, big day or any day like never before. Which is my wish for you.
Lauren Cosenza is the creator and editor-in-chief of DIVAlicious, a trusted beauty/fashion expert, an on-camera personality and spokesperson, a leading NYC-based professional makeup artist, a published contributor and writer, a brand consultant, a product junkie and an insatiable style seeker — with a former life at Cosmopolitan and Shape magazines.
Serving up style with a side of attitude, her site DIVAlicious gives women (and men) the confidence and permission to be fabulous. The site is filled with must-have products, pro tips and tricks, how-to DIY tutorials, makeovers, style inspiration and insider access. Topics range from beauty, fashion, culture, career, fitness, wellbeing, men’s and unisex offerings.