Talking About Mental Health 

 

 

The Day I Thought the Sky Was Falling

The Day I Thought the Sky Was Falling
by Sean Robert

Two years ago, I woke up to discover the return of my arch-nemesis: anxiety.
It was a beautiful day in February at my favourite coffee shop when my mental foe wrapped its claws around the heart in my chest. Without warning, I suddenly could feel my heart begin to beat a million times per minute while beads of sweat trickled down my forehead. My hands began to rattle over the keyboard in front of me and if it weren’t for the old man sitting next to me drinking a cup of tea and reading the Vancouver Sun, I could’ve sworn that I was in the middle of an earthquake.

It was not until a wave of terror washed over me that I knew exactly what was going on.

“No, no, no!” I screamed, slamming the laptop shut. “This can’t be happening!”
I had just quit my job managing a busy restaurant downtown to pursue a long-neglected dream of writing. For three years, I had spent the better part of my life on a dining room floor. And now, just when I thought I had reached freedom for good, it appeared that I had exchanged one prison cell for another. The sun was shining and as far as I was concerned, the sky was falling.

Clutching onto my knees, I began to panic that I was never going to be able to write again. Then I began to panic that I had made a terrible mistake quitting the one position I worked so hard to achieve. And then in classic form, I began panicking about panicking. And that was when it was all over.

Since I turned fourteen, I have been no stranger to mental illness. These days, I consider myself to be somewhat of a Power Ranger when it comes to battling depression. After spending the better part of seven years with a personal daily forecast that never changed from overcast, I have become quite savvy when it comes to knowing exactly what to do when the clouds roll in. The second my bottle of red wine starts tasting hopeless with a finishing note of despair, I put the cork back in, return to the gym and fine someone to talk to.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is a much different beast. If anxiety and depression were partners in crime, then in my life experience, anxiety is the trickier of the two. With lightning speed and stealth precision, I have never been able to sense anxiety coming as much as jump out of the bed in the middle of the night in terror with the realization that it is already here.

For years, I managed to successfully keep this monster under lock and key while keeping myself busy at the restaurant; but now I could no longer distract myself with a twelve-hour shift and an over-booked house.

At the coffee shop, I shot out of my chair, threw my leather bag Hunter around my shoulder and stormed out the front door. Opening the door to my hatchback Fanny, I set the GPS for SOS and checked in at the nearest walk-in clinic.

For the next three months, the only writing I completed was in a workbook. I treated each anxious thought as it arose like a land mine that needed to be defused. Focusing on self-care as my number one priority, I gave up my favourite dark roast in exchange for a decaf americano and returned to the treadmill at the gym. Acting as my own Richter scale, I measured each thought, mood and behaviour that caused my heart rate to rise. Each night before I left for work, my daily goal became to check the stove “one less time” to see if it was off.
In the months that have passed since then, I have learned to fear anxiety less and pay closer attention to the message it is trying to deliver me whenever it comes to call. I don’t view it as a bogeyman anymore as much as a reminder to slow down and breathe. I don’t ever envision a life without anxiety or depression, or having to reach out for help, because that would be a life without the most cataclysmic change. And then I would have nothing to write about.

If you would like to speak to a counsellor or therapist, visit http://www.talk2mebc.com and find the right clinician for you.

Sean Robert is a writer, server, and Community Facilitator at the Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of B.C. (Crisis Centre). When he is not writing or serving tables, he is leading workshops on self-care and suicide alertness. 

Keeping Anxiety on a Tight Leash

Keeping Anxiety on a Tight Leash
 By Sean Robert

When I was a little redhead boy, I never understood why my mother had to check the locks on each car door three times before we could head into the grocery store/wherever we were going. As I watched her circle around the station wagon and listened to each door handle snap back, I learned overtime that no matter what, there was nothing I could say to convince her they were locked.

When the day came that automatic door locks were invented, I jumped up and down in excitement and thanked the sky up above. Finally, we could leave the station wagon behind in the parking lot with one click! Think of all the minutes, hours, days we would add back to our lives! The whole prospect seemed too good to be true and it was. Three clicks, three times around the car and we returned to the same routine cultivated over years.

It was not until I learned, first-hand, the seductive clutch of anxiety that I finally understood why that station wagon could never be left behind. When I had my first brush with anxiety, it seemed relatively innocent. I could not leave the apartment without double-checking the stove, toaster, outlets, windows and locks. Surely there was nothing wrong with that, I reasoned, when I was simply being responsible. But then, as life went on and stress gained the upper-hand, checking everything twice no longer cut it.

I knew I had to get help after I checked the stove eleven times and then, just went I thought I was free, had to turn the car around half-way to work because I could not convince myself it was off. That night, the apartment did not burn down and I was written up for being late.

It took months following that incident that I managed to get my anxiety back under control. I reached out for help and received it. I learned about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and started filling out workbooks. I started sharing my thoughts with others so I could stop tossing and turning with them all night. I switched to decaf coffee and monitored my wine consumption until my heart rate returned to normal.

It was not until last month that I realized that, even though I thought I had my feelings of anxiety under lock and key, that was not the case. After automatically locking the car doors three times and then returning to check the physical door handles, my good friend asked me if I was feeling stressed. Instantly, I replied “no,” but then immediately afterwards became present to my actions. It was not just the car I had trouble leaving, it was all the usual suspects from my history.

“Maybe I am stressed,” I admitted to my friend and myself.

In that moment, I learned an important lesson. As we go through our lives, we will always experience stress to some degree in one way or another. The question is whether or not we still continue to exercise our brain when our mental health is otherwise, well. Ever since that moment, I have been working hard to keep the anxiety I can control on a tight leash, so that I am better prepared to deal with the stressors I cannot. Today, I only hit the automatic car door lock once.

 

Sean Robert is a free-lance writer based in Vancouver, B.C. After suffering from depression for nearly a decade, Sean finally got the help he needed after reaching out to a counsellor. When he is not writing, he works part-time at the B.C. Crisis Centre facilitating workshops on suicide prevention and self-care. www.seanrobert.com

The Poster Boy for Depression

The Poster Boy for Depression
By Sean Robert


There is no question this past winter on the Coast has been a major downer. As a prairie boy, I am no stranger to blizzards, extreme wind-chills and embarrassing neon snowsuits. However, whereas the prairie winters always took their physical toll, I find the endless days of rain and clouds to be much more emotional.

When the clouds rolled in ahead of schedule last year, it did not take long before I exchanged my beloved fall wardrobe for a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt. Canceling all plans that did not involve Netflix, take-out pizza and a bottle of red wine, I locked myself in my basement apartment and waited patiently for the sun to come back. Measuring weeks in television series, I knew I had to make a change when 2017 rolled around and I had become the Poster Boy for depression.

The problem with depression is that its grip is tight and its staying power is tireless. More often than not, the more you try to fight the mental state the more defeated you become. When it is exhausting enough just to find the energy to get out of bed in the morning, it feels darn near impossible to even think about seizing the day. That is not to say the battle is over, however, it just means that absolute victory is no longer the endgame.

When life’s mental forecast becomes just as miserable as the weather outside, the objective is not to try to change it, ignore it or pretend that it will go away; but rather accept it for what it is, and do whatever you can to take care of yourself in the meantime.

After months had gone by, I finally managed to pull myself off the couch. Taking a seat at the local coffee shop, I took a sip of dark roast and looked out the window at the grey sky above. “I am depressed,” I typed on my laptop, “Now what?” Acknowledging my mental state, I proceeded to create a checklist of everything that has helped me to feel better in the past: exercise, eating well, writing and talking to someone. Then I hit my first roadblock. I became exhausted at the mere sight of the list.

And so I shifted gears. I narrowed down the scale of each task until they were manageable enough for me to pull forward. Exercise shrunk into “walking for ten minutes,” eating well became “digesting something green.” As the list went on and the tasks became smaller, I felt myself becoming stronger and more confident. I recognized that even though I did not have much to give, the knowledge that I still had enough to make a difference was all the comfort I needed.

That evening my world did not change completely except for one dramatic adjustment. I changed out of my sweatpants.

If you would like to speak to a counsellor or therapist, visit http://www.talk2mebc.com and find the right clinician for you.