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