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.