Overcoming anxiety is a process that takes time, patience, and the courage to face your fears.
It was a cool September morning and I was standing in the doorway of my mom’s townhouse preparing to get on a plane and fly across the world with no plan, no tangible timeline, and (fingers crossed) no panic attacks.
I would fly through Chicago, Tokyo, and Bangkok until I would jump into a Grab (the Asian equivalent of Lyft or Uber) and drop myself into the bed at a budget hostel dorm room in a delirious mix of exhaustion and euphoria at the thought of having finally arrived.
Little did I know I would end up taking recommendations from strangers and embarking on spontaneous plans that involved travelling to remote islands or crashing my motorbike trying to reach uncharted beaches.
I was also unaware that I would spend weeks sleeping on the unforgiving surface of a cement bed in a monastery in the depths of a Thai forest or lose my phone and only bank card in a pile of dancing sweaty people at a Steve Aoki pool party in Indonesia.
I didn’t predict an accident that would send my friend into facial surgery in Bangkok or the fact that I’d be ringing in the New Year ecstatic dancing after a cacao ceremony in rural Cambodia.
Although I listened to the prophecy of an eccentric psychic in Ubud, she did not forecast that a global pandemic would ultimately send me on a wild goose chase back to Canada.
However, none of it mattered. The truth is, if I really knew what I was in for as I stood in that doorway I may have just shrugged that oversized backpack off and retreated into my crisp, plush, and very safe duvet.
In 2014, I sobbed in the doorway of my sister’s Toronto condo because I was too scared to take the streetcar.
I wasn’t particularly proud of this moment even as it unfolded, especially given the fact that my sister’s roommate (who shared this one-bedroom plus closet with her) was gawking at my agitated state and distressing questions in disbelief.
What if it’s crowded and I have a panic attack?
What if I don’t have the right amount of change and I’m humiliated?
What if I don’t know where to get off and ride the streetcar outside of the perimeter of the Toronto skyline and into some unknown oblivion where incapable TTC passengers go to die due to their lack of street smarts and overall uselessness?
I had already stretched myself beyond my limits after taking the train in from the sleepy suburbs.
Anxiety feels a little something like this: you know you want to do something deep down but an all-consuming fear weighs so heavy on your chest it feels like it’s constricting your ability to breathe.
The worst part is that it feels like it’s restricting the way you want to live your life.
It’s a combination of frustration and anger coating their grimy film over an underlying terror. This all mixes into a concoction of shame, guilt, and self-loathing. Overcoming anxiety feels impossible when you’re gripped by these emotions.
That’s exactly how I felt in the doorway of my sister’s Liberty Village closet condo.
As desperately as I wanted to conquer my fears, I surrendered to the surge prices on Uber and hopped in a Sudan to Union Station before the tears had fully dried from my cheeks.
The reason I bring this story up is that my sister’s former roommate continues to bring it up to me today as a marker – a “before picture” if you will – that symbolizes my low point as a person living with a generalized anxiety disorder.
I could remind her that this certainly wasn’t the lowest of points for me.
There were times I wouldn’t leave the house because the energy it would take to coax myself out the front door was more than I could manage that day.
Perhaps it was the time I fainted on the steps of a streetcar when my anxiety caused “extreme emotional distress” triggering a drop in my heart rate and blood pressure (otherwise known as vasovagal syncope).
Or maybe it was the time I puked before a first date and cancelled with the foolproof excuse that “my friend was having an emotional crisis” (there’s no way he saw through that one).
The process of overcoming anxiety is simply about stepping through that doorway into the uncertainty.
I used to spend my nights laying in bed rehearsing the various scenarios that could unfold in the highschool classroom or lecture hall the following day.
The absurdities of my trip across the world taught me that you really don’t know what’s going to happen and best of all, it’s better that way.
When I lived shackled to the restraints of my anxious mind I was dominated by several core fears.
I was afraid of doing things in case I failed.
I was afraid of being myself in case I was ridiculed.
I was afraid of taking risks in case I died.
Overcoming anxiety isn’t simply a one-size-fits-all program with a simple start and finish date, it’s a constant battle each day to grapple with those same fearful thoughts but choose to push yourself and act from a place beyond fear.
Nowadays I’m more fearful about looking back on my life with regret that I didn’t become the person I wanted to be or try the things I always wanted to try because I bowed under the weight of my anxiety.
Sometimes I realize that after all the fear, panic attacks, and “what ifs” I’m sitting here right now alive, safe, and better off for taking those risks.
I make the decision to offload that heaviness by breathing deeply and step through the next doorway again and again until each exit feels a little easier.