As I get older, I like to think that I have things pretty well figured out and that it takes a lot to surprise me. I have become more accepting of my quirks and foibles and my reactions to situations are generally consistent, coming from a place of authenticity and self-awareness.
Through the years, I have also conquered some minor fears and sources of internal struggle that definitely kept me on my toes.
For me, the trick to remaining calm, cool and collected through life has been to gradually widen my comfort zone. It took guts, perseverance and hard work, but when taken in baby steps, it served me well. With a wider comfort zone, I could trust in my own skills, knowledge and resourcefulness in the face of adversity and stress.
And to cope with stress, I had in my back pocket a huge tool kit of stress management techniques, breathing exercises, mellow music, meditation techniques, grounding techniques and relaxing hobbies, not to mention lavender bath salts, scented candles and massage therapists on speed dial.
With things seemingly so neat and tidy, why is it that at the same time I felt I was becoming older and wiser, anxiety was suddenly creeping up on me as well?
“I say the universe speaks to us, always, first in whispers. And a whisper in your life usually feels like ‘hmm, that’s odd.’ Or, ‘hmm, that doesn’t make any sense.’ Or, ‘hmm, is that right?’ It’s that subtle. And if you don’t pay attention to the whisper, it gets louder and louder and louder. I say it’s like getting thumped upside the head. If you don’t pay attention to that, it’s like getting a brick upside your head. You don’t pay attention to that—the brick wall falls down. That is the pattern that I see in my life and so many other people’s lives. And so, I ask people, ‘What are the whispers? What’s whispering to you now?'” – Oprah Winfrey
To me, those whispers were showing up in the form of reactions to situations that seemed out of character. Beneath my usual calm and cool exterior, I was starting to experience more moments of nervousness, an increasing intensity of nervousness, longer spans of ruminating over issues and needing more time to bounce back from dealing with life’s issues. I was also having a much harder time letting go, no matter how many times I heard that Idina Menzel song.
These were whispers that something was off. This wasn’t me.
Even though I trusted my problem-solving skills, knowledge and resourcefulness, I couldn’t figure this out. And with the extensive tool kit of stress management techniques, I could mask the problem for a while but stress returned when the underlying cause remained unresolved. But what was the underlying cause?
At first, I thought that time would tell. It usually does. Eventually things reveal themselves when the time is right. But as weeks turned into months with no resolution in sight, there seemed to be an increasing disconnection with my own emotions.
I remember one night in particular when anxiety symptoms converged in ways I had never experienced before. It became a sleepless night, sweating like it was 120 degrees, with thoughts racing at lightning speed, filling my head with “what if” questions and scenarios, and with no ability to let go, no matter what trick I pulled out of the stress management tool kit to try to relax.
The weird part is that these intense emotions were surfacing over a fairly routine situation, something I had successfully seen my way through many times before. What was different about this time? Was it the situation itself or was there something below the surface that was causing this overreaction?
I hated the feeling inside of not being able to “control” my own emotions, which just added to my stress. Maybe I had let it sit too long, waiting for time to heal all wounds.
When I got to the office, bleary-eyed and looking like I had been hit by a truck, I looked for an empty boardroom to make a quick call to the family doctor. With our open concept office, I didn’t want my anxiety to become the headline of the week in the rumour mill.
A few days later, I was chatting with my family doctor. He agreed with my suspicion that it was time to reach out for help to figure things out. He referred me to a psychotherapist.
Within a few sessions, we were cracking the code, unlocking the reasons behind my anxiety responses and possible explanations of where they could have originated. From there he helped me figure out how to address those feelings, how to recognize them before they get out of hand and a new toolkit of ways to manage them, going forward.
With that, the healing began.
Even though I still consider myself a work-in-progress, still digging for answers while doing some emotional “spring cleaning”, I am finding myself more calm (even when at rest) and my mind doesn’t seem to ruminate about things for quite as long. I feel more grounded and more relaxed… and that’s without having to deliberately use any stress management techniques. Who knew that was even possible?
Plus I am learning to navigate better when the waters of life do get choppy and how to feel less anxious.
I am so thankful for the many mental health and wellness campaigns like the “Not Myself Day” and Bell’s “Let’s Talk” for helping to break the social stigma associated with the range of conditions that keep us from being our best selves and our authentic selves.
If my car has problems, I bring it to the mechanic. If my furnace breaks down, I call for a technician. It only seems logical that for something as complex as the brain, we should be reaching out to professionals for assistance.
In retrospect, I really don’t understand why society has conditioned us to think that asking for help in this regard is a sign of weakness. In my case, despite having so many things figured out, the source of my anxiety was not one of them. Left untreated, it was very slowly getting worse and the intense emotions I was feeling were not reflective of the happy, balanced guy that I usually am.
It wasn’t easy to make that first step but when I did, reaching out to a professional was the best thing I could have done.
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Have a great day,