I am afraid of everything: spiders, public speaking, my furnace exploding, living on the first floor of an apartment building, being late, sleeping, needles, walking home alone at night, job interviews, first dates, fifth dates, relationships, choking, asking other people for help, using a gas stove, driving, flying, breaking a bone.
I have struggled with fear and anxiety all my life. Two feelings that often go hand in hand and are persistent and continual, the way a mosquito zings around your bedroom in the dark, always there, but never able to be caught and released out your window or smacked down with an unsuspecting piece of mail. I would feel anxious about work, so began to fear what would happen when I stepped through the doors of my office. Or worse, what could happen on my way there, before I’d even set foot in the building. Then suddenly my chest would be constricted, my heart would be in my throat and I’d be googling symptoms of panic attacks or heart attacks or some kind of attack that would explain the feelings I was experiencing. Or, I’d be afraid of the mouse I saw peeking out from behind my bookshelf, so I’d become anxious about how I wouldn’t be able to sleep knowing it was still in my apartment. Then I wouldn’t turn the lights off at ten or eleven or two a.m. and suddenly it was five months later and I’d still never flicked off that switch.
And yet, I am not afraid right now. Canada is facing one of the biggest health crises in its history. The World Health Organization has declared a global pandemic. Entire countries are in lockdown or quarantine or shutting borders—ones that have rarely been shut in peacetime. I, along with many of my friends and family members, am likely to be unemployed for the foreseeable future. Absolutely everything is uncertain.
Two weeks ago, I made a split-second decision to purchase a flight back to Canada, not even one month into what was meant to be a one year stay in Austria after spending the previous two and a half in Scotland. But the Austrian borders were closing, the region I had chosen to call my home was under lockdown, all accommodation providers shut to guests and all non-citizens urged to leave. Moments after I clicked Confirm on the Air Canada website, I called my Mom on the barely-there middle-of-the-mountains Wi-Fi. The line rang and rang and the tinny WhatsApp dial tone echoed emphatically in my ear. It was just past midnight Vancouver time, so when she didn’t pick up, I instead sent through a screenshot of my flight itinerary. I’d be home—a word that will always remain complicated for me—in less than 24 hours.
Half a day later, after I had safely crossed the border to Germany on my way to Frankfurt International Airport, my Mom text back: Are you okay? This can’t be good for your anxiety. I responded immediately with I don’t have time to be anxious. And that was the truth. As soon as I’d come to terms with a decision, news update or piece of government advice, new information surfaced and I was forced to reassess once again. There was no time for those usual fears, dark thoughts or making myself feel ill with worry.
So, two weeks ago I got on a flight to Calgary and then another one to Vancouver without having a panic attack in the airport washroom, when only the day prior I was planning to go skiing for the weekend. I had been anxious about getting back up on the slopes for the first time in a while, about navigating rental shops in a language I didn’t yet speak, and about the price of the lift ticket. All utterly privileged worries that pale in comparison to what’s going on in the world right now and, to be truthful, to what’s going on in the world every day.
So, while everyone else is panic-buying toilet paper and pasta and canned soup, endlessly scrolling through social media, or sitting perched on couches to stream Trudeau’s briefing or watch the case numbers creep higher on CBC’s live updates, I feel an eerie sense of calm. I have food from a grocery store that remains open. I have family and friends whose faces I can see with the touch of a button on my phone screen. I have savings I can access. I have a place to stay that is warm and comfortable. I have my health—both physical and mental. I am luckier than most and so, for perhaps the first time in my life, I do not feel anxious or fearful.
Letting go of these feelings has been both empowering and liberating. My ex-therapist might say that I am numbing my feelings, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. Instead, it feels as if I finally have some clarity: I am calm. I am grateful. I am exactly where I need to be. I’ve learned more about myself during these past few weeks than I ever did in my months of GP-mandated counselling sessions. I’ve had no choice but to take deep breaths and trust people—some of whom I’d only just met. I’ve learned to be positive and open-minded and to have hope. I’ve realized how much responsibility and professionalism and heart our health professionals exude and how lucky I am to live in a developed country with proper medical resources. I’m astounded that I’ve never appreciated this before.
So, while I recognize that you might be anxious or worried or scared right now and you might not have access to each of the things I’ve listed above, if you can, if you are lucky to have even one of these things, hold onto that. Appreciate that. It’s more than most.