How I Got Over My Anxiety, Part 6: Facing Fear.

After I cracked my head open, I decided it was time to change. One of the first things I did was try to leave the house. By this point I had turned into a little hermit, with my only “safe zones” being work and home. But I wanted to go for a walk, so going for a walk seemed like a good place to start. It was hard to get me out of the house. Not only was I not mentally ready, but my body would react to make sure I couldn’t leave. Usually by making me go to the bathroom.

Then I got outside. And needed to pee urgently and went back in. Then I got outside, and walked to the stop sign, then had to go back in. Sally would take me for these walks day after day, trying to get further each time. Essentially we were doing baby steps from the movie What About Bob?

At work I would go out on the fire escape and just feel what it was like to be 10 floors up. Not good. Did I mention my fear of heights? I get the sense that anxious people don’t usually have just one fear.

When I started to feel okay walking down the street, I would trip myself on purpose just to stumble forward. That way I’d get to feel the flush of embarrassment.

All of this is to say, I guess I instinctively started doing exposure therapy. Expose yourself to your fears. Afraid of the dark? Sit in the dark. Afraid of heights? Go high. Afraid of snakes? Go snake.

Um, remember two paragraphs ago when I said anxious people don’t usually have just one fear? I take that back. We might have tons of triggers (rejection, people, spiders... I'll just make a diagram), but what we really fear is the feeling those things create. The dread, terror, panic that we can’t control and takes us over.

Exposure therapy doesn’t quite deal with that. Walking outside didn’t make me okay with the whole outside world; just those parts that I was used to. Same with the fire escape. I was eventually okay sitting up there, but you’d never drag me up the CN Tower.

I wasn’t dealing with the source: fear itself. (Which is the only thing we have to fear, right FDR? FDR: Yes, Cameron, yes!)

So it didn’t matter which fear I chose, I just had to get cool with the feeling. Great! ‘Cause conquering a fear of flying would get goddamn expensive. Tell you what, I’ll tackle a fear I can access at anytime, anywhere. Embarrassment.

Shit, I can do that at home. Alone. In the dark. For free. Just by dancing. I don’t need other people to feel judged, I still got me!

My mission became finding ways of facing fear that were fun. A way of exposing myself to fear, without just feeling it over and over again, but learning to be cool with it and maybe even enjoy it.

Blah blah, you know this is an improv segue, right? Right, FDR? FDR: It sure is, Cameron, it sure is.

Improv helped me, by making me act silly and feel embarrassment while laughing through it. But unless you skipped straight to Part 6 (if so, cool, I like your reckless disregard for rules and norms), you already know all that. So I’ll move on.

This is where the “Accept every offer” post-it note got most of its use. I went to parties. Scary, but fun. I climbed a fence and jumped in a pool on a dare. Scary, but fun. I did a handstand on a moving van while being a teenage werewolf. Or did I just see that happen somewhere?

Anxiety protects you from potential danger, not real danger. In other words, I was scared to try anything new for fear of failing. Improv, juggling, playing guitar, singing, snaking, dancing, painting, were all scary because in my mind I could get them “wrong.” But I enjoyed them when I did.

I was creating a new groove in my mind. “I’m not gonna try this because it’s scary,” became “This thing is scary, but I know it’ll be fun, so I’m gonna at least try it once.” Facing fear is fun!

Now for the most fun ever… Flying! Yay!! (I know flying is just a trigger, and not the fear itself. But it’s a helluva trigger, so I’m giving it a name shout-out.)

S&P, my improv team (shout out!) was invited to play Improvaganza in Edmonton. Edmonton is a long train ride away. It’s a long car ride away. Hell, it’s a long flight away. About four hours, but who's counting? I was. Every second. And that's over 14,000 seconds.

Here’s the plan. Fly to Edmonton. Do the festival. Fly back to Toronto. Fly to NYC. Do some shows. Fly home. And then, never fly again. Unless I want to.

This was it. The big push. One more round of tough love, to prove (to who?) I’ve grown since the last time I tried to fly (cue haunting flashback of me unconscious in a pool of blood).

I slept the night before the flight. Huge. Especially compared to the five weeks of insomnia before my previous flight. Got to the airport. Good so far. Sitting waiting for the flight, I start to wig out a bit. Waiting is never the friend of an anxious person. It gives us time to think of all the potential dangers. But there aren’t any real dangers right now, there aren’t any real dangers right now, there aren’t any…

My teammate, Kevin Whalen, looks over at me and says, “You wanna play?” I say, “I’m tackling the biggest fear of my life right now, give me a sec.” He nods. Then I feel bad for letting him down, so I get up and we run around the airport with our arms out making airplane sounds. (Remembering that moment is making me tear up. Thanks Kevin. Ya jerk. No, not jerk. Crying is okay. Sniff.)

All good. Until the plane starts to take off. Then every cell in my body screams NOOOOOOOOO!!! I don’t wanna do this. Too late. Airborne. I’m still shaking from the take-off, but I know this trip isn’t about just flying, it’s about getting okay with flying and the feeling of terror that comes with it. So I start meditating.

And meditating. And Sedona-ing. And listening to happy songs. But not too many songs. Cause I gotta get back to meditating. And meditating. And Sedona-ing. Long fucking flight. Like loooooong. Sedona-ing.

We land. I like the landing part. I like being on the ground. Edmonton is nice. Big sky all around. We check in at the festival and are given a gift bag. One of the things inside the bag is a keychain, in the shape of a key, with the word “compassion” carved on the side. It’s fucking perfect. This trip, the last of my tough love, the last of me needing to “fix” me, the last of pushing myself to grow, the last of the judgement and harsh inner voice, just got summed up in one word.

Improvaganza is great. Wish I could tell you more, but I was lost in my own world, as always back then. We saw Lights (the singer, not the bulb), I got food poisoning (yes, this trip was indeed about suffering), I played Frisbee with my shirt off (also pushing myself out of my comfort zone), there's a mall, and I think the shows went fine.

The flight back was better. Hangout at Pearson was actually kinda fun. Noticed that after five hours straight of meditation and allowing feelings to come and go, I was pretty calm. Zen. Flight to NYC Zen. New York City can be scary and intimidating. Not for me. Not this time. Zen.

First show in NYC was rough. We all cracked under the pressure we put on ourselves to be good. Zen was fun while it lasted. Our second show we took off the pedestal of importance and it switched from scary back to playful and fun.

Flight back to Toronto was good. I looked out at the clouds and thought they were cool. I didn’t stay perfectly still in my seat and try to hold the plane up by the armrests. We landed. I’d done it. I’d put in the work. I told Sally, “If I can maintain this Cameron from now on, then I’m fine.” No more need to push and fix myself. Time for love. And compassion.

Sally said, “You want Chipotle?” And I laughed. The idea of making plans for the future seemed funny to me. On this trip, I’d spent hours upon hours upon hours living moment by moment by moment. The present is all that exists. And we can’t even control that.

“Sure.” We might die on the way there. We might run into some friends and go somewhere else. We might decide to go home and make sweet, sweet love and turn into werewolves who play basketball. It wasn’t my mind “What if”ing. It was my mind accepting that we can’t control the past, present or future. We can only accept what exists right now. I guess what I’m saying is, we got Chipotle.

Recap of Part 6:

“If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation.” – Pema Chodron

“My quote’s better.” - FDR

Bring on Part 7!

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