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Anxiety: From Full Throttle to Manageable

Updated: Oct 21, 2020

Not that I am super old yet, but in my younger days I used to be quite an avid rock climber. Over the Canadian winters you’d find me indoor climbing at least once a week and in summer I’d be out in nature ascending various rock faces as often as I could. Over the weekend we went for a nice nature walk that has huge rocks to explore along its way. I thought yay, I love this walk as it allows kids, and grown-ups, to climb up and down some of the coolest rocks you’ve ever seen. When we got close to one of those cool rocky spot that we always spend time exploring, my climber instinct kicked in, the adrenaline rushed in and I wanted to check things out as best as I could.

I watched the kids climb and manoeuvre their bodies with such agility, I wanted to follow their lead. They had no fear, they had that thirst to explore and to push the limits further. I recognised my own hop and go attitude in them, my strong desire to always explore and I was proud of them for embracing this opportunity.

They just completely dived in the opportunity to explore and I happily followed them. After all, during my climbing days I had gone up places way steeper and attempted much trickier climbs...this should be a walk in the park for me. As I moved by body along, I noticed the residual effects of encephalitis (e) and acquired brain injury (abi). My balance and coordination was a bit off and shaky. Soon after I noticed the shakiness, I found myself paying extra attention to each of my movement. I reminded myself not to overthink things too much as I am aware that overthinking and overanalysing tends to slow my processing time further since “e”. My inner chatter was: “I can do this, come on Véro!”

Then, as I hopped from one rock to another, I noticed that the gaps between some of those big rocks was pretty steep and gnarly. It could make for quite a bad fall I thought to myself. The type of climbing we were up to wasn’t exactly like the rock climbing that I used to do. We couldn’t count on the safety nest of a rope and harness. Also, the other big element in play here was that although I was in control of my actions and movements, I had none over the kids’ ones...anxiety kicked in full throttle. In all my climbing years, I can’t even remember feeling a tenth of the anxiety that I was experiencing. As if the hazards associated with rock climbing weren’t even an issue back then. Back then, I always trusted my abilities and I never doubted the person down below to mellow the fall if I was to accidently lose my grip. Now, I was doubting myself and worst, I was starting to doubt others’ abilities and judgement.

But the kids in all their agility didn’t seem to be too worried. Have they noticed that huge gap? Are they aware of the potential dangers?

I took a few deep breathes, I didn’t want them to pick up on my anxiety as they were having such a great time. Of course, I wanted them to be careful and be mindful of their surroundings so they make safe choices, but I had to work really hard to contain my own fears. As I guided them along, I tried to choose my words very carefully to avoid having my own anxiety rub off on them. This was to be a positive experience for them.

I knew I had a few dare devils on board, the mom in me was truly scared of all the “what if’s” and I started feeling even more shaky than my usual post “e” shaky. I tried to slow my mind down as I could recognise that anxiety was now leading the way. It wasn’t hard to acknowledge because it felt as though my heart was beating beyond my chest cavity. What used to be a walk in the park now felt like an act of courage. I needed to regain some control over this escalating anxiety. This truly wasn’t a life or death situation, I wouldn’t put my kids in that sort of situation to start with.

Managing anxiety

This level of anxiety had to come down a notch as I started feeling absolutely terrible. A few long deep breathes so I could attempt to think more clearly. Eureka, I remembered a few things that I had read to help me manage my anxiety:

Try to focus on the facts and be objective: As I looked at the kids, I started really paying attention. They seemed pretty at ease and weren’t being reckless either…they were actually helping one another out so all of them could build their own confidence navigating these big rocks. Anxiety started shifting a bit.

Use past experience to “decatastrophise” a situation: I’ve got all those past climbing years why not pull on those to help me evaluate the true level of danger? On a scale of 10, ten being the most dangerous climb I had attempted in the past, this was no more than a 2 really. Anxiety came down a bit more...

Focus on what you have control over: Well, I could share my past climbing knowledge and explain to the kids how best to position their bodies, to always have 3 points of contact, to give them a heads-up when I knew we’d cross a slippery spot so they become aware that they now have be extra careful and to use the whole countdown method (2 more minutes guys), so I knew we’d eventually get to a less treacherous part of the walk.

Anxiety didn’t completely disappear and it didn’t really get down to the 2 that I had established by putting the level of danger into perspective, but it probably went from a 10 out of 10 to a 6 out of 10. Anxiety got to a level where I could more easily manage it and not let it deplete me of all the energy I had estimated would be required to complete the walk. So it was a win for managing my anxiety after encephalitis and acquired brain injury. For a split second I felt bad for letting anxiety take over in first place, but I was mainly proud to have been able to use what I had learnt to manage it.

The bonus was that by not letting anxiety cripple me, we all got to explore some more. We got to see some sea lions sunbathing, climbed wicked trees and rocks, developed or bettered our climbing skills, generated new memories and some of the kids even conquered their own fears! Well done to us all!

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