The Winding Path

Counselling Services provided by Barb Zacharias

October 2023: Haunted House

Posted on Oct 28, 2023

October 2023: Haunted House
October 2023, Pine Falls, MB

In keeping with the theme of August and September blogs, I have decided that October has been much akin to the Haunted House at an amusement park. Not in the sense of ghosts and ghouls bursting forth in gruesome scenarios; but in the sense of fears and phobias jumping out when you least expect it—and being forced to deal with them. No running away screaming, tripping on hidden hazards, adding to the misery. But take deep breaths, recenter, and move-on-to-the-next-one kinda thing.

The month began with yet another father trigger. Only this time, I wasn’t the direct recipient; and I had to help the intended target work through the fallout. It also meant reaching out to siblings, keeping them abreast of developments. However, I was also making the most of the momentum I had garnered at the end of September: vigilantly practicing my ‘one thing rule’ by tackling long overdue honey-do list type tasks (except I’m the honey that gets to do them😉), keeping to morning and bedtime routines, monitoring my self-talk, and taking control of what was within my power rather than obsessing about what wasn’t. Ever on the lookout for what could possibly trip me up and send me spiralling downward into another depressive episode.

So, what does October throw at me? Just the usual kinds of things that could knock me off my game. I do believe Thanksgiving passed by without incident (other than boundary setting with my pushy parents). However, the next weekend got the ball rolling for all things scary with a massive fire across the street from my house. The iconic old school built in 1926-27 was the victim of arson. Full blown panic attack (maybe more than one as the night advanced). One of my worst fears is losing my home to fire (not just this one specifically, any house I have occupied as an adult). I don’t know the roots of this fear considering I have never lost anything to fire; but I am keenly aware of impermanence. And there is nothing so permanent as fire destroying your memories, cherished mementos, place of shelter, or loved ones. To say the least, it was terrifying watching the old school burn to the ground.

Days later, I got a ticket for not turning right in an HOV lane (which I have to fight in November as it was definitely not in keeping with the signage). The cop was unfriendly, to say the least; and I found myself doing my best to stabilize the situation and get the information I needed. I was proud of the dogs for not causing a ruckus in the backseat and of myself for not bawling until the cop left. I managed to drive to my destination and cried in the parking lot for several minutes. This is a more complicated fear; but it’s roots I am very aware of: the fear of getting into trouble.

Now, I know, most people don’t cry when they receive traffic tickets, fairly or unfairly; but I am not most people. 😉 The ticket played two roles: 1) triggered fear of getting in trouble; 2) released backlog of grief from the fire. In other words, the ticket trigger acted as a catalyst to release that buildup of loss as well as the associated shame messages of getting in trouble. It also means an opportunity to advocate for myself rather than rollover to people please and/or avoid discomfort. Ergo facing my fear of failure and rejection. Even the cop told me to fight it and that the worst that could happen was I had to pay the full amount; but it wouldn’t increase or change otherwise. There is potential for an emotionally corrective experience…except I have to provide it for myself. While I tend to be fiercely independent, there are times when I want someone else to swoop in and solve my problems. This will not be one of those times.

But that day didn’t begin and end with a ticket. It also involved a comedy of errors at a car wash I hadn’t used before so wasn’t aware I had to drive onto a track that dragged me through; and I forgot to close the backseat windows of which I could only reach one. Fortunately, not that much water came through the open window on the far side; and the dogs figured out how to stick to the side that was safe. To add to the tragic comedy, it rained on the drive home, making the car wash superfluous. I did well, however, keeping the shame messages (and fear of embarrassment) at bay by being able to laugh at myself and vow never to use that car wash again. 😊

There ends the comedy. Another fear that had to be addressed came next at the doctor’s office. In a stroke of irony, the concerning numbers I saw the technician type in last month turned out to indicate shrinkage of a thyroid lobe rather than growth of a nodule. The nodules are remaining stable. Fear of cancer quelled. The lobe shrinkage indicates I have a thyroid illness called Hashimoto’s Disease. Underactive thyroid levelled up. Continued monitoring and symptom management, here we come!

Next fear to tackle was that of trusting my truck and my driving abilities on a 4×4 adventure for my birthday (aka my-favourite-things-day). I have long wanted to explore this old logging road that is much used by ATV and snowmobile enthusiasts. Seeing as I don’t have friends with those kinds of benefits, I gathered up my fierce independence and decided to drive the logging road myself once I discovered it was also okayed for trucks. After all, I have seen a car on it. I admit, I did have to talk myself into it as my OCD came up with all kinds of worst-case scenarios from tire blowouts to engine failure.

It was definitely an emotionally corrective experience, of my own making, to drive my 4×4-capable truck down this unmaintained logging road with only two dogs to keep me company. No one was there to question my abilities, criticize my driving, or tell me what to do in any given moment. Except the dogs worried expressions. They thought I had lost my marbles and were actively looking for them. 😊 They made the most of every chance they got to get out of the vehicle and explore—without finding my missing marbles.

It was an emotionally corrective experience on another level as a dash light came on when we were nearly back to the parking area. Having been informed to check my gauges and note that my battery was “off centre,” I knew what was wrong before opening the hood. I suspected with the all the bouncing that a battery terminal had come loose. Sure enough, all I had to do was grab it by the cap and place it back on giving it a little pat. Back in the truck, warning light was off; and we were mobile once again (which reminds me, I need to tighten that post). 😉 I was extremely proud of myself that I did not panic and fixed my problem without issue.

The final Fear Factor challenge that October has thrown at me (fingers crossed the last one as there is a couple days to go) involved my professional realm. I have been at a stalemate with a certain caseworker for quite some time. I caved to one of her demands which caused some distress to myself and my client, only to learn that it was all unnecessary. I had to face my fear of being found incompetent and, once again, fight my inclination to people please in an effort to avoid getting in trouble. On the plus side, it proved a worthy trust-building exercise with my client and confirmed my hunches—so in a way it was a trust-building exercise for my Self as well. I grew up in a gaslighting environment; hence it is “business as usual” for me to second guess and doubt myself. I think that has been one of the hardest things to unlearn.

And maybe that is what this entire Haunted House of a month has been about—facing what jumps out at me (my fears) in yet another effort to unlearn what was instilled in me since childhood—that I am not trustworthy. Can’t be trusted to own a home (threatened by fire), to follow the rules (traffic ticket), to be well (health risks), to handle myself and/or my truck in tough situations (logging road), to go with my gut and my take on things (professional stalemate). In essence, to know my own mind. I realize there isn’t a direct correlation between all these fears and reality; amygdalas (danger detectors) only need hints of things to activate the fight-flight-freeze system based on past experiences (usually emotional memories). The point isn’t even that my amygdala has been taxed this month. The point is that I deem myself trustworthy. To stop the second-guessing and self-doubt. To work with what is instead of what might be. I can trust myself to work through my fears and worst-case scenarios.

Quite frankly, no matter what the Haunted House threw at me this month, I handled it. I’m still here. I haven’t succumbed to utter madness or descended into impermeable darkness. I have more challenges ahead due to these fear factors (like self-advocacy and boundary setting); but I can do them. Tempting though it may be to run and hide, it will not be in my best interest to do so. I may have been terrified out of my wits; but my wits returned. My marbles were found; likely thanks in large part to my two emotional support dogs who wouldn’t let me wander far without them (my marbles or their furry company).

May you find the courage and tenacity to face whatever life throws at you in the coming days. It can’t be worse than a Haunted House after all. 😊

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