I’m not sure exactly when my invisible fire started. Sometimes I think that it started in high school. If you asked anyone who knew me in high school I think you’d find, with the exception of a few close friends, that most would say I was a pretty normal kid, had decent marks, was liked by most people and teachers and that I was pretty involved in extra curricular activities like Rugby, volunteering and being on a few different councils.
That was how I wanted everyone to see me. I didn’t want people to see how my life really was. I very rarely had any of my friends over to my house. I never had parties. My life at home was one that was filled with a lot of anxiety, frustration and yelling. I fought with my parents more often than not. To me - at that time in my life - my home life was a disappointment. I would compare my home life to those of my friends and it would make me angry. I expected my parents to act a certain way; I expected a certain amount of support from them; I expected them to change who they were to fit my expectations. For a long time I hated who they were and I hated who I was. I was resentful for the amount of control I felt my parents were trying to have over MY life.
When high school ended I couldn’t wait to get away from my house. I was heading to University and I was ready to live my own life away from my parents. No rules, no yelling, no stress. Everything was going to be different and it was all going to be better…
First year of University went by and I had my challenges just like everyone else. I had to learn time management. There was no one telling me when to get up, when to go to class and worst of all…I had to do my own laundry!
That summer I decided that I’d go back home to Orillia to work and make as much money as I could. That’s what’s important right? I needed to make as much money as I could so that I could buy things…like…ok I can’t actually remember anything I bought…I know I paid for gas and to fix my ’87 Jetta with power windows and a crank sunroof! That’s about it…
So that summer things returned to normal: fighting, yelling, me punching a wall or a door
When I was in my second year of University the doctor told me that I had anxiety. I had already known but having a doctor tell you makes it that much more real.
For the next two years I battled with negative thoughts about what I was doing with my life, all the things that I was unhappy with and where my life would end up. I started taking medication and eventually went into group Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
The medication helped for a while. I’m not sure if it really was the medication itself or just knowing that I was taking medication and told that it was suppose to make me feel better. Regardless, it calmed me. When I would have panic attacks I would just take a little extra. But it was learning to control and understand my thoughts that really changed my life.
Without getting too much into the details (which are kind of boring) CBT is a form of psychotherapy based on modifying everyday thoughts and behaviors, with the aim of positively influencing your thought and emotions.
I finally realized that I controlled my thoughts and they didn’t control me.
It didn’t happen overnight though; I had to tell myself this many many times. I wrote it down and placed it at eye level by my door with tack so that I would see it every time I left my room.
I was able to step outside of myself and really think about what was important to me and when was I most happy.
I was most happy when I was helping other people.
I was most happy when I could help my friends get through their problems by sharing my own experiences.
I was most happy when I felt as though I was making a difference in someone else’s life
My anxiety went away when I spent my time doing things for other people and didn’t focus all of my energy on myself.
As time went by I got out of the big “emotional ditch” that I had been digging and life became a whole lot more meaningful for me!
It's been years now since I've felt the kind of anxiety I did during that time. That invisible fire that burned inside of me is still there, but it's less of a fire and more of a little flame. The big thing is that I control it now. I don't feed it and I don't focus on it.
I focus on the positive. The Good. The things that I can do to help other people. I've learned that through the seemingly simple act of helping others, you actually end up doing quite a lot to help yourself.
Matt Tod is an international speaker, leadership facilitator, writer and lover of all things Zombie-related.