Wes Craven’s, The People Under the Stairs, was a thriller/mystery movie that was released in 1991. This movie could very well be the reason that I have forever been afraid to go up any stairs leading from a basement. Better yet, I could blame my sister Nicole for this fear of mine. She was the one that insisted we watch every scary movie she could find at the video store (remember those) growing up. We must have watched The People Under the Stairs one hundred times. I am sure if we watched it today it would seem really cheesy, but 24 years ago (ouch) it was terrifying.
My house I live in now has a basement and my husband has been making fun of me for the past 8 1/2 years because each time I come up from the basement I do exactly the same thing. I start up the steps slowly and then after I am about halfway up our wooden staircase I begin to sprint until I finally come barreling through the doorway like a bull about to slam it’s target, panting like I just finished a 15k. I just always imagine that hands will come out from the darkness of the basement and grab my ankles. Ooooo I get the chills just thinking of it. Damn horror movies. Then again, I also could blame my mom for telling me she saw a family of ghosts in the basement of our home when I was in the ninth grade. “They seemed nice though,” she said. Yeah sure, thanks mom for the nightmares I’ll have for the next seven years that I will be living here. So there are my three reasons for my fear. I will defend myself that my fear has drastically decreased since having kids, largely because I am constantly exhausted so most of the time I am actually sleeping with my eyes open, wandering the house doing the never ending list of chores. My brain doesn’t have as much time to worry about imaginary hands in the basement.
I want to put this kind of fear into better perspective. When I am wide awake and my brain has time to think about this ridiculous fear of mine, to my mind and body, this fear becomes very real. My heart will race, my mind will spin and a feeling of dread will pour through my body. I have even reached the top of my stairs at times noticing that I am actually shaking. Ah hem, LOSER! I am able to laugh at myself for this 🙂 Just to be clear, I have been able to calmly walk up my stairs on multiple occasions, but before doing so I have had to mentally prep myself. In my head a similar dialogue will take place, “It’s okay, the lights were just on and you saw that no one was down here, breathe and walk, breathe and walk, you are fine. No one will reach out and grab you. It’s all in your head. Walk and breath. And look at that you are at the top of your stairs calmly turning the lights off. What a big girl, you did it. Yay.” I talk fast in my head, my stairs aren’t that long.
I am only sharing this silly story with you to show you that your mind is very easily influenced. It will think whatever you tell it to think. It does not ever need concrete evidence to believe something. It goes exactly where you tell it to. My people under the stairs fear is exactly what anxiety is. It is a combination of small moments where you allow your mind to think something completely irrational and instead of self talking your way out of the irrational thinking, you feed it. You convince yourself that these fears are real and your negative thoughts are justified and the feeding continues, and in doing this you allow anxiety to enter into your mind and if you are not prepared it will make a home there. Anxiety is a very stubborn tenant and it will not leave unless you truly understand how to kick it out.
I know alot of people in my life who can not relate to anxiety, and God Bless them. I would never wish the feelings I had felt for so many years on anyone. My mom was someone who had a hard time relating to what I was going through, although she tried her best. She was there for me all throughout my struggle, but the feelings I had were so foreign to her. In an attempt to understand me and what anxiety was she thought she would try to bring these anxious feelings on herself. Don’t try this at home.
One day my mom was walking her dog around her neighborhood. My parents live on a beautiful street, right on the bay. You can see planes descending towards MacArthur Airport as they cross over the water and their home. The planes are just high enough as to not create too much noise and just low enough for you to really appreciate their size. On this day my mom watched the plane and she imagined that the plane was going to crash. She imagined that it was going to come crashing down on her. She watched the plane moving closer thinking about how scary it would be. She made a fictional moment seem very real in her mind and as she relayed the story to me she shared how surprised she was by the fear she had felt. The plane continued over her and kept on going toward the airport, but in that quick moment my mom had just a small glimpse of what anxiety was. Her mind did exactly what she told it to do. That is anxiety.
Following my epiphany, one of the things I decided to do was to only focus on positive things. I no longer wanted to think about imaginary hands grabbing my ankles. I wanted to enjoy shopping in a mall or dining at a restaurant. I wanted to enjoy a beautiful summer day. This task of positive thinking may seem so simple, but to me it was as difficult as climbing Mt. Everest. Negativity roamed the fear filled channels of my brain. In my commitment to recovery, I decided that no matter what I would think positively. Even if I didn’t believe what I was thinking, or feel what I was thinking, if it was positive, dammit I was going to think it. This was a conscious effort I made every second of everyday until the positive thoughts were coming naturally. It was a tough process that went like this, one positive thought forward, five negative thoughts backwards, two positive thoughts forward, two negative thoughts backwards, and so on until my thoughts were mainly positive. In the end you can’t get rid of all negative thoughts, you can just control them. I needed to put my mind where I wanted it once and for all.
One of the things I did that helped was to wear a bracelet to remind myself of my decision to finally be free from this disorder. Every time I would think negatively I would switch the bracelet from one wrist to the other. At first the bracelet was in a constant dance from my left to right wrist. It was really wild to physically see how much negativity filled my thoughts, but it was great. It started to annoy me how many times I was having to take the bracelet off and put it back on, but this annoyance only fueled my commitment, making it stronger. Sometimes ridiculous things can be great motivators.
The bracelet was a small piece in helping me to regain control of my mind. In the end though you have to want to change. You have to need to change. Where are your thoughts? Are they with the people under the stairs? Take notice and make an effort to change them.
I would just like to point out too that I actually wrote this post during the day, with two of the girls awake! Go me! That’s like putting out a forest fire with an 8 ounce bottle of water, impossible. I just had to share 🙂 Have a positive day!