In Canada, anxiety is the leading mental health concern for young people. Anxiety is an expected response to a threat that can help keep one safe in challenging scenarios but for some youth, that anxiety is something that lasts well past the initial threat and impedes their daily functioning.
When we first met Tom, it was challenging to figure out what was going on for him. He seemed distant and aloof. When we were doing our daily check-ins with him, he would often avoid eye contact and stare at the ground while scratching nervously at his neck.
After working with him for several weeks he began to open up more and put a name to his behavior…anxiety. There were days that he would have full conversations with staff but would later return, not remembering a word of what was said, or even that he had a conversation.
This summer we received tickets for an afternoon boat tour. I was eager to suggest that Tom come with us, as he had a particularly sleepless night. There were often nights when he would toss and turn all evening, not falling asleep until the wee’ hours of the morning. It took some persuading, but I eventually convinced him that it would be great to get some fresh air.
Being out in nature has been shown to be even more beneficial then going to the gym, when dealing with anxiety. This day was one of those perfect Vancouver afternoons where the sun sits high in the sky, warming the city while a cool breeze rolled in off the Burrard Inlet.
When we got on the boat, the guys scattered to the various decks and began taking a flurry on pictures of the shoreline. I looked up after hearing a group of our guys laughing at the front of the boat, as they posed like Jack and Rose on the Titanic. I looked around, counting the tops of their heads trying to ensure they were all, but I could not locate Tom.
I began to climb down the stairs to the second deck, then the first. I couldn’t see him anywhere out on the decks, so I walked back inside the cabin but again had no luck. “Have any of you seen Tom?” I questioned to the group, now crowded around the back of the boat taking selfies. “He’s at the front of the boat,” they answered. I made my way towards the front and peered over the edge to see Tom sitting just under the British Columbia flag that was flapping in the wind. He sat alone with his eyes closed and his head tilted to the sun. For once, his jittery body sat still and motionless. His legs which often bounced and tremored as if trying to push his anxiety out of his feet, were relaxed.
“Seals!” someone called from the deck, and all our heads swiveled to the right of the boat where over a dozen seals lay sunbathing on a stretch of logs. Tom shifted slightly to get a better look at the grey masses lounging without a care in the world. We were told that the seals often came out of the water mid-day to warm up. I glanced back down at Tom to see him now fully standing and leaning over the boats edge to get a better look.
The boat turned and circled back toward the shore, by this point the seals were out of sight and everyone returned to taking pictures and milling about the deck spaces. I began to make my way off the top deck and down the stairs to where Tom sat at the front. He smiled when I approached him, and I remarked that he seemed to be enjoying himself. He met my gaze and said with conviction, “This is the calmest I’ve felt in weeks.”
Shared by Desiree Symons, Youth Worker at our Crisis Program