Did I lock the door? The worry jostled Brandon out of nowhere like getting rear-ended at a stoplight. He stuffed a fist full of damp socks into the dryer, and took a beat to wrestle with the age-old question. I’m pretty good about locking it. But I honestly can’t remember. Brandon grabbed another fist full of boxer briefs and white V-neck undershirts. he combed through all his mental recall and could not find a specific memory of locking the back door. Now that worry had grabbed the wheel of his imagination, even if he remembered locking the door, there was no way of telling if it was true memory or just a composite of memories from the thousands of times he had locked it before.
Brandon had always liked doing the laundry when he lived with his parents. He liked the idea of a chore that was mostly sitting in from for the TV with some switching and folding. Now, the chore involved a dim apartment basement complete with an ominous dripping sound and a three-story climb and was no longer his favorite. It had been eight months in that apartment and he still could not shake the tingle in his spine he got in that basement. It made him so uneasy he would often leave a can leaning against the door of the laundry room so it would be sure to alert him if anyone or anything opened the door.
Brandon’s worry surrounding doors was no coincidence. As a kid when his mom would go into one of her fits, she would scream at him and punctuate her points by slamming the door repeatedly. While anybody can get worked up after leaving the door unlocked, any worry involving a door for Brandon immediately took him to the brink, which Dr. Parker would say is justifiable but improvable.
Had he left the door open, he did not want to waste time wondering. He hastily transferred the rest of his whites to the dryer and scurried up the enclosed back staircase. A recurring thought popped into his head as he looked up the stairwell passing the door to the alley on the ground level, Whoever scouts locations for Dick Wolf would go ape shit for this staircase. Panic seized him and propelled him bounding up the stairs.
Brandon reached his door, slowed himself and turned the knob without opening the door. It was unlocked. Blood rushed to Brandon’s skin as his fear hijacked his central nervous system. He slowly pushed the door open and immediately he could tell this was not some deep seeded fear from childhood, he felt scared of this moment and this door, different from all the times he checked his trunk when he left his car unlocked.
He grabbed the baseball bat he kept by the door and methodically checked every corner of his apartment even places not big enough to hide an intruder. He looked twice under every piece of furniture, and three times behind every door. All clear.
Brandon began to let himself begin to take full breaths and now that he had proven to himself that his nightmare was not coming true. Dr. Parker’s advice filtered into his thought process. Was that a reasonable fear. Yes, well sort of. I mean the door was really unlocked, but the door to the alley was locked and I would have heard someone in the stairwell if they had gone up the three floors to my apartment in the 4 minutes I was in the laundry room. Alright so I probably didn’t need to run up the stairs and grab my bat, those are some pretty obvious externalizing behaviours. I can work on that. I’m ok.
As the fear and anxiety faded to the periphery, shame began to fill the void. He needed to get his anxiety under control even though projecting his fears onto unsuspecting nubes was making him one of the best junior sales associates at his insurance company. I just checked under my bed several times like a kid checking for the Boogie Man. Jesus, pull it together. Brandon hit play on the next episode of Shameless on Netflix, using the episode length as a timer for the 50 minute drying cycle. For almost an hour he relished living vicariously through a band of misfits who were never crippled by anxiety like he could be. The episode ended and he grabbed his keys and made his way to the back staircase determined to exhibit some semblance of control over his anxiety. He immediately triple checked the lock, which given the circumstances he was not going to count against himself, and strolled down the stairs with a forced ease.
Brandon reached the ground level and the corner of the door leading to the back alley caught his eye. It protruded slightly from the door frame. He kicked the door with his toe and it popped open. Fiddling with the lock he discovered it was sticking about half of the time. He became furious with his apartment management company and he wanted to bitch them out, but he knew no one was going to answer on a Sunday night. Behind his fury, lurked the fearful thought that for several minutes he had left an unobstructed path between his apartment, his home, and all the villains who stalked the city. It struck again. Don’t let one anxious thought spiral out of control. Fight it. He desperately wanted to go check his apartment again. You checked every corner of the apartment. AND nothing bad happened for a whole episode. You’re not making an extra trip up the stairs. Dr. Parker would be disappointed if you give in to you anxiety now.
Brandon picked up a shirt, flicked the wrinkles out, folded the arms behind, and folded it in half. Pick, flick, fold, fold. Pick, flick, fold, fold. The monotony and the warmth of the clothes comforted Brandon’s anxious mind. I’m sure I checked everywhere. Yes. I even checked places too small for a person. And it’s not like there is some ghoul hiding under my sink or a hidden ravenous badger in my in the cabinet. The thought of hiding badgers as a trap made Brandon chuckle to himself. He was learning how to coexist with his anxiety, it just took some time.
Brandon grabbed the handles of the laundry basket and confidently thrust his shoulders back and he ascended the stairs. Unfortunately, the sight of the back door replenished the strength of his anxiety like a power up in a video game. He kicked the door with the side of his foot, and it stayed shut just as he left it. But true to form, continual proof did not appease Brandon’s anxiety. Determined to have a ‘win’ to discuss in therapy on Wednesday, he fought off his intensifying anxiety and resisted the urge to run up the stair checking over his shoulder for a bad guy chasing him. He took each step with a measured faux confidence. You are doing great Brandon, don’t give in to your compulsion to check over your shoulder. You are the only one in the stairwell. Nothing is after you.
A small sense of pride fell over Brandon as he unlocked his apartment door. He thought about how he would phrase his progress with Dr. Parker. After allowing myself to get worked up about something stupid like forgetting to lock my door while doing laundry, and even after going into a complete panic, I was able to fight back and really exhibit control over my anxiety by the last time up the stairs. He walked through the back door and into the kitchen. He set the laundry basket down and now in the comfort of his own home, he began vocalizing his fictitious conversation with his therapist.
“And I did so well fighting my anxiety,” He continued, “that I didn’t even check over my shoulder the last time I entered my apartment.”
“Always check over your shoulder,” responded in gravelly voice.
Brandon recoiled with a shriek, startled and scared beyond belief. He struggled longer than most, but that had been accounted for. Bound and gagged on his stomach, Brandon craned his neck but could only see the knees of the man who stood over him.
“Trust your instincts, I always say. ‘Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.’ You know who wrote that…? Of course you don’t, Catch-22 isn’t on Netflix.”