This first-person chronicle is the experience of Shannon Kernaghan, a writer and visual artist from Alberta who struggles to regain her once fearless attitude. For more information on CBC’s First Person Stories, please see frequently asked questions.
I didn’t start being anxious all the time.
As a teenager, I felt fearless. I remember coming back from a party with two girlfriends. We stopped at one red light after another, just like the cute guy driving a red convertible next to us. We waved and he would wave back. A friend threatened to jump in his car at the next stop.
“Go!” I said, “do it already!” When she didn’t move, I felt my fingers grab the door handle, open the door, and I jumped into her passenger seat.
“They challenged you, didn’t they,” he said with a grin as we drove off.
How comfortable was I as a teenager accepting rides from strangers? These days, I’m nervous about walking into our underground parking lot alone.
I blame my exhausting courage on the range of ways my possessions and personal identity can be stolen, from underhanded digital theft to brazen theft of catalytic converters.
I don’t even have to be a victim to feel the danger getting closer and closer.
In our parking lot, the car parked next to us was stolen a year ago. Several vehicles had their expensive catalytic converters cut out.
My fear level skyrocketed in December when residents learned that master keys – the keys that open everything doors to our building – had been stolen. Until new locks were installed, my husband Paul and I never left the house together. One of us stayed behind on guard.
No one pointed a gun at me or snatched my purse, but our credit cards were also hacked and compromised.
In the spring of 2018, charges appeared on my credit card statement at a series of grocery stores in Las Vegas. How unfair that while we were having a cold winter in Alberta, someone was taking advantage of our money in the desert!
Sin City lived up to its name again in June 2020 when we received an email from MGM Resorts, owners of a Vegas hotel we stayed at in 2017.
“Notice of data security issue,” it began, followed by details of an “issue” where an “unauthorized party” had “accessed and downloaded certain guest data from a cloud server external”.
Who knew that I had played with my personal identity while risking my money at the slot machines.
Now, my once optimistic and confident self is always on high alert for so-called rogue parties and bad actors. Emails, text messages and phone calls may provide malicious links or questionable threats if I don’t send money or gift cards.
Of course, my house is my castle but I feel more and more trapped. When I told Paul that I was tired of feeling anxious, he replied, “It’s time to build a ditch.
With a cell phone and some ingenuity, Paul created a Find My Car-style tracking device in case our wheels leave the house without us. Our extra phone is connected to a data plan and hidden in the vehicle. Every morning, as soon as I get out of bed, I turn on the computer, launch Google’s Find My Device feature, and check that our “Baby Honda” is still where it should be.
Am I overreacting? Maybe.
Or maybe not. In April, I felt bad but oddly justified when I learned that another neighbor’s truck had been stolen.
When I browse the web, it’s through a virtual private network to hide my computer’s location. I use a YubiKey device to add two-factor authentication to my Gmail accounts, and I subscribe to a service called Wordfence that secures my website from hackers. I receive a weekly report showing intrusion attempts on my site from IP addresses around the world.
It’s comforting to know that I can lower the drawbridge to the outside world and still be safe. But it’s a fine balance, wanting to master technology without becoming jaded by humanity.
Paul reminded me that being a victim of ne’er do wells is nothing new. Before we met, he bought a vintage 1957 Chevy. Two weeks after buying the car, he left for work and felt a draft while driving. Was his side window vent open? No.
It wasn’t until he turned onto the main street and picked up speed that he realized his windshield was missing. He couldn’t find a replacement – probably the reason it was stolen – and ended up selling the car for parts.
Our “safety gap” is a lot of work, but it has done a lot to contain my anxiety and allow me to live a full and satisfying life.
Every day I ride my bike in this big world, a world where most people are good. I double lock this bike when it’s parked to protect it from people who aren’t.
I’ve embraced my love of visual art projects where with a brush or a piece of charcoal I can make a mess and color outside the lines without losing control. In the daily news, I look for success stories where good triumphs over evil. I don’t dwell on the sad reality of criminals lurking in our community.
Now that Paul and I have found ways to feel safer, I only had to agree to one request from him: no more jumping in cars with other cute boys.
I can live with that.
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