Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Interview

From the second I listened to the voicemail offering me a chance to come in for an interview, my stomach began to churn and my palms became sweaty. I was smart enough to not allow myself to hesitate too long before calling the number back. This was one opportunity I couldn’t pass up and so I immediately pressed “Call” and tried to take some deep breaths. The woman who answered the phone was one of the sweetest people I have ever had the privilege of talking to. She put me right at ease and set me up for an interview on Tuesday afternoon. I thought, no problem, I’ll go to the interview and just take the rest of the afternoon off and it will be a piece of cake. It was set. I (of course) was bluffing. “No problem?!?!?!” I actually had a huge problem in the shape of confrontation.

 I have not had to interview for something like this in over two and a half years. Also, I had never been to an interview since I was diagnosed with Acute Anxiety Disorder. I was in denial as I typed the appointment into my Google calendar and then I tried to get it off my mind. No Big Deal. Tuesday was then, 8 days away. For the “normal” or “average” person, the interview gets put on your calendar and you have jitters or passing feelings of uncertainty, but it's a doable life event. I now truly realize, I am no longer a “normal” person. As I type “normal,” I get a cringe of guilt and dread for labeling. What is “normal” anyway? There are varying shades of human, there really is NO “normal.” What I mean to depict here is that the type of jitters I get aren’t standard or "normal" as in “I hope I say the right thing,” or “what if they don’t like me?” My jitters are about the unknown factors. “Will I feel claustrophobic in the interview room?” “Will my stomach make an embarrassing noise in a silent lull?” “Will I feel the need to run straight for the restroom?” “Will I not know where the restroom is?”

My anxiety began last year, a few months after I took a supervisory position that I essentially had to create from the ground up. I was the first person to take on the job duties; there was no manual or set of guidelines on how to supervise staff. It was really a “fly by the seat of your pants” type of situation.  We had recently rolled out a new Electronic Health Record operating system and had to essentially teach ourselves how to use the software. On top of all that (like the cherry on top 😊) I had to deal with a lot of personnel issues between my newly acquired staff members. All those issues seemed heightened daily and began to create tension, angst and even more stress. Every day I came into work not knowing what my day would look like and that instability, day in and day out, formed a high level of anxiety over time. During this period, I realized my moods changed and I wasn’t able to function the way I used to. I was not able to sleep, I was eating my emotions and retracting from social activities that once brought me so much joy. So, after a lot of denial, I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with Acute Anxiety Disorder. It made complete sense, but the fix or "cure" I was given,  just didn’t sit well with me. I was given pills to take and I followed the regimen for a couple weeks, but I hated the way I felt. I didn’t feel like ME. I had apprehensions about stopping the pills, but equally felt the same amount of resistance to taking them. Sharing my issues with colleagues, the kind of feedback I would receive was, “that’s what this place will do to you,” or “join the club.” I knew that those kinds of comments were intended to comfort me and help me to not feel alone, but they did not comfort me. I felt sad and angry that there were so many co-workers struggling each day. I couldn't believe that there was a culture that seemed to accept a workplace or environment that bred anxiety. Why should we all have to adapt to the environment? Why am I taking pills to change my internal make-up so that I could function in this environment? The environment needed the changing, but that's a whole other blog. I stopped taking the pills and tried all kinds of other natural remedies which really helped at times. Essential oils, meditating, drinking tea instead of coffee, walking and getting plenty of rest, but nothing was a cure all. Eventually, I had to do what was best for me and step down from the supervisor position and go back to my admin job. That helped my stress levels A LOT, but the damage (unfortunately) had already been done. I am now a person who suffers from anxiety attacks. My brain is now wired to be on high alert all the time, 24-7.

Eight days. I had eight days between finding out I had an interview to the actual day I had to face the music. Those eight days were excruciating. My brain took the reigns of my life. The overthinking was out of control. I tried to cry it out, breathe it out, write it out, but in the end television was the only thing to keep my mind from completely conquering me. Seinfeld was the biggest help. A show about nothing really did the trick. I watched it episode after episode and would fall asleep on the couch watching it. When I fell asleep while watching, I had deep sleep and that was bliss. However, when I woke up and moved to the bed to be more comfortable, my brain said, “I’ve got you right where I want you.” It conjured up the most insane thoughts and I would be laying there, awake, for the hours until it was time to go to work. Usually that was around 3-4 hours of me just laying there at the mercy of my brain. I went to work and keeping busy there was helpful. Though, I had some added anxiety about keeping the interview a secret because I didn't want anyone to know I was looking elsewhere for employment. You never know how people will react. I finally told my partner in crime at the front desk about it, admitting I was so nervous to go through the interview process. She was so supportive and mirrored what most family and friends say when you tell them you are anxiety ridden over an interview. “You’ll do just fine.” “They’re going to love you.” “Don’t be nervous about what to say.” “You got this!” The thing is, not to sound conceited or overly sure of myself, but it truly has nothing to do with the questions or the actual interview portion. My anxiety is what I call “Irrational anxiety." 

My definition of Irrational anxiety is “the fear of the unknown.” I mean “Irrational” in the truest sense of its definition: “not logical or reasonable.” I am in no way putting down anxiety or writing it off as unreasonable. For me, it’s just a way to explain the difference between having situational or infrequent anxiety which I deem as traditional anxiety versus what I suffer from: nontraditional anxiety. Traditional anxiety might look like nervousness caused by standing up on stage or meeting new people versus nontraditional anxiety which is caused by not knowing what a setting will look like, how much space there will be between you and the other people there, the temperature, the lightning, will this stomach make noises, how far away is the bathroom, will you get flustered trying to find somewhere to park, etc. None of these things really have anything to do with the actual content of the interview or anxiety ridden situation.  For me, once I’ve found the building, parked, checked in, visited the facilities, made my way into the interview room and the interview begins in a spacious, well lit, comfortable environment; then I am okay. I’m going to make it. I get to listen intently to questions I need to respond to and so my brain really can’t take control anymore. It gets frustrating trying to explain this to people who have never experienced non-traditional anxiety, because there’s an air of “buck up and just get through it” that comes across which unintentionally minimizes what it takes to actually get through it. The amount of Pepto Bismol tablets alone would be shocking to some, but you gotta do what you gotta do to get through. It's 90% the build up and 10% the actual situation. It's not just butterflies and rapid heartbeat, but instead: butterflies, gassy tummy, rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, sweaty everything, lack of breathe, lack of focus, numbness, and much more... 

As the time shortened between me and the interview, my tears, shortness of breath, lack of sleep, worry and dread heightened tremendously. I tried all my usual tricks; some worked, some didn’t. I knew that I just needed to power through and give myself this chance at a change. It was time for me to move on from the environment that had helped create this anxiety in me and I wanted freedom more than ever. So, I picked the most comfortable (be it a little baggy) but professional outfit I could find and I got dressed for the day. I had to go to work for almost the entire day with the interview gnawing on my brain. I wrote myself some questions in my portfolio to ask the interview panel and I went to work to watch the hours slowly pass by. I drove to the interview singing “On a Roll” by Sugarland to pump myself up, but I was way too early to go in. I sat in the car and tried to settle my nerves. Each passing minute, I grew a little more panicked. “How am I going to get through this?” I popped a couple Peptos in my mouth, swigged some water and at ten till, I walked across the street to the front door. I walked in and was about to state who I was to the receptionist, but was cut off by one of the interviewers who said with a very welcoming smile, “Hey, Jennifer, right?” I nodded yes. “So great to have you here, you’re a little early, I’m going to go grab coffee and then I’ll be ready to go.” I asked if I could use the restroom (though it was a reflex, I didn't need to go) and he told me where it was. “That’ll be perfect, I’ll get my coffee, you use the restroom and we’ll meet right back here.”

The interview was a breeze. It was like talking to two friends. Both interviewers were so passionate about their work and they shared that passion with me. It was more like a discussion and less like an interview. It took place upstairs at a very quaint table with very comfortable chairs. There were just two interviewers, but the table was on the small side and so we were seated rather close to each other, but I snuck some deep breaths and once the conversation started rolling, it rolled on for about forty-five minutes. I had a great feeling about the place and the environment. Seemed low stress and high on positivity. Yes please! Sign me up! They thanked me for coming and told me that I would hear from them about the possibility of a second interview by that coming Friday. I walked out of there higher than a kite. I was soaring and floating on the clouds. What a relief! I did it! I went out for Happy Hour to celebrate and then anxiety reared its ugly head. “A second interview?!??!?!?!” “How are you ever going to make it through all that again?”

Well, they called me, and I was asked to come in for a second interview. The gal that phoned said, “It’ll be a five-person panel, just to get to know you better. I hope you’re okay with a large group like that.” My response was, “no problem.” “No Problem!?!?!?!?” Immediately, all the same feelings came rushing back to me: sweaty palms, rise in heartbeat, churning stomach and racing thoughts. This was Thursday and my second interview was on Monday at 10am. I figured out that to attend the interview, I would just take my lunch early, easy peasy. Again, it went on my calendar and I tried to move on with life. My nerves were heightened with the knowledge of a large panel interview. This was a game changer. I barely slept from Thursday to Monday and I watched a lot of television to take me to another life. Such a powerful way to escape your life for hours on end. Thank you Netflix!

The morning of the second interview, I laid awake from 3am-5:30am and at 5:30am. I worried myself into an oblivion and my toilet and I became better acquainted. Hello Pepto Bismol. Goodbye stomach acid. My Mister (sweet companion in life) took me to work so that he could pick me up for my interview and be by my side to calm me before I went in. He was a life saver. We drove up to the interview location five minutes early; they weren’t ready for me and I was asked to sit and wait. Oh, the agony. I asked if I could use the bathroom and I really didn’t have to go, but it was something to do instead of sitting and waiting. I came out to find that they were ready for me and up the stairs I went again, but this time into a conference room with a huge long table and four friendly faces smiling at me. I shook everyone’s hand and introduced myself and though I talked way too fast and was very nervous with four pairs of eyes on me, I was somewhat at ease as soon as the questions began to roll. I had space to myself. They didn’t close the door of the conference room. The energy was positive and uplifting. It was short and sweet. Done in under a half hour. I did it!

I was told that I would hear by that upcoming Friday (again), either way. The hard part was over and now it was just a waiting game. With each passing day, my anxiety began to melt away, but my anticipation grew and grew. Waiting from Monday until Friday seemed so daunting, but luckily they only made me wait till mid-day Thursday. I couldn't believe it when I got the call that I got the job!  I’m still in shock. I pushed through debilitating anxiety, twice (well more times than that, but specifically to get this job – twice! 😊) and I now have my chance at change. I have learned so much through this experience and feel so accomplished and proud that I pushed myself passed the fear and uncomfortable situations. I also came to the realization that the reason the terms “Anxiety” and “Depression” are usually associated with each other is because anxiety can make you feel down on yourself. I not only was anxiety ridden, but I was depressed and felt like a failure for having such anxiety. The thing is, everyone goes through something at some point in their life. So, we all need to have empathy for each other. Every type of anxiety, every struggle, every feeling is valid. I have put myself down so many times throughout the last few weeks because I just wanted to be “normal” and be able to get through this “normal” life step without all the added chaos of anxiety. My self-reflective tendencies have me evaluating how wrong I have been. Being the exact person you are is the most important thing you can do with your life. Anxiety may leave you feeling helpless or hopeless, but life is a very fluid thing. Just as I did not have anxiety 2 years ago, I may not have it 2 years from now. With all the uncertainties that anxiety brings, the one thing we can be sure of is change. Change is very hard for anyone who suffers from anxiety. So, it's extra important to take the hard steps forward and push yourself. 

           I am not who I was BEFORE anxiety. I have changed. I am stronger in some ways. I am weaker in some ways. I am flawed in new ways. The bottom line is that I am better for it. Change can be debilitating, stressful and emotional, but in all those ways it also shapes you and molds you into the person you are meant to become. I may not be exactly who everyone wishes I would be, but I'm learning to let go of the outside narrative. I may not be exactly who I want to be, but I'm closer than I was a year ago. I've learned that I need to be nicer to myself. The dialogue in my mind has been so harsh and self deflating that I'm trying to ease up. We are hardest on ourselves. Anyone facing anxiety, depression, difficult feelings or hard times, you are NOT alone. Everyone will face something similar at some point in their life. Just because someone doesn't understand your situation now, doesn't mean they never will. Be open, try to help illuminate the feelings and maybe they'll understand a little more. Write it out if you must; that is my avenue of choice. My motto is "get it down on paper, so it won't catch up with me later..." Get it out in some capacity and watch a little bit of that anxiety mountain chip away. You are not climbing alone. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Well Rounded

     I am not okay.  I will definitely be okay, but at the present moment, I am not okay. Truth is that none of us are 100% okay. Not all the time. There will be days that are so amazing and good times that make your heart soar and your smile widen, but those days don't last forever. I am grateful for those days and just because I embrace my negative days as I do my positive ones, doesn't take anything away from the good. It's just the truth of life. There is always change which means there is always a 50/50 chance of lows here and there. 

     I was talking to my coworker the other day about social media and how everyone presents their very best self online. It's not a real representation of life on a day to day basis because it is the highlight reel of all the good moments. She and I both agreed that we like to give a more well rounded approach online. One where we share our struggles as well as our triumphs and we share our boring days as well as our excitement filled days.  I explained that when I've done so, some have called me negative and that presented another piece of the problem. If you watch social media comments, you will see that there are people who are going to tear you down for any way you slice it. No matter what you stand for, no matter what you say, someone is going to see it from the opposite side of the spectrum. So, in the end, all that matters is what you want to be known for. 

     I want to be known for telling my life story from all angles. I love to post pictures of happy times and trips with some of my favorite people: my Mom, Gma and Paul, but those are just like shooting stars in the broader night sky of my life. The stars stuck in my night sky are memories that stay there to keep you striving for more shining moments, but behind all that is a dark sky. All the failures, all the tries that didn't pan out, all the tears, all the heartache and all the downs in life are lost in that dark canvas of night. When you search on Facebook, you see star after star after star and if it's something happening right now, it's a shooting star. We need to show a little bit more of that vast dark. The dark is where character is built. The dark is where you create a star which adds a little bit more light to your world. It's NOT a negative thing. The message that we should all show our best sides, best selfies (that took 20 minutes to get the lighting just right), best days is just a disservice. That message, "put your best face forward," means that there are more than one to choose from? I thought being two-faced was a bad thing? 

     I had a panic attack (a pretty good one) on Friday night when going to see a movie. My favorite theater, sitting on the end of an aisle, but mid way through the movie, I couldn't breathe. At the time, I didn't want to ruin Paul's experience, so I just ducked out to go to the restroom. I didn't have to go to the bathroom, but it was the only quiet place that I could dab a little water on my face and breathe. It took a couple minutes to calm down. I missed 2-3 minutes of the movie and that really bummed me out. Paul was so great and whispered any missed plot to me, but I was still uncomfortable and I've never felt this way before. If anyone knows me, my ALL TIME favorite thing to do in the world is to go to the movies. So, this is why I am NOT OKAY. 

     I've had anxiety and panic attacks from around March of last year (2017). I had taken a promotion and the job and the situations in place at the time were so high stress that I developed anxiety. I went to the doctor and she diagnosed me with acute anxiety and borderline depression. (I've been battling depression on and off for over 15 years) She prescribed me pills that made me feel worse than the anxiety did and so I've just been trying to manage it with other remedies such as breathing, oils, meditation, exercise, etc. What I've come to realize after this latest episode on Friday night in the movie theater is that my anxiety and panic attacks are getting much worse. I have never had that feeling in a movie theater. A couple weeks ago, I had that same fearful feeling come over me just playing cards with family that was in town. I had to excuse myself a couple times just to go to the bathroom to breathe. I have had it happen to me in the grocery store or waiting in line with people standing just a little too close. At the dollar store a couple weeks ago, I just got out of line and left all my stuff in a display at the front of the store.  Paul was so kind to go back in later and buy it all for me. I have anxiety in meetings at work and even at fun activities like potlucks. I have to find a seat by the door and preferably, "can we please just leave the door open?" 

     It's not a feeling of possibly being put on the spot or that I'm not capable to answer questions or unqualified. I feel very secure in my work ability, my knowledge and I've never been one (at least not in the last 10 years) to be too scared to talk in a meeting. So, "what is the problem?" is the common question asked of me. It's a fear of the unknown space. The room and its dimensions, maybe claustrophobia in some aspects. Will somebody sit too close to me and box me in? Will I feel stuck? I already feel stuck because the meeting is from 1pm-2pm and so I have to be in that same space for one hour. If I'm talking or engaged in taking notes or doodling, I'm semi-okay, but if the other people in the room are talking and there's nothing else for me to do, but catch a glimpse of the clock or think of how small my chair is or how warm it's becoming, I will lose my cool. I take peppermints with me everywhere I go. They help me breathe deeper and the peppermint is a natural remedy for upset stomach. I take "Peace and Calming" oil with me and rub it on my wrists and try to inhale the aroma and calm down. Each morning before work, I dab "Valor" oil (which they say is liquid courage) on my wrists and on the back of my neck in hopes that it will set me up for a brave day. Some days it works, some days it does not.    

     I'm not okay. This is not who I thought I'd be at this point in my life, but that's all about to change. I had an epiphany Thursday while doing a task that I passively took on because another person made it so known that they did not like doing said task. My epiphany was that I am a nice person and I do want everyone around me to be happy, but I never add myself to that list. I have given away power for too long. Not the ugly form of power where you control people or feel authoritative over them. I am NOT down for any kind of power in that respect. I'm talking about power to be myself, be worthy of respect and have my voice heard. 

     I am not invisible, I am not silent, I have feelings, I have struggles. I respect everyone else's circumstances, I feel for people, I cry for other's stories and my well of empathy is deep. I am still human. I lashed out a couple weeks ago because I had been keeping my feelings to myself and I couldn't hold it in anymore. I felt horrible, I owned it, apologized and things will never be the same, but that's life. That's real. We make mistakes, we alter our worlds and relationships, but our actions, we own them and apologize if we want any hope of having continued relationships with those same people we've hurt.

    My main message here is that life is messy. Life is NOT Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Life is not a highlight reel. Share your ups and downs so that people can see a well rounded person and not feel so alone. The reason that social media has gotten such a bad rap is because it isolates people to their computer screens and they sit there comparing their present low moment with everyone else's highs. It can be toxic. You'll hear the argument that those people need to think differently or go to counseling. Why should we have to change for a few insecure people. Newsflash - we are all insecure in some way. I have yet to meet a completely secure person. Insecurities and flaws make us human and make us interesting. This affects more people than you realize. You don't have to post every bad thing that happens to you, but show some humility and growth of character. It helps more than you will ever know. 

***Shout out of Ryan China McCarney for posting videos after his panic attacks and giving pointers how to get through them. We need MORE of that!***  

Sunday, March 4, 2018

27 Days

January 2018 was a hard month. I lost my best friend in the entire world.  An orange fur ball named Dobbie passed away at age 15 and he was the best friend I have ever known. Leading up to that, well, 2017 was a hard year... like the worst year. We lost a family member and friend who was dear to us right at the beginning of the 2017 and things just got worse from then on. I won't bore you with the negative details and I will say that splashed in between all the dark blues and grays, there was light and color. Life is always an array of all kinds of ups and downs. We had some fun times and made lots of good memories too. 

When Dobbie got sick around October 2017, I just thought we would be able to make him better. Countless trips to the vet's office and about $3,000+ later, we had to come to terms with the fact that 15 years for a cat is just the lifespan we get and what a beautiful gift at that. 15 years with this beautiful, kind, loving, ego-less, heart filling little guy. What a blessing. The biggest blessing was that he gave us the gift of choosing to go. We didn't have to take him in and "pull the plug." He died in  between Paul and I, on his own terms, and to watch him take his last breath was both excruciating, but at the same time such a beautiful last gift from our pal Dobbie. That whole experience has shaped me and really impacted everything in my life. It was amazingly bittersweet! 

With all its beauty, it didn't make it any less painful. To not have him here every day to talk to, cuddle with and just see him. That was so very hard!  He was our home. We hadn't taken that for granted all these years, but once he wasn't present, we realized how much he filled any house we had and made it a home. The week following his passing was a depth of despair for both Paul and I. (I'm so grateful and lucky to have fallen in love with a sensitive guy - sorry Paul LOL - the cat's out of the bag...) Paul had loved Dobbie for 10 years out of those 15 years of Dobbie's life and so we went through it all together and it brought us closer. 

What I did differently in my grief was drink. I had been drinking wine here and there all of 2017 - like a glass or two a night and some nights not any, but on average I was drinking most nights. The week that Dobbie left us, I drank a bottle of wine every night of that week. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday... I felt so gross, but I was trying to numb the pain. What was my saving grace is that I was self aware. I saw the pattern quickly change to over consumption and almost immediately (within one week) I realized I needed a change. 

For 27 days I didn't drink a stitch of alcohol. I drank mock-tails if I went out to dinner and I made my own mock-tails at home. Usually, ginger beer, grapefruit juice mixed with mint tea and my brain loved the taste and didn't need the wine anymore. At first it was hard, but as I completely cleansed my body of that substance, I actually became more relaxed (which I thought only a glass of wine could do that), less anxiety ridden and my skin and outlook began to clear up. After about day 8, I was good and I didn't even think about it. 

I thought that the normal outings or trips would be ruined or less fun because I wasn't drinking alcohol, but it couldn't have been farther from the truth. We went to San Diego for my Grandpa's funeral and we made a weekend out of it and did lots of touristy things and I didn't order a single drink. I didn't need it to have fun. We went out to Mexican Food and usually the biggest draw for me is to have a margarita and so I was a little apprehensive, but I ordered a virgin margarita and it was just as enjoyable. 

I realized that I can have, and am fun regardless. I don't need to drink to have fun, relax or let loose. I enjoyed my 3 day trip without any outside influences needed. Sounds sad when I type this, but that was a huge revelation for me. I have very low self esteem and when I drink, I gain more confidence and you know the expression "liquid courage," I have a ton of that after a glass or two. Great thing is that I no longer need that. 

So, 27 days passed where I didn't drink a stitch of alcohol and to celebrate, we decided to go wine tasting. May sound like such a waste after all that effort not to drink and such...  Truth is I had wine club shipments I had put off during these last 27 days. Going to pick up the wine would have been hard because the temptation to taste would have been too great. So I needed to pick up my wine before they charged me to ship the wine to me. 

We went to Venteux and Tooth & Nail wineries. It was such a fun day, three generations of women laughing, talking, sipping and meeting wonderful people and just enjoying life. Very reminiscent to my San Diego weekend - all the same feelings. We went out to eat and pigged out on Cool Hand Luke's steak, onion rings and mashers. Delish! We went home and I slept like a baby.... 
Cut to the morning... 
...pounding headache, my mouth felt dry, stomach was queasy. It was a tough Sunday morning and I hated feeling like that again. It took awhile to get out of bed, the room was too bright, the noises too loud. I had a mild hangover. I realized in that moment, it's not worth it. 

The term "Everything in Moderation" is something that came screaming to the forefront of my brain. I shouldn't have drank so much at one time. It's not that I never want to have a glass of wine ever again, but I never want to get to a place of a bottle a night or a whole day of drinking that makes me feel sick the next morning.

Those 27 days taught me that when I don't drink daily, I eat less, walk more and feel more relaxed and content in life. When I focus on the moments and not the spirits, life is better too. I used to be SO FOCUSED on coming home from work to my glass of wine. NO MORE. I will not drink unless there is an occasion to. Vacant daily drinking is just covering up pains that need to be felt and dealt with. 

I am grateful for 27 days of healing from the loss of my dearest friend, healing up old wounds, being myself and becoming boundless... NO LONGER TIED TO ANYTHING. I will never let anything overtake my senses or create dependencies again. I'm in control... now... with an entire wine rack of wine to drink... The IRONY... Teehee! 

Here's to the occasions that require a toast! 
What a pretty display to look at in the meantime!