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.