Job Hunting and Anxiety

Job hunting is a daunting process. Do I have the right qualifications? Enough experience? Am I what they’re looking for? Are they what I’m looking for? Financial pressure. Applications. Resumes. References. Interviews.

Now add an anxiety disorder; a little voice that will accompany you through the already daunting process.

Are you what they’re looking for? What if you don’t get this job? If you don’t get this job then you probably won’t get any job. What then? Your degree will have been for nothing. What if you do get an interview? It’s not like you’ll be able to go through with it. You know you can’t talk to people, especially one on one. They’ll never hire you. And don’t get me started on references! Who would want to give you a reference? Your tutor certainly won’t since you spent all of university an anxious mess. I wouldn’t even bother applying. In fact, don’t bother. Actually, no. You need the money. But who would hire you?

It’s a constant cycle of negative thoughts, from the first search of the job site to clicking ‘send’ on the application.

It gets worse. The job market is extremely competitive, and rejection emails are common. Now, I know rejection is part of the process, but the little voice in my head sees rejection as confirmation.

See! I was right. I knew they wouldn’t hire you. I don’t even know why you bothered applying. Don’t even bother checking your emails next time, we know it’ll just be another rejection. Although, it’s probably a good job they rejected you now. At least you won’t embarrass yourself at an interview.

Now that I’m coming to the end of my time at university, and my current job relies on me being a full-time student, I’m in the midst of job hunting. Unfortunately I’ve had a few rejections (lack of experience, I was expecting it) so that little voice has been extremely loud for the past few months.

I’m trying to organize some volunteering/work experience in a relevant field, so fingers crossed I’ll have some luck there – I’m trying to be positive!

Has anyone else experienced this while looking for a job?

They Said I Should Lie

It’s common for someone with a mental illness to feel ashamed. There’s absolutely no need to feel ashamed, and this is something I fight against on a daily basis – in my ‘real life’ or through writing – but sometimes it can’t be helped. I think it’s our job as fellow sufferers (and, you know, fellow human beings) to try and lessen that feeling of shame. We need to show people that having a mental illness is valid, and real, and okay.

It can be difficult, however, when a mental health professional doesn’t feel the same way.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve encountered some amazing people during my mental health journey. I can’t deny, though, that not everyone I’ve met along the way has been all that helpful.

The one that will always stand out for me is a professional I encountered during my mental health struggles in secondary school. Overall, this person was incredibly kind, but there is one situation that always comes to mind where I was left feeling shamed.

Long story short, this person encouraged me to lie about my absence from school. They said I should tell people that I have been having stomach problems, and that’s why I haven’t been able to get to school. Apparently, people wouldn’t react well to me being mentally ill, so I needed to tell everyone I had to be in close proximity to a toilet.

Now I’m pretty sure this person didn’t personally believe that there was anything for me to ashamed of, so why did they encourage me to lie? Maybe they thought it would be easier for me? Maybe they thought the other kids at school wouldn’t accept a mentally ill classmate? I’ll never know. But someone in that role encouraging a teenager to hide their mental illness from the world is just contributing to the stigma that surrounds mental health, and it needs to stop.

I chose not to lie, by the way, and my friends were supportive and loving and I’m incredibly grateful for them. Anyone who wasn’t that way isn’t part of my life anymore, and I’m better for it!

Life Without Anxiety Makes Me Anxious

I had my first panic attack at fourteen – I prayed that I would never experience anything like that again. At fifteen, when I dropped out of school, mid GCSEs, I longed to be back in a classroom. At sixteen I got my first prescription, and couldn’t wait for the day that I got my last. When I was seventeen, I had to withdraw all of my university applications, and I cried, and I cried, and I cried. At eighteen, watching all of my friends start new lives in new cities, I ached to get better.

Why, then, does life without anxiety make me feel so… anxious?

The first time I had this feeling was bizarre, to say the least. I was at university and about to do a presentation for the first time in around six years. I had had several sessions of hypnotherapy (check out Hypnosis if you like) to get me to that point, but I still held the belief that I couldn’t do it. I just knew that I’d get to the room, get set up, and completely fall apart with anxiety.

I was right about the anxiety, but wrong about the cause.

The first twinge of anxiety started on the journey there. I read over my notes, made sure I had everything in order, but I had the same thought running through my mind, over and over; why wasn’t I having a panic attack?

I slowly typed my username and password into the computer, each key bringing me closer and closer to my biggest fear. What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I crying, hyperventilating, running from the room?

As I set up the presentation and picked up my notes, anxiety settled in the pit of my stomach. I wasn’t going to have a panic attack. I would have to present.

I realized something about myself that day. I was so sure that I would have a panic attack, and not have to go through with the presentation, that the reality of being able to face my biggest fear caused a new layer of anxiety that I have never experienced before – I was anxious because I wasn’t anxious.

I was used to hiding behind my diagnosis; I used it as a crutch. Oh, you want me to do a presentation? No, thank you. I actually have panic disorder. Did you know? Well, now you do for next time!

Panic attacks were my “normal”. I had gotten so used to experiencing anxiety and panic in certain situations that I actually expected a panic attack to occur, and when it didn’t occur, I had no idea how to handle it. What now? Am I supposed to do the thing? The thing I’ve been avoiding for years? Really?

Of course, anxiety and panic attacks are not that simple. One successful presentation doesn’t guarantee another (I found out just how truthful this statement is not that long ago), but now I have to face my new “normal” of giving things a go.


Has anyone else experienced anything like this? Let me know in the comments if you can relate!

Paranoia

My previous posts in this little series (Depression, Panic, Anxiety, Anorexia and OCD) all contain elements of personal experience. I did a little research along the way, but, for the most part, these are very personal accounts of how these disorders can manifest themselves within an individual.

This post, however, is a little different. I have experienced mild feelings of paranoia as a symptom of anxiety, but I have no personal experience with the disorders most closely linked to paranoia. I’ve done research on http://www.mind.org.uk to try and gain as much of an understanding as I possibly can without experiencing these conditions firsthand. This post is simply a product of curiosity, research and a creative university assignment.


Paranoia is the groping of a dozen hands. They rip my clothes from my body and tear through my skin. They gouge through my flesh with their fingernails, exposing my every thought and desire.

I know they’re watching me. They think I have no idea, but I’ve always known. They’re everywhere I go now. I saw one, just this morning. I was waiting in line for my coffee when I saw her. The teenage girl behind the counter, with thick black liner and a nose ring, and dark roots giving away her natural colour. The dark bags under her eyes highlighted the bored look on her face, and her gaze always landed back on the clock on the far wall. She took my order and asked for my name. I couldn’t let her know that I know. I had to ignore my rapid heartbeat; trembling fingers; laboured breaths. If I gave her a fake name would it give me away? They can’t know that I know, so I gave my real name. I walked to the opposite end of the counter and waited for my drink. I looked at every face in the café, trying to work out who I could trust. There was a man, maybe in his early thirties, that kept glancing in my direction. He wore a shirt and tie with the sleeves rolled up. Smart yet casual. We made eye contact, and he smiled. Could I trust this man? He looked away and took his phone from his trouser pocket, his fingers moving quickly across the screen. Rapid heartbeat. Trembling fingers. Laboured breaths. The corners of my vision began to blur and all I could focus on was the phone in his hand. Who was he texting? I frantically looked from customer to customer, desperately searching for answers. A young woman sat alone, shredding a napkin with her fingers. Her gaze alternated between her phone, resting on the table next to a mug of coffee, and the door. Her phone screen lit up with an incoming message. Rapid heartbeat. Trembling fingers. Laboured breaths. The man was texting her. They were talking about me.

My name was called. It was the teenage girl again. I looked from person to person; from the teenage girl, to the smart yet casual man, to the young woman that sat alone. They were working together. I couldn’t let them know that I know, so I reached out with a quivering hand and accepted the drink. The teenage girl told me to have a good day.

I was back on the street when I realised. The teenage girl told me to have a good day. Did she know something? Was something going to happen today? I glanced at the takeaway cup in my hand. She must have put something in my drink. I didn’t see her make it. It’s the only plausible explanation for the glances, the texting, her asking for my name. Rapid heartbeat. Trembling fingers. Laboured breaths.

I binned the drink without taking a sip. They think I have no idea, but I’ve always known.


OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

OCD

OCD is an uncontrollable urge. The urge takes over my entire being. I can feel it in my fingers, through my chest, down my legs and in my toes. An urge to flick switches and to check door handles. Every number must be even, unless it’s a multiple of five, then I can relax. I have to sit on the left side of the room, sleep on the left side of the bed, and walk on the left side of my companion. Such little things, simple tasks, that take over my mind and body. I need to do it. Bad things will happen if I don’t turn the tap tight enough, or lock the front door, or if I leave the volume on twenty-three.

OCD is an ambush of troubling thoughts; a mental whirlpool of worry, doubt and fear. Intrusive thoughts take up residence in my mind. I desperately try and evict them. I beg for them to move on, to find another home, but they threaten me with violence. I’ve tried changing the locks and barricading the door, but they always come back.

OCD is time. Hours and hours spent fixing my obsessions and giving in to my compulsions. Hours wasted. I don’t leave the house because it’s easier to keep the door locked. I don’t wash my hands so I don’t have to check the tap. I can’t leave the oven on if I don’t turn it on in the first place. I don’t have to live through the odd numbers if I stop all clocks on the even.


OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

Finding My Place On The Shelf

Have you ever walked into a room and felt off? You can’t put your finger on it, but something is different. Maybe something has moved; a vase two centimetres to the left, or the TV remote from the armchair to the mantel. You can’t pinpoint what exactly, but something feels out of place. Even as you sit down to watch the television or read a book, your eye can’t help but flit from corner to corner, endlessly searching for the offending object so you can put it right.

That’s what depression feels like to me. Controlled by medication, but always there in the back of my mind. I manage to carry out daily routines, but at the end of the day the misplaced vase becomes my focus once again. I feel out of place, but I can’t explain why.

I no longer have the crippling sadness that depression brought me before the medication. Before the medication, and for some time after, I struggled to get out of bed. I didn’t want to shower, and I rarely washed my hair. Did anyone care what I looked like? I certainly didn’t.

Now my depression manifests itself through a feeling of emptiness. Instead of feeling sadness, I don’t feel very much at all.

Are those my only options? Crippling sadness or emptiness?

I would love an explanation. I would love to push myself two centimetres to the right, back to my original place on the shelf.


I would love to hear if anyone else has experienced something similar while trying to tackle their depression. Let me know in the comments if you can relate!

Anxiety

Anxiety is nausea. It’s a churning in the pit of my stomach. A tingling sensation seeps across my fingertips and through my toes. They are completely numb. I take slow, deep breaths, in and out, in and out, trying to calm the urge to vomit. My head pounds with the same rapid rhythm as my heartbeat, and I grit my teeth against the pain. Sweat starts to drip from my pores, coating every inch of my skin in moisture.

Anxiety is chaos. I can’t think straight. Every thought I have is quickly replaced with another; quick flashes of colour, sound, dread. So many thoughts try to fight for my attention. Thick black chords of jumbled words, phrases, memories, and predictions weave themselves around me. Friends making plans without me. Stumbling over words. Injections. Waiting in the airport. Driving too fast along the motorway. Public speaking. Being late for work. Being too early. Forced into awkward conversation with a stranger. Phone calls. Bad things will happen. Self-doubt. Embarrassment. Loathing.

Chaotic thoughts swirl around my brain, and I’m helpless to stop them. I brace myself against the wall in front of me, trying to place enough pressure on my palms to distract me from the onslaught of thoughts. I focus on the pain, and let it ground me in the present.


OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

Panic

Panic is hands in my hair, gripping so tightly my roots ache. It’s the sound of sirens; a sharp pain in my ear that I can’t escape. It’s clutching my head in my hands as everything around me heightens; sharpens. Lights are brighter, clearer, and yet black spots corrupt my vision. I can feel the blade above me, dangling precariously by a thread. Waiting. Anticipating. The knife will drop, and all I can do is wait for the sharp blade to pierce my skin.

Panic is out of my control. Someone else holds the scissors that will cut the thread and release the knife. I beg and plead, over and over, please don’t cut the string. The response is manic laughter, an insane cackle, and the threatening snip, snip, snip of the scissors.

Panic is fight or flight. My lungs burn with need. I need more oxygen, more air, or I have no chance of escaping the blade that threatens to end me. Survival mode is triggered, and every part of my mind, body and soul is fixated on escape.


OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

I’m So OCD: The Reality of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

I’m an incredibly messy person. I rarely put my clothes away – most items have found a nice home on my bedroom floor. My makeup is regularly strewn all over the house, and my cream carpet is covered in black kohl pencil. I always drop food and drink down the front of my dressing gown (I can’t drink coffee without supervision). I don’t clean out my hairbrush very often. I drop towels on the floor instead of hanging them up. Mess follows me everywhere.

And yet, I have obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Many people think that having OCD means you have to be an obsessive cleaner. Some people say, “I’m so OCD!” just because they like things clean, not realizing that they are using a mental disorder as an adjective, and actually saying, “I’m so obsessive-compulsive disorder!” instead.

My experience, like it is for many people, is all about compulsions; to check locks, close doors, and turn off switches. When I’m about to leave the house, my compulsions kick in full force.

I scan my room to make sure no plugs have been left on, then I go into the bathroom and make sure my taps are off. I focus on the one I haven’t used – obviously – because that’s the one on the left, and I need to focus on the left side of everything to feel balanced. I usually sing or hum and tighten the tap to whatever tune I have in my head at the time. My taps are completely ruined; they are barely attached to the basin.

Once that part of my routine is over and done with, I check the main source of my panic – the sockets under my makeshift dressing table. I rarely use my hair straighteners anymore (in fact, I haven’t even plugged them in for nearing on six months), but this is where I would plug them in if I did use them. I spend minutes staring at the empty sockets until the part of my brain that controls my compulsions accepts that I haven’t left anything plugged in, and that I didn’t have anything plugged in in the first place, and that the house isn’t going to burn down.

I do a final scan of my bedroom, checking everything is just right, then I turn off the light and shut my bedroom door. Most of the time I don’t make it to the top of the stairs before I have to go back and check again. I get such a strong feeling – I feel sick, my stomach sinks and I feel like an invisible force is pushing me back into my bedroom.

Then it’s time to tackle downstairs.

I go into the kitchen to check that I haven’t left the back door unlocked (I probably haven’t unlocked the door that day, but you can never be too careful). I push repeatedly on the fridge and freezer doors, once again waiting for the green light that tells me the doors are firmly shut (using my eyes to see that the doors are shut is simply not enough). I’ll probably check the back door one more time, just in case.

Once I’ve gone through my routine (sometimes going back upstairs to check something, or going to the back door once again), it’s time for my confrontation with the front door. I push down firmly on the door handle, over and over again, repeatedly pushing down with all my weight and force. Sometimes a few seconds is enough. Sometimes the neighbours give me a look because I’ve been stood there for so long. Other than the idea of burning down the house, this is my biggest anxiety. Scenario after scenario race through my mind; flashes of every bad thing that could happen if I left the front door unlocked. Some are justified, some are far-fetched, and some (most, actually) are downright idiotic.

If I’m lucky, the routine ends here. I can walk away and forget about my compulsions. Forget about them, that is, until I get home and have to repeat most of the routine before I go to sleep.

More often than not, however, I have to fight the urge to run back to my house as I’m walking away from it. On more than once occasion I have gone back to check my hair straighteners aren’t plugged in, or to see if I’ve left the iron on, or the check the back door, making myself late for the bus, and waking up an entire new layer of my anxiety.

If I’m ever in charge of locking another door – my sister’s front door, or the cellar door at work – then my obsessive behaviour goes into overdrive. The very idea of accidentally leaving my sister’s door unlocked and risking her possessions or leaving the cellar door at work open and risking thousands of pounds of stock almost drives me to a panic attack. In cases like this I use extra force on the handle, pushing to the point of pain and leaving a red mark across my palm. My sister’s door handle has actually come loose; the metal no longer rests solidly on the wood, and it wobbles with every use.

What caused my compulsions? Is there a cause at all? I never used to have such strong urges to turn off taps or compulsions to check door handles. I sometimes wonder if my dad’s carelessness is to blame. Years of hearing drip, drip, drip because my dad left the bathroom tap running, and years of following him around the house to turn them off. It doesn’t make sense to most people. People who can turn the key and be satisfied that they’ve locked the door, or people who flip a switch and don’t have to stare intently at the wall. It’s difficult to explain or give a reason why (if there’s a reason at all). I’ve tried to explain to my boyfriend, who has been witness to my obsessive behaviour more than most, why I repetitively tap my bedside table (which lives on my left-hand side) with my left hand. I need everything to be focused on my left side or I feel off-balance. I get the same feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach as when faced with a lock or a running tap. Is it because I’m right-handed? I’ve often wondered if the constant use of my right hand has made my left feel neglected, and my brain is trying to make up for it.

What If Mental Illness Could Be Seen?

I used to feel embarrassed whenever I had to address my mental illness. I hid it from my friends until it became unavoidable and I had no choice but to tell them; constant days off school and meetings with teachers started to look suspicious. They were supportive – as supportive as people with no prior experience of mental health conditions can be – and, for the most part, didn’t treat me any differently.

Some people, however, failed to offer me any compassion or understanding.

I’ve encountered people who don’t see mental illness as important – or real. Depression isn’t depression, just sadness. You just need to cheer up. What have you got to be depressed about, anyway? Anxious? Everyone gets anxious. Relax. Pull yourself together.

I’ve encountered people who suddenly thought I was crazy. They would walk on eggshells around me, scared to say the wrong thing in case it triggered a mental breakdown. They would tense at the mere mention of anxiety, searching the room for the nearest exit.

I’ve encountered people – and these are the worst – that thought me pathetic for having panic attacks. They reinforced the stigma around mental illness and validated all the hateful thoughts I had towards myself.

If mental illness could be seen, would people treat it with more respect? If my depression was as visible as a cast on a broken leg, would people still tell me to pull myself together? If those things don’t work on physical conditions, why would they work on mental ones? You’ve got a broken leg? Just put some weight on it and you’ll be fine! Pull yourself together. What do you mean you can’t walk? Pathetic.

Don’t treat me as though I’m weak or fragile, just because I have a mental illness. Be there for me, be supportive, but don’t walk on eggshells. Please don’t judge me because I am experiencing something you don’t understand. Trust me, I judge myself enough. Try to be kind, or simply offer a smile. Your actions matter. Mental illness isn’t contagious, and you won’t catch anxiety just because your friend has it. Give me the space I need but be there for me when I’m ready to close the gap. Don’t offer me simple remedies such as ‘cheer up’ or ‘stop worrying’. Depression isn’t a choice. Anxiety isn’t a choice. Try not to ask for a reason why, because to be completely honest, I don’t know the reason why myself.