Short days, dark skies, the melancholic blend of raindrops falling in a soft wind on a night in early January. To some it is a source of misery – a cause to yearn for the brighter days of summer to come, to others it is the sound of solace. Winter in Ireland.
Winter has always been a strange time for me, but I never really took note of the subtleties of the environment, the weather, the way people look and behave as they bustle about doing their daily routine. In times past I’ve always been one of them, rushing to get assignments finished, or to pick up a few things from the shop after college before heading home to do more college work. Prior to that it was school – each day spent from early morning to mid-afternoon going to classes, each evening spent doing homework, playing the occasional game of soccer with friends or watching whatever came on the television. Everything seemed simple, but I guess that’s because things were.
It was routine. Nowadays nothing seems routine. It’s hard to develop a routine when you don’t feel like yourself. It’s hard to get focused and easy to find yourself in a bit of a rut. If you asked me at this time last year as I was preparing the first half of my college thesis for submission, where did I see myself in 12 months, this wouldn’t have entered my mind as the answer. I graduated with a first class honours degree, I worked my ass off, and I’m proud of what I achieved.
When I finished college in late May I took a week or two to relax and recuperate, before setting about searching for any job for the summer ahead. I failed to get one. By the end of July I’d applied for a ton of positions, and gotten nowhere. I kept the search going but I found myself feeling ill, a tightness in my chest seemed to become more common over the course of a week or so. I started to fear that there was something wrong with my heart and worried more. A couple of days later it felt a lot worse so I visited my doctor. As I arrived without an appointment the receptionist sent me to the waiting room. While waiting everything started to go blurry, my heart was pounding and I staggered to the hallway. I mumbled to the receptionist that I needed to see the doctor as soon as possible, and upon looking at me she quickly guided me through to the nurse.
The doctor sent me to A&E where after a series of tests, x-rays and waiting, the doctor on-call finally appeared. I was worried at the time, and didn’t really know what to expect. As he drew the curtains around the bed he turned and calmly uttered the words: “So Jerry, you’re anxious?” I was completely taken aback, immediately asking what he was on about. He repeated it, this time sounding more matter of fact than inquisitive. He spoke to me for a few moments, and then it clicked. I was anxious. I’d always had control of what I was doing, I’d always known (for the most part) what was coming next for me, but I’d reached a point where I no longer knew what was coming, or what I really wanted to do.
I was a graduate with no real financial support, and no real job options in the area I’d studied for – save for a bunch in Dublin, but financially, that wasn’t an option. I needed a lot of resolve and was found lacking. Anxiety has been an ongoing battle since. There’s been good times, bad times, and some ridiculous times. I recently realised that the best thing I can do in this limbo-like phase that I appear to be going through with searching for work, is to take the time to make sure this anxiety can be handled in the future so it never interferes with the work I’m doing.
I’ve accepted that all isn’t okay, and that I can get help now, to help achieve that going forward. Mindfulness and other therapies are something I believe strongly in, and a great alternative to medication. Obviously there are times in life when medication is the only option, and I can’t understate that as it’s the solution for some. Personally, I prefer the idea of “Meditate not medicate”. To anyone that also lives with anxiety I can only suggest that you do what’s best for you, and to protect yourself as best you can moving forward.
Look for a mindfulness support group, a mindfulness class, or a mental health support officer. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to talk. It can make a huge difference to your life, and you deserve that. I never anticipated being in this position, where I’m constantly struggling to find work and getting nowhere. I never anticipated the chance to stand back and observe the subtleties of the darkest season of the year. Frankly, I never wanted to. But I have that chance, and if I can grow to learn that I can find something bright and positive from the darkest of times – both literally and mentally, that I can grow as an individual in the darker times, then I’m doing well. Perspective is key.