Finding and maintaining a part time job while suffering from social anxiety was an immensely difficult task for me. Personally, I lasted just a month in my shop assistant position before I had to quit, a decision I made in the name of putting my mental health first. This can be something parents and the older generation find hard to understand. To them perhaps it looked like I simply gave up, or was too lazy to continue. To me though, I knew it was to prevent me from spiralling back into the depths of my struggle with anxiety which I was slowly trying to drag myself out of.
My anxiety while working
Anxiety is a fear of the unknown. Being thrown straight into the deep end, I was left to learn as I went, as is the case in most jobs, but for me and my anxiety this created an abundance of moments of blankness where I had no idea how to do what I was being asked, causing frequent freak outs. My emotions were at their peak, so much so that I once started to cry in the storage room when I couldn’t find what I had been sent in to look for. Leaving the room after a near panic attack to face more customers was not an easy fate. I felt stupid and useless, knowing the simple tasks I was being asked to do were completely within my ability. But paired with all the symptoms of anxiety, they became impossible.
My vision was impaired by the constant tears in my eyes, I couldn’t hear properly over the roar of fear in my head and I struggled to pay attention because the anxious thoughts were taking over my brain. I would go into the bathroom when I could and try to pull myself together, telling myself to just not be so pathetic and to take control of my own mind. But it is not pathetic. Mental illnesses have the potential to be as debilitating as physical ones. Though I knew my anxiety was not realistic I couldn’t shake the thoughts nor the physical effects. I was struggling to sleep and waking up hours before my shift, feeling a kind of suffocation with my anxious thoughts that no amount of meditation would get rid of. I know for so many people having a part time job is not an option and I have admiration for everyone who works hard day in and day out. This experience for me caused a major set back in my journey to control my anxious thoughts and caused a spiral which took me the guts of a year to get a handle on.
I expected my anxiety to lapse after quitting my job, however, I was far from correct. I seemed to only be diving deeper into dangerous waters. I needed to find a life raft and I needed it fast.
Going to therapy
After wrestling with my thoughts, I eventually made the decision to attend a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) counselling session. Counselling has always been something I had avoided up until this point as talking about my problems and emotions was never something that came easy to me, but I knew that this time I needed help because I was no longer able to help myself. While I nervously took part in my first sessions of CBT, me and my counsellor concluded that CBT alone was not going to magically make my anxiety disappear. I needed to face and talk about the issues which lay at the root of my anxiety. Taking the step to talk to someone was one I always feared and avoided but doing so made me face my fears and allowed me to take the first step of gaining back control over my thoughts and my life. Anxiety is so much more normalised than it used to be, and awareness needs to continuously be grown.
Advice for anyone with anxiety
For anyone out there who has had similar experiences or are currently dealing with it, my advice would be to take your time. Try not to push yourself until you are ready. I know it is a cliché but talk to your friends and family, this is important. Going through a struggle with your mind alone is much harder than it is when you have support and understanding around you. It can also really help older generations to understand what young people are going through and open up conversations about mental health across all age groups. Reach out to a counsellor if you need to. Someone who put off doing this for a long time, I promise you it is not as daunting as it seems. Try not to feel embarrassed about your struggles, it is important to normalise anxiety so that others do not feel alone.