This week is mental health awareness week, this years campaign theme is anxiety. Everyone suffers from anxiety at certain times of their life, this is natural and temporary and the feeling goes away after you have achieved the event, for example, starting a new school, going into examinations, waiting for exam results, going for their driving test, going for a job interview etc. But what if you felt this way all the time even when you weren’t facing something challenging?
What if every morning you woke feeling like you were going for your driving test for the first time? Even though all you really had in front of you was a routine day of work, something you had done countless times before but now all you could focus on was negative things happening to you like having an accident on the way to work, being assaulted at work, making a mistake, convincing yourself your co-workers hated you and were talking about you behind your back. Each day started with these thoughts and the feeling you were going for a major event in life rather than a routine day of work.
In fact you get so anxious about the possibility of all these things that you talk yourself out of leaving the house to go to work, you tell your employer you’re sick or there’s been a family emergency, anything you can think of to avoid leaving the house and going into a lion’s den of more anxiety. Then you feel anxiety and guilt for not going and just want to pretend you don’t exist and spend the day in bed punishing yourself for not going to work. During this time you wonder what the hell is wrong with you, why couldn’t you go to work? How long can you keep missing work like this? Are you just plain lazy, because that’s what everyone will think and you can’t possibly let them know this is how you feel? Will you lose your job soon? Everyone is so proud of you doing this job you’re letting everyone down, how will you manage financially?
The next day you have anxiety all over again plus the anxiety if not going to work the day before. You wonder if your co-workers will berate you or if they hate you enough to tell you how horrible and useless you are. You feel anxious that other people will find out you feel this way. Still wondering why you feel this way. No one else seems to suffer this but maybe because they are better people, they are better at their job, better at everything really than you are.
So you take the next day off too. More lies about your life to your employer to stay in your home with your fears. You cannot concentrate on reading or watching a film the guilt is too much so you spend the day sitting around feeling isolated with the anxiety you originally felt now amplified with the anxieties of missing work and possibly losing your job. All the while you wonder why no one else feels like this? What is wrong with you? Should you see someone? Is it safe to tell anyone this is how you feel? They will just say you’re lazy and a waste of space. You’re wasting your employers time and money.
The next day the fear is higher so you make up a reason to be off until further notice, you feel like hurting yourself or harming yourself so you do have a legitimate reason for not being there. A broken ankle is easier as an excuse. You feel guilty again but at least the pressure is off for the rest of the week. You still can’t concentrate on films, tv or a book as you feel anxious about leaving the house at all but you need to leave the house to go shopping. What if you have an accident on the way? What if someone dents your car! What if someone from work sees you? But you can’t live on nothing. What do you do? You use up whatever is in your home if you have anything at all in your cupboards or you spend the next hour dressed ready with keys in hand staring at the front door willing yourself to leave.
If you manage to convince yourself you have to do this and you can do this you feel numb from the high level of fear you’re feeling. You go onto autopilot trying not to think. Whilst shopping you are anxious you won’t find what you need, you’ll forget something, have you got enough money, what if your card doesn’t work what if you say or do something wrong at check out, will you be able to drive back without incident, there could be someone here who knows you should be at work or elsewhere like you told work. Once you have managed the task you rush back into your home, you buy chocolate and things to comfort, you couldn’t stomach anything else today anyway, you then head back home shut the door and collapse into the sofa for all the fear you’ve faced.
You feel constantly guilty for how you feel, what you’re doing, or not doing really, you know this won’t end well but you just can’t stop feeling scared and anxious. You put the shopping away, eat all the chocolate saving some for dinner and hide in a room where people can’t look in. You don’t want anyone to see hideous you. Who does this? What sort of person are you? If people knew what you were doing they would hate you, or hate you more is more likely.
You jump as the phone rings and don’t answer it. Holding your breath almost until it goes to answer phone. You’re filled with such fear about who it could be and what they might say that you cannot move but the anxiety of the message hanging over your head is too much to beat. You listen to the message feel horrible and guilty.
This cycle continues until you manage to get to work on autopilot once you cannot stay away anymore. You face disciplinary issues at work, they sit you down and are concerned about you, you lie about what’s happening to you feeling anxious the whole time but they can’t know the real reason you were off they would sack you on the spot. You don’t want something to be wrong with you but there is. Why can’t you be normal like everyone else? You’re so lucky to be doing what you want to do, to have this job, why are you ruining it?
Finally you do have to stop working as your absences cannot be expected to continue, you leave work knowing this is a huge dent in your career, but at least you’re not having to make up reasons for not being there. You’ll try better next time, you can focus on things or should you face facts and see someone? But who would you see? No one could possibly understand this, everyone will just see I’m swinging the lead. I’m a horrible person. No. You must just try harder next time. But how long can I continue to be like this? Maybe it would be better if I wasn’t here at all.