Sometimes I wonder what it must feel like to be a person without a severe anxiety disorder. I think about what my life could be like without the restrictions and without the permanent knot in the pit of my stomach.
You see, it’s all I’ve ever known.
Since I was very young I have always struggled with going to new places, making friends, and trusting people. I was timid. I kept myself to myself most of the time. I stayed in my room. I hardly ever left the house. And that was considered normal teenage behaviour.
When I first started secondary school – that’s when it really hit me. It felt like I had been thrown into the deep end of a swimming pool with no armbands and no one was around to help. For the first time ever I experienced the crushing feeling of dread and fear and panic on an extreme scale.
It felt like I couldn’t breathe.
I was in a huge place surrounded by many groups of teenagers and all I wanted to do was hide away from the world. I didn’t feel normal. In many ways, I was considered abnormal. I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere. And that’s when the anxiety and depression became so unbearable that I didn’t see a way out.
Somehow, I did find a way through it. But it took every ounce of strength inside me to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
I was sad all of the time but the sadness almost became normal. It was a feeling that I was all too familiar with. I became numb.
Fast forward a few years and I have to ask myself if anything has changed. In some ways, my life is a lot better. I am in a healthy, amazing relationship. I have a few close family members and friends. I have more hobbies than I’ve ever had before.
But I am unemployed.
That word carries a lot of negativity and misconceptions. I’ve been called lazy. I’ve been called picky. I’ve been told that I’m difficult because I can’t simply get a job like everybody else seems to do. Let me be clear when I say this – I wish it were that easy. Of course, I would be over the moon if I could simply get a job tomorrow with the click of my fingers. I would be thrilled if I had the confidence and experience to be able to amaze any employer I sat across from. I would be ecstatic if I was somebody who wasn’t held back by severe anxiety – if I could apply to any and every job without any kind of fear.
I am not that person. I am me.
It’s not like I haven’t tried, either. I have tried countless jobs – sometimes for weeks at a time – and I’ve had to step away from all of them because the anxiety I experience makes me ill. If somebody asked me to describe the feeling, I wouldn’t be able to. I often use the word suffocating because that’s the only word that could ever come close. It feels like I’ve run out of the air to breathe in and my lungs have completely stopped working. I’m all too familiar with the uncontrollable urge to break down in tears when I’m in the workplace. I have done that a few times. It’s not something that I have ever been in control of. I suppose it would be fair to say that my anxiety often controls me, rather than the other way around.
But here’s the thing. I do work hard. I regularly volunteer in a charity shop and dedicate a lot of my time to helping others. I try. The fact that I’m unemployed doesn’t make me less of a human being. It doesn’t make me lazy. It doesn’t make me incapable. It doesn’t make me useless. I shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for not being able to work.
If someone has a physical illness that prevents them from working, society doesn’t pass much judgement. But if someone openly talks about not being able to work because of mental illness, it leaves them open to a lot of disapproval. Physical health is the same as mental health and yet they are still often separated as if they aren’t as important as one another. This needs to change.
Some days, I do question whether there will ever be a perfect job for me. Will I ever be able to work? That’s something I don’t know the answer to just yet.
But for now, I need to try and put less pressure on myself. I need to keep breathing and keep taking it one day at a time. If I believe that something will come at the right time, then that should help me get through this.
Please remember that if you are also unable to work due to mental illness – you are no less of a person.
You are important.
You are worthy.