I’ve had social anxiety and a mild case of agoraphobia virtually all my life. Most of my life these didn’t interfere with my ability to function and prosper as a regular person. There were recently a few years where they both became severe enough to impact my life fairly negatively, even though I have refused to admit it until now.
As I now have a job and it is completely social in nature it has given a stark contrast view of me now and me over the past four years or so.
I spent the past four years unemployed, and the vast majority of those four years were spent in the cozy confines of my home.
I didn’t want to leave the house.
I felt anxiety at even the thought of going outside or interacting with the world and it’s inhabitants.
I only left the house if my hubby or mother were with me…my security blankets.
I felt conflicted all the time because I wanted to interact and hang out with friends and family, and I wanted a job, to be a responsible, functioning, and independent adult. But I didn’t want to…I was overwhelmingly (most of the time) anxious at the thought of doing these things.
It was only during these four years that my anxieties were this bad. Before these four years, before my health (heart, eyes, neuropathy, etc.) went to the crapper, I was pretty darn social despite the social anxiety and agoraphobia. I had these anxieties but they were mild enough that I could push those thoughts and feelings to the far back corner of my mind and live my life just fine.
I’ve always worked in customer service. Face-to-face with all kinds of customers and personalities. And I did quite well.
I enjoyed going out and hanging with friends and family, and going on trips, and doing all kinds of things outside the house.
I was no social butterfly, but I certainly wasn’t a shut-in either.
Going back to the four year high anxiety flare-up, I tried to get past, to get a hold of it fairly early on. Well, it was about a year into it that I realized and admitted to myself there was something seriously wrong. I was deeply depressed, to the point I would lay in bed for days, not shower, and hardly eat. I would be laying in bed thinking “I really need to get up and do stuff”, but then just stay there. “There’s something wrong, I need to care.”. But then I just couldn’t access those feelings, I couldn’t reach my motivation and my ability to care about anything at all. It was there, but so deep, so buried, blocked off from me.
When I had to leave the house I would be near a panic attack, I’d have to literally force myself out the door and overcome the thoughts and desire to just run back inside and screw whatever it was that I needed to leave the house for!
It was my endocrinologist who took one look at me one day and knew something was terribly wrong. She referred me to the psychology (Mental Health) department. I spent several months in therapy and a couple years on a fairly low dose of Cymbalta.
It all helped but didn’t totally stop the issues. I finally got to the point where I stopped going to therapy. I felt I didn’t need it anymore, and probably didn’t, but I’d be lying if I didn’t point out that one reason I stopped going was because I didn’t want to have that requirement to leave the house!
I eventually chose on my own to stop the Cymbalta and that was just fine, I really didn’t need it anymore and it was causing side effects that were really unsettling.
Anyway, now that that long backstory is done let’s get to the real reason I’m writing this. A month ago I started a new job. It’s full-time, and it’s a customer service job. I really wanted this job and was excited and super happy when I got hired.
I was also overwhelmed with anxiety.
A full-time job. I’ll never be home! I’ll have to be out in the world all day practically everyday!
8 hours a day, five days a week of interacting with people! And strangers at that!
I was worried I couldn’t do this. I can’t handle this!
Come to find out I’ve been doing pretty darn well with it all. I easily talk and interact with my co-workers. Very little stress there. This is probably thanks to the fact that I have my security blanket nearby all day. My hubby (my security blanket) works in the same building and the same schedule as me. We do not work side-by-side, but he is there, and our breaks often overlap. And since hubby has worked there for several years I had become acquainted with several other people who work there as well, so it helped to already know people ahead of time.
The first three weeks I was in a training class. It was myself and six other people in a classroom setting learning all day long. So it wasn’t so bad, especially once I got to know these people.
This past week, though, I’ve been ‘live’. This means I am in the full mix of the job, working with actual cases, customers.
I was so friggin’ nervous, insecure, anxious the first day. But it turned out to not be so bad. Then day two came around and the anxiety, instead of getting better, got worse. and then day three; by now I felt I should be getting a better hang on the job but I didn’t feel I was so I beat myself up about it and was being extra hard on myself so the anxiety just got stronger. Day four was the worst.
At the opening of day five I was talking to hubby on the way into work and telling him how very insecure, anxious, and worried about my ability to do this job. He made it clear I was being too hard on myself.
“You’re still new, you’ve only been doing it for a week, you’ll get it, you’ll be fine.”
“I just feel so overwhelmed, there’s so much to remember and sort through, and I have to do it all in the moment.”
I had the overwhelming desire to run back home and hide from life.
Yes, the dealing with customers, the social interaction, was weighing on me as well, making it all even worse. More difficult to concentrate. Thinking things like “They think you’re dumb, you can’t do your job. Why are you so slow? How do you even work here when you can’t even do the job?” just adds to the low self-esteem about the job, it makes the insecurity even worse. Such lack of confidence really hurts performance.
As the fifth day got started I quickly realized and noticed how much I had been improving all week. I suddenly felt like I could actually do the job! My confidence grew more and more. Customers were thanking me for all my help, “You answered all my questions.” “You gave me all the information I need.” “Thank you for all your help.”
Even the negative customers made me feel better about myself because I proved to be able to handle them with tact and confidence.
And through it all I had in my mind the awareness that despite my social anxiety I was still able to be cheerful, professional, and outgoing.
And not once did I think anything along the lines of, “I want to be at home”.
I can do this. It’s not going to kill me.