My first job out of college was stressful to say the least. I would make a small mistakes and get yelled at almost immediately, and without real explanation. I would perform to the best of my abilities and still be insulted or ridiculed. My best was not good enough. My 150% effort was irrelevant in other people’s eyes.
So, I started coming to work by 7:30 am. I would clean the offices, wipe down the whiteboards, empty the dishwashers, and make sure the copiers were on. I would run from kitchen to kitchen, stocking up the coffee to make sure each flavor was full. I would sprint down the halls to make sure everyone had the correct newspapers and would be in a full sweat by 8:30 am.
I didn’t have to do this. I didn’t have to run around the office building like I was training for a marathon. But, I thought that if I did this, then people would appreciate the effort. And maybe then, I would feel more at ease. Maybe then, I would feel more comfortable in a place I had to spend eight hours of my day at.
I did everything outside of my job description just to please people, just to get a simple “thank you” or even a nod of encouragement. I did everything in my power to do as much as I could in a day, to feel some sort of release afterwards. But, instead of feeling good about myself at the end of the day, my anxiety came back in full force.
And it kicked me in the ass. Hard. Combined with the pressure I had put on myself, mixed with the stress of this job’s work environment, I crumbled. It happened on a Wednesday. I remember not being particularly stressed out that day and everything seemed to be going fine. Then, around 2:30, I felt my hands and feet go numb. I was knocked down by a burning in my chest that felt like a match was lit right at my heart. I remember my body feeling like it was going to turn to dust any minute. I called my mom in tears, and she drove me to the ER.
I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I had experienced panic attacks before, but they never were as severe as this one. I thought that this had to be a stroke and I remember people in the ER looking so calm and collected. But, my insides were on fire and I wanted to shout out, “I’m dying, can’t you see that?” Finally, the nurse did an EKG on me and other typical tests you see them do on Grey’s Anatomy. When she got the results back, she looked at me and told me — “You’re fine.”
But, I wasn’t fine. And I’m still not fine. How can someone who has a panic attack for three hours straight be ok afterwards? I had run from my anxiety for ten months, and it had finally caught me red handed. I had hit a dead end, but also began a new chapter in my life. I learned that I was not Hercules, but I was a human being who had limits. And that was ok.
I’m learning and realizing that sometimes, we all need to slow down. To take a breath. To walk instead of run. It’s ok to not be the best at our job. It’s ok to leave a job that you find is causing you harm. It’s ok to pause when you need to pause. Ask yourself if what you are doing is benefitting you, and if it’s not, then stop. Please talk to someone and don’t keep your demons to yourself, because it will only make them stronger.
This world can be a scary place full of uncertainty and of pain. And if we all keep sprinting and rushing to the finish line, we are going to burn out. We need to take everyday to be kind to ourselves and to press pause on our lives for a moment. Take a second to gather all your negative thoughts that are trying to spill out of your brain, and let it out. And then let it go. It’s ok to crumble once in a while, but it’s not ok to ignore what your body and your brain are trying to tell you. So, don’t brush it off. Listen.