They say your comfort zone will kill you, but the panic attacks I’ve been getting while stepping out of my comfort zone are no joke either.
I’ve always been prone to panic attacks. I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder years ago, and given a prescription to Xanax to help alleviate the sudden, disabling attacks. As the years went by, different problems would arise as a matter of day to day life, and I would respond by downing a few pills and going to sleep. As such, I never made much headway in dealing with the root causes of the problems.
A lot of those problems came from a deep-seated fear that I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, or qualified enough to get a ‘real’ job – one that would pay me well, give me benefits, not require working in customer service, and would grant vacation days. Each time I would get frustrated at my job (almost always it would be a customer service job: bartending, waiting tables, or working at a coffee shop) I would begin looking for what I called a ‘real job.’ Looking through Monster, Indeed, LinkedIn, any other job site I could think of, I would get panic attacks almost immediately.
Looking through the requirements, the skills, the experience that employers wanted immediately made me feel inexperienced and paralyzed. I had a degree and some experience, but each listing I read made me feel smaller and less qualified. Quickly, I would be awash in sweat, breathing quickly and shallow, despairing of ever elevating my status beyond the counter of a coffee shop.
It was then that I would give up. I would half-heartedly fire off a few applications, just to be able to tell myself that I tried, and then close the computer. From there it would be on to the Xanax, maybe a few drinks, to calm myself down and distract me from the feelings of worthlessness. I never looked hard at why I panicked, it was too difficult for me to face.
In November of 2016, I decided it was time to stop the medications I had depended on for so long, Xanax and Adderall. After consulting with my doctors, I tapered off the drugs. The results were fairly light, some weight gain, some trouble sleeping, but in general, it was an easy process.
Until this week.
It’s job search time again, this time in an unfamiliar country, with my residency on the line. Although it’s quite easy for a European Union citizen to get residency in Spain, I must prove that I have an income as a freelancer or get a contract for a job through a Spanish company. So, here I am, once again, trawling through job sites and feeling that rising panic because there is a voice inside me telling me that there is no way that I can do it.
My breathing gets shallower, tears prickle my eyes, and I pull on my hair. There are no drugs to calm me down, there is no turning away and just going to sleep. I must handle this, and there is a time limit. I start bidding on jobs on freelance websites, even though they are criminally low paying, one job was $1 for 1,000 words. I did not bid on that job, but find a few others slightly better paid. I’m bidding against dozens of other freelancers, but each job I can secure is one sandbag against the rising waters of my anxiety.
I feel like I’m flailing, not sure where to start or if I should turn in a completely different direction. Cursing myself for not taking a business degree, or learning to code software, comparing myself to everyone I can think of and coming up short each time.
Inside, I know that I can do this… Or at least half of me believes it. The other half is the troublemaker, getting scared and having to be talked down off the ledge twice a day. With help, though, from Danielle, from my friends and family, from self-help books, I am starting to learn how to face these fears. I am coming out the other side of these panic attacks, exhausted but a little bit stronger than I was before.
In all of the preparations for this move, all of the issues and problems I anticipated to face, I did not think that my anxiety would present such a huge stumbling block. It had been such a long time since I had faced my fears without the aid of pharmaceuticals, I had not remembered how crippling they could be.
But I am not crippled. I am afraid, but not as much as I was yesterday, and tomorrow I will be less scared again. As the waves of panic rise and fall, I am learning to float, and I am very proud of that.
It’s easy to feel alone, no matter where you are, and even easier to think that everyone has an easy ride. It’s never the truth though – every person has struggles you’ll never see or know. I hope that knowing about mine help, though. I’m lucky to have people to hold my hand, to tell me what I need to hear when the panic threatens to overtake me. I’ll always be that person for you, if you need it. Because, believe me, I understand.