Office Space.

I’m freaking out.

I’m trying to tell myself I’m worrying over nothing, that these are just feelings that aren’t a part of me, and that this will all pass.

But I’m freaking out, and it’s all about work. As usual.

One of the first things I ever did when I was hired a couple years ago was compile an Office Wish List, as instructed by my boss, for myself and all of my coworkers. We were beginning to outgrow our office space, and they were planning on moving. Fast-forward a couple years later, and it’s finally happening.

In fact, when I return to work (after 7 weeks away), I will be walking into a brand new office.

When I say brand new, I mean brand new. My boss purchased the building, and it’s being renovated to suit our needs precisely. The space is pretty enormous and has been under construction for months, now. It’s pretty high-tech and progressive, with lots of fancy bells and whistles. Bells and whistles that I don’t particularly need or want.

Everyone asked for similar, boring things when I sent around the Wish List – more space and storage, privacy, security. Things like that. No one said they needed anything fancy or silly. I need and want more filing cabinets, a bigger desk, and a working table because I push a lot of paper. That’s all I asked for in my Office Wish List.

When I first saw the layout plans, I was excited. They’d tentatively assigned me what I wanted and needed: an office with a lot more space in it. As it stands, my office is tiny. It’s very cramped; to the point that I suspect that fire marshal would not be pleased with it. I have three large filing cabinets taking up the majority of the office. If they’re open, I can’t get out from behind my desk. So when I saw that my office would definitely have room for a table, and perhaps some built-in cabinets and shelving that would take up less space, I was thrilled.

To me, the size and location of my office suggested that they valued and respected my work. As a severely anxious individual, affirmations like this are a big deal to me. I am working on detaching from these things, because they can come and go in and out of my life without notice. It’s hard to deal with the disappointment that accompanies not getting it, or losing it.

Which is what happened.

A few weeks later, the plans were revised and my office size was cut in half. Not only was it smaller than the office I currently have, but it was smaller than all of the other offices in the entire building!

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Yup. I am Ryan Howard from the Office.

Feelings of dejection and embarrassment swept over me like a tidal wave. I immediately felt stupid for ever thinking they’d assign me a nice office that would actually fit the work I do. I felt like they assigned offices based on how much they valued people. Honestly. I don’t even TV in mine, like many others do. Clearly, they do not like me too much.

But somehow, I began to make peace with it. I reminded myself that the plan wasn’t final (although, it was), that there were many other ‘collaboration’ spaces I could use if I needed them. Plus, I was one of the few people who was getting a window.

And you know what? I didn’t want to be that guy. The one who bitches about first world problems and can’t see the good in anything. I knew I needed to be thankful for what I was being given: a brand new office. I still get to work in my own office, not a cubicle. And it’s not outside where it’s either crazy hot or crazy cold.

After a while, though, I was given a bunch of shitty news within a couple of weeks. One was that we were not getting bonuses this year. Another was that some of us (myself included) would now be responsible for paying for parking. Finally, they denied my request to be paid out a bunch of overtime I was entitled to.

I felt slapped. They’d hired some fancy design firm and builders for our office space. It’s got silly things like plants growing out of the walls, a java cafe, and TVs inserted into the walls that cost 6x the amount of a normal mounted TV.

They cut down a thousand-year-old tree to make our boardroom table.

When my boss told me we weren’t getting bonuses, I actually told him directly that it was very disappointing to hear this, especially when I knew how much money was being spent on a new office with a lot of pricey non-essentials. The conversation did not go well.

Now that I’m on the eve of returning (less than two weeks away), all I can think about is how small my office is and how it’s a reflection of their feelings toward me. How cramped it will be. How my stuff won’t fit. How I will still have piles of paper and files on my floor since I’ll still be out of desk space. I still won’t have room for someone to actually sit in my one guest chair for a meeting.

Now all I can think about is how shitty this new office is. I just want my old office back. It was shitty and small too, but at least so was everyone else’s. At least parking is free.

And I’m worried. What if they set up my desk with my back to the door? That would make the most sense space-wise, but it causes me a lot of anxiety. I can’t handle that kind of vulnerability. And what if my door is glass and transparent? One thing we talked about in one of my reviews what that I needed privacy since people tend to just barge into my office all of the time.

Now I’m picturing myself spending the first few days moving shit around and buying a crappy curtain rod so I can hang up a curtain in my doorway (I am 90% sure it’s a glass door).

I’m already picturing myself hiding in my office, not wanting to talk to anyone, just wanting to get my work done and go home. Work. Home. Work. Home.

I don’t want to see the stupid java station, or see the gorgeous dead tree in our conference room. I don’t want to look at my boss’s 4 in-wall TVs. I don’t want to walk several blocks to get to work after paying for parking, only to see my boss pull up into his free parking spot, even though he makes 4x my salary (if not more – who fucking knows).

It’s just shitty.

Today is a shitty morning. I’ve dedicated 3 hours to thinking about all this crap. I don’t feel like working on myself today.

I just don’t want to go back to that silly office.

It’s stupid.

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Let’s Chat.

My boss never did text me back. But that’s okay.

Yes! Really! I’m okay with it.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about it – but it’s been good, constructive thinking. Open-hearted thinking.

I trust myself. I’ve made choices to tend to my own well-being, and to deepen my understanding of myself in this past month. It’s not happening quickly, but it’s happening. I’m a work in progress (always will be), and feel confident that I am making steady strides in reworking the way I think.

It’s actually quite exciting, when I consider this. It makes me smile.

PS my front yard is also making me smile.

I admit that when I’m in the midst of uncomfortable emotions, I don’t immediately think properly. I need to groom myself to take a breath and not act until I have a clear perspective on things. A true perspective.

Other people’s opinions are based on their own experiences, their own worlds. Not mine. They will never see things exactly as I do. That’s impossible. It’s a standard we often put people to – craving and requiring empathy of others. Sometimes we get it, but it needs to come naturally from that person. In a work situation, there are so many other factors also at play that it adds another layer of complexity to situations.

I cannot rely on other people’s opinions in order to move forward with my own decision making. I can’t serve myself that way.

So, my boss didn’t text me back.

But it’s not so simple. One, I know he is out of town. Two, he gets hundreds of communications every day. I am not the centre of his universe. And third, probably most importantly, I could have worded my text much differently.

I wrote my text when I wasn’t feeling sound in my decision. I gave him a huge burden in my text message: I said I wasn’t about to make a decision without his insight. I put so much weight on his shoulders, and didn’t even offer up what I was considering.

That’s a lot to deal with, and could even get someone on the defensive. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t – but I think that my text was too much for him to deal with when he didn’t receive it. I added so much emotion – a ‘whoa is me’ aspect that could be interpreted as manipulative. Like I was only adding it to get his sympathy, and to get my way. While I wasn’t trying to be manipulative, I don’t think it was that far off.  That’s why he (undoubtedly) set it aside to consider another day.

Today (two days later), I wrote him again. This time, I actually came 50%. I explained my plan for my return to work, and asked him for his thoughts. I didn’t cloud it with my reasons or make him feel like he’d be responsible for my emotional well-being. Yes, I want to come across as human, and not a robot, but guess who is the only person who is able to tend my well-being? Me. No one else.

He response was immediate.

He apologized for not replying right away, and asked if we could have a call tomorrow. Compromise.

That’s fine – it’s what I was open to and what I communicated to him. It’s not surprising, and it’s not the end of the world that he didn’t immediately agree to my suggestion.

I feel really good right now. I feel open, I feel at peace, and I feel in control of my own thoughts and emotions.

Tomorrow, I will likely seize up for a moment when my phone rings. I know I will (I mean, that happens when anyone calls me – even a loved one). But I will take a deep breath, set my shoulders back, smile, and exhale the fear that might show up.

Then I will have a chat with my boss.

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Mid-November.

When I emailed my boss last week, I told him I was planning on returning to work half-way into November. That date comes closer and closer, every day.

I’m still not 100% sure about whether this is my plan yet. Today, I visited my doctor (a three-week follow-up visit), but I realized right away that there wasn’t much point to the appointment.

My doctor is great. He’s funny and lighthearted about things, so I don’t feel like the appointments are daunting or too heavy. But regardless, I found myself just plain sad as I provided him with an update. I didn’t have much to say, and we mulled over some of the things that happened that had me feeling shittier than I had hoped to in three weeks’ time.

As a refresher for anyone who needs it, a few key low points:

  1. Not hearing from my boss at all. Not hearing “hope you’re doing alright” or “we can’t wait to have you back” or something… some empathy. Some suggestion that my fears (of not being wanted back) are not real.
  2. Finding that my job, which I am entitled to return to, was being advertised online.
  3. After reaching out to my boss, not receiving a reply that responded to the vulnerability I showed. His email was stoic and felt like an automated response.

So it’s been tough to figure out a game plan. I woke up this morning feeling like my doctor could help me figure my shit out, but it was such an uneventful appointment and I felt sort of lost afterward. It’s too early to bother having him write me off for longer (I have another follow-up with him before my 6 weeks is up), but since we’re not changing up my meds and he’s not a counsellor, he couldn’t offer me much help.

I guess that it did help me realize that not much has changed, and that I haven’t made much progress on myself. That’s not really the best feeling, and I kind of feel like I’m back to square one.

I texted Work BFF afterward, and tried to decipher whether my boss had given her any guess about what he’s thinking. I guess he hasn’t really. She says he wants me to come back, but she didn’t really have any actual evidence of that. She says everyone wants me back, but that doesn’t really matter to me in terms of making a decision. I already know I have a wonderful work family, and I know that most of them are supportive of me no matter what.

But she couldn’t give me what I really needed – that that’s some evidence that my boss wants me back.

I’ve kind of realized that I can’t keep going over my decision without that key piece of information. Am I wanted?

After stepping away from my conversation with Work BFF, I realized that her response wouldn’t have even mattered. Aside from her saying “I overheard Boss saying “oh man I wish she were here, we really need her and I hope she’s doing okay,” I probably would question whether she was right. Any information she knows would be something he says to her in confidence, and would probably be crafted in such a way that takes into consideration that she’d relay that information to me. Maybe it would even be planted information – something to evoke a certain response or action on my part. That’s not the kind of information I want. I want the truth.

I decided that as terrifying as it may be, I need to speak with him. In person. I need to be able to use my own judgment, hear things with my own ears, and get the full picture. I need to read his body language, his tone of voice. See whether he makes eye contact, and when. I need to assess those subtleties. If I want a human response, I need to see the human.

Maybe it’s all just as simple as he said in his email – he hasn’t approached me on purpose, and is waiting for me to connect when I am ready. Maybe not. But I can’t truly know what is going on until I hear it from him, and see it from him.

Apparently his schedule this week is very full; no surprise there. Work BFF wasn’t able to look too far in his schedule since she wasn’t in the office, but I decided to leave it alone and just text him directly.

[Next day update: I haven’t heard back yet.]

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Communication.

I am a very good writer.

At work, that is. And please, don’t start picking apart my blog. I write very differently here, and often don’t fully proof-read stuff.

I mentioned in a past post that my Work BFF had encouraged me to connect with my boss. Key word – connect. Not just touch base or email him, but connect with him. Like a human. Composing an email full of feeling isn’t exactly my forte.

When I’m writing an email at work, it is something I perfect. It’s not that I am dispassionate. My essays and papers in university were the same. I learned over the years that it’s necessary to eliminate all emotion wherever possible, and convey only the facts.

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Yes, this is how perfect my desk looks. In case you were wondering.

I do this for two reasons. One, because my job isn’t typically an emotional one to begin with. Everything is legal, business, policy. I’m conversing with clients, government bodies, professional agencies, and of course, my superiors.

Second, I am a young woman working in a man’s world. This post is not about to get into the politics and feminism (although, for the record, I am proudly feminist). But the reality is, I need to be a little on the aggressive side in order to get the respect I need (and deserve) in order to do my job.

In short, my emails are cold, clinical. Objective.

So, as you could imagine, when I needed to switch gears and write in a subjective voice, it was difficult for me.

Not physically difficult. I mean, I once I began to write with emotion, it just poured out. I actually had to go back and delete some of the superfluous parts so I didn’t come across as any more unstable than I actually am (ha). But the idea of using that tone with my boss? A man whom I want to take me seriously, view me as professional? Someone who’s in charge of my future and my financial wellbeing? My career fulfillment? That was difficult.

I had to be vulnerable.

It took me two days to hit send. I read and re-read that email so many times before I felt it was ready to go. This wasn’t something I could accomplish just by going through the motions. I had to make sure he interpreted it the way I wanted him to.

But I did hit send, and left it up to the universe. I had to let go of what his reaction might be, because it was out of my hands either way. I knew that if I let myself think about it, it would evoke nothing but panic and anxiety.

I napped after I hit send, because I also knew that I wasn’t exactly capable of shutting my thoughts off. I wish I could say that I took this as an opportunity to rework my thinking, shut off my Ego and look at the situation from a place of Trust. But I wasn’t up for it that morning. And that’s okay, because sometimes you just need to call a spade a spade and skip the inevitable.

I can’t say I was thrilled with his response, but I can’t say I was surprised either.

The email was not full of bad news, and he did not say I was being replaced. He accepted a return date I suggested (although I told him it was too early to make any promises).

But he used words and phrases like mitigate, accordingly, by design, undue stress, continuity, efficiency, growth and success.

In other words, he wrote the email the way I used to.

I have to admit that it cut deep, given how personal of a subject it was, and what I revealed to him. How out of my element I was. I was really hoping that if I changed, my vulnerability would be recognized and that he’d dance the same dance with me. I thought he’d meet me at the same level. But he didn’t.

So now I have to accept the fact that I tried, and it didn’t work. I could not draw a human out of my CEO – he is still just presenting as the boss.

I can’t blame him – he needs to be professional and be careful with me. The last thing he needs is to say the wrong thing and end up with some kind of employment lawsuit. I mean really… if I were him, would I be dealing with an unpredictable employee the same way?

I’ve had to deal with ex-employees and employees who have been contemplating quitting. I’ve dealt with coworkers who I considered friends, who were let go, and I had to flip a switch. I get it. I know where he’s coming from, and I feel it too. I feel empathy.

I guess I’ll just need to take that information and plan accordingly.

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Job Opportunity.

There is a really great job opportunity being posted on a couple of websites in my city right now. It’s the same job title I currently have, along with all of the same types of tasks. It looks like it was written for me.

Oh wait. It is written for me. Except it’s not.

My employer has placed an ad for my job.

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&#$*%!

Of course, the moment I saw it, my heart dropped. It was not like I was entirely surprised by this; to be honest, I’d been searching my work’s company name on various career websites to see if they’d ever post some kind of ad like this. So on some level, I knew and expected it.

But I certainly was not actually prepared for this. I felt a panic attack coming on. I felt sick to my stomach and my mind began to race. I can recognize it as my Ego saying “THEY WANT TO REPLACE YOU, THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU, AND THEY ARE TRYING TO WEED YOU OUT.” Yes, my Ego talks in all-caps.

But that’s pretty much exactly what I was thinking. That they want me out.

I immediately texted my Work BFF with the link. She is often the one who actually posts job ads for our company, but she had no idea this had been posted. It must have been my boss who did it himself.

As I walked downstairs to tell Boyfriend, I tried really, really hard to remember what my psychologist had told me. She’d gotten me to write down some simple steps in my phone about what to do when I felt a panic attack coming on, or basically whenever I felt I was going to combat.

But the problem is, when I’m defence mode, I am not able to contemplate much else. I was already vaguely aware of other reasons why my boss might have posted the job, but it didn’t matter. My anxiety was telling me it was because they want me out, and it didn’t want to consider any other reasons.

Boyfriend calmed me down. He made sure I could see that maybe my boss has other innocent reasons for posting the ad. They need to replace me because I have a big job. They legally cannot deny me my job when I am ready to return (although they could fire me and offer a severance I guess), because I am on medical leave. It’s not like I quit.

This helped a little. But I was still struggling to find that rational thought process my therapist had gone over with me. I wanted to put that plan into action and try to make it work.

But I was at a loss – not only was it not really ingrained in my memory, but my Ego was so hell bent on being right about them wanting me out, that my Ego was arguing my side instead of trying to take a step back and look at things objectively.

I went back upstairs, and Work BFF called me to talk it over. She offered very similar advice, and after we chatted for a while, I did start to feel better. She suggested that I write my boss an email setting out a plan. He has no idea where my head is at, and the fact that he is not approaching me about things, although it totally sucks, doesn’t mean he is not supportive or doesn’t care. He probably sees me as fragile and is not comfortable with it.

So I did pen an email. I tried to make it as honest and real as possible. I did not write as though I were a computer (I tend to be very formal and use, as Work BFF puts it, ‘big words’ in my letters and emails) so that I would come off as a person. I had her review it, and I am going to send it to him on Monday morning so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

Meanwhile, I am studying my little cheat sheet for how to handle my panic attacks. It is difficult work. It’s not easy.

Here is an overview of what I need to do. I haven’t really gotten down to business yet. After I wrote the email, I went into hibernation and napped for a couple of hours, then continued to avoid everything until now. Since writing is one of the best ways I can express myself, and really explore things, I may as well do it here and now.

***

  • Ask myself: how can I see this differently? What am I blind to?

This should slow things down, and shift my focus. The goal is to look at things from a bigger place. But I find it near impossible when my Ego has made up my mind and things feel black & white.

But in this situation – My Ego is blind to any other result except the one he’s come up with. I could see things differently by looking at it from my boss’ perspective, or really, any outsider’s point of view.

  • What feelings are here?

My next step is to recognize my feelings as things that are not a part of me – they are just something that I am experiencing. That’s also really hard to do when you are all revved up. My therapist said it’s important not to say “I am sad,” for example, but rather “I am feeling sad” or “sadness is here.” This way, it’s easier to think of the feelings as passing clouds. They aren’t me.

Today, I was experiencing fear. Fear was telling me that I wasn’t wanted, that I was out of options, that I was not in control.

  • Is what Fear says true?

I need to think about whether Fear is really all-powerful and right about everything. It’s Fear that is doing the talking and making the decisions (along with my unwanted BFF Anxiety). But does Fear really know the absolute truth?

No, not necessarily. I have no way of knowing for certain, but I can say it’s possible that Fear is wrong. Or, at a minimum, it’s only half-true.

Perhaps my boss does want me out. Maybe he doesn’t. But that doesn’t matter: I still have control over how I react and what my next steps are. I still have options, I am still a great employee, and there are 100s of other job opportunities out there for me.

  • What IS true?

It’s important to keep my Ego in check.

This is just a circumstance. The opposite of fear, in this case, is honesty, safety, and most of all Trust.

  • If I look at things from the feeling of Trust, what would I be thinking? Feeling? Doing?

This is to help me realize that there are certainly other viewpoints, and those viewpoints are not coming from scary, pessimistic, negative places.

If I felt safe and trusting, I would be thinking that my boss is just covering his butt. He needs to solve the short-term problem of needing more support in the office while I am away. And if Trust really has an opinion, it’s that he has recognized that I needed help (I had, after all, asked for an assistant in our department in the past). Maybe he can finally see the gap I left, and needed to fill it, and also realizes that if I get hit by a bus, they need someone who can take over. They need someone who can take over even if I’m just on vacation, honestly. Maybe this person isn’t a replacement, but rather an addition.

  • Finally, I need to remember the following. The Self is the one who needs to be doing the talking.

I trust myself. I belong, and I’m wanted. I’m a good employee and I’m useful.

Those make me feel confident, open, and receptive. I feel more physically relaxed when I am experiencing those feelings of openness. I can take my time, and I have a choice.

***

I am still struggling with truly feelings the feelings of safety and trust. On paper, it makes sense. I can write all of that out and it doesn’t really have any holes in it. But it’s difficult to truly realign myself to that thought process.

I think that next time something similar happens, I am going to take out a sheet of paper and write things out. If I do this over and over, even for the small stuff, I will be better at it, and can turn it into an automatic response over time.

Hopefully, I will learn to quiet my Ego and think with my Self.

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Choices.

I’m still struggling with that the hell to do with my life, in terms of my job and my return to work. I’ve now taken 9 working days off of work (about two weeks), and that means I basically have one month left, minimum, before I need to make my next move. Or non-move.

Originally, Boyfriend would not let me think about work until “Wednesday”. I was too emotional, and broke down in a panic whenever I thought about it. Literally, of course. My thoughts were so scrambled, and everything was a mess in my head. I couldn’t form a cohesive thought process in that state, let alone make any decisions about anything.

I mean, I cried because I spilled a cup of juice.

I’d randomly bring up one aspect of one issue I had, without giving him (or even myself) any context, and proceed to stress out and have a panic attack. He’d hold me while I cried, and after I calmed down, I would try to explain what I was getting at. He stopped me every time, and told me it was too early to try and make decisions. He told me that I wasn’t allowed to think about things yet, but, “you can start thinking about work on Wednesday.”

Well, that Wednesday was Wednesday of last week. So … Nine days ago.

I have thought a little bit about work, come up with some very minimalist plans (so trendy), but I haven’t really decided what, ultimately, I want to do. What I should do.

I’m trying really hard to make sure I am striking a healthy balance between my wants and needs. It is difficult.

What do I want? Well, I would love to travel, sleep in, go for massages, talk to my therapist every day, read. Have some wine.

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Balance is key.

Dammit. I also need to make money.

Can this blog please take off, morph into a travel blog, and make me an above-average wage, please?

I like my job. I do. But has taking a 6-week stress leave destroyed any chance of discretional advancement? Will my employers never trust me again with anything important, or will they assume I am a flight risk? Will they assume I can’t handle things? Will I prove them right, and panic and panic and panic? Or can I re-frame my thinking? Will it even work?

And if I can reshape the way I think and react….. Do they deserve me? Do I want to work there? After what I’ve endured, the way I feel that my values are not aligned with theirs, and the fact that I am not particularly passionate about the industry I actually work in….  Should I move on? Should I treat my feelings of rejection as a good reason for redirection?

As a result, I have a few choices, which I’ve been mulling over for the past week or so:

  1. I could return to my current position, and try to move forward in a healthy way. No guarantees.
  2. I could quit, and take a lesser position elsewhere. Easily. But be paid far less and be far less engaged. That will also hurt my pride.
  3. I could return, but continue to job-hunt, and when something amazing lands on my lap, I could reevaluate things then.

When I couldn’t immediately decide, I briefly considered a career change. Maybe I could go back to school? Do something I am passionate about, start from scratch. My mom did it at around my age; she went back to school and cultivated a career. I took an online test to see what jobs might be best suited for me. One of those personality/career evaluations – don’t worry, it wasn’t on BuzzFeed. I am strongly Introvert, Sensing, Feeling, and Judging (which I am not surprised by in the least). I also think it’s important to note that Mother Theresa was also ISFJ (but let’s not focus on the fact that Kanye West is, as well…).  Anyway. The job I currently have was already a suggested career. I the test took at least 15 minutes, which I realized was all of the time I felt like investing in new avenues.

Because you know what? I’m good at my job. I’m really good at it. I enjoy it, aside from all that political bullshit. And I’ve carved my position out where I am, now, which is hard to do in my profession. I cannot find something that is exactly equal to what I am doing right now. There are clear plateaus in my field, generally speaking, and I’ve already experienced hitting one. I don’t want to go back to that. The place I’m at is, as much as I hate to admit it, a good one.

And so far, the truth is, I have looked into other positions out there, but there isn’t much to choose from. My outlook, as it stands, is bleak. I could become employed easily, but I would take a pay cut (a sizeable one). I’ve applied for one great job that I am technically under-qualified for, but I have an ‘in’ and could be a contender. But I really can’t bank on it. And if they do offer me the position (by some stroke of pure magic), I still do not know whether or not I should accept it.

If I give up my job right now, I could be turning my back on a lot of things. A great career. Promotions. Bonuses. Pride in what I do. I’d be giving up the feeling of helping people (which is a big thing for me. I do help change people’s lives in a pretty big way). No, the industry isn’t my thing, but there are aspects of it that I play a big role in that are important. I can’t be sure that I can duplicate the good things I have going.

And the big kicker is that they already know me, which can be a good thing. I do have a major support system there. People I call family. Best friends, even.

I just don’t know what to do. Maybe this is all an indication that I am not ready to figure things out, and that I should continue to use my time to figure myself out a little more.

Maybe I will think about it next Wednesday.

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Background Part III.

Ah, meds.

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This has become a very controversial subject according to the interwebMDs.

I am going to share my thoughts on the matter,  because my choice to be medicated is legitimately the difference between being able to participate in the outside world, and developing what I know would have been a pretty decent case of agoraphobia.

In Part II of my story, I shared my inability to do anything alone. I also mentioned that I still struggle with that. But I am no where near as bad as I used to be.

When I wrote that I couldn’t go to the mall alone, I mean it. It’s not that I’d be there and something happened so that I never returned. Nothing bad ever happened that prevented me from wanting to return. It was the thought of going out on my own that cloaked me in so much fear, that it just wasn’t something I could do.

I avoided it completely. It was not an option for me.

It was a flashback scenario. PTSD-style. Being seen alone brought me back to the times I had to spend alone in front of my entire high school every single day for months.

bathroom
Fun Fact: Public toilets don’t tend to have lids.

Remember this scene from the movie Mean Girls? This was me for a while in high school. For most people, it’s kind of entertaining. But for someone who lived that – it hits the nail on the fucking head. I make an awkward scrunched-up face during this scene.

I spent nearly every lunch hour alone, hiding in an aisle in the school library. I would pretend to do homework, but since I had more than enough time to complete that stuff, I’d actually just be reading Sweet Valley High books.

But our library forbade food and drink, so I always needed to eat my lunch before going in there. A bathroom stall was the natural choice. It was the only place that offered any sort of privacy.

The underlying reason for all of this was not simply that I had nothing to do during my spare time. My goal was to disappear. I would consistently bump into old friends who knew I was on my own, and it was humiliating to be seen. This flooded past just the ones I knew closely. For me, every single person at that school knew I was a loner and a total loser for it.

This intense feeling followed me. I did eventually make new friends, but things were never quite the same for me. Instead of being the outgoing one with all of the ideas, I became reclusive. I hung back. I went along with everyone else’s suggestions. I hoped simply to be invited along for the ride. It meant I just had someone to stand with at school.

It is nearly impossible to go about daily life successfully as an adult if you are in that world. We routinely need to go to the bank, go to job interviews, buy groceries, attend doctor’s appointments. My issues with doing things alone didn’t truly fuck up my life until I was an adult with responsibilities.

There was no thought process behind my inability to do stuff. I never thought to myself “I cannot go shopping, because I am very anxious, and my anxiety is preventing me from doing it!” It was moreso that if no one was available to go with me, it just was not a consideration to go at all. I wasn’t going to go someplace I’d be judged and watched. Would you walk into a flaming building? No. You don’t make that decision though a step-by-step, well thought-out process. Your knee-jerk reaction is “fire. Hot,” and you stay away naturally. You don’t need to think about anything except the results.

For me, going to the mall was like going into a flaming building. It was just obvious that I could not do that.

Anxiety rarely presents itself as anxiety, especially when you have just begun dealing with it. It is just your reality. It’s just how things are.

When I began university, I also began taking anti-anxiety medication. I quickly graduated to the highest dosage allowable, and it was then that I discovered I was capable of doing things.

Just doing things.

It did not happen overnight. It took a while to adjust to the medication. I got over a woozy feeling it gave me that lasted a few days, and recognized quickly that forgetting to take it on time would make me feel nauseous. But aside from that, I was lucky that I have never encountered many side-effects on this particular drug.

Side Note: I have tried several other drugs over the years, all of which I did not continue using because of the intense side-effects I experienced. For anyone considering trying an anti-anxiety med, you can’t expect the first one to be The One. I’m not even 100% sure that the first one I tried is the one that worked for me long-term. But I do consider myself very lucky that I was able to find a drug that does not make me sick or loopy or more anxious than before. It is a tricky business.

The magic that did occur, however, was that over time, I realized that I was doing things the way a normal adult would. I had started, for instance, going to the mall alone, and without even realizing it. My mind no longer considered the mall to be a dangerous burning building. It was just a regular place. My reality had changed.

For me, medication stopped those feelings of being overwhelmed. It wasn’t that there was a medication that went BOOM and I was brave and thought “I know what I’m gonna do today! I’m gonna go to the mall! I am not anxious about it!” It was simply an absence of the feelings that would have prevented me from even considering it in the past.

Anxiety meds taught me that with their help, I can do normal, everyday activities, and that nothing bad happens. That’s all – I can just do stuff.

Stuff like going back to school, building a career that I’m proud of, talking to a cute dude, and creating a life for myself. I did those things.

DOING STUFF IS AMAZING.

🙂

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