I have never come a real conclusion about what I should be, or should not be doing, when it comes to work; I think the ship has sailed on finding that conclusion. All I can do now is find something that pays money for doing something that I enjoy. There are many practical reasons as to why I didn’t find my way one the path to a career, but recently I have reflected on the whole piece, as the history of it all comes back to bite me. I am now wondering if practicalities were the reasons, or the excuses. I am not exactly out and proud about my anxiety, but I am coming to terms with the part of me that is exactly that, a part of me.
I managed to work with anxiety on my shoulder for many years, but jobs came and went with alarming frequency, especially as I got older. When I arrived into parenting, I found that work was a challenge to fit in around all that being a parent brings. The biggest problem of all being the cost of paying someone else to look after my children, especially when I wanted nothing more than to be there for them. I started on the road to self-made millionaire and began my own business, to fit in around the children. I soon realised that millionaire was never going to happen; in fact, I was happy, sometimes even ecstatic, to get paid anything at all. That helped me come to terms with losing the bigger salaries that I had earned in the past. My business was tough and lonely, anxiety makes sales and marketing an almost impossible mountain to climb. I found myself almost apologising for trying to sell my business. So, when my children started school I began to volunteer in their classes for a little human interaction. This was fun; there was little or no pressure on my permanent state of anxiety, I felt comfortable with the children, challenged, but in a positive way. It gave me an excuse not to work on building my business, but I needed to earn a wage.
So, began the journey into the paid world of education; job one was Lunchtime Supervisor (dinner lady to those outside of education), it was OK, but I started to feel the strain of the anxiety. The thing that I have discovered in education is that you are told how not to do something, often with blunt force, but not always told how to do things. I began to feel panicked and out of control, I did not know what I was doing, how could I perform to the best of my ability, what if I failed, what if they didn’t think I was good at the job, or didn’t like me? These are just a few of the questions that an anxious brain will ask over and over again. But despite the self-doubt and the anxiety, I managed to do 1 ½ hours a day and not get fired. The wage packet at the end was tiny, but I was only working 7 hours a week, 38 weeks of the year, so what could I expect. I needed to upgrade to classroom.
My family had to up sticks and relocate, so the failing / abandoned business got put in a box and I decided to face the fear and do it anyway; I trained to be a Teaching Assistant. Now this is the perfect job for a school mum, isn’t it? Work school hours, sort of, have the holidays off with pay, work with children, give something back and other honourable thoughts. The job is all of those things, except to a person with anxiety, for that person it is a minefield of challenges and agonising self-doubt.
College was OK, study was manageable, the deadlines caused me anxiety, but the work I could handle. I was incredibly lucky to find a paid job, while I studied. I can tell you the practical reason for leaving the first TA job; it was that the cost of travelling to and from school did not make the tiny salary worthwhile. However, the real reason is that my crippling anxiety was making every day hell. People who have worked in education for a long time can become quite blunt, authoritative, or some might say a little bossy. I should say that this is not everyone, but there are a few who find it difficult to remember that the way they command a room of children is not necessarily the same way you should command a colleague. To be fair, these people are present in all parts of life, but for some reason, this job made it harder. Now to all you everyday folk, this is not a problem, you just politely remind them who they are talking to and go on your merry way. Miss anxiety, however, was felled by the cutting remark, or fearful of the barked command, I would scuttle off to do as I was told, my adult brain telling me this was wrong, my anxious mind telling me that I was useless at the job, getting it wrong, disliked. This made me falter in my role, become confused and anxious, the job that I could do well, suddenly seemed out of reach of my abilities. Anxiety leads to mistakes as our brains become confused and anxious, us anxious people can struggle to clarify and problem solve, mountains and molehills spring to mind.
Jobs came and went; how lucky was I to keep getting new jobs after giving up on the old ones? The final paid school role brought me to where I am now, the lightbulb moment where it all made sense. When working in a school alongside a teacher, we are there to assist in anyway we can; there is not necessarily a structure to what we do, where we do it and how often we will be needed to do it. For a routine driven workplace, the job is different every day. Now that should make it a dream, and for me, who doesn’t want to like routine, it should have been perfect; how could I get bored if it changed by the minute? But my anxious mind could not gain the control I needed. I spent every night worrying about what the next day would bring, and every day worrying about what I was doing, was it good enough? The anxiety meant tears, frustration, confusion and an inability to see the wood for the trees. I became more and more stressed, breathless, I would wake in the night having night terrors, I would cry at everything and often did cry, either in the classroom or hidden in a toilet somewhere. The children made me feel amazing but broke my heart at the same time. Children are blunt, but funny, the truth can sometimes be hard to take. I found that my home life suffered as I was on a constant knife edge of emotions, angry one minute, crying the next. I realised that I was not able to cope with the lack of control needed to do the job, I had to take back the control as I was spiralling into a dark place.
Is this the end? At the moment, I think sadly it is the end of my TA job, as every time I walk into the school as a volunteer, the old feelings return; I feel the nagging self-doubt, the panic, the fear of failing. Failing at what is a mystery to me – as a parent helper, there are no expectations on me, but my anxiety will not let that logical thought be true, I feel the need to perform. At the moment, I am focusing my attentions on other ‘controlled’ roles. Whether it is just me, or the me with anxiety, I don’t know, but I know that I am desperate to please, I consistently over perform, then burn out. I am told that the secret is to underperform and always have more to give. But with my need to please and constant seeking of gratification, that is just not in me, so for now, I will continue to over perform as best I can. A recent interview comment about my ever-changing CV certainly hit home, I am not sure that I can fix the past, but I can find a compromise with my demons within, maybe I can finally stay somewhere. I can fight my anxiety, as I have done time and time over, but it is exhausting, sometimes I just need to give it a minor victory and find a way to live harmoniously together.
I have found that anxiety as a parent is harder to work with; as a mum I naturally give my all to my children, all of my courage and strength goes into what I need to do for them. That leaves the part that belongs to just me falling short of bravery. I will not give in and I will make something work, but every time I take a knock, my anxiety has a great time telling me how I deserve to fail.
It is a shame that this job didn’t work out for me, but I could never be a brain surgeon either, is that a problem? I need to play to my strengths, which do seem to lie in organisation and order. I am currently trying a self-employed freelance role, which does not require me to sell my wares, but gives me enough control to feel good about what I do. There is even the occasional confident moment when something good happens. If I have learned anything over my many years of fighting my anxiety it is to find a way of working with it and not against it.
In my next blog, I am planning to write about some of the coping strategies that I have successfully used.