The year 2017 had been a rough one. I had started a job at a big auto insurance company as a call center rep; the job paid pretty well and was more than I’d ever made before. It carried its own price, though. After only seven months, I was desperately trying to contain the massive anxiety that the job caused. I’m a very sensitive person who takes on the emotions and energy of those around me, so when I had to sit at a desk for 8 hours and take calls from people at some of the worst times in their lives – at the scene of an accident – trying to calm panicking or angry people to gather information was extremely upsetting and stressful. I empathized with them as they looked to me for help, and I couldn’t handle the emotional flood.
I tried meditation and calming apps before I went into my daily shift, and even chose the night shift to reduce the call volume I would have to endure. Towards the end of my seven months there, I started seeking ways to contain the destruction my nervous system was undergoing – trying to transfer to an internal company position that dealt with documents instead of being on the phones, and starting up counseling sessions again after years away from the short bursts of therapy I’ve sought over my lifetime. I’ve had anxiety my entire life, since I was a little kid, and I’d never experienced the level of debilitating panic and fear that I developed going into that job. I would go to my weekly counseling sessions and would already be crying in the lobby while I waited to go into the counselor’s office.
I was an emotional wreck, and though I wanted to stay for the money I was making, the job was sending me down the path to a mental breakdown. I was consumed with the need to find peace within myself and in my life.
One Saturday I was driving into work and could feel the panic attack building. My panic attacks always manifest as an uncontrollable urge to cry, and I’m not someone who cries easily. As I was struggling to keep down the tears, I decided to stop at my parents’ house to see Penny, their spunky little mini Australian Shepherd/Chihuahua mix. When I had moved back to the Pacific Northwest, I had stayed with my parents until I could get a job and an apartment, and I had bonded strongly with Penny. So as I drove to their house, which was just a few short minutes from my job, I was being drawn toward the only comfort I knew could help – the love of an animal.
I entered the house and immediately found Penny on the couch. She’s always excited to see me, and I just crouched before her and put my face in her fur and gave her pets and scratches. I was ready to burst. My dad was there and said hello. He was just saying how he didn’t expect to see me today and asked how I was doing, and I was just silent for a moment – I couldn’t speak. I just started uncontrollably crying into Penny.
I think it shocked my dad – like I said, I don’t cry often or in front of people if I can help it. But he came over and asked what was wrong. I just poured out the feelings I’d been having and the panic of forcing myself to go into that job. He just said, “Call in sick.”
That’s like blasphemy to me – a perfectionist and rule-follower who learned my strong work ethic from my parents. Call in sick if I wasn’t really sick?
But I was. Truly, my anxiety was eating me alive, and if I couldn’t function enough to have a conversation with my dad without bawling, how was I going to get it together enough to get on the phones with customers?
So that’s what I did, and it was a huge relief. But now I had to make a plan. I couldn’t continue this way, and all of the things I was doing to keep my anxiety under control were not working.
I put in my two weeks’ notice. Then I went into my next shift at work and sat at my desk. As the minutes ticked closer to 5 p.m., when I would have to turn on my availability to take calls, the panic just built in waves. I couldn’t do it. I started crying. My body was telling me enough. I couldn’t even start my notice, much less finish it. And I had to listen to that. That was the beginning of something I continue to work on now – trusting my emotions, my intuition, when I had spent years training myself to be numb, to shut down my emotions, and not trust my own brain when it came to decisions in life. I had to walk away from a good salary and find a new path.