Anna Wintour has reportedly said that everyone should be fired at least once. But what if you’re fired five times?
Although I hate to admit it, I was let go from five jobs in five years, but not because I was incompetent — it was because I had severe anxiety.
From the time I entered middle school, I have suffered from anxiety. I was always described as being “high-strung,” but throughout my educational career, this wasn’t much of an issue. If anything, my anxiety enabled my academic success because I obsessed over grades and assignments. I was the student who started to write the paper the day that it was assigned; I was the student who began to study for the exam at least a full week in advance; and I was the student who always completed the extra assignments even though I didn’t need the additional points.
In high school, I was every teacher’s pet, and in college, I was every professor’s prodigy. I was lauded for my diligence and work ethic, but it was really my anxiety that should’ve been praised. My anxiety is what compelled me to complete all tasks ahead of time and with extensive effort. While having this mental illness actually benefited me for a large portion of my life, it suddenly destroyed me as I entered into the career world.
While a proactive and assiduous workaholic might appear to be every employer’s dream, when anxiety is the cause of the work ethic, employers often become displeased. Because I worked all hours of the day including weekends, my employers often described me as “intense.” When problems would arise, rather than remaining calm while working toward resolving the issues, I would become agitated, and my anxiety began to show itself in the worst possible ways.
It was difficult for me to control my emotions, so as soon as potential issues occurred, I became overwhelmed and distressed, as I would immediately think of all the worst possible outcomes. Sometimes, I would become so frustrated that I would just sit at my desk and cry. But I was known to make mountains out of molehills, and that became my downfall.
Oftentimes, my bosses would tell me to relax or just breathe, because everything was going to be OK, but I couldn’t believe that until it actually happened. I would immediately react without even processing the issue. My nerves and anxiety were emanating in the office, and I suddenly became known as a source of drama.
At the end of each year, I would receive an excellent review from my boss, but it was always followed by “I’m sorry, but this isn’t a good fit.” Some employers would use euphemisms for my anxiety, claiming that I was “high energy,” but I knew that they just didn’t want to deal with an anxious worker.
As this pattern persisted, I began to reassess my life to discover the cause of the issue. I knew that I was high-strung and easily stressed, but I never sought help from a therapist because I always viewed therapy as a form of punishment.
While I was growing up, my parents would threaten me with therapy whenever I misbehaved or displayed signs of anxiety and depression. I can vividly remember my father looking exasperated as he screamed down the hallway, “You have issues! There’s something wrong with you!” Every time he and I had a dispute, he would try to end it with those hurtful statements, as though I were too irrational to argue, so he was automatically right.
Even in my most depressed moments when I would spend most of the day sleeping in my bed, my parents would take turns entering my bedroom to berate me for wasting the day away, and in a rather malicious tone, they would yell, “You’re depressed! You have problems! Get help!” I couldn’t fathom how they were mad at me when I didn’t do anything wrong.
To spite my parents, I never went to therapy, and I refused to succumb to their desires. But after losing four jobs, I became desperate for success, so I finally capitulated. Unfortunately, I sought the wrong therapist, so I can’t say that my first year of therapy was beneficial for my career. But after finding a psychiatrist who could properly medicate me, I began to thrive in all aspects of my job.
It would be remiss to say that therapy and medications were the cure-all. In reevaluating my life and discussing my issues with a therapist, I realized that my parents were the main source of my anxiety, so as I gradually convalesced, I finally gained the courage I needed to move out of my parents’ house and into my very own place.
Problems still arise at work, but at least now, I know how to properly react and deal with them. I’ve learned that employers like people who can resolve issues on their own without engaging their emotions. They prefer people who are laid-back and easygoing but still get the job done.
I can’t say that my anxiety is completely nonexistent at work, but when it does begin to show, I recognize that I need to take a step back, reevaluate the situation and maintain equanimity while conversing with my colleagues or my boss.