Friday 28th March, just your average working day. Nothing interesting to report, no scandals, (except Gwyneth and Chris, a ‘conscious uncoupling?’ Come off it!)
But for me it wasn’t average. It was the day I faced something that my anxiety has fed off for the last fourteen months. A situation that has filled me with dread and induced some of the most aggressive panic attacks I’ve ever had. I have avoided them like the plague and in return I felt like a failure. Can you guess what I’m talking about?? Well……. I had an interview.
Now if you’ll remember, I had my first major attack in an interview and have consequently been unable to face one ever since. However, an important part of ‘Exposure Therapy’ is to deliberately put yourself in a situation that will make you feel anxious. The idea is to experience an attack in order to desensitise yourself and build your self-confidence.
Easy right? NOT!
Anyone who has ever experienced a panic attack will understand just how terrifying such a request is. Fear is not a pleasant feeling. In contrast, it’s one which causes the mind to freeze and the emotions to explode. Most people can barely function when they’re terrified, let alone think rationally. So no, I knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy ride.
However, if I wanted to overcome my anxiety then I knew that this step would have to be taken eventually.
So what did I do? Well funnily enough Albert Einstein gave me the push I needed (not in a dream, I read one of his quotes) “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” That’s pretty much the story of my life, repeating an action and hoping it’ll be different this time. It was time to be bold and try something new.
So I contacted the person in HR who terrified me the most (we’ll call her Sally) and asked whether she would give me a ‘practice interview.’ I wanted the whole thing to be formal and replicate the exact kind of questions that she would asked. Sally was actually very helpful. She booked a meeting room and asked to see a copy of my CV. She explained that she would take notes and give feedback on my answers. Great.. so that was organised. ARRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHH!
Normally like most people, before an interview I like to prepare. However, my idea of preparation is to list every question that I might be asked and write down my answers. I then learn these answers off by heart and berate myself for every mistake made. This might be reasonable if I were listing 5 or 10 questions… but I have a list of 42 with 42 very detailed answers. I walk around my living room like an actress desperately learning her lines. To put this into context, before my last interview I woke up at 4am to practice for 3 hours (despite being up until 12 the night before.)
Hmmmmmmmm, does anyone spot the recipe for disaster?
So despite the enormous protests from my brain I decided to do the polar opposite for this interview. I..did..nothing. I decided to turn up and see what came out of my mouth. Believe me, this was extremely stressful for me to do because I’m naturally very organised. But it was important.
All morning I kept myself pleasantly distracted with tasks that required my full attention, and when I felt a spurt of anxiety I let it wash over me like a wave. It was ok to feel nervous.
10 minutes before the interview, the panic descended. It was vicious and highly distressing. That’s the most devastating thing about panic attacks, it doesn’t matter how much experience you gain, they still manage to blindside you.
My hands were shaking, I couldn’t think straight and I was struggling to keep my breathing steady. Walking towards the meeting room my legs turned to jelly and the following thoughts rushed through my mind:
I can’t. I just can’t do this. I’m not ready.
I can’t face this. I’m going to freak out and humiliate myself.
I won’t be able to speak. My mind will go blank.
Go back to your desk and email Sally. Tell her than an urgent meeting has cropped up and that you have to cancel.
I paused for a moment and considered this possibility. There was still time, I could get out of this if I wanted to. NO, I wouldn’t be tricked this time. Instead I began to breath using my stomach and I reminded myself that these thoughts were just another symptom of the attack. It was all a trick to convince my amygdala that I was in danger. It was discomfort not danger.
So I carried on walking and as I saw Sally I greeted her warmly and instantly began to engage in conversation. This distracted my brain and took the edge of the attack.
As the questions started I naturally felt anxious, but without a ‘script’ to memorise there was less pressure. I answered honestly and as myself rather than ‘actress Claire.’ I continued my belly breathing and remained focused on what I was being asked.
After 5 minutes I realised that I was ‘OK.’ I was nervous, but that was good as it kept my brain sharp. I was answering the questions well and with confidence. I couldn’t believe it, who was this person?!
Sally’s feedback was positive. “You interview very well, it’s clear that you’re very knowledgeable. I’m impressed.” I was thrilled!
Walking back to my desk afterwards I couldn’t stop smiling. I’d done it, tackled another hurdle and proved that I could manage my anxiety.
Believe me, if I can face a fear then so can you. It just takes patience and balls!
So there you have it. Another one off the list… next step world domination! Or maybe I’ll just go to the pub and celebrate.