Before I can leave my house I shove the ring attached to my keys over my finger. It’s always too tight and is uncomfortable to wear. I triple-check that it’s attached and I can see my key dangling from it at least three times before shutting my front door. Once my door is latched I re-open whatever bag I have with me for the day and I follow the same routine that I have to complete every single time I leave my house. I’ve already done it at least twice before shutting the door but I do it again just in case. I will open my bag and place my key inside my purse and zip it up, then I un-zip it immediately after so I can see that my key is inside, then I’ll check to make sure I have my bank card, my license, my student ID and my headphones before zipping it again. Then I check the contents of my bag; purse? Check. Drink bottle with gym band attached? Check. Umbrella? Check. Laptop? Check. Laptop charger? Check. Journal? Check. After I’ve done my routine check, I’ll scan the contents again, making sure I didn’t imagine something was in there when it wasn’t. Before I zip up my bag to leave my balcony I’ll unzip my purse again; License? Check. Student ID? Check. Bank card? Check. Headphones? Check. Keys??? Where are my keys???? Oh, wait they are in there, right where I placed them two minutes before. Check. Then I can place my purse in my bag, do a final scan of the contents, zip it up all the way and leave.
This routine is performed whenever I leave my apartment, or my partner’s place, or a classroom, or the gym. It’s a routine that I’m sure sounds tedious and crazy to some, but if I didn’t perform it I would spend an ungodly amount of time stressing that something was missing before caving and checking within a few minutes of exiting a room anyway (often having to crouch in gutters.) I don’t enjoy this process, to be honest, it can be exhausting but it’s one that I have to do if I want to minimize stress throughout the day.
I have anxiety, severe anxiety. I was officially diagnosed when I was 12 years old and have been learning to cope with it ever since. I’ve never wanted sympathy for my diagnosis but sometimes it makes it easier to explain to people why I need a few extra minutes before we leave wherever we are to get myself organised. I am not alone in this struggle, in fact around 1 in 13 people will suffer with an anxiety disorder. As this experience is one felt by such a large number of people, it seems that workplaces need to understand and accommodate those who are living with anxiety or mental illness.
In my first attempt of my second year of university, I was enrolled in a journalism class which required an analysis of content that would be presented by students weekly. The weeks allocated were randomised and I was given the task of presenting first. This task was one that was incredibly daunting, I researched, and made my slides and tried to memorise the main points days before I would have to give my presentation. When the day came, I stood up and gave my presentation, my legs shook so violently I had to lean against the desk next to me. I tried to play it off as though I had some kind of cool guy lean going on but my lip quivering gave me away. I couldn’t read the notes I had in my hands, even though I was wearing my glasses and I made sure the words printed large enough for me not to stumble through them but I was so lightheaded the writing was starting to get fuzzy. I made it through the presentation, mispronouncing and messing up half of my words, and sat down very quickly after, refusing to make eye contact with anyone in the room. I think half the nerves came from the fact that I had not seen what was expected of me, I hadn’t watched a peer go first to give some kind of confirmation that I had been on the right track. I hadn’t spoken to my tutor because I was scared to bother them.
The person who presented after me stood up and put their slides on the screen, their presentation looked much more professional than mine had and her points were more sophisticated and cohesive than mine had been. As she explained the content I logged into my university profile and I unenrolled from the four classes I was three weeks into studying. I messaged my mum and told her I was moving home and I messaged the family I had been living with for the past 14 months and thanked them graciously for having me but told them that I was moving out. I waited until the end of that two-hour tutorial, walked to my car, drove to the nearest Kmart to grab a suitcase and went home to start packing. Within eight hours I had my car packed and was driving four hours back to my parents’ house where I stayed for a little less than a year before I came back to university.
Anxiety is something I try not to speak about online anymore, I don’t want it to affect the possibility of me getting a job because despite the fact I need an extra few minutes to leave a room and despite the fact I crumbled under pressure and dropped out of university, I still have many strengths. I’m strong-willed and determined. I love the learn. I will go above and beyond for the people in my life and for the people I work for because I refuse to half-ass anything. Just because I have anxiety, that doesn’t mean I can’t do things, it just means that sometimes I need to find an alternative route (or study the route for three days in advance just to be sure I don’t get lost.)
My issue with this is that some areas of the workplace, especially within the university setting, don’t allow for an alternative route. I can’t not do presentations, that wouldn’t be fair. I can’t not do an exam, that also wouldn’t be fair. I understand that, and I’m not asking for it, but there is room for improvements even if they’re small. I didn’t want to speak about this issue because again, I was worried it would make me unemployable, but the fact is, I am not anxiety, it’s just something that I have. Much like with my glasses, I am not astigmatism, it’s just something that I have. The difference is that wearing glasses isn’t stigmatised but mental illness is. Something’s got to give.