The cycle of anxiety goes a little something like this for me:
1) Be faced with a situation that makes me anxious
2) Struggle internally over getting the situation done and over with ASAP, but ultimately, 7 times out of 10 I will choose to avoid the problem.
3) Spend the next few days or weeks thinking about the problem while continuing to avoid taking any action to solve it, which increases my anxiety
4) Become a vegetable/robot who is fixated on the problem and is unable to focus on anything else. Loss of interest in activities, a decrease in verbal communication, and insomnia.
5) After some time, due to the mental strain of avoiding said problem, either finally choose to face the issue head-on or let go of it.
5) Following this resolution, find something else to worry and obsess about.
6) Repeat steps 1-5.
Today I made a phone call that I purposely put off from making until now. Two days ago I received a voice mail from a potential employer, Alan, who might be interested in hiring me. Oh dear.
My telephone correspondence with Alan began roughly two weeks ago when I was given a number to call about a job opportunity. It took me about a whole week to steel my nerves and make the damn call, and this was only after my mom (who, incidentally, is the one who gave me the number to call) asked if I had phoned in yet. Of course I did not admit to her that I’ve been avoiding it, but the fact she asked me about it gave me an almost necessary pressure to call.
In this kind of situation, I was already anxious about calling in the first place. The terror of dialing a number I am unfamiliar with, having to talk to a complete stranger, being unsure if I sound coherent and assertive enough, etc. But then I became anxious about the possibilities that might come from the phone call. Would I survive the call unscathed?
For that whole week of avoidance, my mind was swimming with what-ifs. Yet I settled for not putting an end to my own agony by making the call. Instead I was content to think about the call that might never happen and tuck it into the furthest corner of my mind, unsure if I wanted to pick it up and deal with it eventually. This, in turn, was like poison seeping into my life little by little each day because I knew I was making a futile attempt to run from anxiety but it just made me worse. These things always have a way of bleeding out no matter how I try to contain it. I started feeling moodier, less in the present and constantly wanting a distraction to ground down my real emotions so I wouldn’t have to think about my feelings. I slept horribly. I stayed home a lot, unable to motivate myself to go out and involve myself in extracurricular activities while I was still anxious about the call I had yet to make. Always, always it was on my mind.
I’m a very private person about my anxiety. I do not discuss it with my family. In the past, I was burned a few times where my parents or my brother expressed exasperation that I was being avoidant. Maybe they didn’t mean for me to feel shame and embarrassment from their reactions but the memories of it were enough to strengthen my resolve to work on my anxiety on my own terms and to not be open with my family about it. It does sound a bit lonely to admit I am shutting them out somewhat, especially since I can’t say for sure what their reactions would be now if I revealed my struggles to them. But I’m also technically an adult and I feel I can be responsible for myself and my own mental health. Anyway, this reason is why I was not honest with my mom when she asked if I had called yet. I did not want to feel humiliation if she ended up getting annoyed with my behavior, and at worst, I did not want to be given a lecture. Oddly, it was the fear of her reaction and how mentally exhausted I felt over being avoidant that I made the call the following day.
The call went fine and lasted less than 3 minutes. The employee I spoke with stated Alan was actually on vacation and wouldn’t be back till the next day. I had so many ideas about how the phone call would go but I never expected to be told this. A temporary relief enveloped me. I got an answer to what I had been avoiding, but immediately afterwards I was freaking out because I left my phone number so Alan could call me back when he was available. Next day, I got a call from an unknown number. I silenced the call and saw that the person left me a voicemail. I could see myself in my mind’s eye playing the voicemail but I was too afraid to actually do it. Ugh.
And so this commenced another cycle of avoidance, although this one was relatively shorter. I don’t know how I made myself call. Maybe it was Alan’s voicemail and hearing him ask me to call him back. Or maybe not. I’ve gotten tons of voicemails before where people request a call back from me but even that does nothing to assuage my fear of calling and conversing with the person. What usually happens is I do not call back. But I did this time. I already experienced what it was like attempting to get in touch with him and now he was trying to contact me. It was just before dinner time that I found a quiet place in the house and dialed his number. My thoughts were racing but I didn’t want to slow down because I knew if I had time to think about how scared I was, I would start hesitating.
Alan was pleasant to talk to. He gave me the job details and we even spent some time discussing his business’s financial dealings with the bank my mom used to work for. I asked a few questions about the job. Get this, it is a mostly customer service job where I’ll be answering calls and taking calls. Ha, the irony of my phone phobia comes full circle. At the end, I got his email so I could send him my resume. He agreed to get back to me by sometime next week.
After the call, I felt like a huge burden was lifted from me. This was an amazing turnabout in my mood when moments earlier (before the call) I felt anxious, unhappy, and distracted, so much so that I was zoning out when my dad was talking to me.
However, during the week, I was insufferably on edge, waiting all day and every day for Alan to call me. Every day that I received no phone call, I was both relieved and frustrated over the outcome. Relieved because this meant I didn’t have to deal with potential anxiety over making myself answer my ringing phone. Yet frustrated because all sorts of accusations rose up in me. Maybe he didn’t get my resume and I sent it to the wrong email? I checked it. It was the right one. Perhaps he is just really busy. He did tell me that he would call since he has no time whatsoever to reply to emails. I decided to give it a few days. Then I began floundering and assumed there was something wrong with me specifically. I bet he did look at my resume but thinks everything on it is shit. He has probably concluded you are not worth his time. Who are you kidding? Almost everything on your resume is volunteer work except for that crummy remote data entry job you did this summer. Yep, there was my attempt at self-assassination.
Despite all this, my one glimmer of hope was to recall the compliment he gave me on the phone. He said I have a nice voice and even joked that I speak better English than him, which seem to be assets he wants for someone who’ll be answering the phone line at work. I clung to the idea that maybe, perhaps… he sees potential in me?
I shut off my phone ringer before dinner on Wednesday and Alan happened to call me during this time. I waited until the next day to listen to the voicemail. He asked to set up an appointment with me so I could come in-person to meet everyone. I would have called back that morning, but I was worried he might ask me to come in the next day and I didn’t feel mentally prepared yet. Friday rolled around. The anxiety was palpable as I spent hours dawdling until 12:30 PM when I left for yoga class and stopped on the street to phone Alan. Sometimes I can’t even understand the intensity of my own anxiety. I made the call, he and I agreed to meet on Monday at noon, and then he gave me the location address. Simple, right? I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry seeing on the phone log that the call lasted a mere 1 minute and 22 seconds. Me, so afraid of speaking on the phone that I avoided it and wasted hours upon hours agonizing over it when the actual call took less than 2 minutes of my time.
Just because I completed this hurdle doesn’t mean I’ve beat anxiety though. I keep telling myself it’s normal to have anxiety. I truly believe it, except I also know there is no true end to my anxiety and it’ll come back since chances are I will find the next thing in my life to be anxious about.