Late last night I had a friend message me in a bit of a state which resulted in a three hour texathon about his new job. It all made me a bit angry, but not for the reason (given my grumpy disposition) that you may think.
His job is in an office and isn’t much out of the ordinary but the difference is that my friend suffers from anxiety and some pretty crippling low self esteem which means he is in constant fear of messing up or becoming overwhelmed.
I know a little bit about anxiety. I have an older brother who suffers very, very badly from it and I get it a little now and again although I can usually shake it off becasue I’m a cunt.
My friend has quite a bad case of it and it’s affected him all his life but he’s a good and very funny dude when in the right company. Jobs were always an issue for him and now being in his mid 40s it’s even worse. I guess that’s why we became friends as I seemed to ‘get’ where he was coming from and the fact that he texted me at all was surprising in itself and I felt rather honoured to have had that level of trust bestowed apon me.
To have anxiety stall your life like that really gets all my sympathy as it is not only severely misunderstood but is often almost always dismissed or doubted.
(I do have his full permission to write this piece as long as no names are mentioned)
Imagine you constantly doubt yourself and your abilities. Imagine you live in constant fear of messing up and making problems for everyone. Imagine getting shouted at in public for making a mistake and imagine doing that while someone is paying you good money which you clearly think you don’t deserve.
Unfortunately with anxiety mistakes do happen and they happen more often than usual, not because of any lack of ability or intelligence but becasue you become so flustered due to your environment that you make silly errors.
How many times has someone been so nervous they say the wrong thing, or ask a really stupid question when they know fine well it’s stupid but try to force themselves into a personality that just doesn’t fit? How many times have you had someone explain something to you but you don’t quite get and you’ve already asked twice about it and are afraid to ask again when all that was needed would have been a few small practical examples?
Now imagine having that feeling all day every day when you are out of your preferred environment (which is usually your home) and you might come close to how anxiety can affect you. Imagine people telling you to “Get it together” or that “You’re stupid” or the old classic “You’re lazy”, the last one of which I was informed by my friend that his own father called him not a week ago.
I don’t think people realise just how insanely crippling anxiety can be, especially in the work environment. Going for a job interview is never a nice thing for anyone but for someone with anxiety it can almost be heart attack inducing. In the old days it was ok. You left school or Uni, went for one job interview and that was you set. If you had to have two job interviews in your lifetime you were considered very unlucky. In today’s world with zero hour contracts, no job security and temp solutions then you are looking at a month or two in one job then more interviews and then another month or two in another job then more interviews.
Rinse and repeat until tumour!
People with anxiety tend to favour routine more than most and being settled is a big deal. To rob someone of that and constantly put them in to uncertainty is torture….and this applies to people without anxiety and says more about our current employment situation than anything else.
It isn’t just work either, social settings can be a nightmare too. Imagine you arrange to meet someone in a pub but you are the first one there so you awkwardly stand at the bar feeling uncomfortable as if everyone is watching you. It’s sensory overload and sometimes it can be too much for some people.
Is THAT laziness? I think not!
There are those in this world who seem to sail though life. Not because of privilege but just mental makeup. Job interviews mean nothing, a task is a task and you just do it and the odd mistake isn’t even worth thinking about. Unfortunately it’s these kind of people who just do not get the concept of anxiety and often become frustrated with sufferers.
“It’s just excuses!” is the common thought which helps no-one and makes matters worse for the person just trying to get through a day without feeling like a completely useless piece of shit that the world would be better off without.
This is sadly when anxiety can develop into depression and then we start to have some much more serious problems on our hands.
I think most of the problem is that we live in a society where it is drilled into us that we should be grateful for any job at all. There is some truth there but what is the point if you aren’t suited to the job?
What’s the point of being a pilot or an air host/hostess if you are afraid of flying? What’s the point in being a sailor if you are terrified of the water?
And what’s the point in being in a job which is faced paced, micro managed and required constant interaction with large open teams if you have anxiety?
“Oh but you just don’t go for those kinds of jobs!”
Well that’s contradictory to the old saying of “any job is a good job!” and often people don’t have a choice.
It’s unlikely that you’ll ever hear anyone say “I’m not really a team player” in a job interview becasue that would be suicide.
We need to realise that not being a team player isn’t necessarily a bad thing and it doesn’t mean that these people can’t work with others but more they work BETTER on their own.
It’s almost obscene me saying this in Tory Britain 2016 where the selection of jobs is just pitiful but we need to create not necessarily more jobs (we do though) but a better VARIETY of jobs. Look on any job site and it’ll be guaranteed to be geared towards a corporate workforce with 90% of positions being admin, call centres, telesales or retail. Almost all of these will be in a target based environment.
To be sure there are those who thrive on the hustle and bustle of that kind of setting. People shouting over one another and fast paced pressure based team work with targets to beat is the name of the game and this would undoubtedly be honey to a good portion of society.
It would however be a living nightmare for someone with anxiety.
I asked my friend what he would really like as a job and he said something like working in a small bookshop or just something in a store room where he could get on with what he was supposed to be doing in peace. I totally get that and it’s definitely the route I would like to take if I was in that position but sadly jobs like that are few and far between. It’s not becasue they are popular jobs as the pay wouldn’t be great but there just aren’t that many out there. Going on the dole isn’t the answer, not for my friend who would be subjected to the humiliation of current DWP fuckery and would more than likely be forced into an even worse job which was miles away. The process alone would probably kill him and he fully agrees with me.
For someone with anxiety having a huge paycheque isn’t really an issue anyway. Contentment is usually more important than burning ambition and so as long as the bills and rent are paid then it’s not often they require much more. It’s doubtful they go on holiday, especially if they are on their own and they probably don’t drive as familiar surroundings are most comfortable. The most expensive thing they are likely to have is a DVD boxset or subscription to something.
There is the argument that the world can’t be made up of just people in “wee quiet jobs” which is true, but that doesn’t mean that the majority has to be full of the opposite kind either.
I go back to a point I’ve made many times in that our society has this strange obsession with misery. We seem to confuse the words “miserable” and “hard” when it comes to work and if you are miserable in your job then you must be a hard worker. Equally if someone loves their job it is often dismissed as “not real work”.
Anxiety is medically a recognised diagnosis but one (like depression) that there is virtually zero help for in real world terms. It’s not that people don’t want to work, they do but trying to find a job that won’t stress you to death due to things that other people wouldn’t think twice about is virtually impossible. Add to this the Government seem to have the attitude of “Well ok it’s medically recognised but we’re not going to help you if you have it”
Being sent to a psychiatrist to try and deal with things a little better is great but it’s laying the blame at the foot of the individual rather than perhaps the society and besides, how are the bills getting paid in the meantime? I’ll use this opportunity to mention the concept of UBI again (Universal Basic Income) which would radically help people like my friend who with UBI could easily do some stress free volunteer work in a quieter environment perhaps for a charity bookshop or store which may lead to actual employment at some point. A good other section of society would benefit similarly from UBI too.
It’s hard to advise someone with anxiety to do things becasue getting a job is all about self promotion but that’s REALLY difficult when you don’t think much of yourself. I could tell my friend to go round the bookshops asking for a job but that is an extremely hard thing to do as so many things would go round in your mind, such as –
– I’m being rude asking this person to employ and pay me.
– I’m going about this the wrong way and there’s probably another official way of asking for this kind of job which everyone else knows about and that I should too.
– I’m wasting this person’s time being in their shop and not buying anything.
– I’m not sure I can do this job and would probably get fired.
I could go round the bookshops with him for support but that would lead to –
– This is so embarrassing having to have someone be with me like a child.
– No-one will take me seriously if I get a friend to ask for me.
– My friend will think so little of me after this.
For people with anxiety or low self esteem getting a job often isn’t the hard part, it’s believing you can do it once you have it that can be the issue.