AbleismPersonal Stories

The Anxiety Roadblock

As some of you know, I recently moved halfway across the country immediately after graduating from college.  Moving is difficult for everyone, as is graduating from school.  It’s even more difficult for disabled people.  The challenges I’m facing now seem insurmountable given my struggles with ADHD, anxiety, and executive dysfunction.  I feel completely trapped.  I’m still unemployed.

I actually had someone tell me that I clearly don’t “want a job” because if I did, I would have applied to more places. And it’s true that I have not applied to as many jobs as I should have. But this is not a choice. Let me give you a snapshot of something I went through the other day:

I decide to go out and job hunt in person to fill out paper applications. I find a local library and print off resumes. By now my anxiety is really severe, but I have it under control. I go into my first store to ask for an application. They say all their applications are online. That’s fine, I can just apply later. I make my way down the street to find somewhere else.  At this point the chest pain kicks in. I tell myself, it’s ok, I can just work through it. That’s what everyone would expect of me.  People are always telling me I should just overcome my anxiety, work through it.  But a block later the pain goes to my back; a very sharp jabbing pain near my spine directly behind where my heart is.  I cross the street and sit on a ledge because by now it hurts to walk.  I have no choice but to stop and focus on breathing and recovering.
This was definitely not the first time I have had anxiety related chest pain, and it wasn’t the first time the pain spread to my back.  Once during finals week the pain wrapped around my rib cage until I started crying because breathing hurt. I was stuck at work during the time and my manager didn’t even let me take another break or go home. Anxiety rarely is respected as an acceptable reason to take off of work or to reduce your work load. It’s often not even regarded as a “real disability” (it sure feels disabling to me). No, instead we’re told that we just have to get over it. We’re held to the same standards as neurotypical people.

Maybe it was just a “bad week”, maybe I can have better luck this week. But I doubt it.  I was told that I was making a choice to not apply to as many jobs as an abled person would be able to. This is false. My body literally prevented me from being physically able to apply for jobs in person. Even on days when I don’t have anxiety, my executive function problems or my depression create different barriers to accomplishing things I need to get done. This is getting worse the longer I go without a job, the longer I’m made to feel like this is all my own fault.

An owl crashes into a wall that nobody else can see, the same as anxiety is an invisible road block.

I enjoy this Boggle the Owl comic that I found. It very nicely summarizes how I felt that day when I was looking for a job. (image is link to larger version)

Comic Description:

An owl is flying but then crashes into a wall. The owl talks with the squirrel on the other side.

Squirrel: Hey.
Owl: Ugh.. Huh?
Squirrel: Hey, get over here.
Owl: I.. I can’t. There’s a wall in the way.
Squirrel: No there isn’t
Owl: No, there is. It’s right in front of me.
Squirrel: I didn’t run into any walls on my way over here.
Owl: Well, that’s… great, for you, but it doesn’t help me at all.
Squirrel: Just pretend the wall isn’t there.
Owl: But it is. And it’s really high.
Squirrel: It can’t be that high if I didn’t notice it. Can’t you just will yourself over the wall?
Owl: That doesn’t make any sense!
Squirrel: Look, we don’t have time for this. Suck it up for right now, and deal with your “wall” later.
Owl: I would if I could! I want to be over there more than anything! But I’m stuck!
Squirrel: Ugh, excuses, excuses. I’m leaving without you.
Owl: No, wait!

The owl cries, but then a mouse comes up and says “Hi. Wall again, huh?”. The owl says “Yeah”, to which the mouse responds “I’m sorry” and hugs the owl. The owl hugs back and says “Thanks”.

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Caleb is a genderqueer activist who just graduated with a degree in law, politics, and society with a focus on gender studies and philosophy. They recently relocated to the Pacific Northwest where they’ll continue their activism and keep managing their inattentive-type ADHD, depression, anxiety, and a small collection of other mental health problems.

1 Comment

  1. August 4, 2014 at 7:38 am —

    When I was 15, my mom went to the ER with a heart attack, and left the hospital a few days later diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. I couldn’t understand how she could get the two so confused until the first time it happened to me, and I was like “oh, so this is what not-a-heart-attack feels like”.

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