Fight, flight…or Freeze

I’ve started a new job working in a Government department. My job is to support the team that write/process very important documents for Ministers in our State, so it’s an important role and I’m doing my best to learn it and be a good fit for my new team.

I’ve changed jobs so often that I know the drill: it usually takes me 3 weeks to know my role and maybe 6 weeks to be able to do it confidently on my own and not worry anymore.

I’m resilient and strong in the sense that I will quickly adapt to new environments and usually it doesn’t take long for me to think “Ah, I get it” in a new role – no matter where that is.

I know learning a new role is stressful, so I set myself little goals and I ask a lot of questions as I’m learning. I’d rather ask 20 times than just guess, get it wrong, and cause the new workplace a lot of headaches in trying to fix what I’ve messed up.

I worry a lot because I care so much about doing a good job, but that worry doesn’t usually interfere with learning my role, finding my feet and being well on my way to performing tasks on my own in a few weeks.

Today, though…I had a panic attack.

My first one ever at work.

I was working on updating a register on Excel. I hate Microsoft Excel but oh well…it’s mostly data entry so no biggie, right? Except that today, it suddenly frightened me.

I needed to ask a question about filling in the fields correctly and in theory it probably would have taken 2 minutes. I would call out for help, one of the girls (they’re all really nice) would come over to show me what to do. All ok.

But today, I froze.

I was suddenly so scared of a simple thing like asking for help (something I’ve done hundreds of times in as many jobs) that I couldn’t move. I literally froze. My heart was pounding and my head was trying so hard to make me think of a solution to the increasing anxiety that I gave myself a headache.

“Just ask for help on the spreadsheet, JD…you’re ok” I told myself over and over.

“There’s nothing to be scared of, you’re new and the girls in the office won’t mind explaining how it works, all you need to do is ask for help” I reminded myself.

But my mouth wouldn’t work. Words wouldn’t form. I searched frantically in my mind for the right phrase and came up empty.

What the heck?!?

Why couldn’t I think?

Take deep breaths, JD. Calm down.

But I couldn’t calm down, I was so scared!!!

I didn’t know what set me off, but all I could do was sit in my chair and look at the clock on the bottom corner of my computer screen.

Right, JD. In 10 minutes when the clock hits 12:30pm, you are going to speak up. You are calmly going to ask for help and you will move forward from this weird episode in your work day.

12:30pm came and went. Nothing. I couldn’t move or speak.

12:45pm…nothing. I still couldn’t move. I still couldn’t speak. I was panicking inside and thought I would have to go home due to a sudden, unexpected nervous breakdown.

1pm. Still nothing.

“Tina” at work, a lovely older Hungarian lady gently touched my arm “Hey, isn’t it your lunch time?”

“Oh. Um…yes” finally some words tumbled out of my mouth. Finally my body moved…but only because it seemed more than happy to get up and leave the office.

I called Alun on my lunch break and told him about my anxiety attack. He offered encouragement and I went back to work. I asked the question and got helped.

But I can’t seem to “come down” from the heightened state the panic attack put me in. It’s 10:50pm and I should have been asleep 2 hours ago. I can’t switch off.

I hate this.

I’m so anxious and aware of time slipping by as I wait for sleep to make my eyes heavy, but that seems impossible when my mind is racing.

Thankfully I have a Doctors appointment tomorrow. I’ll ask Dr Ray about my experience and hopefully get a Mental Health care plan which will allow me free access to Psychology sessions. I’ll ask for sleeping tablets too and pain killers because I’ve somehow hurt my back.

I pray I don’t panic tomorrow.

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