It’s been a crazy few weeks. Lots of stress at work. My employer sent me to NYC for a conference. I have family coming into town. My anxiety has been horrible, and now I have a bad cold.
My boss’s boss’s boss told my boss that I’ve been a “trooper” and asked if I would be interested in going to this conference in NYC that was relevant to the project that I have been working on. Since traveling gives me such anxiety and NYC is drivable from where I live, I reluctantly said “yes”, thinking that at least I don’t have to fly. I signed up to go and my husband drove with me to NYC.
We arrived in NYC on a Monday night, the conference was on Tuesday. We walked around the city and had a blast. NYC is so beautiful at this time of year. Last time I had the opportunity to tour NYC I had a panic attack sitting in traffic and told my husband that I couldn’t get out of the car. This time I convinced myself that doing that wasn’t an option. We saw Times Square, the tree at Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Station and the holiday display at Saks 5th Avenue. The streets were crowded and at times I left claustrophobic, but I kept going. I was able to push past any anxiety that was trying to take over and distract myself from the pounding in my chest, dizziness in my head and sweat on my back.
Around 9:30pm we got back to our tiny hotel room. We both wore the wrong footwear to put in so many steps but it was worth every blister. The room had 2 beds, both of which had broken box springs and missing sheets. My employer wanted to put us up in a nicer place but this place was closer to the conference and I would’ve rather walked there than taken a cab. No bed bugs – a win!
Then the anxiety sets in that I had been pushing back all day. The car ride was about 6.5 hours. It is really hard for an anxious person to sit still for that long. All the anxiety that I held back as we walked around the city for hours came rushing to me. I was nervous about the conference – I had never been to a conference before so I didn’t know what to expect. When I registered for the conference I was told that it was an exclusive event. That made me a little nervous, but I thought I had to be one of at least one hundred people attending this event, right?
I think I slept about 2 hours that night. Between the anxiety and the road noise I was doomed. I got up and went into the shower and started getting ready. My husband planned on walking around the city while I was in the conference for half of the day so he started to slowly get ready as well. We decided to get breakfast before he walked me to The Harvard Club, which was where the conference was. When we got there, I told him to wish me luck and I headed in.
I checked in with the front desk and they told me that my event was on the second floor. I get into the elevator and hit “2” with my sweaty hand. I get off of the elevator and proceed to the registration desk. I sign in and they give me a name tag and tell me to go down the hall. That was when I walked into the conference room.
There were tables in the shape of a “U”. Each seat had a microphone. As I looked around the room I saw accomplished banking professionals that were way above my pay grade, and my age group. Mostly men. There were only about 40 seats in the room. I found a seat close to the door and began to look at the materials in front of me. I glanced down at the agenda and saw “Introductions”. My heart skipped a beat and I immediately started having an anxiety attack. “Why would they send me here?” “I can’t do this”. In that moment I forgot my name, my job, my career experience. These were all senior leaders who were looking to network and share industry experiences.
I looked down at the materials and decided that I couldn’t do it. I put the materials into my bag, didn’t make eye contact with anyone in the room and walked out to the elevator. Thank God it was open and going down. I got in, closed the door right away and went down. Struggling to breathe, I walked briskly into the NYC street and took a few deep breaths. “I should really go back up there” “This could be career suicide” “What if my company finds out that I didn’t attend after they paid for me to come here?” “What if I accidently gave proprietary company information?” “How do I introduce myself after 40 people who have been in the industry for 30 years and maintain credibility with them?” “Why would they send me to an exclusive event meant for senior leaders?” My brain was flooded with thoughts. I decided not to go back in. I called my husband in tears and told him to meet me back at the hotel. Worried, he said that he would be right there. We went up to the hotel room and I sobbed, realizing that I don’t think I’m cut out for the path my career is taking me. I’m a hard worker but I like to be behind the scenes. My anxiety doesn’t allow me to be extroverted, to be social, to network, to travel to unfamiliar places, to appear confident even when I’m not.
After my meltdown my husband assured me that I would get through this like I get through everything. We checked out of the hotel, got in the car and headed home. The entire car ride home I had panic attacks thinking about what I was going to say if my coworkers or boss asked me how the conference was. I began to study the materials given so that I was prepared to answer questions and realized that it was really just a networking event for senior leaders. I don’t think I missed too much.
The moral of this story is that if you suffer from an anxiety disorder shit is going to happen. I push myself through extremely difficult situations all the time to get through life like a “normal” person. It’s not always going to work out. I’m feeling really guilty about it but I’m human and I have limitations that are beyond my control.
On the bright side, I had a nice night in NYC with my husband. I did get through walking several blocks in huge crowds. Spending time in a crowded room. Lived through being overstimulated by noise and lights. Rode elevators several times. The little things that are so normal for the average person that I struggle with so much. These were big steps for me.
I need to start giving myself a break. I’m a perfectionist. I have to be the best at everything. I have to hide my anxiety at all times. I can’t let anyone see that I struggle. Well this is my reality. It’s easier said than done, but I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Unlike many other things in my life, having generalized anxiety disorder, depression and OCD are things that I can’t control. There are things I can do to better manage it, but I can’t fully control it. Now I just need to focus on getting rid of this cold and facing my next challenge – entertaining my parents at my house for 5 days.