I had my first panic attack in a while last night. In general, it was triggered by my intense fear of failure. Specifically, it was triggered by the fact that I was pushing myself to go back to school when I am not in an emotional or mental state that is conducive to learning. I’ve been planning to go back to school for a while now. I’ve been registered and set to start, yet have still been trying to convince myself it will be a good thing. I talked to my psychiatrist about dropping the classes, but she cautioned to not make any big decisions when I’m depressed…so I decided to try and stick with it.
My online class started yesterday. I jumped online after work, feeling much trepidation. The more I read the syllabus, homework assignments, and other class content, the more I dug my heals in. All in an instant I realized this: I have been working so hard on making time for myself, learning about myself, and for once in my crazy life, doing things that I actually enjoy. Why on earth would put my current personal growth on hold for a certificate that likely would not lead to career advancement? Simple solution, right? Drop the class and call it good, right? Ahhh…but then I started thinking about all the people who know I’ve been planning to go back to school. I started thinking about the projects at work that would be easier with the knowledge gained. I started to think of myself as a quitter…a failure…a piece of crap human being who has always struggled to finish what I start. And that’s when the panic attack set in.
Panic attacks are different for everyone, as are all things mental illness related. For me, a panic attack usually starts with a small thought, like a tiny crack in an enormous dam, then suddenly the dam splits wide open and it’s game over. I go from one thought to one hundred thoughts at once (all worst case scenario), I get a ringing in my ears, I have a hard time catching my breath, I start to cry, and then I just shut down. It’s not an enjoyable experience. And so exhausting. It’s hard to explain the complete loss of both physical energy and mental function post panic attack. It’s like someone has taken the world’s largest syringe and sucked all the life out of me. So in spite of the early hour, I took my sleeping pills and went to bed. Life seems a little less scary when I’m sleeping.
As I fell asleep, I couldn’t help arguing with myself over what I should do. Me #1 made the following arguments:
- Go back to school while you’re still single and you only have your dog to worry about.
- Go back to school so your education and skill set makes you more valuable at work.
- Go back to school so you have another item with which to pad your resume.
- Go back to school while you can take advantage of tuition reimbursement at work.
- Don’t be an idiot. Just go back to school.
Me #1 had some incredibly persuasive and valid points. But then Me #2 came in, a bit more shy and timid. Me #2 asked me questions instead of making demands.
- Will you lose out on valuable personal growth because you will have less time to devote to self-discovery?
- Will you have less time to enjoy the company of your puppy?
- Will you have less time to paint, crochet, or write?
- Will you have less time to commit to learning about mental health advocacy?
- Is that education really necessary, or are you just trying to find ways to distract yourself from the demons that need to be faced?
It was like having two good angels fighting. Both had valid points. Both had my best interest in mind. One was just more focused on professional goals, while the other was focused on personal growth. So what on earth am I supposed to do? I believe that God (or the universe or whatever you believe in) offers plenty of signs. We just have to open our eyes and see them. As silly as it sounds, my signs often come in the form of memes on my Facebook newsfeed. The first couple quotes that popped up on my newsfeed this morning were these:
“Enjoy your life. (It’s happening right now)” – Unknown
“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” – Jack Kerouac
I fortunately no longer have a lawn to mow, so I easily replaced that with “going to class”. I saw this as God’s way of reminding me that staying busy or only focusing on work and career advancement isn’t necessarily what is going to bring happiness in life. Money is only money. But mental health and personal development? That’s a whole different story. In the past I have committed far too much time and energy to both my career and education. I firmly believe that it negatively impacted my relationships to an extent I will likely never know or understand. I am tired of missing out on life because I get myself roped into expensive and lengthy commitments that do little to actually advance myself or my career. My mountain is more of a proverbial mountain. I have demons to face. I have struggles to overcome. Does it make sense to divert energy away from those tasks and instead focus on busy work? Then I see this:
“Put yourself at the top of your to-do list every single day and the rest will fall into place.” – Unknown
The next quote that pops up as I’m scrolling through a million pictures of babies (ew) and Valentine’s Day posts (gross):
“Find out what makes you happy, then figure out how that is of service to this crazy, sad, wonderful, fun world.” – Waylon Lewis
This one kind of slapped me upside the head. I’ve always heard variations of the saying “Love what you do and you will never work a day in your life,” but I’ve not been faced with a variation that takes that internal joy and pushes it outward again. Will going back to school make me happy? Probably not. Will the specific area of study help me better the world and society around me? Probably not. Then why the heck am I even having this conversation? So I started thinking about what makes me happy.
- Making a difference in a dark world
- Fighting to end mental health stigma
I can tell you right now that none of those things would have been fostered or encouraged within the program for which I was registered. I realized there would be little value added to my life by robbing myself of time that I could be spending doing a combination of all of those things. I then came across this quote:
“Reflect on what triggers you so you can be free from overreacting and overthinking. Sometimes you can be giving away so much of yourself mentally and emotionally to something that only leaves you feeling depleted. Be more centered. Prioritize your inner peace and mental wellness.” – Unknown
If going back to school, which in and of itself is an admittedly unnecessary venture at this point in my life, triggered the worst panic attack I’ve had in months, should I really be doing it? I have found so much peace and satisfaction and growth while writing my blog, dabbling in art, and reading self-help or mental health books. I again questioned the wisdom in taking time away from that. One might argue that education and career should take precedence over everything else, but that’s the perspective I’ve held up until this point. Yes, I have a degree that no one can take away from me. Yes, I have a job that I genuinely enjoy. But I think it’s time to start focusing on myself when I’m not at work.
It’s probably pretty obvious at this point, but it didn’t take me long to get online this morning and drop the class that started yesterday. It was difficult, because Me #1 did have good points. But I foresee more benefits from focusing on my mental health, personal discovery, and what those two things combined can mean for those around me. I have a lot to give. Each day could be my last. I don’t want to regret not making myself and others a priority.
I hope no one reads this and takes it to mean that education isn’t important. If you are in school and are furthering yourself and your career, stick with it! The amount of satisfaction earned from a degree is incredible. Just don’t forget about yourself in the process. Commit time to bettering yourself, letting yourself have some fun, as well as maintaining the relationships around you that might suffer if you focus solely on education or career. Don’t let good things fly past you because your time is spent looking down instead of around.