Returning to Work : my first shift and symptom management

As you may or may not know, Friday 13th was my first day back in the working world since April 2006, which was when I experienced my first panic attack and rapidly declined into a serious collapse in my mental health. I used to work in retail and I now work in hospitality on a 'zero hour contract'. 

Everyone gets nervous when they start a new job. I felt more or less the same sensations as when I started university last year, wait what? That was last year?! Ugh god.... Anyway! It was a horrible feeling to be experiencing, but it wasn't foreign and I knew I could control it and get through it. 

As little as two years ago these feelings of anxiety would lead to automatic avoidance because I couldn't bare the physical and emotional reactions my body was producing. Never has the phrase "feel the fear and do it anyway" been more apparent!

How bad was the anxiety? It was pretty nasty, I have to be honest. From the moment I woke up until the moment I left the house I was a wreck. I felt sick to the pit of my stomach, I was shaking and sweating, dizzy and palpitations were sending me crazy. My mind was playing a constant loop of all the things that could potentially go wrong and what situations could arise and how I could deal with them - or escape in some cases! Everything about me was saying "Don't Do It!!" but I need the money so, this was only ever going to end after my shift was done.

Giving myself no choice in the matter has been pretty useful in pushing myself beyond my 'usual' boundaries. If someone else were to impose this, all hell would break loose so this is very much in my control and my decision. I have to plan things to the smallest detail or I get very nervous, spontaneity isn't in my repertoire anymore! As much as I could talk myself through the likely situations of what was going to happen over the next 8 hours, I honestly had no idea what to expect.

Before I took my first flight last June, I was able to watch YouTube videos of take-off, flights and landing so I had something of an introduction to it, but nothing can prepare you for how your body will respond! I had none of that for what I was about to go into and how I wish someone had told me....

I started at 4pm and honestly did not stop until 12.40am. I was home by 1am and in some of the worst pain I have ever experienced. Hospitality is not for those with physical conditions like M.E./CFS, seriously. I'm still recovering now. By 8pm my legs were turning to swollen lumps of lead and every step was painful. By 10pm I was having back spasms. Come midnight I could barely keep upright, was losing the ability to understand what people were saying to me and fighting back tears. It was sensory overload in the extreme.

As for the psychological stuff... To be honest I didn't really have time to allow anxiety to take hold of me. I was that busy and felt almost like I was on auto-pilot and watching myself do everything. Meeting my guests and the initial hour or so with them was scary, but it soon became easier. Two of my guests were a bit triggering, however. They were drinking so heavily they didn't even make it to the main part of the night - when Rod Stewart came on stage at 9pm. I was legitimately preparing myself to call for medics, but again that's the anxiety and worst-case-scenario planning side of me.

The boxes are supplied with drinks, but if there isn't anything there that they like then it's our job to go to the bar. I was running backwards and forwards from the bar, which by the way was absolutely slammed and absolutely chaotic thanks to being staffed with underage and absolute new comers to bar work, so on top of having to manage my own orders behind the bar and deal with a lot of spirits - nightmare situation for me, I haven't been that close to alcohol since my sobriety began - but I was being shouted at by people waiting to be served. Of course, I calmly and politely told them my job was with the executive boxes and someone would be with them very soon but it obviously fell of deaf ears and they continued to be rude.

Please people, we have one pair of hands and can only do a set amount of things at a time. As much as I'd love to help you right now, the people who are paying an extortionate amount of money to be here tonight and have their own hospitality service take priority. Sorry!

All I could do was take deep breaths and think about the next task I had to do. Breathe, what's next, do it, breathe, check on my guests, next job.... For 8 hours. Even after the guests had gone and the floor was clear, we had to take apart the rooms and clean them. More heavy lifting and over-exertion! Yes, meters of heavy linen and mounds of plates are pretty heavy after such a hardcore shift.

The sheer volume of adrenaline in my system didn't really hit me until I got home. The boyfriend had to help me take my shoes off as my feet were so swollen and my arms were so dead I couldn't do it. I could barely get changed into my PJs. Sitting on the sofa with some tea was very uncomfortable and I could easily have slipped into panic. I was shaking and very tearful. It took until about 3am for it to settle down enough that I could go to bed and sleep.

Talking myself through panic attack control was the last thing I wanted to be doing, but having a panic attack would have been far worse! I can't stress enough how important breathing techniques are, especially alongside distractions. I watched Family Guy and American Dad. It's part of my 'night time routine' anyway so a sense of normality is always good. I could happily have sunk into a cool bath with Epsom Salts but at that time of night it's a bit frowned upon when you're living above someone else!

I haven't fully recovered, nearly a week on. My anxiety levels are way up and I'm in constant pain. I did agree to a shift on 15th June but I woke up feeling like I was being spun in a washing machine and still unable to stand for more than 30 seconds so it was pretty clear a 10am to 7pm shift wasn't going to happen. I cancelled and cried so much for so many different reasons. I'm due to work tomorrow, 20th, for 6 hours and I am praying that it will not be as manic.

I'm just as scared but I learned a lot about the job, and my tolerance levels, so that can only be a good thing. At the end of the day, I need to pay my bills and this is what I have been forced into... so..... Feel the fear and do it anyway? 

These skills don't happen overnight. It's taken from April 2006 until June 2014 for me to recover from that initial event to get to this point... I'm going to do a separate post on specific symptoms and how I manage them so look out for that! :)

I will say that my CPN is very worried about this situation and is really hoping I can either get the ESA situation resolved or find a more suitable job - in a library for example! 

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