New Grad, New Anxiety?
How being on my own for the first time lead to my anxiety diagnosis and what I learned.
Let me tell you a little story about the first couple months following my graduation from college. I was excited. It was a rough 6 years of pharmacy school, and now I was going to be living in my own apartment in a new town with a job lined up. I was set up for success, right? First, I just have to get my pharmacist license. Easy. The pass rate of the licensing exam was 95% so, there was nothing to worry about. I had been a decent student and I have all the study materials I should need already purchased. I moved in quickly, since I had no furniture yet, and bought myself a mattress with a financing plan the store offered. Thank goodness I had enough credit for at least that. With my mattress and a borrowed folding table with chairs from a friend, I set to studying.
I studied and worked my grad intern job with the company I would work for when licensed for a couple of months before my exam date. All I would do was work and come home to study. No going out. No meeting people. Just studying. I wish I worked less in fact, so I could study more. But my grad intern wage was barely enough for me to afford my rent, food, and the stupid mattress monthly payment. I was scraping by, so I needed to get licensed as soon as possible. Shortly before my exam, on Father's Day, I found myself not feeling well. My chest would hurt every time I took a breath and that scared me. I got more and more scared as time went on and after a few hours I decided to go to an urgent care. I hate asking for help so by the time I was sitting in the little room, I was in tears. The doctor who saw me was an older gentleman, but he was very nice. I explained to him how I had a big licensing exam coming up, and I was just very nervous for that, which is why I was upset. At this point the chest pain had gone away so, that was not much of a concern anymore. He asked if I lived with anyone, which I did not, and then he asked if I had any family nearby. I told him my family lives about an hour away. He then looked at me and said, "It's Father's Day, why aren't you with your family?" The question took me by surprise. Sure, I had called my dad that morning to wish him a happy Father's Day, but I just wasn't expecting someone else to ask that. My father has always been very supportive of me, and he told me not to worry about coming to visit. He wanted me to study for my exam as much as I needed to. I told the doctor this, and I will never forget his response. He looked away for a moment then turned back to me, with tears in his eyes, and said "Sometimes fathers say things they don't mean."
He diagnosed me with anxiety/panic attacks, told me to go spend a couple of days studying at my parents' house, and gave me a medication to take as needed. I was stunned. I had never been diagnosed with anxiety before and never thought it was something I was struggling with. With that, I went back to my apartment and continued studying. No, I did not go to my parents house as instructed because, heck, I moved out to have my own life and that is what I am going to do! Well, things did not get better because I failed that licensing test, and I was devastated. I cried for days. Anytime a colleague would ask me how my test went, I would start crying instantly. My boss at the time was very encouraging about it though. He called me right after I messaged him that I did not pass. He told me a story about how his wife was not a good test taker, and she failed the licensing test for her profession multiple times but kept at it until she passed. It is just a test, he said, and does not reflect on me as a person in any way. Some people are just not good test takers and that is okay, I can just try again. I cried after hanging up the phone. My parents also tried their best to encourage me, which helped as well. I had the second licensing test a week after the first one, so I had to stay focused. The second one was known to be the harder of the two.
My second licensing test came, and I was more determined than ever to pass that thing. Sure the first one went bad, but I know I can do this! I felt pretty good coming out of it and after a few days of waiting, I had passed. I finally felt like I could do this again. I signed up for my second attempt at the original licensing test as soon as my waiting period was over and studied everything I knew I had gotten wrong on the first one. This attempt was at a farther away testing location, so I even went so far as to get a hotel the night before right next to the testing location. The less stress the morning of the test I had, the better. I felt good coming out of my second attempt and after a few nervous days of waiting, I passed with flying colors. It was the most accomplished I had ever felt. I did it. All that hard work, and now I can say I am a licensed pharmacist.
I learned so many things in those first few months after graduation. I never expected to start my young professional life off this way, but boy did I. Here is a little list of the top lessons I learned:
1. Ignoring your anxiety only makes it worse. Seriously, take a break to do something fun or be around other people when you are stressed about something.
2. No one cares if you fail at something as long as you try again. This one I really needed to learn the hard way. All those years in school it was always: you cannot fail at anything, or you will get kicked out. I was so scared of failing because of that when that is just not how it is in the real world. Every time I would tell a colleague about how I failed they would always tell me about how they also failed or someone they were close to failed. It was never a big deal to anyone.
3. It is hard to be alone. Looking back, I probably would have been better off staying with my parents a little to study. At least on weekends, so I was not alone all the time. Going from being in a dorm surrounded with people all the time to being completely by yourself, is daunting to say the least.
Hopefully, any other new grads out there can relate and perhaps this makes you feel a little less alone. College is hard and getting licensed after college is even harder. I think a lot of schools downplay how hard things can be, so just keep that in mind. If you do happen to fail, don't worry about it. It may feel like the end of the world, but it definitely is not. You can do it!