Houston, We Have a Problem

Explaining_is_Hard

That problem is, apparently, that I sound like an astronaut communicating through a crinkly 1960s com unit from the Moon – while my space suit springs a slow leak and I rapidly lose oxygen.

Did I ever mention that social anxiety makes absolutely no sense? I may be a bit underconfident when I perform on stage, but I at least can speak in multiple sentences without choking, in either the figurative or the literal sense.

This is not the case with job interviews.

Despite the protracted visit to Hell this month, I did manage to get off a small batch of applications to potential data science positions. This is a reasonable accomplishment, as these applications, even outside of academia, are not short. There’s no simple “slightly modify your resume, change a paragraph of a cover letter” and go. Each one requires references up front, transcripts, lists of published papers, and other odds and ends to create a complete portfolio. Each one has its own specific hoops** to jump through. Some I have seen even want samples of publicly available code on GitHub! We don’t even really use resumes. It’s all C.V.s. Oh, and I’m pretty much mentally broken right now and my typical protective mental walls have been dangerously breached by all the workplace bullying and 9th Circle of Hell full-scale substantiated systemic abuse.

All of those lodestones aside, I was able to complete one stage 1 phone interview. One of the rare legitimate benefits of ADHD is that if you truly enjoy what you do – and I do, just not always the workplace culture that surrounds it – hyperfocus can be harnessed to your favor. You can, for instance, pull off reading everything a lab has published in the past five years, plus review what consulting gigs and patents have been pursued in tandem, the work of their external research partners, and even their potential security of grant and/or venture capital sources. (I’m pretty sure a big part of the systemic breakdown of the current workplace culture is ultimately funding-related self-protective offensive attacks. I’d like some indication I’d be with a more established, stable entity instead of out of the frying pan and into the fire.)

There was nothing about that organization I didn’t know, and I had really carefully thought-out answers for the standard interview questions and what my background could contribute. Those answers were even good!

I managed to answer with great content, but the rushed breathiness of someone who basically was fighting a potential panic attack the entire time. Have you ever noticed how sometimes you can’t take deep breaths to calm anxiety, even if you try? You get physically stuck in a kind of hyperventilation. If I had forced deeper breaths (I briefly experimented while on mute), I risked going into a sort of coughing/retching fit. Being somewhat rushed and breathy – but not dry heaving – seemed better.

So, that sucks. I’m pretty sure in the past I’ve sounded like I speak a mile a minute and likely talked over people (because ADHD), but I at least haven’t sounded like I exhaust myself with my talking. Now, I seem to have the “don’t overwhelm with too much content too quickly” more under control, yet I get no benefit because some form of anxiety + idiotic autonomic nervous system functioning literally starved my brain of oxygen while I spoke! Did I mention I wasn’t actually – at least so I thought – even that anxious? My anxiety over this interview was nothing compared to the traumatic meetings I’ve had recently with the 9th Circle of Hell. My answers were good. I felt confident in them. If I had managed to speak like someone breathing the air around her instead of from deep inside a malfunctioning space suit, I’d even have said I felt pretty confident I’d get a second interview. But, apparently, when giving interviews after a lifetime of Hell, the devil is still in the delivery.

Has anyone else had that experience? You actually feel confident in what you want to say, but your lungs seize up and you can barely draw the breath to say it anyway? Any tips? This is kind of a scary new expression of my anxiety. Everything about my stress responses lately have been new and scary.

** For anyone who is going to suggest that perhaps I could actually make good on my claims about using statistics for social justice by applying to an advocacy organization, I have bad news. 1) There really aren’t a lot of grass-roots mental health or chronic illness groups that employ data geeks. 2) I am, still, a data scientist not a computer engineer by training, so sys admin positions don’t quite fit. 3) The ones that do have openings seem to want you to have already worked in advocacy. I saw one that actually seemed cool, but they explicitly stated their technical staff need to be “camera ready” to give solo press conferences about findings. Because even the data staff need to be PR-savvy, I guess the socially anxious aren’t the target mental illness demographic for mental illness advocacy by default? I still like the idea, but it seems like breaking into the world of making the world a better place is surprisingly complicated?

Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.

12 thoughts on “Houston, We Have a Problem

  1. Yes, I have had this experience! I would practice practice practice in the car on my way to the interview, be so proud of the way I could express myself, and then be paralyzed during the actual interview. Once someone’s eyes were on me and I was feeling the pressure, I felt overcome with anxiety. It sounds like you handled it as best you can. Each interview gets easier! Good news is, your panic probably didn’t sound as overt to them as you remember it. Good luck as you continue this search!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Here’s hoping it wasn’t as noticeable as I fear. Nothing in the first round triggered any red flags, so I’d like to get a second interview and get a chance to actually meet the person who’d be my direct supervisor, instead of just HR, and scope out if this one might hopefully NOT be a bully extraordinaire.

      Like

  2. I get the out of breath thing too sometimes. At one of my jobs, at the end of each shift I have to give report to the staff coming on for the next shift. It’s not something that makes me nervous, but sometimes I’m keyed up and gasping my way through it.

    Liked by 1 person

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