I know how it feels to die many times and yet, miraculously survive. I’ve gone through this so many times that when it happens now, the feeling of going under catches me off guard for a minute, then I collect myself, and remind myself, “We’ve been through this before. It’s okay. We will survive.”
If you’ve ever had a panic attack, then you know what I’m talking about. You get the rapid heart palpitations; you lose feeling in your hands, arms, feet, and face; you feel like you can’t breathe; and at the same time, you feel like you’re going to black out. So many people end up in the ER or call 911 because they think they’re having a heart attack when really, they’re having a panic attack.
Now imagine having these mini-deaths nearly every week, sometimes several times a day, for seven years. That was me from the age of 22 to 29. Then I found an amazing therapist (shout-out to Dr. K!) that helped me heal and recover from this condition called anxiety and panic disorder and my life changed forever.
So, you can imagine my surprise when this difficult period in my life from decades ago helped me land my new job as Program Coordinator for The Stability Network, a non-profit using storytelling to end mental health stigma in the workplace. I’ve been in this job for exactly one month and I’m still pinching myself and wondering, is this real? Am I really doing this?
You see, after 11 years of self-employment, I never thought I’d get another job. Actually, I tried for several years to get a job and my applications and scarce interviews resulted in nothing. But this July, after reading the job ad for the Program Coordinator job, I felt renewed hope and motivation. I decided to change everything: cut my resume from two pages to one, rewrite it, and take a completely different tactic with my cover letter.
Here’s the second paragraph from my cover letter.
I’ve never disclosed my mental health background to any of my employers, but since TSN is about removing the stigma around mental health, I feel safe to share this. I’ve had anxiety and panic disorder since I was 22. It wasn’t until I was hired at the University of Washington (UW), and finally had access to comprehensive health insurance, that I received the help I needed. Through working with a therapist specializing in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), I learned what was happening with my mind and body, and practiced techniques that greatly decreased my anxiety. For the past 20 years, I’ve managed my anxiety through CBT techniques, meditation, and nutrition. Anxiety does not keep me from living my best life.
It was taking this risk with my cover letter that helped me to apply, get two interviews, and receive a job offer in just 24 DAYS.
I couldn’t be happier. The mission of The Stability Network perfectly aligns with my passion for storytelling, educating people, and fighting for the underdog. My coworkers, Melanie and Megan, are possibly the kindest, most compassionate, and least jaded people I have ever worked with. And I get to work from home four out of five days every week.
I wouldn’t be in this job had I not had all those panic attacks 20+ years ago and then wrote about it in my application. I am not someone who believes in the phrase, “everything happens for a reason”–I’m not a fan of that motto at all–but sometimes, difficult times can lead to something good. I’m living proof that it can happen.
Peg Cheng is the author of Rebel Millionaire, a guide for how to retire as a millionaire even if you make a modest income, and The Contenders, a novel that asks, can enemies become friends? She is also the proud owner of Plaid Frog Press with her husband Marcus Donner. Born in Southern California to Taiwanese parents, Peg currently lives in Seattle, Washington.
Photo by Kristine Weilert