As people may have noticed, I’ve been a bit quiet lately, mainly due to being totally snowed in and overwhelmed at work. I’ve had a major project with a hard deadline and have been devoting nearly every waking moment to either working about it or just worrying about it. That worry and constant fretting is directly related to some of my anxiety issues – it’s a worry I feel both mentally and physically, with tensed muscles and clenched stomach and jitters. And I’m convinced that anxiety helps make me a better employee and better at my job.
I am a lawyer and my major project was a hearing with an administrative law judge to determine whether one of my clients will be considered disabled by the Social Security Administration and thus eligible for cash benefits and medical coverage. Our office had been working on this case since his initial application for benefits in 2006 and in the interim, I’d seen him struggle to avoid homelessness while his income disappeared and his medical condition deteriorated without access to effective medical treatment. So this case was an extremely big deal and the outcome would make an enormous difference in the course of his life from this point.
No pressure, right? And it didn’t help that it was an extremely complicated case involving about 15 years of medical records from 10 different medical providers and facilities about three or four distinguishable medical conditions. And that, although his disabilities have extremely serious effects, they were the kind of disabilities that Social Security usually has a hard time understanding and so tend to lead to findings that the individual is not disabled. So – a major case with a lot of difficult work for an extremely important outcome. And the short time between when we were notified of the hearing date and the actual date meant that to succeed, I would need to spend nearly every waking minute in between working on the case.
Which is when my anxiety kicked into high gear – and actually made that possible. I spent all my time in the office reviewing records, teaching myself relevant medical terms and context, and coming up with an overarching narrative to frame the disabilities. But when I would close the file and go home at the end of the day, my anxiety would not let me stop thinking about it. While I was driving, making dinner, in the shower, at the gym, my mind was constantly spinning, either worrying over some aspect of the case or making a list of my next steps when I got back to work. I was not only waking up in the middle of the night to spend some time thinking about the case while staring at the ceiling, I was dreaming about it.
When I’m that anxious about a specific topic or issue, I think of my brain kind of like a rock polisher – it takes a dull idea or problem, with jagged edges, and rolls it over and over and over (and over) again until the edges are worn down and the surface is polished to a brilliant finish that can be appreciated by even the most casual observer. But the end product wouldn’t be the same without the constant, unceasing motion and effort. If the motion, the tumbling, stopped for stretches of time, the end result would not be as smooth, as shiny, as easily appreciated.
My anxiety makes it impossible for me to slack off while working on such a major project. Even when I try – by watching tv, reading a book, talking to my cat – there’s a portion of my brain that keeps spinning and spinning away, and my whole body is ordering me to pay attention to that part of my brain. Yoga wouldn’t help, hot baths didn’t work, even a hard session on the treadmill just made me more tense. The only thing that would reduce the anxiety was making some progress on the case.
I think that drive makes me a better employee and results in better and more persuasive case work. I certainly know that I would love to take breaks and put work out of my mind and to not dream about it every night. But I don’t think the end product would be as good if I were able to do that. So my employer never needs to worry about me blowing off a case or putting less that my full effort into it, because of the anxiety that will not permit me to do anything less.
(By the way, we won the case and my client will get his benefits. Yay!)
There are definitely other aspects of my disability that either aren’t relevant to or actually make it more difficult to do my work, and I don’t want to imply that everyone who is a lawyer should have anxiety to make them more effective. But this particular aspect of my disability definitely enhances my ability to focus and concentrate and motivates me to put in lots of time and thought, which is an advantage for my job.
Are there aspects of your disability that enhance ro amplify your abilities in certain areas?