Going in, I knew my Internship year was going to be hard- like graduate school, but with more real-world consequences. Having an anxiety disorder, my brain raced through thousands of worst-case scenarios. What it did not imagine was a 60+ caseload across two campuses, 30-60 minute commutes, all while being in an unfamiliar school district and state. It was not long before I felt myself unraveling. Therapy and diagnostic services took up my 40-hour work week, and I inevitably worked evenings and through weekends. I always felt I was on the back foot and couldn’t regain my balance. I began having panic attacks frequently, which would sometimes last for days. Panic attacks included sobbing, inability to fall asleep, my body being in “flight mode” constantly, intense stomach pains, and headaches.
I received an official anxiety diagnosis smack in the middle of graduate school, although I have had it for as long as I can remember. During my second year, I “disclosed” it to my supervisors and professors. For the most part, instead of acknowledgement, advice, or strategies, I received warnings. If I took mental health days, it would be a slippery slope and then one day I would stop showing up to work. I was warned that if I could not take care of myself, I would not be able to take care of others. Most feedback was negative, indicating I would have to succeed in spite of my mental illness, and that failure was not an option. I took this to heart and carried it into my internship year.
The Fast Forward
You can imagine my surprise when my supervisor, Phuong Palafox, asked me what supports were helpful, when I told her I had an anxiety disorder. I knew what I needed, but before I would never ask, as I internalized that action as a sign of weakness or incompetence. I also found support in another SLP coworker, and the administration at one of my campuses, which actually reached out to offer any resources I might need. I sensed I was in a different place from graduate school.
Working as a school-based SLP is already stressful, and an anxiety disorder can compound that. The SLP Internship year comes with its own special flavor of anxiety-inducing circumstances. I am brand new. I have the knowledge but not the experience, which affects confidence. (Imposter Syndrome, anyone?) Scheduling services in a school is incredibly difficult, and I am always worrying about meeting service hours as efficiently as possible. Remaining organized with so much work in a new system is overwhelming and I always feel I am forgetting something.
Maintaining energy to bring to sessions with my students is challenging on a few hours of sleep. As any millennial would, I turned to the internet. I tried to find pieces with specifics about tackling the first year as an SLP with an anxiety disorder. Google returned many “CF year is stressful and overwhelming for everyone” results, and some “don’t forget to do self care” tips, but nothing that targeted anxiety specifically. So what is an intern with anxiety to do? The following has helped me during my internship year so far, and might help you, too.
Know your strengths. My anxiety keeps my nose to the grindstone when scheduling sessions and writing reports. I can target goals in therapy with little planning, if necessary. Know where you need support. During a panic attack, it is difficult to carry out multi-step tasks so I make checklists and flowcharts to support myself. As soon as A happens, I know that B and C must happen within the next 2 days. I have a daily, pre-loaded to-do list to make sure I do not overlook the routine tasks when feeling overwhelmed. I plan everything into my calendar as soon as it crosses my eyeballs. This keeps me from double booking and helps me plan ahead, making everything less overwhelming. If you know your triggers and you plan ahead, you can both avoid the triggers, and have a working system in place to get you through the panic attacks when they happen.
Know Your Resources
Who can tell you about processes, resources, and strategies? A special education teacher? A fellow SLP? A principal? Write down your questions for them and the answers you receive. Reach out to for feedback on your problem solving and show that you are actively working on addressing a problem or learning a necessary skill. If you feel comfortable, talk with your supervisor. Communicate openly the supports that you need. Can you get more indirect time to review procedures or intervention techniques? Are there acceptable hours outside the workday to contact them with anxiety-related questions? What are their biggest pet peeves? Is asking for extensions acceptable? What do soft and hard deadlines look like? Know these ahead of time can help reduce anxious reactions when things come up unexpectedly.
My anxiety is not an excuse, but it is a reality that I, and many others, live with. The more I acknowledge it, the more normalized it becomes. I show up every day and do my job, while having an anxiety disorder. It does not change my outcomes – it just changes how I go about tackling them.
Celebrate Your Successes
Just like with our students, we need to celebrate each success within ourselves. Whether that means reaching out for help, not making the same mistake twice, or taking 10 minutes to yourself for lunch, each step in the right direction shows you, YOU are doing it.