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"I was told I might not be cut out to be a surveyor"

Jen Hobart snow (cropped)

I've been aware of my problem with anxiety and propensity for panic attacks since my late teens. But, thinking about it, I've actually always been that way.

I suffer most in pressured situations where you're expected to perform well - such as an APC assessment. Often simply shrugged off as 'everyone gets nervous', it's taken me a long time to be open about it.

It was hard not to think that people would judge me for it and that it would affect my career progression even if I did somehow manage to pass the APC.

A turning point a few years ago was when I had a panic attack during an internal work assessment which left me on the floor unconscious. Shortly afterwards, there was a meeting to discuss what had happened - but instead of receiving the support and understanding I was hoping for I was told I might not be cut out to be a surveyor, that it was a high pressured job that not everyone could handle.

I decided there and then that I needed a new position, and I found one.

For a long time I'd been avoiding the APC assessment from utter terror; partly driven from the sensationalised horror stories some qualified surveyors loved to tell, like war stories that justified their shiny badges of honour.

In the end it took me four years to make my first attempt. I threw myself into it, committing hours and hours to preparing, although on reflection a lot of that time involved staring at my wall wondering why I was putting myself through the stress.

I got great remarks and advice from my supportive colleagues and did well in my mocks. I was ready. The big day came and my anxiety got the better of me: looking back it feels like I had an out of body experience watching a car crash in slow motion. I was convinced I was on the verge of a panic attack and that they knew it.

So my referral came without much surprise, and even though I knew it was coming it was still devastating. Oddly enough when my referral papers came through a month later, they stated I had not shown my declared anxiety on the day.

I spent the summer wallowing... I realised around September time I needed to start building up my CPD again if I was going to retake next year, although in a rather half-hearted fashion. That was when I stumbled upon LionHeart's Supercharge Your Wellbeing CPD hour.

I didn't know what to expect when I turned up at the session at RICS London, but told myself it was easy CPD so what would be the harm. 

The seminar started and Natasha (LionHeart's trainer) introduced herself and explained the motivation behind the seminar. It turned out she had also stumbled at the first hurdle of trying to become chartered.

The seminar was fun and informative and afterwards I summoned up the nerve to go and talk to Natasha and tell her the story of my referral. I felt she would genuinely understand me and I was surprised at how emotional I felt doing so.

She and the other organisers were so kind and supportive, she recommended a book that had helped her and gave me a card to make contact if I wanted.

After the workshop I felt relieved and ready to take on the APC again. What I didn't realise was that ultimately meant taking control of my life as well.

The six months leading up my assessment weren't smooth sailing by any means but I finally realised my anxiety had been trapping me in victim mode and started taking responsibility for my involvement in my setbacks. I developed a much better understanding of my anxiety which helped me to minimise the effects.

I learnt to step away from work when I needed to, which meant less time staring at the ceiling when I should have been studying. Other coping strategies included more exercise, guided meditation, and being open about how I was feeling. I also got much better at saying no to work that I knew would overload me leading up to the assessment.

Finally, in June, I passed my APC. I received the email in my car outside my office and cried for a solid 20 minutes whilst attempting to give the good news to anyone who'd answer the phone. 

Since then I've had time to reflect on my experience which led me to the conclusion that although there is a better understanding of mental health there's still a way to go, especially in the construction industry. I hope that by sharing my experiences others who are struggling will know there's help out there.

Jennifer Hobart is a chartered surveyor with Jones Lang LaSalle in the Thames Valley region. She is also one of LionHeart's mental health ambassadors.

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