I guess I should start by saying that, having lived with anxiety and depression for well over ten years now, I never actually sought help until around three years ago – & even then, ‘help’ wasn’t a quick fix solution – I wasn’t cured overnight. I’m telling you this because my not-seeking-help began to take a severe toll on everything else in my life; my relationship, my ability to be a normal functioning human, my work. I deteriorated quickly and my anxiety skyrocketed.
Opportunities that I’d wished for since childhood came and slipped through my fingers; one of which was at Hampton Court Palace. I’d sit at my desk and convince myself daily that I didn’t fit in; that I wasn’t liked; that everything I did was wrong. I took even the smallest criticism as a smack in the face and I’d take every word incredibly to heart. I couldn’t sleep. The panic attacks came in swarms most every night and every morning. My paranoia went crazy. I’d be convinced I was being bitched about, judged, left out or looked at funny. Eventually my ‘coping mechanisms’ became even more toxic than my actual mental health & I knew that if I didn’t seek help, I wouldn’t survive. That’s not me being dramatic, that’s the truth.
I was in such a dark place that even the notion of stepping foot outside the house soon became the most dangerous thing I could do. The scenarios in my head started small – ‘what if I miss the train, I can’t be late’ ‘what if I fall off the train?’ ‘what if I get lost?’ ‘what if I do something wrong?’. It wasn’t long before they became terrifying – ‘what if I get mugged?’ ‘What if I get hit by a bus?’ ‘What if someone attacks me?’ ‘What if I do something really wrong, wrong enough to get sacked?’.
It got so bad that at one stage, I didn’t leave the house alone for six months.
Did I ask for support and disclose my mental health at my workplace? No, not straight away. I was advised that it would be ‘unwise’ to pipe up about it. “Best not to mention it”. Of course this just made it worse, surprise surprise! I was also told that everyone ‘gets nerves’ & to ‘get on with it’ – but it wasn’t just nerves. I felt like I was harbouring a dirty secret, like everytime I walked into work, I was this exposed naked mess and nobody would or could understand why.
Eventually though, whilst at Hampton Court, I had to say something. It hadn’t gone unnoticed that I wasn’t OK & it was agreed mutually that I’d be better on a casual contract – a way to take the pressure off. I was devastated. I knew in my heart I wasn’t going back. I went and sat by the river that afternoon, contemplated my life, and called the Samaritans – who were, by the way, brilliant.
For a few years after that, I really did struggle with holding down work. I’d take days off because of my mental health and of course, time off just made it harder to go back each time. The panic attacks, the paranoia, the constant niggling of anxiety just wouldn’t ease up & I felt always like I was drowning. Even on the good days I’d find a negative or be convinced of how awful tomorrow would be. On the odd occasion I did mention my mental health to workplaces following Hampton Court, I didn’t receive any real support; by & large people didn’t know what to say, and I just felt as though I was hassle. I was creating an issue they didn’t need & it’d be easier all round if I just wasn’t there.
I feel like the constant thread here – I don’t know if you see it too – is that staying quiet actually made me 100% more ill. Not being open about my mental health made my life harder. I couldn’t be honest for fear of judgement or lack of understanding – each time I knew I ought to mention it, I thought I’d lose my job; the irony being that because I didn’t mention it, it made me worse & I’d have to leave anyway.
I lived this way for a long time. I thought I was abnormal, shameful, that people were constantly judging me for being ‘lazy’ or the like. Like I said, it got to a point where I couldn’t leave the house alone for six months – social anxiety became a very real, everyday and life sucking part of my life. Even when I was home, I’d barely leave my bedroom. All my friends began having babies, moving out, getting married – and I could barely scrape together a bus fair. Something had to give.
Just a few years ago I was lucky enough to receive counselling from MIND. My counsellor & I worked through the backlog of my depression; the teenage years right up to date, and we picked apart everything that could possibly be taking up a space in my rucksack of anxiety. I had to resolve and receive closure on so many things before I could continue to forge a new life for myself – I’d experienced trauma & honestly I never dealt with it properly up til those counselling sessions. I realised that it wasn’t necessarily the workplace that was making me ill, it was the baggage I was taking with me. I worked out my triggers and I worked out how to recognise them. My counsellor taught me a lot but mostly she taught me that talking can save lives, and I know that, because she helped to save mine.
I’d just like to say at this point, that I wouldn’t be here without the love and support of my boyfriend – throughout all of this, he’s taken care of me and I count myself absolutely and incredibly lucky for his kindness and love for me. I know there are so many who aren’t as lucky to have someone like I do, and I want it to be known that there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t look at him and thank him. (Thank you again, S.)
I wanted to talk about this today because I know it affects so many of us. In fact, here’s some stats that I borrowed from the Mental Health Foundation:
- 1 in 6.8 people are experiencing mental health problems in the workplace (14.7%).1
- Women in full-time employment are nearly twice as likely to have a common mental health problem as full-time employed men (19.8% vs 10.9%).2
- Evidence suggests that 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions.3
The truth is, help isn’t always readily available for folk like me. I’ve had all sorts of medication thrown at me, I was told there’d be a six month+ wait list for counselling through the NHS & that if I’m ‘feeling suicidal’ I should ‘start exercising’. I know. That said, I’m definitely not attacking the NHS – they do a bloody wonderful job. It’s just sad that mental health isn’t always as high a priority as it should be given the number of people suffering with it.
I guess I wanted to open up today because it’s not something I’m ashamed of any longer. I hate this idea that being honest about your mental health means you’re going to be judged negatively – it’s an illness, and a fucking debilitating one at that. Would you judge a person with heart disease? No. I wanted to share my experience because I’ve discovered that talking could have helped me all along & I’d like to encourage you to do the same. If you’re struggling with work, with anything, please know that being open about it could make all the difference.
I’m happy to report that I’m currently working for a company who – when asked about my employment gaps – I told the truth to. They’re well aware of my anxiety & depression and let me tell you, it was the biggest release to say it outloud! I found myself sitting there thinking ‘even if I don’t get this job now, I’ve never been prouder of myself’. Suffice to say, I did get the job & they went on to enquire if I have enough support around me, they offered their support & thanked me for my honesty.
That’s more of what we need in this society.
I’m quite aware that I’ve rambled the hind legs off a donkey & I’m almost certain that this blog post is a little all over the shop – but please know my heart is in the right place. I wanted to share a piece of my story to let you know you’re not alone. I also wanted to let it go – I imagine this post to have wings & when I hit publish, it’ll fly out of my anxiety rucksack and make the load even lighter. It’s not easy being honest, in fact, it’s the hardest thing in the world sometimes; but it can also be the bravest.
If you’re struggling with work as a result of your mental health, think about talking to someone; Samaritans have been brilliant with me. Counselling too – think about whether your workplace can help you, if there’s support there. If your work environment is toxic, maybe think about searching for a new job. I’m no expert on any of this, but I can be a friend, so if all else fails, don’t hesitate to pop me a message.
If you got this far, pop me a heart below, and I’ll love ya for it.