I’ve read a lot recently about mental health and wellness at work. I know a lot of businesses are now making a conscious effort to help their employees with their mental wellbeing. So, I thought I would share my own experience with a job I had and my own mental health.
I have always been brought up with the attitude that everyone should work if they can. For me, having a job gives me purpose and helps me feel like I am giving back to society. Now don’t get me wrong, not everyone feels the same as me and that’s absolutely fine. So, when I started coming home crying, praying that there would be a transportation strike, or that I would be abducted by aliens, so I didn’t have to go to work, it hit me like a ton of bricks. It was as if what I saw as being my main purpose, had turned into a form of torture. I would arrive at work and instantly want to leave. One afternoon I had just finished my typical egg and cress sandwich, when I suddenly felt myself well up, with tears beginning to stream down my face, I rushed to the loos. Sitting with my head in my hands, I realised how depressed I was.
At first, I thought it was the role I was in; the day to day tasks and responsibilities that came with being in a support role. Let’s try something else I told myself, let’s look at some other types of jobs. But then I sat and thought about the things I enjoy doing: organisation, systems, people, structure, excel… all things I encounter every day doing what I do. So, was it more than the role itself? I began to call in sick, make an excuse to stay at home and just generally not want to leave my room. When I did make it into the office, people started commenting on my attitude and how quiet I had become (which just isn’t me). Although the people in my close team were lovely, fun and I enjoyed working with them, it didn’t make up for how miserable I felt every time I stepped into the building. The straw that broke the camel’s back (so to speak) came in the form of a conversation I had with one of my team members, who I really looked up to. It was clear everyone was unhappy with my attitude and they were now becoming increasingly concerned about me. That day I got home and took the rest of the week off as sick leave, I think I cried every morning and every night before I went to sleep that week.
At university I struggled massively with depression, to the point I would stay in my room for days and refuse to do anything or see anyone. After weeks of crying and feeling down, I built up the courage to go see the healthcare centre at my University. I was quickly offered 6 weeks of therapy, after which I felt increasingly reassured that I wouldn’t always feel so low. But here I was again, feeling like I would never smile or laugh again. So, what do I do? Continue to cry into a pillow, have an attitude with everyone (because I was sure they just ‘didn’t get it’), push people away and refuse to be part of the outside world. No. If anything, I had bills to pay, I had my little Guinea Pig (as silly as it sounds he was the only thing that made me connect with anything or anyone else) and I also wanted to be back in control of who I was.
Work had become painful, I needed to see a way out, I needed to not be stuck behind a desk and to not feel like my life had turned into a wheel of torture. It sounds extreme, but at the time, that is exactly how I felt. I decided to hand in my notice. I couldn’t bear it anymore. The moment I told my manager, that black cloud lifted ever so slightly. A sigh of relief, a small smile and a feeling of ‘it’s going to get better’ came over me. Now, what!!?? Where do I go now?! Look for another job? Go back up North? Sit in my room and feel sorry for myself again?! No thank you. It was time I did something to make me happy, something to put the life back in me again. I have always adored travelling, especially by myself – I can do what I want, when I want and not have to worry about anyone else (I’ve spent my life worrying about other people, it’s a trait I have). I had been away several times since moving to London, by myself, to places I had never been before, and those little adventures made me… better (a form of self-help/self-medication I guess you’d call it). Deciding that’s what would make me, me again, I booked some flights. I worked with STA to customise a trip of a lifetime. Both Central and South America had been on my hit list, (along with pretty much every other country in the world!) since college. My attitude, my mental stability and my general outlook on life suddenly changed. I was excited, joyful almost, at the prospect of getting away.
My decision to quit my job and travel half way around the world, wasn’t a flippant decision, nor did I think it would suddenly ‘fix me’. However, what it did do, was give me back the control I lost over how I felt. Ever since my first year of University, I had always worked, whether it be night shifts at the Holiday Inn, weekend shifts in a bar or working promotion events over Christmas. Although at the time I complained, it now meant I had saved money to be able to afford this trip! Otherwise, not sure what I would have done…
My trip away gave me so much. I learnt more about myself, what I am capable of and most importantly how to cope with my emotions in a better way. There were moments on the trip I wanted to come home, there were moments I thought ‘why am I here by myself?’, but then there were moments when I felt the best I had ever felt. I met some incredible people, who told me of their lives, their struggles and what kept them going. I discovered that although I may have this pesky cloud in my head sometimes, I have to know what I can do to help it floating over the hill. I’ve come to realise my environment has a huge effect on my mental health. I’ve realised that if I spend my day to day in a place that makes me uncomfortable, uneasy or just plain unhappy, I shouldn’t be there. My mum has always said to me, work is work, we all must do it, but you should find your work and enjoy it. It’s a bit of a try it and see the game, isn’t it? As a new nail polish, you see it in the bottle, it looks good, so you go with it… then it’s on your nails and you realise lime green is just not your colour. Some people are fortunate enough to find the perfect job, with the ideal workload, the brilliant teammates and the right environment. Clearly, I was not one of those people. I cannot stress enough; how important it is for that 9-5 to keep you happy. Yes, there will be ups and downs, yes you will probably want to throw the stapler at someone, at some point (or maybe that’s just me), but at the end of the day, we spend the majority of our lives at work (albeit it slightly sad to say), and so we should at least enjoy it.
In the U.K more than 14% of people experience mental health problems in the workplace, with women being twice as likely to have a common mental health problem than men. Research has found that almost 13% of all ‘sick days’ in the U.K can be associated with mental health conditions.
Is that shocking enough to do something about it?