I recently read an account of a woman who had opened up about her experience of mental health at work and it reminded me of my experience only 2 years ago, and the repercussions of such experiences, that have changed me even to this day. It also brought back memories of a horrible day that to this day I still struggle to talk about and feel embarrassed about even now, despite my recognition that I am now in a much better place both with my mental health and my career, in fact I am in a job I love.
It began after I was asked ‘would you like a member of staff to attend for you as a witness?’ To which in my confusion I asked my closest friend at the company at the time to go with me. I was taken into a small meeting room and there we sat with two other people, myself and ‘my witness’ as you spelled out reasons as to why I was ultimately losing my job. This meeting followed a one-day sickness absence after 7 months of working there, in which I had been at home off unwell due to my mental health. Of course you didn’t know this, but it was. You assumed I had been lying. I wasn’t really ill. I had tweeted that day meaning I must not have been unwell and over the weekend previous I had been up and about in the city, exploring with my boyfriend. How could I have been sick after that right? Since the moment I rang in sick at 8.30am on the Monday morning, I know this was coming!
In fact what had really happened is that I had been suffering with mental health issues for months. The days had seemed long and I found it hard to concentrate at work. I struggled with daily tasks, I struggled to impress and to ‘fit in well to the team’, as you had put it. When in fact all I wanted to do was ‘fit in’ and find conversation with these people, enjoy being at work, and start on the path of my career. You were right, I wasn’t fulfilling my job role, I was failing, but what you didn’t know was that it wasn’t out of choice.
Instead I felt crippled by anxiety, constantly anxious about my performance, the judgements and how well I was working, which was ultimately my downfall, the surrender. I was in another world in my mind, I couldn’t be present, I couldn’t be the person you needed me to be. I had palpatations on a daily basis, I felt sick, I cried most days. But you pulled me up about my passion for working there, my professional manner, and my inefficiency to complete tasks.
Anxiety affects everyone in different ways, it can appear through certain triggers, mine stress, or at random times. And my bouts could range from mild morning anxiety to insomnia, and panic attacks in the middle of the night.
I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t concentrating, certainly I wasn’t living. I was going home every night to a flat, spending hours on my own, before returning to work the next day to a job I wished I loved. I felt lost and alone, and when this meeting arose I felt like it was the nail in the coffin. I had even requested a meeting with HR a few weeks prior to ask for advice about my health, and I thought you understood. You didn’t.
As I had described to HR a few weeks prior my feelings and worries, I felt like you thought I was exaggerating, lying in fact. Told to contact my doctor, which I had done multiple times, and told to go away and keep them updated.
You gave me the option to leave, so I did.
I don’t blame you for not understanding. Mental health comes with a stigma, one which (without generalising) the older generation don’t understand. I get it, why would you, you were told people with mental health when you were younger were ‘mad’. Anxiety is also one of those things that is hard to see. For me, I strived to hide it from you, my family and friends for years, finding that I saw it myself as a weakness, and felt like I would be judged as ‘weak’ if I was open about it.
My Sunday night blues was extreme, I wouldn’t sleep. But you couldn’t see that, you just saw the exhausted person the next day who either couldn’t come to work or would come to work and then not fulfil the role. It was a constant feeling of being on edge, or breaking down at a moment’s notice. When I ran off to the toilet, I wasn’t bursting for the loo, I was going to cry.
When I lef that job I went on to another few jobs before landing the role I am in now. And although I am happy and love my job, I am still affected by what happened. By how my anxiety, through someone elses actions, had made me feel. I felt weak, a failure and like I wouldn’t succeed in life. I was being punished, not helped.
I agree I wasn’t fulfilling my job role, and therefore my job was at risk. I was taking sick leave, which you didn’t think I was entitled to, it’s there to catch slackers and skivers. But that wasn’t me.
I get that, but what you didn’t need to do was kick me whilst I was down. For that, I will never forget.
Two years on, I am now very open with my anxiety, I see it as a part of me and my personality. And do not shy away both in work, and online about my struggles. I can offer the world to a job, and I work my bloody ass of when I work. But I can only do that for a company that is willing to see people’s struggles as part of life as an employer. I needed an employer that couldn’t support me, not take my skills, and give nothing in return. I now help myself, I have CBT and I have found ways to manage my anxiety around my job, so that I can succeed and fulfil what is expected of me.
Anxiety doesn’t go away overnight, and anxiety affects anyone. You must understand that. Mental health support at work is vital. If you don’t clue up, you will end up losing incredible people, and amazing talent.
That is all.