Anxiety and Employment: How I Made it Work for Me

Anxiety and Employment: How I Made it Work for Me

It goes without saying; having a mental illness does not mean you cannot work and work well. I work full time across two offices; one in Glasgow and one in Edinburgh. It’s taken a while to adapt to two offices and the long commute to one of them, but I’ve put steps in place to counteract the negative effect this has on my mental health.

For one, I must have a good night’s sleep to stand a chance of feeling OK the next day. Eight hours is my absolute minimum. Couple this with an anxiety of being late for work because of being stuck in traffic, because my car won’t start, because I’ll over sleep, and this was always going to be a recipe for disaster when it came to an early start with a long drive to Glasgow.

The second challenge I have is a need to be near my safe-space, which is my home. This feeling isn’t there all the time, it is just when my mental health is suffering. Being on the other side of the country when feeling like this isn’t ideal. It’s days like this when I am truly grateful for owning a car. My personal bubble which takes me back home in the quickest time and with the least amount of people nearby.

I also have an irrational fear of phoning in sick to work. I get incredibly anxious at the thought of letting people down, especially my work. My mind goes into overdrive thinking about what people will be saying about me, and the possibilities of losing my job because of it. If people ever think I take a day off sick and lie about it, they don’t know me very well at all! I get so overly anxious when I have to do it for genuine reasons that I become mentally ill as well. It’s certainly not worth the pain for a sneaky day’s skive. I generally return before I am ready to as well. I never follow my own advice that I dish out to others on self care in this respect. Must work on that.

Finally, my anxiety makes me so frightened of making a mistake. One mistake at work and I go into overdrive worry mode again. “I will definitely get fired. My boss definitely thinks I am incapable of my job. Why am I doing this job? I clearly can’t do it… I am so rubbish at it. No one else makes mistakes. It is definitely JUST ME.”

As many of you know, I was on long term sick absence a year ago with anxiety and panic disorder. It wasn’t until this time that I started to review how I could effectively manage working and staying mentally healthy. The way I was going was making me unwell. My workplace arranged a meeting with occupational health for me, which was the first step in identifying some of the areas which were making me sick. I also had a frank talk with my Line Manager and told him how I was feeling and how my illness impacts on my life. Please do this if you are struggling. An open and honest talk with your manager (or a colleague) is not only a relief, but you may be surprised at how understanding they are, and how much they want to be flexible to allow you to carry on working to your maximum potential.

The travel for one was not helping. At that time, I was travelling three or four days a week on very little sleep. I changed this to a compulsory two days only, which could not be one after the other to allow for a good, anxiety-free sleep.

Next, I looked into flexible working options which would have a positive impact on my health.

All employees have the legal right to request flexible working – not just parents and carers.

This took some time to think about. Did I want to work less hours? No, not really. The anxiety wasn’t brought on by how many hours I was working. How about more time in my safe-space throughout the week? Yes, this seemed logical. I discussed with my Line Manager the option of working from home on a Monday instead of coming into the office. He agreed. This has helped hugely. The transition from weekend to work week is so much smoother for me, and I don’t have a horrible sleepless and anxiety filled night on a Sunday anymore. It also means I can concentrate better in my own surroundings and with less distractions and people.

The final changes I made to my life were personal. Meditation relaxes my mind at the beginning and end of the day. I don’t practice this as often now, but when I returned to work I practiced religiously everyday and I cannot emphasize enough how much this helped me to calm down and focus on five minutes at a time. I never thought further ahead than this. It was a life saver.

I bought a SAD lamp for the winter months, and waking up early isn’t quite as painful anymore. I feel the benefits all day and my energy levels are definitely up since having this on every morning.

I walk. I walk every day and I notice things as I do. Small things, beautiful things in nature. I notice and watch for birds now, and record which ones I see. I do this on my lunch breaks, too.

I keep a gratitude journal and I jot something down before I go to bed. It promotes better dreams. Never a bad thing.

And finally, I stopped worrying about mistakes. This was the hardest thing to do. I use the following mantra:

You are strong when you know your weakness. You are beautiful when you appreciate your flaws. You are wise when you learn from your mistakes.

Buddha

Mistakes are there to teach us things. You will only ever get better at something after doing it wrong. Keep doing things wrong. Keep making mistakes. Keep getting better.

And guess what? When you stop worrying about making mistakes, you’ll end up not making any. Well, you’ll end up making less, like me.

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“How Can the Mentally Ill Help the Mentally Ill?” … & other stories

“How Can the Mentally Ill Help the Mentally Ill?” … & other stories

I am currently in training to become a Mental Health First Aider in Scotland, and have brought this course to the attention of my employer. Subsequently, they have now approached other people in my organisation to encourage more to be trained in this much needed resource within the workplace.

But… “How can the mentally ill help the mentally ill?”

I’ve heard this said before and I’ve heard it said again this week. It’s just another misconception about people with a mental illness, implying that we aren’t really capable of doing anything except being “mentally ill”. My mental illness does not define me. I have a career, run a magazine for people with a mental illness, am in a happy marriage and enjoy a lot of hobbies. Yet a comment like this still exists and people still believe that it’s viable, true, and funny.

Here are a few ways in which the mentally ill can help the mentally ill:

Talk

We talk (and write) about our experiences, good or bad, and how we have learned to live successfully with our illness. Not only is this a form of therapy for the person speaking out, but it also helps others who don’t feel comfortable doing so that they aren’t alone. It breaks down the stigma surrounding mental illness, which is necessary when you remember that 1 in 4 people have one. Not everyone wants to admit to their mental illness, not everyone wants to talk about their mental illness. But listening to someone who does can help in ways you will never imagine possible.

Listen

As well as being incredibly vocal, we can also shut up and listen too. Listening non judgmentally is hard to do, but really important when listening to someone’s story. Don’t listen and make up a back story, or make assumptions about this person because of how their mental illness has manifested itself. Just listen. Let them get it off their chest. One benefit of doing this is that it reduces the chance of that person committing suicide, even if you don’t offer advice.

Advise

Many people with a mental illness now live with it quite successfully. This could be due to medical intervention or self help. Either way, we can give advice to  other people based on our own experiences, and some of this advice could help someone to either seek the help they need, or help themselves back to full health. It could save a life, too.

Ask

Are you OK? These three simple words can help someone open up and talk. People with a mental illness can sometimes spot the symptoms in others, identify if they need help and empathise with how they are feeling. They are more likely to ask if someone else is OK, because they know how isolated it can feel when you’re not.

Finally, the majority of mental health charities I have worked with in Scotland have been started by people with mental illnesses. These successful charities help thousands of people who really need it.

And that’s how the mentally ill can help the mentally ill.

 

Do you want to volunteer your time with a mental health charity? Explore these and I hope you find your way to helping someone:

https://www.samh.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering

https://www.seemescotland.org/our-movement-for-change/supporters/volunteers/

http://www.health-in-mind.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering.html

https://www.supportinmindscotland.org.uk/volunteer-with-us

http://www.mind.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering-participating/

https://www.rethink.org/get-involved/support-us

http://www.sane.org.uk/how_you_can_help/volunteer/

http://www.youngminds.org.uk/support_our_work/fundraise

https://www.mhscot-consultancy.co.uk/events/scotlands-mental-health-first-aid/