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.
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.
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.