Why I dropped my corporate mask and shared my experience with depression at work
One dreary Tuesday afternoon in February earlier this year, I sat on a grey sofa, incoherently mumbling through a crumpled white tissue smudged with mascara, as I feebly attempted to hold back the stinging tears in the corner of my eyes.
Next to me sat someone who listened gently, made me a cup of tea and talked to me until I was able to muster up a semblance of normality and strength as I battled through swells of painful anger, wretchedness and inexplicable helplessness.
This person wasn’t a friend or family member, nor was she a counsellor or GP; she was in fact my director.
Looking back, choosing to unbridle my vulnerability to a company director in the open plan work reception, where we were interrupted not once but twice by the courier, may not seem the wisest choice of counsel to seek – but ultimately that’s the crux of it; no matter how much we will ourselves, we cannot, all of us, choose our emotions.
However, as it turned out speaking to my director, and in turn all of my colleagues helped me take one of the biggest steps in learning to understand and cope with my mental health.
It is good to talk
At the heart of what we do at Tin Man is communication. To each other, to the media, to clients, to suppliers. You name it, we talk about it. Yet I knew, that I wasn’t communicating to my colleagues, with whom I guessed I spent more time with each week than anyone else, about one of the most inescapable and important aspects of myself and my day-to-day life; my depression.
It isn’t fair...that there is something else that is able to dictate my moods, my emotions and even sometimes my actions.
I should caveat, that I have been lucky enough, on the whole, to continue to function relatively normally since my diagnosis. I was put on medication as a teenager and largely being busy and having a job that has required my unrivalled attention when I’m in the office has been my saving grace.
My corporate mask was a safety net for hiding what was going on underneath, and to many people that would feel and appear like the correct way to be – because for all the encouragement to talk, there remains a stigma in society when it comes to mental health, a stigma that many don’t and won’t confront at work.
So why did I decide to talk to my colleagues? On a more understandable level, I’d been at Tin Man for a while and had got to know those around me as more than just colleagues. I knew them as friends, but also as mothers, sisters, boyfriends and wives in their own lives. I had also been able to slowly open up to my line manager who I came to confide in as a pillar of support. When we first discussed it, I feared it may change her opinion of me or worry her that I wouldn’t be capable of doing my job – turns out what she was actually worried about was my ability to do my best proofreading after I’d hit ‘send’ on an email.
It isn’t fair
However, on a personal level it came down to one main thing; fairness. A consistency that has plagued me throughout my depression has been the inescapable and infuriating feeling that it’s not fair. It’s really not fair. Not that it isn’t fair it’s me, but that there is something else that is able to dictate my moods, my emotions and even sometimes my actions.
It isn’t fair that in the blink of any eye I can be plunged into searing anger, sadness or most commonly, emptiness. It isn’t fair that in another blink I can be calm again, myself, totally fine. But most of all, what I’ve always felt isn’t fair is the impact this can have on those around me.
For all my effort, I know that sometimes these feelings spill over, and with no explanation, I know they have the ability to confuse and alienate people.
Therefore I knew it had come to a point, where I wanted to explain what was happening and why sometimes I was the way I was, so that they could find coping mechanisms just like I was doing. After all, I’m part of a team and I believe that team is stronger when problems and difficulties are shared.
So, at the end of one Monday meeting, I sat down and told 20-odd colleagues about my mental health and more specifically my depression. How it affected me, how I was learning to deal with, about my medication, the side effects and how sometimes if I seemed irascible, distant, angry or tearful it was most likely absolutely nothing to do with them and to bear with me, because I truly was trying the best I could to contain and mediate these emotions.
I also made it clear though, that this in no way gave me a free pass – if my post ‘send’ proofreading continued then I should be picked up on it and that the boys could still take the mick out of my often rogue choice of fantasy football defenders. And they did.
Being able to talk and allow people to know about the whole me was absolutely terrifying but it was an emotional release that also pleasantly washed over me and made me realise that maybe, it might just be okay.
But talking is hard and don’t let anyone ever tell you it’s not. It’s even harder when it doesn’t feel right, so never feel you have to talk if you’re not ready, nor should you feel like you need a reason to talk.
Honestly, take it at your pace – after all they’re your emotions. However, if you do feel you want to talk, know that there are so many people out there ready to listen, to help and actually by talking in the office, like I hope may have been the case in mine, may well help someone else out more than you could have imagined.
And before you say anything, yes, I got someone else to proofread this before I pressed ‘post’.
Written by Alexandra Keates, junior account manager at Tin Man Communications
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