Mental Health at Work: ‘Coming out’ & Fighting the Fear

By Shrina Purohit

Me sitting at my desk at work: “I’m going to die, I’m going to die, I’m going to die,
I’m going to die, I’m going to die….”
Colleague: “Hey Shrina how are you today?”
Me: “I’m doing GREAT!!”

The above is the constant internal monologue I have in my head at work. Sometimes it’s not as repetitive and I get to ponder about what’s on the lunch menu but most of the time that’s the running order.

In the past I have always felt that my mental health diagnosis was something to be embarrassed about and should be kept under wraps.

Let’s rewind a few years – I was sexually abused when I was younger and never told anyone, and by the time I did I was well into my teens and was already suffering from severe mental health problems. You name it, I had it. PTSD, severe depression, severe anxiety, panic attacks the lot – you could say I won the mental illness lottery. Unfortunately for me, even in the throes of all of these illnesses, I didn’t tell anyone. I just thought that everyone felt the way I did and just got on with it. I thought I was weak for struggling so I did what any other good little Indian girl did and kept my mouth shut and my head down.

Eventually this plan fell apart and through copious amounts of drinking I realised I needed help, I needed to talk to someone and thus began my journey into therapy and mental health. I struggled a lot with it, but fortunately for me being at university I had plenty of time to try and work through my issues and not to mention, I had the support I needed from my tutors. Unfortunately, I ended up dropping out of uni, because of the stress and deterioration of my physical and mental health.

During that time my self-esteem was at an all-time low and a lot of my family members were frustrated with me leaving university and not working. They didn’t know how I was feeling and just thought I was incapable, lazy and defiant. I should point out that my family, being quintessentially Indian didn’t believe that mental illness was a thing and most of them still don’t! Through listening to them I kept thinking the same notion I had before that my mental health conditions were something to be ashamed of. So, once I quit university I dove straight into a job and tried to be like all the other adults I was around.

Luckily for me, I interview quite well and always managed to get the jobs I applied for. The interview to me was the fun part, it was the actual staying in the job that was the hard part.
I found that the things that rolled off other peoples’ shoulders stuck with me for months and things like managing your workload and having a healthy work/life balance was exceedingly difficult. I noticed I struggled immensely with navigating my way through the office politics and at times it got so bad that I was reduced to having to lock myself in the toilets as I was having a panic attack. After my thousandth panic attack and yet another bout of sickness I eventually resigned because the stress was just too much and of course this didn’t do anything for my self-esteem. I just couldn’t understand why I was having such a difficult time whilst others where just strolling through. It was a vicious cycle.

It was only after some deep reflection I realised I needed to change my outlook on myself and instead of berating myself for my difficulties, I needed to love myself for surviving through them.

I wasn’t like everyone else, I had legitimate difficulties and that was and IS okay. I know this is going to sound really cliché, but in order to make a change in different areas in your life you need to start with yourself. I still struggle with this every single day but I try to tell myself that my mental health is important and needs to come first. I’ve had far too many jobs which resulted in me resigning purely because I was too embarrassed to admit I was having difficulty. It wasn’t until I finally found a job that I loved and that suited me that I realised it was time to start taking care of myself at work. I decided to “come out” and tell the people that needed to know about my (now) mental health condition and it was by far the most petrifying thing I have ever done. All these thoughts kept coming into my head like: “I’m still on probation, are they going to fire me when they find out?” “If I have more sick days than the average person am I going to get in trouble?” “Are people going to treat me differently?” “What if they think I can’t do my job properly?” And I’d be lying if I said those thoughts still don’t go around in my head, BUT, it was the right thing to do because how can you expect things to get better if the people who can help to make it better don’t know? The answer is, you can’t.

I’m not saying making this decision was easy for me and it may not be for you but by accepting yourself, “flaws and all” you can begin that first step to helping and loving yourself and considering how we’re going to be working until at least the age of 72 (thank you, current government) what better place to start then at the place we spent the most amount of our time. So, if you’re thinking of coming out and need a push in the right direction here are some helpful tips and tricks I used to help me get through it:

– Know yourself – figure out what triggers you at work and what things are causing your stress levels to rise. Then come up with a plan to help reduce those stressors, and what your colleagues can do to help.
You don’t have to tell them everything and anything you do tell them is private and confidential. You can choose what you want to tell your employer. I decided to go full whack and tell them everything mainly because I have verbal diarrhoea but that might not be your style and that’s ok.

– Arrange a meeting with your line manager, a member of your HR team and take a representative with you, union or other. Contrary to those horrible thoughts in your head, I think it is important to remember that your employer isn’t looking for reasons to fire you, they actually want to help you! Don’t forget you’re the one who smashed the interview and got the job so they clearly think you’re more than capable, you superstar you!!!

– Join a union. Your union is there to support and help YOU. They have an enormous amount of literature on almost every work-related issue you can think of and will even attend meetings with you if you need it. Well worth the £10 a month or however much they charge

And my last tip and most important is; play the lottery! Euro millions, the national lottery, the post code lottery whatever it is because the quicker you win the quicker you can be laying on a yacht in St. Tropez with Leonardo DiCaprio feeding you grapes on Monday morning as opposed to going into work and who doesn’t want that?!

I’m kidding – please don’t spend all your money on the lottery.

All jokes aside, you are not defined by your mental illness; it’s just a small part of your amazingly beautiful personality. Don’t let this one thing stop you from taking over the world and becoming the best version of yourself. You’ve got this shit and if you don’t believe in you, don’t worry because I sure as hell do ❤️

Shrina Purohit writes the blog The Memoirs of a Crazy Happy Lady. 

 

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2 Comments

  1. amy
    November 30, 2017 / 10:04 pm

    Really refreshing to know that other people feel the same as me at work! Regular supervision has helped me and my managers now realise I am slightly more ‘sensitive’ than my other colleagues and they take that into consideration: you are right that in most work places, your manager just wants to help!

  2. Achala
    December 1, 2017 / 6:56 am

    Thank you.
    Hope this inspires indians and others to open up to their mental health and have a way forward to a happier life. It’s your god given right to be happy.

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