Requesting Mental Health Support At Work and Becoming an Advocate

Ian Young_2019_AnxiousBirding
A pier in Essex, UK, by Ian Young (@ianyoung33)

Workplaces can be competitive, crowded, hierarchical, undemocratic and pressurised environments in which multi-tasking skills and personal organisation are put under particularly intense pressure. Workplace legal rights and employer sympathy can mean very little unless workers are able to advocate for themselves and their peers. The blogger linked below has experiences generalised and social anxiety, depression and dyspraxia symptoms and has become a mental health advocate at work.

A UK government civil service employee, blogger, Ian Young, has discussed his childhood difficulties with mental health, undiagnosed dyspraxia and bullying at boarding school: “I had never felt isolated until I went to boarding school. There I found myself among a group of unfamiliar people with whom I had little in common. I went to a public school which selected pupils to be ambitious and self-confident. This was just impossible for me: I was desperately homesick and every day was just a question of survival.”

Once in the workplace, Ian could not find support for his difficulties. He was missing deadlines and withdrawing. Finally, he took time off work when his depression symptoms got too much but when he felt ready to return, things continued to be difficult:  “I wasn’t offered a proper return to work interview and was just given a pile of papers to deal with. I found it very difficult to speak to my manager or colleagues about what had happened. Although work wasn’t solely to blame for my illness, the lack of support on my return hindered my recovery and made me feel even more isolated and vulnerable.”

Later in his career, coming off medication triggered another more difficult period for his mental health. Ian contrasts his treatment following being diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder with what occurred previously: “My manager encouraged me to make use of the Employee Assistance Programme. Making that first call was terrifying; I am not very confident on the phone at the best of times, and the prospect of speaking to a complete stranger about deeply personal issues was very scary. But I made that call and although I was trembling, I wasn’t made to feel silly and I was able to speak to a qualified counsellor that same day.”

He goes on to say: “I received several free sessions of counselling; I was treated with kindness and respect by my managers; if I needed to escape from the office, I was allowed to go and wander round the park. When my mother died during this period (a terrible shock), my managers allowed me to take a generous amount of compassionate leave. When I had another serious meltdown at work, a manager came along with me to A&E and waited with me until I was seen.”

Ian is now able to discuss his difficulties at work more openly with managers and occupational therapists. He has disability adjustments in place to make work more comfortable. His dyspraxia diagnosis only occurred in his late 50s. He had been struggling with personal organisation: “I have to manage large quantities of fast changing information and this is very challenging. Working out priorities and sticking to them is really difficult. I’m good at starting tasks and very poor at finishing them. My typing is messy and I can’t see my mistakes. Sometimes I miss out whole words even though my brain tells me I’ve typed them.”

He has workplace adjustments in place now: “Work has given a lot of support including mind mapping, text-to-speech and speech-to-text software. The IT is great for helping me organise myself. I now prioritise my to-do list using a mind map, with all my tasks colour -coded. It only takes a few seconds to see what I’m meant to be doing next. The bright colours make the tasks seem more ‘friendly’ and less of a threat.”

Ian is now a mental health advocate at work and beyond, writing openly about his difficulties on Twitter and his blogs, as well as his passion for bird-watching. In the workplace, he has joined forces with colleagues as part of a Wellbeing and Mental Health Group. Working alongside his workplace’s HR department, he has given talks about his experiences to colleagues. The blog-post linked below is a revised version of an article he wrote for publication on his workplace’s staff intranet during Mental Health Week in 2017.

Outside of work, Ian has found like-minded individuals with whom he has been able to connect with over their fascination with bird-life: “I’ve found birdwatching is a friendlier activity because everyone has the same aim. People are happy to share their discoveries. I have only been able to see Bitterns through the kindness of fellow birders who let me watch these rare birds through their telescopes.”

To read Ian Young’s bird-watching blog, “Anxious Birding,” click here. To read his blog focused on mental health issues, click the link below.

Image taken from AnxiousBirding.wordpress.com, Ian Young (c)

 

Me and my Mental Health

Note: this is a revised version of the blog I wrote for our work intranet during Mental Health Awareness Week in May 2017.

I want to tell you a little about myself: I work here in the Civil Service. Outside work, my interests include birdwatching, running, drinking real ale (the good stuff) with my friends, and countryside walking. People describe me as easy going, dependable, cheerful. I have also lived with anxiety and depression for over 20 years. I’m telling my story now to promote Mental Health Awareness Week. I have long been an advocate of talking and being open about mental health issues but this was not always the case.
Looking back now, I’m sure that I was trying to cope with depression a long time before I visited my GP. I felt my depression was chipping away at the more positive aspects of my character. With hindsight, I…

View original post 408 more words

Advertisement

“Child-Free” — The Choice and the Pressure on Women

IzayaOrihara_AnnaVanes_2014
Izaya Orihara by Anna Vanes ©

A woman who chooses not to have children faces being questioned and doubted by friends, colleagues, family and strangers. When mental health difficulties play a part in this decision, the questioning and doubting can take on a more intrusive nature.

The blogger, whose post, “Child-free,” is linked below, describes her frustration with dealing with, apparently, well-meaning proponents of reproduction: “We’re not having children,” I’d say. I thought the women who were asking would understand as most of them were mothers and would get that parenting wasn’t for everybody, but very few were accepting of the fact that I didn’t want to be a mother. I’d get responses like “Oh, you’re still young enough to change your mind”, “You’ll change your mind”, “Never say never”, “Its different when it’s your own!”, and other responses that suggested that my non-existent maternal switch would magically flip on one day and I’ll be crazy for babies.

One by one, she retorts to the common urgings she hears: “Other women have tried convincing me they used to be just like me until they took an embryo to the uterine lining. I highly doubt any of them had tokophobia (on top of depression, anxiety, and Asperger’s) that brings on horrific nightmares about being pregnant, sensory issues with children screaming or crying, a stockpile of Plan B just in case a regular birth control pill is missed due to human error, and a plan to abort if the oral contraceptives and condoms fail.”

Some women do choose to raise families whilst experiencing mental health difficulties, such as social anxiety symptoms. The choice is a personal one which involves a look at a range of factors from severity of symptoms to financial situation, to the most crucial, preference: “The world acts like pregnancy is the best thing a woman can experience and that it is the ultimate bringer of joy. It’s 2020: Isn’t it about damn time we stop pretending that children are these magical creatures that bring eternal happiness to everyone and just accept that not all women are going to find having them rewarding?”

Society’s expectation that all women have children and become mothers is deep-rooted and, inevitably, must relate to an innate desire to reproduce that many have. One wonders, however, if, in part, it is, also – especially, in the case of nosey strangers – a desire to see women occupied by childcare and not challenging society’s mores and power structures – which they supposedly will find more easy if child-less.

To read the full blog-post and other intriguing tales from the blogger’s life working in a food store in the US, click below.

An old man rode up to our deli counter in one of the store’s electric scooter carts. I felt my liberal bleeding heart cringe at the sight of the “Trump 2020 Keep America Great” cap perched atop his head, but that didn’t stop me from giving the polite customer service I would give to anyone […]

via Child-Free — Don’t Worry…Do Your Best!

Image designed by Anna Vanes.

“Walk Four And A Half Miles In My Shoes” — Shame and Embracing Difference

Breath_AnnVanes
Breathe by Anna Vanes ©

Shame and self-loathing can follow someone suffering social anxiety down every path. When a fear is faced, no matter how successfully, if anxiety was prominent and present, the moment can feel tainted and unsuccessful – and, even, a source of shame. If the task is, on the other hand, avoided, out of fear, shame and self-criticism will likely be present.

In the blog-post linked below, mental health advocate and social anxiety symptom sufferer, Sara, gives a personal example of this dilemma of fear and shame. Rather than experience the fear and vulnerability of calling a taxi or requesting a lift from a co-worker from work to her home, she opted to walk the 4.5 miles route for the first time.

Her self-loathing at her choice started during her walk: “wow, my social anxiety is so bad that I couldn’t ask a coworker to drive me nor could I order a taxi or rideshare service. What the hell is wrong with me? Why am I such a broken person?”

Once home, she writes: “…I felt so alone. I started to cry and I emailed my therapist to tell him what happened and that I was going to make light of it because that’s who I am, so I wanted him to know in the moment what I really felt about my walk. Then I took a shower and put on my pajamas, and started making light of my experience.”

The fear of feeling vulnerable socially and risking being hurt is exchanged for avoiding the fear and feeling humiliated in private. The socially anxious symptom sufferer may be faced all day, every day, with this painful dilemma.

Therapists advise patients to expose themselves to anxiety by resisting so-called “safety behaviours” and testing oneself. Yet, where anxiety is high and debilitating, avoidance and the predictable self-loathing can feel preferable.

The writer chose to share her experience with her therapist and then to make light of the incident. She also shared it with her husband when he got home from work. Her shame and self-loathing seems to have been at least temporarily alleviated through this process – which included the self-care of having a shower and changing into pajamas.

Disabled people are under pressure to conform to “competency” and “reliability” standards set for more able-bodied peers by work and economic pressures. Also, as blogger, Independence Chick, points out, disabled people are often celebrated for “defying” their illness or disability.

Falling below such unrealistic and unfair standards contributes to a sense of failure and shame. For disabled people and people suffering from illnesses, it is important to remind themselves of their difference in order to try and reduce the pressure of expectation which governs so much of their lives. Sympathetic and supportive peers may help reduce the shame in a social anxiety symptom sufferer’s daily life. With greater knowledge of one’s difficulties and reduction in expectations – failures can be embraced and, even, laughed at.

What are some of the more extreme things you have done because of your mental illness? In reference to my alcoholism, this answer could get scary fast. My depression has caused suicidal ideation/attempts. My hypomania contributed to the creation of some pretty spur of the moment tattoos one day a few years ago. My social […]

via Walk Four And A Half Miles In My Shoes — Don’t Stigmatize me

Image designed by Anna Vanes.

“The Purgatory Of 9 Till 5” – Working in a Warehouse

Ravens_AnnVanes
Ravens by Anna Vanes ©

Isolated, menial work can provide some comfort for those troubled by difficulties interacting but such a lifestyle can give rise to degradation of self-worth, loneliness, depression and suicidal ideation. Moreover, poor working conditions in such employment, including, compensation, can not only contribute to damaging health but can leave one dependent on such employment.

Writing in a new autobiographical blog, a 33 year-old clothing warehouse worker details a typical working day. It involves a 7.5 hour shift in the ‘purgatory’ of the warehouse performing manual tasks and avoidance of most interactions with co-workers, to the extent of protecting himself from contact during the thirty-minute lunch break: “Unlike the normal socially functional humans I retreat for half an hour into my private safe space inside the toilet cubicle. This is my peculiar routine to never enter the intimidating coliseum of the canteen. That environment i find far too aggravating for my fragile defective personality.”

The writer was diagnosed with autism at a young age and identifies himself with schizoid personality disorder. His life is dominated by the opposing forces of desiring human intimacy and a severe difficulty interacting with others and severe social anxiety, resulting in depression: “My mind is ingrained with these fantasies of having a lover a person that validates your existence that makes you feel human. I realise in the chasms of my mind i will never have these wondrous tangible human adventures of sex and love. I am damned to locked inside this box of alienation never to receive the treasure chest of human infatuation.”

Ten years of this lifestyle shaped around working in the warehouse has degraded his self-worth and happiness: “Long ago in the embryonic stages of my tenure at TWC i was proficient enough to cultivate friendships here. Now at 33 my condition my asocial behaviour has deteriorated to the point friendships in the workplace milieu or outside in the world is unimaginable.”

He closes down communication out of a combination of hopelessness at forming intimate bonds and severe social anxiety: “Instead of embracing the light I retreat into my shell denying myself the improbable dream of love into my vacuum of a life. I ignore all these coruscating lights avert my gaze and put on this glacial mask.”

This pattern is followed in the safety of his flat: “When on the rare occasion somebody attempts to contact me i refuse to answer the incoming communication. A stranger or relative knocks ardently on my door i act all quiet turn off the lights giving the illusion I’m not home. Never do I depart from my humble abode to socialise with other humans except in isolated instances when I urgently need to buy some food or need a much needed haircut.”

It is clear that the “semblance” of safety that his isolated work and home provide are, in fact, deeply harmful: “Performing the carbon copy tasks like a mindless robot. The noxious fumes of this insular survivalist existence is slowing poisoning me like carbon monoxide chocking my soul removing the joy the desire to even be alive.” The goes on to writer describe his consumption of alcohol and drugs in his free time.

The writer depicts a wider social environment of economic deprivation in his home town in the UK: “Every workday to work and back home, again i face this sadness this urban sprawl of bordered up buildings of broken people living broken lives. To witness the decay every day effects my state of mind taking me deeper into prolonged states of forlornness.”

There are remnants of self-care and self-worth that give hope; after his shift, he describes arriving in his flat. “Firstly though i run a luxurious bath that relaxes my nerves. A lavender infused bath is drawn in which the bathroom is permeated with ethereal classical music taking to a higher plain of consciousness. The bath becomes a therapeutic relaxing habitual event that alleviates the toxic anxiety that i accrue during the day working in a noxious warehouse environment. The bath enables me to escape the moil the drudgery the agita of my life.”

Contrastingly, the writer has neglected self-care regarding his teeth, with significant impact on self-worth, body image and social anxiety: ” These once radiant teeth that once along time ago when i smiled revealed a glorious beaming youthful smile. Now in public I’ve become so intensely self conscious at these grotesque unappealing teeth that i refrain from smiling or laughing to prevent me from exposing my ugly fangs to the world. My self consciousness at the sad state of my teeth is emblematic of the flaws the holes in my personality my aversion to be vulnerable.”

It is through self-care and self-attention that the possibility of gradual steps of overcoming depression, isolation and anxiety seem to lie. Self-care could also include opening up to others and seeking help. It may, potentially, include, seeking new opportunities, whether in employment or connecting with people. The economic and health struggles can be overwhelming in isolation and support may provide the only real option.

Image designed by Anna Vanes.

To read the full blog-post, “Chapter 8: The Purgatory of 9 to 5,” click the link below:

Dystopia

Every working day starts and ends in the same laborious way. There’s no meaningful differentiation from one day to the next. It’s me completing the same task the exact duplicate itinerary for every single working day. It’s a vacuous boring subsistence existence that i have been condemned to endure. The routine however is comforting allowing myself for prolonged stretches of isolation from direct human contact. It’s my solitary employment I have maintained for over a decade now that protects me from proximate human interaction.

Despite the tedium of working in a claustrophobic intellectually uninspiring environment it provides me with solace working in a menial warehouse locale. The dearth of direct social communication the limited verbal acuity that is needed to be a functional employee at TWC are beneficial to my defective personality. The atmosphere however is slowly poisoning me with the noxious fumes of alienation I force myself to abide…

View original post 7,105 more words