As we finish the first week of Mental Health Awareness Month, I thought I would share one of my (many) negative experiences in my workplace. It's going to be a long one, so bear with me please! I think it'll be worth it!
I live with a very high level of anxiety, and severe depression. Probably the only thing that I have mastered in my short life so far is masking my mental health. And although this makes it easier for the people around me, it always makes things worse for my health.
Because I hate my job, don't particularly like anyone that I work with, and certainly don't want to share my personal life with anyone at work, I work really really hard to stay cool, calm, friendly, and sociable - even though on most days I would prefer to never leave my house. My supervisor and those co-workers on my team know that I struggle with anxiety, and I have gotten more comfortable talking about it with them over the last year. It's never a real conversation about my mental health. It's always like a passing, "yeah, I'm not going to the department lunch - too many people, too much noise." And they look at me like I'm truly missing out, but don't pressure me. They all know that I sit in my office with the door closed at lunch, and don't try to pull me out for group events.
But, they don't get it. And I don't expect them to! In fact, I don't want anyone to "get" what's going on in my head, because I wouldn't wish this on anyone. But, they can be incredibly insensitive and just plain blind sometimes. It doesn't help that most of the people I work with have lived in the same town their entire lives, were raised here, got married here, raised their children (and grand children) here, etc. Most of them do not read national news or travel outside of the state. Although this is an incredibly generalized view of the many people that I work with, it is unfortunately pretty accurate and they lack knowledge, experience, sensitivity, etc..
Our floor has monthly "socials" which are an hour in the conference room with food/treats/etc. and is just an opportunity to not work for an hour. I don't enjoy these events, but, it is an hour that I am not expected to work, so I usually go, and sit in the corner, pleasantly smiling at everyone.
During these socials, we pass one of those "You Rock" rocks to an employee to prominently, and proudly display in their office for a month. I received the rock two months ago, and luckily (and I mean LUCKILY) I didn't have to endure the announcement, the compliments, the gracious thank-you-for-this-award-oscars-smile. Instead, the co-worker (who had completely forgotten about this portion of our social) just came to my office quickly, without any fanfare, and that was that.
Of course, the month went by quickly and I too had forgotten that I would need to choose who would receive the rock, make an announcement, come up with pleasant reasoning, etc. I was actually in a great mood for this social event, knew what to expect and was not anxious at all. Until my supervisor rushed over to me and said, "the rock! You have to pass the rock!"
My insides exploded in anxious energy. I practically panted on the way to my office, grabbed the rock, felt my face flush, my head go dizzy, and my mind flat out cray. I barely made it back to the conference room, flopped into my seat in the corner, and made my plan. It went something like
pick a person, any person, really, ANY person, f#ck, f#ck, f#ck, just pick already, ok, ok, I got someone. what am I supposed to say? she does her shitty job in a mediocre way and takes too many smoke breaks? that's not going to work. F#CK! okay. breathe.
I thought of the individual, and came up with 3-4 sentences of praise. But then came the logistics
everyone is talking, how do I get them to stop? they're so loud. if I stand up, will they realize they need to shut up? do I clear my throat? what if nothing comes out? yell? no, I can't yell, I don't know how. do I get someone else to get everyone's attention? how do I ask someone to do that for me? I feel like I'm going to vomit and rip my skin off at the same time, do you mind distracting them while I melt to the floor and slither back to my office?
I was truly truly paralyzed. When I have a panic attack, I tend to focus my physical energy on one repetitive task (thanks OCD) so this whole time I was scratching the palm of my hand over and over and over again.
Finally, after what felt like hours, I realized something very important:
I'm an adult! And I don't have to do anything that makes me this sick.
So, I just calmly walked through the crowd to the individual that I was going to give the rock to. I knelt down on the floor next to her chair, and very meaningfully told her that I was presenting her with the rock and my reasoning and appreciation. I was able to connect with that person, make direct eye contact, and I think validate them more!
BUT, my supervisor, who was sitting across from this individual, starts this fun conversation with me:
"No! You have to make an announcement! Stand up! Stand UP! Make the announcement!" I continued my private conversation and ignored my boss completely.
"Wait! Wait! Wait! Come on... you want to stand up. You want to make the announcement!!" To which I calmly, quietly and purposefully replied, "No. I really don't."
"Everybody! Everybody! She's passing the ROCK!"
I went back to finish my short list of appreciation quickly and quietly. When I finished, I stood up and immediately fled the room. Okay, I think it probably looked like I was courteously and (might I say) ADULT-ly excusing myself from the room, but it FELT like I was running for my life.
I heard my supervisor mention to a plethora of people throughout the afternoon, "I can't BELIEVE she didn't make the announcement. That's just NOT how we do things around here..."
This is someone who knows that I struggle, who knows that I prefer to quietly keep to myself, who knows that when I use my sick time, it is because of anxiety. But still, just could not understand why I was so uncomfortable. And hearing her flippantly talk about it with co-workers the following few days made me really self-conscious. Like, f#ck, another adultingFAIL this week.
I stood up for myself
I realized my own limits
I didn't let other people push me into doing something that would greatly affect my mental health.
Sure, I had a panic attack over something that seems so insignificant, but it only lasted 10 minutes, and I was able to level out my anxiety after about 2 hours. That's HUGE for me.
Although I wish that everyone was sensitive, compassionate and understanding when it comes to mental health, it starts with me. I have to not only know my limits, but accept them, and not let anyone bully me into ignoring my own mental health.