A/N: This blog should not be taken as medical advice as I am not a doctor or a mental health professional. This is from my own personal experience.
This blog may also contain triggers, please be cautious if you are sensitive.
If you are reading this article and thinking; ‘Maybe I should approach someone to talk about this…’ then you have already overcome the most difficult part of this journey. Nice work! Opening up the communication channels with your colleagues and friends can be really daunting, but it’s one of the best things you can do for your health and your career progression. You HR department is a good place to start – even if it’s just a ten minute, one-on-one meeting, it’s much better than keeping silent as they have experience dealing with these situations, and they’ll be able to sit in with any discussions you have with your line manager and other colleagues about handling your illness.
At this stage you may still find it difficult to speak about it to anyone in your workplace, so I’d point you in the direction of mental health charity Mind, who offer fantastic resources on workplace issues, treatment and services in your local area.
As with any illness, sometimes you may need to take some time off work to aid with recovery. If this is something you need to do, make sure you’re aware of what you’re entitled to as an employee. How many sick days do I have? If I need more time off, will my pay be affected? The last thing you want to think about is finances but to avoid any shocks on pay day it’s a good idea to make sure you are savvy with what (if anything) will change if you need to be signed off long term.
Do some research on any employee benefits your company provides. Sometimes you’ll be entitled to discounted or even free private health services or something similar, which can be a lifeline when trying to find the right treatment.
The nature of mental illness is in the name – if affects your brain and sometimes how well you can complete tasks which, on any other day, you’d be able to do with your eyes closed. My bug bear in particular was that I couldn’t concentrate on a book long enough to finish a page, when previously I had devoured Virginia Woolf on my commute in. Have a chat with your line manager about what tasks you can do, such as clearing out old computer files or organising physical folders (also very GDPR friendly!) The unpredictable nature of mental illness as well means that being heavily involved in big, long-running campaigns might be tricky so these small, less time-sensitive tasks are a great way to get back into the swing of things without feeling too stressed.
I also found it really nice to have a room in the office (a small meeting room, breakout area or disabled toilet cubicle) for if you need a quiet ten minutes to yourself. Don’t be scared to take this time if you need it, from personal experience it’s much better than sitting at your desk feeling overwhelmed.
Working in the media industry usually means having a full and rich social calendar. From a pint at lunchtime, to festivals and holidays, one of the perks of our job are the unforgettable nights out which makes us the envy of our friends and family. However, suffering with illness can make even the most relaxed of meetings fill you with dread. Chat to your colleagues and friends at work if you’re finding this a struggle and see if you can come to a compromise, for example, if you can skip the less important meetings and save your energy for the A-list stuff.
When I was first prescribed medication back in November, my doctor advised me not to drink alcohol and avoid caffeine. Not ideal for a media job, and especially over the Christmas period! I spent a lot of time drinking lime and sodas, pints of Coke and quietly asking the bar staff what 0% beers they had in stock. I inevitably had to field questions about why I wasn’t drinking and, as I wasn’t yet open with the whole agency about my condition my excuses began to fall flat. Luckily, on one such occasion, my line manager stepped in and commented on how impressed he was at my decision to cut down on drinking and my commitment to being healthy. It was just a quick remark, but him having my back meant so much and took a huge weight off my mind.
Keep an eye out for your friends and colleagues, especially as the nights close in and the festive season can bring up a wealth of emotions. Some things to look out for:
-Has your friends’ behaviour become erratic and out of character? Are they less reliable, less focused, or more withdrawn?
-Have they turned down more social events than usual? Are they less chatty, or have their drinking habits changed?
-Do they complain of tiredness more than usual? Have you noticed their eating increase or decrease in a significant way?
Of course not one or all of these can be attributed to poor mental health, but it doesn’t hurt to ask your mate if they’re OK every now and again. Sometimes a funny video on YouTube or kind Slack message can be the difference between a bad day and a good day.
I’m lucky enough that I’m now able to be open about my mental health with the people I work with, as well as friends and family, and I am much closer to a full recovery. Interestingly enough, after I began speaking about it I had colleagues approach me and tell me that they had dealt with something similar, and hadn’t spoken up until then. Having support at work has made me feel so much more confident and has aided in my recovery more than I realised until I wrote this blog. You really are not alone.
If you need someone to talk to, try the Samaritans. Call them on 116 123, free from any landline or mobile within the UK and Ireland.