Managing Mental Illness in the Workplace

I have to start by saying that I have been very, very lucky and unfortunately not all employers are as supportive as mine. My colleagues and workplace have been an integral part of my recovery but because my mental illnesses have been high-functioning, this may not be the case for everybody. (If you’re unsure on what high-functioning means, it basically means that I can carry on living my day-to-day life i.e. going to work, as opposed to some other people who find these kind of tasks impossible).
Going to work has helped me a lot. It has provided both routine and support – two things that I don’t think I could have managed without. I’ve experienced no stigma or discrimination and have received nothing but support from my bosses.

At my lowest, I’d wake up in the morning, rush to get ready for work, then as soon as I got in my car I’d start to cry. I’d cry all the way to work, I’d cry drinking my morning cup of tea, and all throughout the first part of the day until around lunch time. Once I started work, I would improve. Being busy helped a lot, but I was incredibly fragile and, at times, found it difficult to adapt around normal situations such as colleagues leaving, and lack of concentration is a common problem with depression.

All the time this was happening, I’d come in each morning to a cup of tea waiting for me on my desk. My colleagues dished out hugs like nobody’s business. They didn’t ask. They didn’t pressurise. They just let me do what I needed to do and were there for me whilst I did it with a constant supply of tea. But also, they knew when to leave me to it and just let me get on with work.

Now as I said, not many workplaces are like this. I am very lucky. So here are some things that you can do yourself.

Walking
I still do this now – when the weather is ok I go for walks on my lunch break. This may be with others or on my own, it doesn’t really matter.

Lists
Making lists to ensure that things don’t become extra overwhelming can be really useful. I love a list and a fancy spreadsheet anyway, but when you feel you have a lot on your plate, it can help to work out what you need to be doing and prioritising each task rather than looking at a big pile and thinking where do I start?

Don’t forget the basics
I’m talking food and water. Don’t forget to drink enough water and continue to eat properly if you can – I went wrong here. We underestimate the power of eating enough, drinking enough, and sleeping enough.

Your evenings are important
If, like me, you work in an office job, don’t neglect your evenings. I have found meditation to be really helpful for me as well as reading a good book (and writing, of course). Remember the importance of self care and give yourself something to look forward to each evening. This may be a bath, your favourite book, your favourite movie etc.

You’re not a machine – know your limits
Although you’re there because you have a job to do, you are still human. Remember to try to be compassionate and treat yourself with a bit of respect. You’re doing great.

Victory lists
I love this one. I’d encourage people to do this generally, whether it be related to your work or not. This is a really nice way of being able to see how far we’ve come. Something that my good pal, Rich, said in his recent video really stuck with me. He compared recovery to a glacier: day-to-day you don’t really see much movement, but when you look back over five years, you think bloody hell it’s moved loads!  This is such a brilliant way of describing recovery. Allow yourself to celebrate your victories, however big or small that they are, and create a list on what you’ve achieved each month.

These really are small tips and I encourage those that need further help to seek it, but don’t underestimate the difference that small changes can make to help you along the way.

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9 Comments

  1. January 15, 2017 / 11:31 am

    Water and walking are so important. Victory lists are a great idea x

  2. January 15, 2017 / 4:21 pm

    Where was this post 3 months ago?! I just quit teaching and now face complete unknown because I had to put my mental health first. I love the victory lists idea too… might have to start doing that! x

  3. January 15, 2017 / 7:26 pm

    This is fantastic, thank you for writing it! Victory lists are really important I think. I know when my anxiety is bad, especially at work which tends to be the biggest trigger for my anxiety, writing a list of everything I’ve achieved, and all the times I did things that made me anxious and they turned out fine! It really helps,

    Liv // petticoatsandpatriarchy.com

  4. January 15, 2017 / 8:32 pm

    All good tips! I found out walking helped me a lot too… As well as anxiety, I used to suffer from SAD every year from October to April. Since I moved to the UK and have a desk job with more normal hours, I walk for an hour every day on my lunch and I have had no symptoms at all since the beginning of winter! Yay!

    I really enjoy reading your blog. xx

  5. January 16, 2017 / 3:09 pm

    I only wish that in the near future I can cope with my work life, just how you are. I’m on the other side of sometimes not being able to work due to my mental health. The stress and anxiety is simple to much and eventually I just can’t do it anymore.
    These are all really useful tips. I’m about to start a new chapter in my life and will be taking these forward with me.

    Alys

  6. January 17, 2017 / 5:40 pm

    What a wonderful blog post. I remember when I was in my early 20s and working an office job in London and I was struggling so bad with anxiety and depression and I didn’t even know I had any mental illnesses so I was just freaking out all the time because I was freaking out all the time!

    I remember one day on MSN chat with some friends at work and something must’ve triggered me and I began to cry right there at my desk and it was like big sobs I couldn’t control. I asked to leave and I walked from east London all the way home to Chiswick. Except when I was walking through Hyde Park, I was so overcome with anxiety I lay down on the grass and curled up into the foetal position until I finally stopped sobbing.

    Now, I know I am ADD, have anxiety and am susceptible to depression. I’m medicated and life has balance again. I never wanted to go on medication but it’s basically saved my life and I’m able to rationally think things through instead of being controlled by my irrational emotions.

  7. January 18, 2017 / 7:33 pm

    This is a really lovely post. It sounds like your work team really care for and cherish you. Its reassuring that their are companies and people out there who are sensitive and nurturing to mental health struggles. Xx I loved your advice…

    Best wishes. Xxx

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