Real-life mental health stories: a lifelong battle

This blog post is part of an interview series for mental health awareness week. In this series, different people give their perspective on living with a mental health condition.

In certain cases as with the interview below, people have had the courage to share but were not comfortable revealing their identity. For this reason, the interview is anonymous.

Who are you and why did you decide to share you story?

I am a 39-year-old who works as a Public Relations VP in New York.

When was the first time you became aware you were suffering from a mental health/wellness issue?

I have always had anxiety issues, ever since I was a little kid. However, my anxiety was amplified tenfold when I started my career. My second job in advertising was very stressful, working for a major global brand. I used to come home every evening and lie in bed with a pillow over my head for about 35 min to calm down from the day’s work. Over time, this has subsided. I have learned which situations warrant stress and manage my stress much better now, thanks to experience.

What were you feeling/what did you experience that made you aware of it?

I would get really nauseous, experience “hot flashes”, and feel a little light headed.

What was your job at the time?

I was a Project Manager in Advertising, at a large agency based in Chicago.

What was the relationship of your job to the mental health problems?

My job amplified my anxiety. I probably shouldn’t have picked a career in marketing as it is often very stressful with intense deadlines. However over time and having spent my career in agency, I feel that I have become desensitized because this type of environment has become normal to me. I therefore feel that I can reason away my stress, due to my experience.

What did you do about it?

I am a big advocate of psychiatry. Mental health is still very stigmatized in some places around the world and shrugged off as a “lifestyle issue” or a quick environmental fix.

I take exception to that point of view and feel that most people can benefit from therapy: learning why they have an issue and how to handle it. We go to the dentist to take care of our teeth why not go to the therapist or psychiatrist to take care of our brains and mental health?

I also don’t subscribe to the thinking that medications are a bad thing. When you get the flu you take medicine, some people have asthma or diabetes and have to take medicine every day to manage their conditions, which is seen as normal and acceptable.

However I see a lot of negativity around medication for mental health, which I feel can be ignorant and harmful. This stigma makes people who need medication to manage their mental health feel bad about asking for them or unwilling to take them, whereas the truth is, they can change your life if you really need it.

How do you feel now? How did taking those steps make you feel, and have they helped?

Therapy has changed my life, as have anti-anxiety medications. I am able to handle situations that I would have struggled with and am grateful for this help.

What are your lessons learned with regards to mental health, and work?

I think I am still learning lessons regarding my mental health and work, even though I’ve been working for about 14 years. One of my biggest learnings is how a work environment can affect your mental well-being, both negatively and positively.

There is definitely such a thing as a toxic work environment and I have had at least two positions that I would group into that category. These are places where you are not supported, not valued, where an aggressive culture exists, and you might feel judged or unsafe to bring forth ideas. Usually, these issues are symptoms of a greater problem in the organization like mismanagement from the top or lack of transparency throughout. But just like in relationships, the way you relate to and interact with a role or company can have an enormous impact on your life.

People who are in complicated or even abusive relationships are affected by that reality every day of their lives. I think being honest with yourself as to how and why you got into a toxic relationship (work or otherwise) can be the most difficult question and once it’s answered honestly it can change your outlook forever.

On the other hand, a positive work environment where you feel supported, safe and even empowered, can add meaning to your life and make each day happier and more fulfilling. In order to realize a positive environment and capitalize upon it, I try to take a macro look at my relationship with any job. Its easy to get bogged down in the minutia and details of everyday stuff but when you take a step back and ask yourself: “does this job challenge me? Does it make me feel good, want to strive for more, and help me learn and become a more well rounded professional?”. If the answers are yes, your mental health and well-being will only be stronger and healthier. A “no” answer should be a sign to cut ties and look for something else.

What are you doing today, to actively manage your mental health?

I go to therapy, take my prescribed medications, and stay active. Every few months I take a day off work, I call it a “mental health day” and I just take care of myself.

I think everyone needs a day like this sometimes and it’s important to be able to identify when you need a little break. You will come back recharged and well rested. I don’t necessarily need a big vacation just a day to unwind.

What are your next steps?

Keep on keeping on. I will continue actively managing and working on my mental health, and asking for help when I need it.

What would you like to say to someone who is suffering in silence from a mental health issue?

I would really encourage you to seek help from a professional. It can be really difficult to suffer in silence and try to work through your issues alone. Professionals have experience with mental health and will be able to help you find what works best for you.

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