How My Career Destroyed My Mental Health (and Made Me Stronger)
“If my job hadn’t pushed me to the point of breaking, I may have never gone to the doctor, received a diagnosis, and started working toward managing my mental health.”
Growing up, my mother referred to me as a “worrywart.” I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t in at least a mild state of panic. I was terrified of almost everything, paranoid to the point of tears, and incredibly uncomfortable around people I didn’t know. Sometimes it would get so bad that my emotions would overwhelm me to the point of vomiting. These feelings and behaviours reached a climax around my twelfth year and then slowly began to recede.
But the sense that I was one step away from everything blowing up in my face never quite left.
Fast forward to 2013 — I was 28 years old and had just started a promising new job. It was one of those moments in life where I felt like everything was coming up roses. A new chapter of my life was starting, and I was hungry for it. I suppose it was fortunate that I had no idea what was coming.
Open Office Hell
At first, the open office environment seemed new and exciting. I liked the “hip tech company” vibe it gave off and loved hearing the chatter of my deskmates. However, as time went on, I found myself more agitated than I’d ever been before. Every noise, every smell, every sensation set me on edge. I felt like one giant, raw nerve, and it was only getting worse. I decided it was time to talk to my doctor and see what was going on.
After explaining my symptoms (not to mention my childhood experiences), my doctor diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). He put me on a low dose of antidepressants and suggested I talk to a therapist. I scoffed at the idea — after all, I had the solution in a pill bottle, why waste money talking to someone?
But the antidepressants weren’t cutting it. The office was becoming too much to handle. I was constantly overstimulated, often putting in headphones blasting white noise and cinching the hood of my sweatshirt tight around my face in an effort to stop the ceaseless sensory input I was inundated with. I upped my dosage two more times (with my doctor’s permission, of course), but it just wasn’t enough. Something had to give.
Turns out that something was me.
It seems strange looking back, but I can’t remember what finally pushed me over the edge. Despite taking antidepressants, chugging Kava like it was going out of style, and the white noise over my headphones and gentle pressure of my hoodie, I couldn’t keep it together. After my third panic attack at work in as many weeks, I knew I had to do something drastic.
In a private meeting with my boss, I explained the shattered state of my mental health while holding back tears. I told him that I didn’t have a solution to offer, but was at my wits’ end and needed his help. To his credit, he handled the situation like a pro. Though remote work was outright banned by the company, he suggested that it was likely the best course of action. He told me to get a note from my doctor and file it with HR, and we’d work out a plan from there.
Finding Myself Again
According to Pepperdine University, mental health issues cost American businesses $150 billion in losses every year. Perhaps that’s why more and more organizations are focusing on helping their employees rather than simply ignoring the problem. I was one of the lucky ones, as my company decided to support me instead of forcing me out the door.
I began working remotely full time about a week after the conversation with my boss. I also decided to take my doctor’s advice and see a therapist. I received a recommendation from a friend and found the most amazing therapist on the planet (seriously, she’s an angel). Through everything I’ve learned from her and the comfortable and quiet environment I have working from home, I’ve not only recovered my sanity, I’ve also become a far more engaged and productive employee.
Six months after I started working from home, my company introduced a remote work policy. My coworkers now have the choice to work in the space that suits them best, and productivity has soared. Those of us who are introverted, anxious, or both (as in my case) have found a veritable Eden in our own homes — and we’re finally in a place to prove just how amazing we can be.
In my darkest moments, I never imagined that I would come out the other side of this as a stronger woman. I’m far more in touch with my emotions and have a much better handle on my mental health. I know my triggers, I take self-care very seriously, and I heed both my doctor and therapist’s advice. Furthermore, I’ve become an advocate for mental illness. Not only do I want to help destroy the stigma that surrounds it, I want to help others like me find the peace they deserve.
Though I still have bad days, I’m learning how to find the silver lining in every cloud. If my job hadn’t pushed me to the point of breaking, I may have never gone to the doctor, received a diagnosis, and started working toward managing my mental health. I’ll be fighting this battle for the rest of my life, but at least now I know the enemy and how to subdue it. And that’s worth all the clouds in the world.
If you, or someone you know, is in crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (US) at 1-800-273-8255 or Samaritans(UK) at 116 123.