Normalizing mental health has been quite the theme for the last year and a half and for very good reason. Mental health has been at the forefront of many conversations, whether they’re happening at home or at work. People are coming to realize, share, and extend helping hands when the topic arises. Which is why I wanted to share my experience with mental health in the workplace with others.
Having been off work for a greater part of the pandemic, there were some challenging times in regards to my mental health. Everything I previously did for self-care was untouchable. It made things hard, made things difficult. I found new ways to cope, like using my Five Minute Journal and taking walks in the winter time. I did what I could manage and with what was available around me.
New Job, New Normal
Fast forward to current day where I’ve begun a new job with a new company. I had to remember what it was like to actually work for someone other than Bath Buddies and my blog. The transition was great but the hours were something I had to adjust to after not having a regimented schedule for so long. And then all of a sudden, there I was. Just shy of my two month anniversary of being with my new employer crying on the phone to my boss about how anxious I was.
I was triggered one morning by a non-work related stressor and felt panic almost immediately. Driving to a building, I began having a panic attack in my car. My vision was blurred, the road began to twist, I couldn’t breathe, tears were streaming down my face, and in a single second I felt like the world was coming down on me. I made a questionable left hand turn and stepped on the gas so I could get to my destination to park my car.
Once I got there, I was gasping for air and put the air conditioning at full blast to help cool myself down. Slowly I started to come down from it and drank some water to help catch my breath. After ten minutes or so of calming down, I wiped my tears away, put my mask on, and entered the building as if nothing had happened. You would have thought I was having a great day by how I was able to hide what I had just experienced in my car moments earlier.
Putting on A Brave Face
Entering the building, I gathered what I needed and was about to leave when my work phone began to ring. I cringed because I knew I was going to have to put on a happy voice but I answered anyway. My supervisor called and just so happened to ask me how the day was going and how I was doing.
Pausing a very long pause, I opened the door to an empty room and began balling my eyes out. I told her I wasn’t okay and that I was feeling extremely anxious and stressed. I began rambling and apologizing, saying I was sorry I couldn’t keep myself together. To which she responded multiple times with, “Alex, it’s okay. You don’t need to be sorry”. I asked her if I could sit in my car for half an hour to collect myself before going about my day again. She said absolutely and to keep her posted within the hour with how I was doing.
I went straight back to my car and had another panic attack.
This one lasted a little longer and took me more time to come down from it and be able to move again. I bounced back and forth with the idea of going home to finish my work day as it was only 11:30 am and the long day ahead seemed unbearable. Like a ping pong game, I went back and forth until I finally made the decision to finish my work day at work. I know I’m a strong person and I knew I’d be able to muddle through the rest of my day. I really didn’t want to, but I knew I could do it.
And just when I had made the decision to stay for the day, my boss called back to check in. Well passed the hour that she had mentioned, she called to tell me it was okay for me to take the day and go home. Not even to work from home, but to go home and decompress.
I cannot even begin to tell you the relief that came over me when I heard those words. It felt like the world that was previously sitting on my shoulders lifted and more. I didn’t want to go back to work but I was going to because I’m still new to the job. I didn’t want to disappoint my new employer and come across as though I couldn’t keep myself in check. But she reassured me it was all okay and that she 100% supported it. She told me numerous times that my mental health was far more important than anything at work. That things will always be there and they can wait. The relief of hearing those words were everything in that moment. Not everyone is so lucky and a wave of gratefulness swept over me.
Panic attacks drain me, both physically and mentally. They are absolutely exhausting to come back from. It’s like all your energy for the day is used up in those ten minutes of an attack and you’re just completely spent after.
I went home and slept until 5 pm.
All of this to say, find a workplace that values you as a person. A person who has feelings and needs and not just there to put in a sold 8 hours of work. You’re a human first, employee second.
What Happened Next
The next day I coincidentally had a therapy appointment and I brought up what happened at work. The first thing my therapist replied with was, “wow, sounds like you have a great boss”. I had tears in my eyes as I nodded agreeing with her. It’s one thing to have a good boss, but it’s a whole other thing when you’re two months in and your boss tells you to take the day for your mental health.
When I went back to work the next day, I had two supervisors check in on me. They offered support, gave me solutions, and simply asked if I was okay. I thanked them and told them I was grateful to have their support. I would by lying though if I didn’t say I was slightly embarrassed at what had happened, but as they both reminded me, it’s okay to need to take time for yourself. Work will always come second.
After those conversations, I was able to go about the next day perfectly fine. I was rested and in a much better mental state to do my job.
Put Yourself & Mental Health First
If you’re not as lucky to have the support that I experienced, you need to put yourself first. When I was contemplating staying at work that day, I was putting my job before my health. I wasn’t okay but was going to stay and work anyway. Had my boss not called me and told me to go home, I would have stayed and probably would have gotten worse throughout the day.
Be an advocate for yourself. Speak up for yourself when you know you’re not okay and put your needs first. Those who understand are worth having around you and those who don’t, aren’t.
Mental health has become something we’re all a little more aware of these days, so be easy on yourself. And find a job who values you for who you are as a person, as well as an employee.
A Special thank you to Sarah from @xosarahdesigns for kindly gifting these stickers. They are absolutely beautiful to look at and the most perfect addition to any journal or agenda for friendly mental health reminders. She has an abundance of cute, mental health stickers that you can add to yours. Check out her Etsy page to see more!
To read more about Mental Health topics on the blog, you can find them here!