Telling Coworkers About My Anxiety

A few blog posts back, I talked about the struggles I had with telling my coworkers about my anxiety.  I just realized I totally forgot to follow-up on how it all went till I was just reminded by a comment from Daisy Fields from her wonderful blog The Path to Serenity.  Over the last couple of months, I have told about a handful of my coworkers and the experience has been very encouraging and empowering.

So why did I start telling my coworkers about my anxiety?  

I did consciously make a decision to do so.  First of all, I had been having a few rough patches and I felt like I was ready to tell the truth.  I think the years of keeping it a secret started to take a toll on me.  Moreover, I wanted to help, in my small way, break the stigma around mental illness.  I think I also had broken through somewhat from the “why me?” feelings to “why not me?” feelings.  Who better to talk about mental illness to others than someone who has it?

I also wanted to say whether you choose to talk about your mental illness to your coworkers is totally a personal choice.  I have had anxiety for ten years, so it certainly did not happen overnight.  I also feel like you will know when you are ready to talk about it.  To stop this post from getting too long, I will just link a previous post about some things that helped me overcome my anxiety about telling others.  I just also wanted to add that I am totally a work in progress, and by no means do I feel like I can just around talking about my anxiety to anyone.

How did I start these conversations?

Obviously as someone who has anxiety, I had built up a lot of negative thinking about it in my head.  However, it went really well, and I ended getting my to know my coworkers on an even more personal level.  Initially, I chose to tell a few coworkers that I felt would understand and just felt more comfortable with.  And no, I didn’t just bring it up in a random conversation in the staff room.  I feel like the best time to talk is still one and one in a quiet place.  For me, a great catalyst for starting this conversation was just because I had been away quite of a few days this year.  I had taken a few sick days and half days for doctor visits.  It became a natural conversation starter when my coworkers asked where I had been or how I was doing?

How did it go?

I think the initial response has been very sympathetic (“Sorry to hear that”).  Most people understand what anxiety means on some level, and I usually have an analogy prepared in my head to explain it more fully.  I was always worried about having to fend off a million questions about what my mental illness is like.  However, most people don’t ask too much.  Perhaps, they were fearful of sounding too nosy or actually just feeling quite satisfied with my explanation.

Unexpectedly, some of my coworkers starting sharing stories about people they knew with mental illness or have experienced it themselves.  Having them open up about their stories made me less anxious about sharing my own.  In turn, it also made me realize that there might be more understanding about mental illness that I thought.  Sometimes, it feels like no one has it or understands it.  I realized it might just seem this way because many sufferers just don’t talk about it openly.  It could be the stigma or simply because they think it is a personal matter.

Do they see me differently?  Of course.  Every piece of information you learn about someone shapes your impression of them.  That is just life.  However, I feel my experience telling others has been a positive and accepting one.  Mostly though, I just feel super empowered that a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

I have no idea how things will progress from here.  However, it was a good experience overall.  I got some good advice from coworkers, and in turn was able to reciprocate.  Ultimately, it was a good bonding experience between coworkers, and just people.

 

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My 5 Favourite Feelings

 

Hank Green, a well-known Youtuber, created this video a while back about his 15 favourite feelings.  I just loved watching this video because what you like is almost like a small window into your soul.  I did a similar post on my beauty blog, but I thought I would do it again, but with a non-beauty theme.

Moreover, I thought it was such a lovely idea because there are really only a limited number of words you can use to describe a specific feeling.  Sometimes, “happy” or “sad” are not enough to completely encompass all the facets of a feeling.  However, certain feelings associated with certain moments will instantly spark a connection with others.

My 5 Favourite Feelings

Doing Puzzles

I feel like doing your favourite things is a great treatment for anxiety.  It is a form of distraction, and is important source of therapy for me.  At my sickness, I remember my doctor told me it was “better to something than nothing.”  All I could muster at that time was doing puzzles.  I haven’t done a puzzle since then because it reminds me too much of that time in my life.  However, one day, I hope to relive that amazing feeling of finding the piece of that puzzle that finally fits.

Summer Nights

This favourite is very specific.  In the summer, when it is hot outside, I love the feeling of sitting in a bus, with the windows open, and a cool breeze comes through the window.  The feeling is so refreshing and serene for some reason.  I love it especially late in the afternoon when the sun is starting to set.

Thoughtful Gestures

I love the feeling of thoughtful gestures regardless of receiving or giving them.  Self-love is certainly very important, but being loved is also a wonderful feeling.  Having someone show appreciation of “you” as a person through an thoughtful gesture, makes you feel special and validated and that is a lovely feeling.

I also love giving thoughtful gestures.  I love the anticipation of the moment before the gesture.  I love the feeling that I made someone feel good about themselves.  They feel good about themselves, I feel good about myself, it is a win-win.

Wandering

I love wandering through a city.  It could be going somewhere new or just discovering places you haven’t been to in your own city.  I think it is the thrill of just seeing and discovering new specific details about a place.  Tourist attractions are always a must-see, but it is the side streets which I love and seeing the everyday hustle and bustle of the people who live there.

Doing Makeup

I love anything “paint by numbers” style.  I like following steps to complete a project.  Puzzles give me this feeling of satisfaction, but doing makeup also does.  Therefore, other than writing this blog, the other form of distraction therapy I have been doing is writing my beauty blog.  I love the step by step process, from foundation to eyeliner to powder of putting on makeup.  An added bonus is that when you walk outside and you feel an added sense of confidence about yourself.

What are your favourite feelings?  I love to know. Thanks for reading!  🙂

Is Anxiety My Personality?

As I was writing up the Mental Illness Tag by the lovely blogger Becca, one of the questions really got me reflecting about how my mental illness has affected me over the years.  The question was: Has your mental illness stopped you from doing anything?  My answer was that it stopped me from “being me.”

Being the over-thinker I am, I started thinking about what does it mean to “be me?”  What is my personality?  Is anxiety a part of my personality or is it an illness I have?  Are they separate or are they the same?

Yes, at this point, you are probably ready to shake me and tell me to stop.

I guess this whole thought process started when I was getting frustrated with myself a few days ago.

Why couldn’t I just let it go?  Why did I care so much about what people thought?  Why couldn’t I just do everything that “I” wanted to do?

I started missing the “old me.”  The person I felt like I should be in the “purest” sense.  The girl that thought she could change the world, but instead is just trying to fit in now.

What was stopping me?  Was it my mental illness or is anxiety just part of the human experience?  I’d like to think of anxiety as a separate entity, like any illness in the medical books.  However, I think it is truly difficult to separate the two.  I think, whether I like it or not, anxiety is a part of me.

If I didn’t have an anxiety disorder, would I be doing everything I wanted to do?  I don’t know.  On the other hand, I see many people who don’t have an anxiety disorder who are still struggling to find themselves everyday.

So what does this all mean?  I have no idea.  I think all we can do is keep the “real me” alive.  We might never truly be completely “me”, but hopefully, living the journey to find it might be just as satisfying.

Mental Illness Tag

Many bloggers have done the wonderful Mental Illness Tag started by Becca.  Thank you to Becca for starting these discussions about mental health.  I have thoroughly enjoyed reading through many others who have done the tag.  I have enjoyed getting to know more bloggers on a deeper level and see how in a broad sense we are all connected with our experiences.  Ultimately, I feel that each story has made me feel less lonely in my day to day struggles with mental health.

What mental illness do you have?

I mainly struggle with anxiety, but have had a few bouts of depression.

When were you diagnosed?

I have always known that I was a bit more anxious than the average person, but had no idea what an anxiety disorder or depression meant till I was diagnosed 10 years ago.  The official diagnosis by the doctor was clinical depression.  Over the years, doctors have indicated that it is more the anxiety that ultimately leads to the depression.  I have most of the symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Who knows about it?

My immediate family and some of my other family members. All of my close friends know.  The last few months, I have also been comfortable enough to tell some people at work.  The journey from not being able to tell anyone to slowly opening up has been empowering and have made some relationships stronger.  To be honest, it has also been super interesting to see how people respond.

Do you receive treatment for it?

Yes, I currently still see a psychiatrist on an at-need basis.  I have been on and off medication the last 10 years.  Recently, I have been tapering off medication and have been off medication for 5 months now.

Has your mental illness stopped you from doing anything?

I think it has stopped me from being more myself, I guess, sometimes.  For example, I enjoy public speaking, but I find myself often turning opportunities down because of the fear of failure.  Lately, I think sometimes I want to do more in my life, like volunteer, but I am always worried that I can’t handle more stress on top of the other things in my life.

Is there anything in particular that has helped you?

Medication and talk therapy have both helped tremendously. Other than that,  I think talking openly about my illness and how I am feeling has taken a huge burden off my shoulders.  I don’t think I have the confidence to talk to just anybody about it, but not having to hide it all the time, lessens my anxiety tremendously.

I also think exercise, hobbies, and small distractions have also been helpful.  I find listening to music and podcasts really help me when I have quiet time when I often will ruminate about things.  More than anything, writing blogs has been one of my big hobbies lately and has helped me tremendously when I start overthinking.  For example, instead of worrying about something, I will stop myself and start thinking about what I am going to write in my next blog post.  Plus, reading everyone’s first-hand experiences on these blogs have been very helpful.

Can you describe how it feels like to have your mental illness?

Most people understand anxiety on some level.  I usually explain it as a more consistent and magnified version of their anxiety.  It is like having a song looping continuously all day, but instead of it being your favourite song, it is your anxious thoughts.  Sometimes, these anxieties can fade into the background when you are busy at work or distracted with something else.  However, when it is quiet, all you hear is that anxious “song” loop again and again in your head.  It becomes a struggle to continually push it into the background and sometimes, it literally becomes impossible.

What is a common misconception about your illness?

I think an initial misconception about anxiety and depression is why we can’t just get over it.  I have gotten a lot of well-intended advice, like “think positively” or “there are people who have it way worse than you do,” because I think it is hard for others to grasp that it truly is an illness.  Like any illness, when it gets too much to handle, we go see the doctor and get the appropriate treatment.  I think most of us who have mental illness would agree, that if we could, we could try to get over it, but it is not that simple.  Another misconception is that we are weak, but personally, I think we are the strong ones to be able to fight this illness day in and day out.

What do you find the most difficult to deal with?

I think the most difficult thing to deal with is the illness itself.  I find it very exhausting to continually manage it everyday. There are some days when it does get easier, but when it is rough, it can get very exhausting just trying to keep your head above water.  I also still find dealing with the stigma difficult sometimes.  It can get exhausting to repeatedly explain to others about my mental illness.  Sometimes, I don’t feel like talking about it, and making lies about it can be stressful sometimes.

Do you have anything else you’d like to say?

Even though there is still stigma surrounding mental illness, I feel like more and more people are speaking about it.  I feel hopeful that one day we can talk about openly and freely without any apprehension.

Thanks for reading!  🙂

I Think You Are Doing Great

“I think that are you doing great”

Those were not the words I expected to hear from my doctor.

I went to see my doctor because I felt I was spiralling out of control again.  Since I had gone off my medication, I have had more bouts of insomnia, had a mini meltdown at work, and felt overwhelmed easily.

I had expected him to agree with me when I told him wanted to go back on medication or take some time off work.

But instead he said, “I think you are doing great”

What???  Not what I expected to hear.  When I told my partner, he said to me “That is what I’ve been telling you, you’re doing great.”

I was once again reminded that with mental illness, we live a lot in our heads.  We feed off our own perceptions of how we feel and what others think about us.  To us, these emotions are valid and real. However, sometimes, when we can step back and remove ourselves from these perceptions for a moment, and do an almost scientific dissection of the truth, we might find a completely different perspective of our situation.

I realized that when I stepped back and looked at how I was doing the last four months as a whole, I was probably having a better month then I did in January. The beginning of the year was the first time I had been off medication for a while.  I had trouble sleeping many nights and felt like I was anxious 24/7.  This month, I did have a big meltdown at work, but other than that, I had been sleeping alright, and I was anxious some days only.

I learnt that sometimes it is worthwhile to double-check “how you’re doing” with others.  Sometimes, other might have a clearer image of us.   A huge part of anxiety is the negative thinking.  We get sucked into this tunnel of negativity.  Everything becomes razor focused, but instead sometimes we should step back and look at the big picture.  It might really being a beautiful day.

Hope you have a good week.  Thanks for reading.  🙂