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.