I have a long history of suffering from depression. I felt it before I had a name for it, long before I had a diagnosis and long before I started to try and work through it. In the past I have tried various types of therapy and medications; and I saw some nominal improvements. It can be really tricky to get the right combination of clinical treatments though as we’re all different.
Depression left me wanting to call in sick, stay in bed, binge watch Netflix, eat my body weight in junk food, and cry. Basically I wanted to pretend the world around me didn’t exist. I felt as though there was no way out, completely hopeless, unable to feel joy or happiness, or even mere contentment. I suffered from various unexplained aches and pains and illnesses that confirmed to me that I needed to stay in bed. I wanted to avoid everything around me, including work.
It all sounds very clichéd, but it’s how I felt and how I acted. The thing is though, hiding away and sinking into myself didn’t help at all. Not in the long run.
Work is actually what helped me make it through my struggles with mental health.
Work is actually what helped me make it through my struggles with mental health. Achieving goals is where I think we’re all universal. When we set a goal, no matter how small, we feel good at the achievement of that goal. It doesn’t matter what it is, it could simply be getting up on time in the morning, setting a new personal best at the gym, or winning employee of the month. Achieving that goal makes us feel good which in turn helps to reduce those feelings of depression.
Obviously it’s not as simple as that all the time. When you’re struggling to feel anything positive, achieving a goal as mundane as getting up on time doesn’t necessarily sink in, but consistently setting and achieving goals can help those positive feelings start to take root and you can gradually start feeling better.
At work, there are opportunities to achieve goals throughout the day. Far much more so than if we avoid work. I understand that for some people, taking time out of work can really help, but having thought this would help me in the past, I can say categorically that it didn’t help me. In fact it made it harder because the longer I was not in work, the more time my depression had to take hold of me and the harder it became to eventually go back to work.
About six years ago now, after a break from work, I started back. It was a new admin job for a telecoms company which was a completely new industry for me. I soon felt completely overwhelmed. I barely spoke to anyone for the first few weeks and I was wanting to quit constantly. I would worry that nothing I did was good enough and the work soon piled up because I avoided completing it for fear that it wasn’t perfect. I didn’t want to reach out and ask for help because I was worried that those around me would see how much of a failure I was. In my darkest of times, I saw my struggles at work as just a symptom of a much larger problem – me. If I couldn’t cope with work, let alone everything else in my life, then perhaps I didn’t even deserve to be alive.
I would sit in my car outside the office in the morning having pep talks with myself, trying to calm the unhelpful thoughts that were telling me that I was worthless, and I’d eventually make myself go in. This wasn’t the first time I had been in situations like this and I realised that I couldn’t go on. So despite my mind screaming at me not to, I reached out to my manager, Julie.
Before the meeting with Julie, I thought carefully about what I wanted to say. I thought about the things that made my job so overwhelming, thought about why I was having these thoughts and thought about how I could change things for myself.
As it turned out, and despite my fears, Julie couldn’t have been more supportive. With her help, we worked out some reasonable adjustments to my role. She also helped me to reduce my workload temporarily, to allow me the time to get myself back on top of things, and then she had regular check-ins with me to make sure things were continuing to run smoothly. I soon began to feel much happier in my job role.
Suddenly I was no longer suffering in a pit of despair and I felt so relieved to have shared my struggles with another person. Getting back on top of my workload felt like a huge burden had been lifted. I had broken up my tasks at work into much more manageable chunks and I set myself realistic, achievable goals. I now had a plan for my work that I could employ moving forwards and over time, as I was achieving more and more, I started feeling a lot better about myself.
Work, and specifically the sense of achievement, structure and belonging that it gives me, has helped me feel I have a place in this world; like I’m part of a team, I’m not alone and I have worth. It has helped me to gain the confidence to start really living my life outside of work too, and generally I now live a happier, more fulfilled life.
I got to a very dark, empty place where I couldn’t see a way forward for myself, and I’m not being overly dramatic to say that I could very easily not be here right now. Thanks to being in work though, I am. It’s not just been as simple as achieving in work and then “getting over” my depression, but it has certainly made a big difference. I now have the inner peace and clarity of mind to be able to address the deeper issues that are unfortunately still there. I still have bad days, that’s pretty normal. Everyone does at some point. But the good days definitely outweigh the bad, and for me that’s a great place to be in.
Further reading and useful support materials:
The Spark – Helpline: Counselling and support for depression and anxiety
Benenden Health – How to support employees with depression
Champion Health – Depression Statistics in the UK 2022