Former charity campaigner
Mencap and MDUK
Posted 3 years ago
Recently, I feel I have found my happy place in my work life again. It is a truly fabulous feeling. A by-product of this is that it has made me very conscious of just how unhappy I had been a few years ago and how that unhappiness seeped into everything to do with how I viewed my work and my work self. It was toxic and I realise now how much it has undermined my self confidence and self worth.
I won’t go into the details of the “what” and “why” of this feeling as it is still raw, in truth, and I would rather leave that in the past, take the lessons with me and focus on the future. The purpose of this post is to share some insights I have gleaned from my own experiences which I hope will help others in the sector spot the signs of colleagues struggling or be able to identify warning signs in themselves.
This isn’t meant as a “woe is me” post. I debated taking advantage of the anonymous function that the community offers but ultimately felt it was important to own my experience and speak with openness, particularly as I have taken huge comfort from others in the sector (and beyond) who have candidly shared their experiences.
Change in appearance; it could be something subtle like noticing someone looks more tired than usual or something more dramatic. One of the lovely manifestations of my unhappiness was that I developed a rather aggressive looking rash over my neck, chest and back- my bodies helpful way of telling me to chill out. I was really self conscious of it but it was also really scratchy and uncomfortable; a multisensory reminder that things weren’t great. I wasn’t sleeping well. I also gained weight due to avoiding exercise, comfort eating and drinking regularly to manage my mood. I wasn’t completely conscious of how this affected my appearance at the time but have noticed how many old colleagues have made comments about how “well” I look when I have seen them more recently.
Withdrawing from social situations; you may notice people not engaging in the same way at work or avoiding work drinks etc. Now, I am a natural introvert, so I’m not necessarily the life and soul of the party but am pretty social at work, particularly around those I am close to. When things were bad I wanted to be a hermit. I would listen to music at my desk to disconnect from my surroundings and would avoid going out for drinks with friends to avoid work chat.
Change to normal work routine; we all know our colleagues “normal” work routine. If this starts to shift then it could be a sign that something isn’t right. Personally, I like working in the office as I thrive off the company and activity around me (that’s not to say there aren’t times I hanker for my University days of being locked away in solitude in a library or my room!) My natural inclination is to get into the office a bit early and stay a bit later. During my negative period I would try to minimise my time at work to manage my triggers. I would rigidly try to stick to my work hours and would work from home as often as I could.
Increased sickness; this is one that I think we all know to look out for but it is still worth saying. I have prided myself since my school days at having a low sickness record. I come from a long line of women who doggedly soldier on when feeling absolutely rubbish and often have to be asked to go home by colleagues when I have a disgusting cold (sorry guys). My low mood and anxiety manifested physically for me. I started getting migraines frequently, something I had thankfully been spared most of my life. I would also get extreme waves of nausea and stomach troubles at the thought of going to work (and on the release of leaving the office). As such, I took more days of sick or worked from home.
Crying; now, anyone that knows me knows that I am a crier. If I am really happy about something I will cry. If I am really sad about something I will cry. I used to be the test pilot for videos- if I didn’t cry then nobody else was going to. However, when my mood is low I will cry at almost anything. I became a master at the silent bathroom cry so as not to make colleagues uncomfortable or concerned but I am sure people spotted the signs- there is only so much that makeup and tissues can hide!
If you notice yourself or someone you work with displaying some of these traits then check in with them. It could be nothing but it could also be a sign of something being wrong at work, home or both.
I was (and am) very lucky to be surrounded by fabulous family, friends and colleagues (both past and present) who spotted some of the signs with me, offered support and have been integral in getting me through everything. To them all I would like to say a heartfelt thanks.
We are a caring sector and it’s one of the things that makes working in the charity world so special. Hopefully this post will prompt some open discussion about the struggles we can all face and remind anyone else who is struggling that they are not alone and that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. ❤