Mental health at work - a personal story
As a young person, Angela had no idea that what she was experiencing was anxiety, and it was many years before she realised how important it is to talk about mental health.
The Charlie Waller Trust puts talking about mental health and wellbeing at the heart of its work, one of the main reasons Angela chose to work for the charity: “It’s why Charlie Waller is so important to me,” she says. “The more we talk, the more we find we’re not alone. When I started opening up about my anxiety, other people did too – you discover that so many people are going through the same thing.”
A perfectionist at school
With the benefit of hindsight, Angela realised she was already struggling with anxiety at school. “I had overwhelming feelings of fear – of everything, and a constant sense of dread,” she says. “I had no understanding of what I was experiencing and that was the most isolating part.”
Coupled with her anxiety, Angela is also, in her own words, a “control freak” and a perfectionist. It meant that she turned to academic success as a way to cope. Everyone praised my good grades and that just reinforced my feelings. Only now can I see it was such an unhealthy attitude.”
I had become a functioning adult with a career but I still had no understanding of what I was experiencing, I just hoped it would go away.
Throughout her 20s, Angela lived with crippling but undiagnosed anxiety, and still hadn’t spoken to anyone about it. She says: “I had become a functioning adult with a career but I still had no understanding of what I was experiencing, I just hoped it would go away.”
But then a series of life events triggered a new level of anxiety and she began to have panic attacks. “I was getting breathlessness, heart palpitations, tingling feelings in my body,” she says.
Angela decided it was time to see a doctor, which, in itself, was daunting.
She says: “I had an immediate fear – what if they can’t help? – and was worried about being judged. I was crying and shaking all the way to the doctors.”
Diagnosis – a relief
Angela was diagnosed as having both depression and severe anxiety and instantly felt huge relief that everything she’d been experiencing now had a name. “I felt I could breathe again,” she says, “there was something they could do about it.
Angela was prescribed anti-depressants straight away to help regulate her emotions. They gave her the breathing space to explore ways she could help herself.
Things that help anxiety
Recovery is not straightforward or quick but Angela started to gather what she calls her “toolkit” to help build resilience. She says: “For me, it’s meditation, journaling and exercise. I use the journaling after I’ve had counselling or when I’ve had a bad day, as a way to try to work out what’s happened. Meditation was one of the biggest gamechangers because it’s a way to slow my brain down and question my thoughts.”
Support at work
Angela has mixed experiences of support in the workplace. “One employer had a wellbeing policy,” she says, “but it seemed to be a tick box approach, rather than there being any real support or knowledge.”
She has a lot more confidence in Charlie Waller’s approach to staff experiencing mental health issues. “I haven’t had to call upon it so far, but I know there is support in place,” she says, “and that we have access to counselling, which is my ‘go to’ when things tip into high level anxiety.”
If you’re experiencing anxiety, especially for the first time, it can be scary but you’re not alone.
As someone who has come to terms with her anxiety, Angela has a message for others: “If you’re experiencing anxiety, especially for the first time, it can be scary but you’re not alone. There is support and you need to find what’s right for you because that can last a lifetime.”
Three tips from Angela
- Be compassionate with yourself. Some days anxiety can be frustrating and debilitating, particularly when you feel you can’t do what you want or need to. Being kind to yourself and knowing that it’s OK to feel that way is so much more helpful.
- Explore what works for you to manage your anxiety – we’re all different and everyone’s resilience toolkit will look different.
- When you’re suffering, it can be hard not to feel like giving up if you don’t find the right support quickly, but do persevere.
- Breaking down work into short term tasks to reduce the complexity of someone's work and to provide structure to the working day.
- Agreeing a preferred communication method to help reduce anxiety – for example by avoiding spontaneous phone calls.
- Relocating someone’s workspace to a quieter area to reduce sensory demands.
If you, or someone you know, needs help with issues such as anxiety at the moment, there is information here: