I had never heard of the word anxiety. I had heard of depression but didn’t understand it, and at that point, I never thought it would hit me.
In 2012 I graduated with a 2:1 degree, made amazing friends and I was working for a company I loved. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out where I was working and I decided to leave my job and search for another one. It was a hard decision walking away from the company I loved but I knew I had my education and experience on my side.
In February 2013 I attended a football match, I was the biggest football fan in the world! I watched games from all different leagues regardless of who was playing, but visiting this particular stadium was a big part of my life, it was like a dream. What I didn’t realise was I was gaining anxiety. I was sat in high seats and had an overwhelming feeling, I had no idea what this was - all I knew was that I felt light-headed continuously, which lead to me experiencing my first ’fight-or-flight’ sensation. I ran to the closest tube station and went home confused and emotional.
What does depression look like?
After this episode, things just got worse. I didn’t leave the house, I constantly felt paranoid and emotional, my confidence had completely gone. I become completely unsociable. I was unemployed and applying for at least 10 jobs a day doing anything.
It took someone close to me to see the signs of depression. My idea of depression was an older person who had lost everything, not someone who’s just graduated from university with their whole life ahead of them. This goes to show mental health can impact anyone at any age, at any stage of their life.
I was lucky - I gained medical help and eventually got a local job at the same time. The hardest thing I had to do was tell my new boss I had a mental health issue. There's a lot of negative stigma surrounding mental health, especially in the Asian community, but I was lucky I had an understanding manager and team who helped me gain my confidence back.
I eventually went back to work in the career I loved but I still wasn’t myself. I was quiet, I had no confidence and had to do ‘rituals’ to get me through the day. For example, I would sit and do exercises from my desk to keep my mind occupied and anxiety down.
This is where I believe understanding of mental health in the workplace is severely lacking. Looking back, it also shows how untrained my manager was; advising a colleague ‘try to make her more talkative’ was the wrong approach. Hopefully, in time there will be a movement towards ‘we have a new starter who isn’t settling in too well, let me see how she’s adapting to change’, and more understanding about anxiety and depression.
Opening up about my mental health
Luckily, I met someone who I was able to open up to, and this was the real start of my recovery. I felt comfortable confiding in what I had been through and how I felt. Instead of thinking, “I’m taking a risk and being judged”, I felt I could comfortably be myself again.
The conversations didn’t feel difficult; it felt like a genuine conversation where I could talk about my stress and anxieties. I gained my confidence back and become sociable. Importantly, I become happy again, and I started travelling which I would never have done without having someone to confide my fears in.
The biggest achievement was going back to passion, my football. Never did I think I would ever attend a football match again in my life - and here I was sitting among 90,000 people at Wembley.
Taking a different approach
I thought my anxiety and depression were beyond me…but they came back. The difference this time was that I knew what anxiety and depression were, I knew what was going to happen, but most importantly I knew I wanted to fight this.
I did slip down a bad path and my behaviours and actions were not me at all. However, I was open and honest to my friend who helped me through before, and it helped me realise I had motives to continue and get back to being myself.
This is when I decided to become a mental health first aider. Since I've been open about my mental health difficulties, people have been able to open up to me in the same way I was able to open up to my friend. For that reason, all the training I have done has been worth it.
I believe we still have a long way to go for society to understand how to deal with mental health, but there is positive movement towards better mental health awareness.