August 25, 2017

I first experienced warning signs of my impending breakdown in autumn 2008. I'd been working long hours in a major bank, the financial crisis was kicking off and there were widespread rumours of large scale redundancies - or even the bank going bust. I’d just bought a house, my girlfriend's income was fairly unpredictable, and we were quite stretched financially.

I was going to the toilets at work to cry once or twice a day - sobbing, trying desperately not to make any noise. I was terrified that colleagues - and bosses - might find out about what I perceived as 'weakness'.

One day in October, I physically couldn't get to work - I just started to cry as I put my suit on, and couldn't stop. I took a couple of days off, then tried again. I made it halfway on the tube, before having what I know now was a panic attack. I called my girlfriend, who came to take me home.

I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and it got much worse before it got better. It was a fairly unpleasant nine months, with daily suicidal thoughts and a reasonably generous allocation of crying and panic attacks. Leaving the house became a real issue. Simple decisions - which socks to wear, or what to buy for lunch - were enough to reduce me to a sobbing, snotty mess.

The culture at work, looking back, was quite odd. It was fairly assertive and masculine - illness roughly equated to weakness, and mental health wasn't ever mentioned. We were well paid, and our job was to suck up pressure, work long hours and produce good work at all times – and this certainly didn't help when I began to struggle. A big part of the problem for me was self-stigma - I was disgusted at my own 'weakness'. How dare I be unwell, when I enjoyed good physical health, a wonderful girlfriend etc?

I was off work for a prolonged time, and my immediate boss was very supportive - one work friend was also hugely helpful. Yet otherwise, there was fairly minimal contact. I was surprised there wasn't a 'get well' card sent. It could have made a real difference, knowing that people cared. I'm certainly not blaming anyone I worked with - it was indicative of wider attitudes, and stigma, towards mental health. I think the situation now would be different - attitudes have shifted so much in the last 5-10 years, thanks largely to work by campaigns like Time to Change.

As I recovered, I started to work part-time. I moved into the charity sector and gradually returned to work full time - essentially doing a very similar job now to what I was doing in banking.

I genuinely think now that my mental illness was an asset. I'm much more conscious about the need to achieve a better work-life balance; I now live in a more moderate, healthy way, with a shorter working week and less late nights. Also working in a more sympathetic sector, I've always been honest about my breakdown and I think being able to talk openly about stuff helps hugely. There have been a couple of times I've said to various bosses that I'm struggling a little, and their response has always been really positive and supportive - what can they do to help? I think my focus on staying healthy and my awareness of mental wellbeing makes me a better and more productive employee. Ultimately, being open and willing to talk about mental health has to be good news for employers, and good news for staff.

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Depression at work

I often read the stories on the time to change posts I get on Facebook. I really identify with Joe and his experience of depression and anxiety at work. I've now had significant time of work after 2 hospital admissions this year and not a single member of the organisation has thought to send a get well card. When you feel worthless it just excaserbates that feeling. My immediate team I work with have been supportive but it seems to be a big secret why I disappear from work for months at a time. I've had a really difficult year and only once has me supervisor actually asked the question 'how are you?' How can we change this attitude towards mental health?

Spot on

Thanks ... well written and I am learning from stories like these. The reality is that some industres or roles can accomodate mental health conditions better than others. Its hard self-moderating until you are forced to - like in your story. And mine too. Thanks. I am not alone.


I've been working for walmart for ten years. I've been trying to get back into the printing\publishing field. The only jobs there is are temp jobs. I also hide my crying in the bathroom.

Joe..thank you for sharing. I

Joe..thank you for sharing. I worked in high pressure international corporation in a male dominated industry . whilst mental health was gradually becoming part of the discussion on wellbeing it still was interpretted as weakness. Having experienced the river flooding tears for everything and inability to leave house , answer a phone, talk to anyone and hidden in toilets more times i would have cared to know i agree totally on the perspective i now have on life and whilst not on a big salary anymore my world is a wholely happy one. Shame the pressures of modern society and "have it all" can drive such pain. It doesnt have to be that way and employers need to stop pushing mental health sufferers back to work all the time.

MY first anxiety attack

I'm glad i can read stories like this so i know I'm not alone or crazy. I experienced my first anxiety attack September 14,2017 i was woken up from my sleep held my chest feeling like i was about to have a heart attack i kept pacing back and forth telling myself to breath i literally thought this is it I'm about to die. I told my fiance to call an abundance anyway i end up going to the ER and found out after the Doctors took my vitals ,EKG and x-ray that i was perfectly alright i had experienced an anxiety attack i thought how i was sleep i was told it can happened while your sound asleep our brains don't stop just because your asleep. I'm reading other stories about people experiences going through anxiety I'm glad that I'm not crazy and alone .

Anxiety and depression

Its good to read these posts from other men. I'm really rock bottom at the moment, having had my own business for 16 years and now hopefully selling my share due to an ongoing dispute with the other biz partner thats been going on for over a year. I'm lost and feel i have no skills or get up and go. I have butterflies in my stomach mostly on a morning which gives me really bad diahorrea, i wake up early and cant get back to sleep through worry and stress of work and what I'm going to do next. I have a girlfriend and 2 children to support. Negative bad thoughts whizzing round and round my head. I feel weak and useless.

Have been signed off work and quit!

Hi Joe Thank you so much for sharing your story. I can relate so much. I have been working in a high pressure, low pay, relentlessly stressful job for the past 2 years and I recently spent one weekend completely paralysed with the anxiety and workload I was facing. I had several panic attacks the Sunday night and come Monday morning, experienced the exact same feeling of just not being able to get myself to work. It felt like my body literally took me to the doctors that morning without even have time to think about what was happening. The doctor signed me off and now I will never look back. I also feel like although such a horrible period of my life, I would never change it as this has strangely been so positive and life changing for me in the best way because now all my friends and family know and they have been overwhelmingly loving and supporting, my colleagues know and I am hoping that it sparks some positive change to the work culture where mental health is never discussed and everyone always has to be appearing as being on their A game. I used to also go to the toilets just to breath and bury my head between my hands too and I can imagine lots of others to do which is so sad. No job or company should compromise your health and make you feel like that. I now value my health and work life balance and feel like a much more open and positive person! I really benefitted from having some CBT too and would recommend it to anyone. I'm still recovering and get my abxious days but in general my outlook is positive so onwards and upwards! If anyone is experiencing the same, I hope you get some inspiration to make the change. Feeling like this is just not worth it, it is just a job and there is a wonderful and positive life for you to lead on the other side!

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