I’ve experienced mental health problems for many years now, but apart from a few close friends and family members, I found it hard to talk about. I felt that no one around me could understand what I was going through just trying to get through day-to-day life, at work and generally.
In 2018 I had a particularly negative experience in my workplace at the time. I disclosed my generalised anxiety disorder and social anxiety to my line manager. She gave a dismissive response and an unfortunate, repeated stigmatising attitude.
I told her my main anxiety attack trigger was receiving emails and Skype messages for ‘a quick chat’ without context. This was ignored and the messages continued. My mental health massively deteriorated as a result, leaving me feeling like I was sitting on a cliff edge.
I convinced myself I was overreacting and as a result, as things got worse, I didn’t realise how ill I was. I felt unable to be myself at work – I had to have a ‘mask’ on all the time. I was terrified of taking time off, and now I see I wasn’t a very nice person to be around while I was going through this, projecting my feelings onto family and close friends.
Near the end of that year, I requested to be re-referred to occupational health several times, and I was brushed aside. By Christmas, everything had built up and it led to a near breakdown. When I returned to work in the new year, I faced a disciplinary for repeated absences. I now realise that I was discriminated against for my mental health. Not long after this, I resigned from the company.
Fortunately, not all employers are like that. In my most recent job, it was the opposite experience. At first, I was apprehensive about being open about my mental health because of my previous experience, but I decided to be thoroughly open and honest. I shared information about my mental health and my previous experience of discrimination at work…and I got a brilliantly positive response.
They asked me what they could do to help. I just asked them to listen and not to judge, to treat me like anyone else. As a result, I produced a great standard of work.
Becoming a Champion
Last year I attended the launch of Time to Change York. After the event, I knew it was something I was going to be really active in. The first few local Champions meetings left me feeling re-energised, and the passion from everyone in the room was amazing. I had opportunities to speak and ‘find my voice’. It also gave me the chance to work with like-minded people that just ‘get it’ and know what it’s like to have mental ill health, to face stigma and discrimination, and to try to just be a functioning member of society. I felt I finally had a place I belonged.
The work I did through Time to Change York gave me a lot of confidence, and finally I was successfully managing to control my social anxiety. With support from my fellow Champions and our Coordinator, I was able to speak on local radio about the work we’d been doing in York. I also spoke about my experiences within the community, and started writing and performing poetry live on Zoom meetings and at open mic nights, something I never thought I’d be able to do a few years ago!
I have had fantastic support from the Time to Change York community matched with infectious enthusiasm. Being a Champion has, in effect, changed my life for much better, and without it, I probably wouldn’t be here now.