As a leader working for a successful facilities company and, having had a great deal of personal experience with my own mental health, I feel strongly about how I can help to get the conversation going, and raise awareness about mental health with my friends and work colleagues alike.
I wasn’t a leader when my mental health problems began. In fact, looking back I’ve most likely suffered bouts of depression and anxiety since I was a teenager (something I do recognise now). My first real awareness was around 2004, following the birth of my second child Matthew. Everything seemed fine at first and me being the dedicated, work orientated person I have always been, I had planned and did return to work after relatively short maternity leave as I had done with my first child Kyle.
At the time I was serving in the Royal Air Force, as a Movements Controller, a role that I remain extremely proud of. Being in the military demanded that I maintain high levels of organisation and a level head, rightly so. This along with the capability to deploy at any time, meant that I was always juggling my work and personal life. This I found I was good at, giving 100% to everything in a bid to be at the top of my game. I was doing well, after several years I was promoted to Corporal and had received the Commander in Chiefs commendations, in the military new year’s honours list. I’ve always had great ambition and drive, a personal challenge to be the best that I can be.
But then it happened, my ultra-organised life begun to fall apart. Described as post-natal depression, it seemed to take hold of me practically overnight. Things which were once simple easy tasks became, undoable, I couldn’t think straight, I had huge feelings of being overwhelmed and suffered severe bouts of anxiety. I was eventually referred to the mental health team, but little seemed to be effective and for a number of months I remained depressed and unable to carry out even the easiest of tasks. Friends and colleagues avoided me and I lost a great deal of confidence in myself.
I described feelings of my brain being full and foggy, there was no room in the diary in my head. I couldn’t bear to socialise or be around people who weren’t the closest to me.
That was very sadly the end of my 10 year career in the RAF, a job which I’d strived for since a teenager. The one place where I believed I belonged and had intended to stay for many years was over, a fact that deeply saddens me to this day. I was proud to serve my country, but my inability to cope and lack of knowledge on how to handle my mental health destroyed what I loved at that time.
I recognise now that whilst I was diagnosed with post-natal depression at that time, I have since had the odd attack of anxiety and depression which relates to managing stress.
It’s taken a great deal of help and support particularly from my wonderful understanding and supportive husband Jonathan, and over the years I have learned to recognise the symptoms, and how to manage my anxiety.
I actively practice
- Positive self-assurance
- I challenge my negative thinking
- Relaxation techniques
The fact that I have accepted that this is me really does help.
It’s been 13 years since I left the RAF, and over the last few years I’ve become more vocal and volunteered to be a mental health advocate in my work place. I often speak out telling people "it’s good to talk", “its ok, not to be ok”, but I’ve never shared my story.
My silence was borne out of apprehension, dread and the fear of judgement. It’s a fact that people are often too fearful to be honest about their mental health problems.
I want to share my story to encourage people not to shy away from sharing their experiences of mental illness. If I can help even one person to speak open and honestly without fear of ramifications, telling my story was worth it.
I believe my experience of struggling with mental illness has made me a better and more valuable employee, and most definitely made me a better leader.
Let’s make mental health an everyday conversation.