Guest post by Llew Dowley
Llew Dowley is the author of Crazy Mummy Syndrome and founder of The Buzz Writer. Llew was diagnosed with depression and anxiety after the birth of her second child. On World Mental Health Day, Llew shares her own experience of dealing with depression in the workplace and how that led her to where she is now.
I have spoken to a few people lately who have made major changes to the way they work. One has just quit her job to travel the world with her husband, and the other has moved into another department within her organisation.
Yet both of them have said the exact same thing to me.
‘I didn’t know how unhappy I was until I left.’
It is a situation I know all too well.
After the birth of my second child I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. It had been with me for years, but was only diagnosed following a major breakdown. I sought help from my GP, took up running, fundraised, and became an advocate for educating the community in how mental health is important for everyone.
When I returned to work following the birth of my son, I was honest and upfront with my managers and informed them that I was learning to live with my depression. Working for one of the big four banks in the Sydney CBD, I had been travelling from the southern suburbs of Sydney four days a week for the past two years since returning to work. And whilst I loved the people I was working with, I had no motivation to turn up to work everyday. And this had nothing to do with my mental illness.
The lack of understanding towards how mental illness effects someone within the workplace was something that I dealt with on a daily basis. You would think that in a big company such as this, there would be training or at least education as on how to offer support and what to be aware of. But there was none. All I was given was the number to a care line hosted by the organisation.
As the weeks went by, I found there was minimal work, and most of my time in the office was wasted. We were waiting for a big project to be approved so that we would get back into the full swing of things. And to anyone who has been in a similar situation, boredom breeds depression. Not having anything to distract your mind at work, can often lead to too much thinking, which only adds to the negative thoughts you hold onto. My head would just get on top of me and there were days where I couldn’t bear the thought of boarding a train to work. These were the days I would call in and say I was working from home.
I always notified my superiors, and would explain that I was having a tough time mentally and that I just needed to stay home, and not be around people. My honesty was the one thing I take pride in. So when I did return to work, and was subjected to comments from the other staff along the lines of – ‘Oh your happy to be around people today?’ – it felt as if my honest explanations were the butt of the office jokes.
Then earlier this year, I reached breaking point. Without going into detail, I’d had enough of the snide remarks, the genuine lack of understanding, and naive comments that were said directly to my face. I packed up my things, left work early and came home shaking because I was so distraught at the lack of care.
The next day I was back at my GP’s, asking for a stress leave certificate for the next two weeks. I called my manager and she understood. I have to say that the lack of understanding wasn’t from my managers, but more so from some of my colleagues, who thought I was having a lend.
It was during my two weeks stress leave that I made the decision to take a 12 month career break. I had my business, The Buzz Writer as a side project at that stage. I thought this would be as good a time as any to give my business the chance to succeed. And now six months later, I can honestly say it has been the best decision I have ever made.
It was a major leap of faith, and I had no idea if I was going to be able to make the business float, but my motivation was high and I actually loved getting up every morning and working on my baby. There were no politics, no whispers, and I was busy!
I am now proud to say that The Buzz Writer is going so well that I have employed other mums in the business. I am so happy to be able to provide a steady income to these mums, who want flexible hours to be there for their families, and to be able to work in the comfort of their own homes.
I still manage my depression and anxiety in my day-to-day life, and have found numerous ways to combat the days that are worse than others. Though now I no longer need to make excuses. If I am having a bad day, I go out and do something for myself. It may be something as little as enjoying a coffee, or just turning off the computer and sitting down to crochet whilst watching a funny movie.
We all really need to take the time for ourselves, in this busy fast paced life we live. Every so often you may need to reassess what it is that makes you happy and work towards doing more of that. For me it was spending time with my family, writing, and enjoying the company of other like-minded people.
So if you are doing it tough, take some time out for you. It doesn’t have to be a holiday or a change in work, but make sure you take that break when you need it. Sometimes a good old laugh, a bit of fresh air and time to focus on the ones you love can help you reconnect with the world.
But most importantly, you don’t have to survive a toxic workplace. If it is the cause of your low moods, you need to set change in motion. You chose your own adventure. So make it one that allows you to be happy.