Today is World Mental Health Day, and this year’s focus is on mental health in the workplace. I have not written a lot about how my mental illness has affected me at work, which is actually a bit strange, considering how much anxiety ‘work’ used to give me.
I got my first job at 16. I worked for a local, independently owned bakery. I only worked on Saturdays as I was, of course, still in school and the shop closed relatively early. Every single Saturday morning I had a panic attack before going into work. Every. Single. Morning. For the entire eight months I worked there.
The next job I got was at a clothing store. My first tasks included stocking (very high) shelves and sorting clothing on the (very high) racks. Because I am barely 4’11, I had a very difficult time moving these extremely heavy clothing racks and portable shelves. I got yelled at by one of the managers and almost quit on the spot.
I eventually told another manager that I just couldn’t continue stocking the shelves, it was way too hard and way too stressful and I understood if she did not want me working for her anymore.
To my relief, she was so understanding and immediately put me on cash instead. She told me something I will never forget. She told me that whoever I work for, always let them know about my anxiety. Any good boss will understand and help accommodate. She was right. But working cash was still stressful – so many frustrating customers and busy afternoons. I quit after four months.
The next job I had was working at my home church. That was an almost completely stress-free job because I got to work in a safe, loving environment. Not to say there weren’t bad days and panic attacks. But overall, it was great. Unfortunately, it was only an internship and lasted just for the summer.
Two years later, (yep, two full years later) I got what I thought was my dream job. I had applied to this tiny bookstore in a small town right outside my city dozens of times since I turned 16. Now, I was 22 and I got the job. Except, it was also just a few weeks before I got married.
I wanted so desperately to love the job, and I did. It was quiet and cute and I got a discount on all my favourite books! But before every single shift, I would have an entire meltdown. I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t handle work with school with the fact that I was getting married in less than a month.
I have been so fortunate with kind and understanding managers. My manager let me take a few weeks off. So I took time off thinking I would be okay to work after I got married. I was not. I was even worse afterward. I would have hour-long panic attacks before work. Hyperventilating, crying, shaking. I couldn’t explain it. I couldn’t explain why I felt this way before every shift…but I did. So I quit.
A few months later I worked as a family ministry intern at the new church my husband and I attended. Once again, I was in a (relatively) comfortable environment…but I still felt some of that same stress come on before every work day.
I began feeling frustrated. It seemed that no matter what job I got, I was always going to feel uncomfortable. I was always going to feel anxious. School didn’t make me feel anxious. Why did work?
I couldn’t help but think, what is wrong with me? Am I horrible employee? Will I ever find a job that doesn’t make me feel this way? Do I just have terrible work ethic? Am I ever going to get over this?
After my internship ended, I got a text from a friend (the same friend who set me up with my husband) telling me he found the job posting for my “perfect job.” I laughed, thinking there would NEVER be a perfect job for me.
Except, this job was different. Because it was all done from home. And yes, you guessed it, that is the job I have today. The first job I actually don’t want to run away from. The first job I truly feel like I can be myself at.
I do not have a terrible work ethic. I am not a horrible employee! I just needed to find right job and the right work environment. For me, that work environment was the most comfortable place on earth for me – my home. But for others, it could be something else. It could be a huge office where you fade away, or a tiny clothing store where you work with your friends.
All this is to say that my journey with work and mental health has been a hard one. Working with any illness can be a challenge, and mental illness is no different.