Succeeding with anxiety: Mental Health in the workplace

Hey, I am Milly, I am a Digital Account Manager at Bright Network and I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Panic Attacks. I have a fast-pace, high responsibility job, working with the UK’s top firms and the brightest students.

  

Having dyslexia I learnt that working hard was not just about succeeding, but about proving yourself - I thought that the better I did the less I could be hurt by comments like ‘you’re just too lazy to learn to spell’. I started university with a pretty unhealthy commitment to work - I read into the small hours of the morning and I spent every single day of my Christmas and Easter holidays writing essays. I then ‘wisely’ combined this work ethic with the usual fresher’s diet of alcohol, more alcohol and really questionably cheep food. Then I just broke.

I was decorating the house for Christmas and suddenly the room just shifted. I bent forward and felt my heart slamming against my chest. I began hyperventilating, desperately trying to breath through a feeling of complete and inescapable panic. I was absolutely convinced I was going to die. That was the 20th December, from that day on I had panic attacks 2-3 times a day for months, often without a known trigger.

I became a member of the Bright Network because of their genuine desire to support every student to reach their potential. While at university, it seemed to me that the greatest, or at the very least, loudest obstacle to my career success was my mental health condition. While often it felt like I was alone, I wasn’t - more than a quarter of UK students report having a mental health problem with women and LGBT+ students particularly affected. (YouGov:2016)

"It's like when you've watched a scary movie at home alone...you jump at the slightest sound"

For those of you that don’t have anxiety, the best comparison I can draw is the feeling you get when you have just watched a scary movie at home alone. You’re jumpy and uncomfortable and your thoughts are racing - you wonder if you’ve locked the back door; what that shadow in the corner is, and you jump at the slightest sound. You know that nothing is actually more unsafe in your home than it was before the opening credits ran. Murderers don’t time their attacks by your movie watching schedule, (there’s a thought that will fester), but your adrenaline has spiked and there’s nothing much you can do about it. Now, imagine how tiring it would be to feel like that at any moment – when you’re at work, on the commute home, in the pub or even when you’re out with mates.

Entering the graduate job market is intimidating enough, but with a mental health condition it can seem unconquerable. I felt that fear, however; I have not only been able to start my career, I have thrived. This is because I learnt that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. I was lucky in a way - due to the panic attacks I never had the option of keeping my anxiety private. Once they stopped and my illness became invisible again I already knew how much counselling helped. Even so, I still felt uncomfortable asking for adjustments in the workplace - I had internalised the quintessentially British ‘Keep calm and carry on’ mentality that labels displays of vulnerability as weakness. However, with the support and understanding of my colleagues I realised that these reasonable adjustments were simply what I needed to achieve good mental wellbeing - and just as it is for everybody else, this is essential to working most productively and being successful.

Be kind to yourself, ask for support, and know that you bring real value to your workplace, so you are completely right to demand the adjustments you need to thrive.