The Anxiety Rollercoaster
I was recently given the opportunity to be a panelist at the Law Society of Alberta mental health summit titled “Well-Being in Practice: A summit on taking care of yourself, your workplace and our profession” which is happening on October 4 – 5, 2022. I’m will be sharing my perspective on the topic of Risks and Rewards of Talking about Well-Being in the Workplace.
I’m incredibly excited about participating in the summit and in reflecting on my remarks, I thought it’d be fitting to write this issue’s Scheff Shares with a focus on mental health. In the last four years, I’ve been fairly open about my anxiety, depression, trauma, and journey through those things. I’ve spoken about my thoughts on medication and therapy and the positive impact both of them have had on my life. Something that I haven’t spoke as openly about is the rollercoaster of it all. It’s not a linear journey and it comes with its fair share of setbacks as well as leaps forward.
It also comes with risk – something that me and my fellow panelists will be diving into at the mental health summit on October 4. Reputational risk is something that will always be present for many, but I’ve gotten to a stage in my life where I’ve realized that if someone doesn’t want to work with me or doesn’t see value in who I am as a person because of how they view my diagnoses, that’s not someone I want around me nor is it an opinion I should let bother me. Those are easy words to say but can be hard words to believe.
We can’t break down barriers and stigma surrounding mental health if we don’t talk about it and that is why I choose to have these conversations and share what I do. Is it always comfortable? Not a chance. Do I always know how it changes or informs other people’s perceptions or opinions of me? No. In fact, I don’t know if I’d ever have a true sense of this, but the direct feedback I usually receive is positive and the person usually expresses an appreciation for what I’ve chosen to share.
I try to focus on the idea that if at least one person is helped by hearing about the experiences I’ve had, they may become one less person that is struggling alone or in silence.
Sometimes, no matter how well we think we’re doing, something will sneak up on us and knock the wind right out of us. Sometimes these things just happen. Recently, I had one of the worst panic attacks I’ve had in a very long time. It was a 10/10, hyperventilating, uncontrollable disaster of a panic attack that required an extra dose of my rescue meds (because the first dose failed) and a trip home. It started less than twenty minutes before I was due in Court at about a 6/10, was able to be settled long enough to get through Court, and then exploded to a 10/10 afterwards.
I spent a lot of time wondering what I’d done to bring that on and feeling embarrassed that such an intense attack happened at work, but I reminded myself that I’d spent time cultivating a safety net of colleagues who were aware of my diagnoses and needs at this time of year – it just happened earlier than expected this time.
I always try to remind myself that no one can read my mind and therefore, no one can help me if I don’t tell them what is going on or what I need.
One incredibly rewarding thing about cultivating this safety net of colleagues is that it opens the door for those colleagues to share their experiences with me. It didn’t happen immediately but over time I’ve been trusted with glimpses into the lives and diagnoses of my colleagues that I don’t think I otherwise would have received. While that’s never the goal or even a consideration when I share my story, it’s an incredibly rewarding part of doing so.
Not everyone is a safe person to share with and it’d be naïve of me to say so, but you’d be surprised who is and that the safety may arise because they’re on a similar journey. Eventually, you’ll create and employ your own test for figuring out who to broach these conversations with. For some, this test is a gut feeling. For others, it’s a carefully constructed set of statements to “test the waters”. No matter what it is, figure out what it is for you and take the leap.
Each leap may not pay off in the way you’d hoped but eventually one will and when it does, you and the person you leapt with, will be better for it.