Sometimes support can come from the most unlikely of places.
At work I was asked to take on some more kids, a couple of two-hour sessions on my current days off. I work Wednesday to Friday, as a tutor for children who’ve been permanently excluded, and that is more than enough.
My perfectionism and need-to-please kept telling me to do it, but my rational side was saying – the money you will make will not make you happier, but the time off does. But caught in the moment, I’m always a say yes and then cancel kind of girl. This makes me feel twice as bad in the long run anyway.
Luckily I was asked to think about it and make my decision – I think they could tell from the disgust on my face that I wasn’t keen.
Anyway, I went home, discussed it with my husband and we agreed that I shouldn’t take it on. Especially given my current fatigue levels.
Off I go to work, and announce it to the first person I see in the office – who happens to be someone with whom I fundamentally disagree with on almost a daily basis. We have a good working relationship, professional and respectful, but from different ideologies completely. I probably infuriate him with my constant debate stance, and he infuriates me with his sweeping generalisations and lack of tact.
However, I needed to get this decision off my chest and into the record so that I could relax.
“I have decided not to do the lessons. I need to keep looking after my mental health, and I don’t think this is feasible if I accept. I feel like I am still recovering from mainstream [when I had 11 months off after essentially a break down].”
He looked at me with surprise, to begin with, and said, “Ok, if that’s what you need to do, I get it”. He smiled and walked off.
A wonderful feeling of relief and calm washed over me and I continued with my day.
As I returned from dinner, when there weren’t kids around, he stopped me again and said, “Amy, I understand totally that you need to look after your mental health. Can I ask, is it something you suffer from, generally?”
“Yes, I have Anxiety and have suffered bouts of Depression. The worst time left me having to take off 11 months from work. I can’t let it get to that stage again.”
I don’t really say these things out loud very often, and there was a sense of “fuck it” when I said it point blank. Maybe I just wanted to see what he would say, and the fact that he wasn’t a close friend made me brave enough to see what happened.
“Is there anything we can do, is there a specific trigger for you?”
“Stress makes everything worse, obviously. But my main upsets are lack of control and fear of the unknown. I work on it constantly, but too much at once is very testing.”
He continued to talk about the stresses in teaching, and his own personal stressors, and his loved ones for whom he was concerned.
He finished off with, “I don’t know what it’s like for you, but I do understand stress, so if you ever need to have a laugh – you know where I am.” He then made some dodgy joke that I don’t remember, which released me before it got awkward.
What was so good about this?
We were open and honest, and it wasn’t a big deal – it wasn’t a sit down meeting and it wasn’t heavy going. There was no invite to worry about before-hand, and no ominous ‘step inside’. He asked me how he could help, and not just in an HR ticking boxes way. He didn’t question me when I said I couldn’t do something because of my Anxiety, but he did follow up later to make sure I was ok. He admitted he didn’t know what it was like but was willing to do what he could.
What could have gone wrong?
If I weren’t happy to talk to him, I might have lied. Also his direct questioning could have been fairly intrusive (see above for the lack of tact thing).
But it didn’t go wrong and finally, I feel like I am not hiding this shadow, and it encourages me to be honest about how my mental health affects my decisions work-wise, instead of faking an illness or extra-curricular activity. And I know I have this unlikely ally just round the corner.
*insert dodgy joke here*