I learnt the hard way that ‘sucking it up’ doesn’t work. Not long term. Whether it is a physical or mental ailment, eventually all that hard work pushing through the pain will return. When it comes back, it won’t just knock on your front door, it will burst open the door and you won’t have any choice but to address it…
The notion of a ‘mental health day’ is an increasingly prevalent concept with more societal awareness of the reality of mental ailments. It is something that I have encouraged many times with family and friends. Whether it’s the extra hours of sleep to feel rested and mentally capable, or a needed break to unwind after weeks of mounting stress, wellbeing is something I have learnt to value. It goes against the old-school mentality of ‘sucking it up’ and prioritising work over self-care, but it is essential. Often, people need the push or permission from someone within their circle to take that break due to the guilt of not attending work – a self-generated idea born from the old-school thinking. I have always done my best to be that push or person for others, but sometimes it can be hard to be that push or person for yourself.
This article may be the most raw and vulnerable I have ever publicly shared. While, in hindsight, I can see that I have shared many glimpses of my mental health, I also know I have always been careful to not fully disclose the extend of my own personal mental health challenges. This is due to the old-school mentality of valuing hard-work and feeling that I must leave my personal life ‘at the door’, like work is not one of the biggest aspects of our lives.
I have been working on unwinding these old-school beliefs to prioritise wellbeing over work for more than a year now. It has been a gradual process as I have dug deeper and deeper to the real root of my challenges. It started as fortnightly breakdowns, then progressed to gut health imbalances. From there, COVID hit, and I allocated my depressed mood to the living restrictions in place during Victoria’s lockdowns. After each hurdle I overcame, I thought: ‘Finally, I have figured it out. I am better.’ I couldn’t see that the race wasn’t over yet, and there were still hurdles ahead.
I am sharing this because I know there are others out there who need to hear it. I was fortunate that I have family and friends who are extremely supportive and weren’t afraid to tell me their story so that I could see past my own doubts. As I struggled with my mental-health I was constantly worried whether the mental anguish was self-inflicted. If it was, then that meant I was weak. I had all the tools, had spoken to psychologists, and in every emotional spiral I knew that I wasn’t myself and wasn’t thinking rationally. Yet, I couldn’t get myself out of the spiral. If it wasn’t my own fault, then what else could it be?
I am not clinically diagnosed with a mental health condition. I am not depressed, and I do not have anxiety, but I do experience them. The biggest mistake I made regarding my mental health was assuming I had to be ‘depressed’ to benefit from anti-depressants. After speaking to a family friend, I was enlightened to the broad application of anti-depressants as a support for mental health. Despite applying all the tools I have learnt from professionals to help when I fall into a six-hour or four-day emotional spiral, I have never been able to disconnect from the mental chaos until it has drifted away on its own accord. The combination of my personality and my life circumstances has left me chemically depleted in my brain, and until I have the right medicinal support to improve my mental health, no matter how many tools I have to help myself, they won’t work. Even though I am completely well and feel capable of handling life’s emotional challenges 90% of the time, the 10% that I don’t, I need support that I am not able to provide myself and that others aren’t able to offer me.
As I write this article, many of my family and friends still don’t know that I am working with my doctor to find the right medicinal support for my mental health. I’ve been unsure about whether to share my truth out of a sense of unnecessity and fear of judgement. Why should I share a deeply private challenge when I don’t want pity or want to burden others with it? Yet, after struggling through a week away from my usual support network, I have come to realise that taking the jump and trusting others with your challenges is a deeply relieving experience.
The reality is, against the old-school mentality, work is a huge part of our lives and we cannot just stop experiencing life because we are at work. Sometimes we cannot just ‘suck up’ our pain and get on with it. Opening up to friends (and even superiors) at work has allowed me the relief that I have people who will support me when life and mental health comes up at work – which it will.
While the old-school mentality may be planting doubts in your mind telling you to keep your challenges to yourself, you might be pleasantly surprised, like I often am, by the subtle kindness that exists all around you. We are all human beings, we have all experienced or know someone who has experienced mental health challenges. You can value work-ethic and professionalism and still be vulnerable as a human being. Do not suck it up. Your wellbeing is worth more than a day of work.
Disclaimer: I am not trying to advocate for anti-depressant medication, as there are many avenues to consider prior to seeking medicinal support. My advice is to talk to your doctor if you are struggling as I have done with mine. Also, don’t be afraid to talk to others about your challenges. There is more support around you than you may realise.