The HR Juggler

Day 43: Courage

Posted on: January 12, 2013

43

Some posts take a huge amount of courage to write. Whilst many guest blogs in this series have been uplifting and inspiring, this one is much darker and more troubling. And yet, it is perhaps the most of important of all to publish, because it is a first hand account of a topic we still shy away from discussing openly: mental health.

The author has requested to remain anonymous and I absolutely respect that. I am certain that you will do too.

***********************************************************  

I wake to the sound of screaming, half crazed I stumble across the bridge from the dream to the real world and realise that I’m the one who is screaming. My heart races impossibly. Terror holds me in its grip. Slowly I calm, the sweat runs down, forming an ice cold patch at the small of my back. Just another night.

So different from the evening before. The medication, still new and unfamiliar, envelops me in a warm fog, a delicious embrace with the prospect of sleep. The doctors had promised I would sleep. They were right I suppose, I did sleep but not for long and not well. Certainly not well enough to feel rested.

Forgive me, I’m skipping ahead in my review of the year, the part above comes from the final weeks. It started differently…..

Earlier in the year it wasn’t overwhelming fear and anxiety which affected my sleep. It was agitation. I couldn’t concentrate properly at work. Colleagues were unsure of my reactions. My moods were mercurial at best. Of course in my mind I knew better, knew exactly what needed to happen if only they would just listen properly. I was infuriated by their laxity and delays. Every person I came across seemed to be stuck in treacle.

It was the bowl that did it, that made me seek help. It was an unremarkable bowl, I’d owned it for a number of years, it had a few chips but no other distinguishing features. By the time I realised what had happened it was in shattered pieces on the floor. That night I promised I would seek help, again.

It’s been a long year, full of broken promises and false starts. Delays in treatment, a succession of waiting lists and even now, still no answer. Through it all, I’ve continued to work. Some days more successfully than others. I’ve been lucky to have understanding co-workers and clients. I would like to think that no one noticed the gaps but I’d be foolish to think it is so. However, I haven’t disclosed my problems formally. I’m aware that so much stigma still exists. Heck, I work in the HR / LD fields, I’ve delivered the training to support diversity, to combat discrimination in all it’s myriad forms but no one has ever asked me to deliver the subject I’m most qualified in. It’s not even like I’m in a small minority. Look around the train carriage or office in which you’re reading this. One in four of the people you see will encounter a mental health problem in their lives. If you’re reading it at home, then chances are that one of your family is already suffering or will be before long. With all that knowledge, it’s telling that I’m not confident enough in the reception I would get, to be able to speak openly.

So this is by way of a “cri de coeur” to my colleagues in HR and farther afield. Please remember that I live amongst you. I hear you casually talk of being “a bit OCD” over a presentation or feeling “schizoid” when you can’t make a decision. I hate that we are still using that sort of language. No one says “I’m feeling a bit cancerous” or “I’m like a stroke victim today”. Please don’t think I’m being over-sensitive. I’m not suggesting we suddenly become all politically correct, just take a bit of care. You know why? I don’t just hear your comments, I also hear sounds in my head, dislocated rhythms, white noise. I don’t just see managers ill-equipped to start the kind of dialogue I need to be open about my health, I see strange shadows determined to do harm.

Frightening stuff eh? It would be so much nicer to feel that when I opened my eyes after the dreams I would see friendly faces ready to help me. It feels a long way from that but here’s to 2013 and a change in attitudes. So, as you work with colleagues who are suffering with stress, depression or even, (like me), something even more challenging, please just ask how they’re doing. They won’t bite, or break down crying. Just talking to them will help them, that way they can help themselves and then in turn help you.

You see, that agitated nervous energy I spoke of could be channelled when you need someone to work late to make a deadline. That anxiety and attention to detail could be good when you need something proofread. There are numerous ways to involve and include – just ask us.

***************************************************************

If you care about mental health and want to make a difference there are lots of things you can do

 

74 Responses to "Day 43: Courage"

Thank you for sharing that. Thank you for your eloquence and courage, humility and humanness.

And thank you for your kind words Meg. It’s been an emotional day as I’m sure you can imagine. I feel neither eloquent or courageous but I do feel human.

Professor Susan Greenfield says that the 21st Century will be the century where mental illnesses predominate. We must find btter ways to address our fears and thank you for sharing.

Thank you Peter, I think Susan Greenfield is likely to be proved correct. They say it will be the 2nd highest burden on the NHS after heart disease by 2020

What an incredibly brave post. I had a mini-breakdown a year ago and was signed off work for a number of weeks, suffering from depression. It was almost like reading my own story which is a bit scary. Unlike me, you have been brave enough to write about this, which is huge and life-altering. I would lay money that someone teetering on the edge will read this, recognise your words, and seek help.
Thank you for the courage you have shown in writing this.
I’m a big fan of Finding Nemo, and since the episode, tend to live my life with the motto ‘just keep swimming’, which has surprisingly helped!
Keep strong, keep healthy; understand that there will be bad days but don’t let them beat or define you. And please, keep writing.
I wish you all the best in the world

Hi B, thanks for your kind words. I hope that you are feeling a whole lot better now. You may well be right, I certainly seem to have encouraged at least one other person to blog about the subject of mental health today. Even to the point of disclosing her identity. Something I am still unsure of.

I never thought Finding Nemo would have a message for MH issues but I’m pleased to be proved wrong. It’s a good tip. Thank you.

Reblogged this on Halls are made for Madness and commented:
There is no them, just us, together.

Thank you for having the courage to speak out – all of us in the work place (and outside) need to become comfortable talking about and being conscious of mental health issues. You are right that individuals often can bring strengths to benefit the achievement of objectives (enhanced vision, attention to detail, determination to name but a few). I have a sibling with Asbergers and she is amazing in so many ways – much better memory for certain facts and data than I could ever achieve and such a clear and constant focus. There is still a stigma in society over mental health (much to our shame) but we can only solve that by having real and open discussions and being honest. Your bravery in writing what you have will help make a difference both to individuals and to organisations and the wider community. Once again, thank you for speaking out. I hope 2013 proves to be a better year for you.

Thank you Kate for your kind words and also for talking about your sister. I don’t feel particularly brave. I’ve hidden behind the screen of anonymity after all but it has been a catharsis of sorts to write this.

I can’t believe I’m reading this! Thank you for this blog! I was drawn to tears as I educating my 14 year old daughter that she is not alone, it seems like it to her since she had three psychotic episodes since the age of 11, just when she started secondary school. She had her last episode in October but I could see the signs in September and coped best I could. She spent a month on an adolescent psychiatric unit, that is the least time she’s spent in mental health care and the only reason why she was discharged sooner is because I listened to the experts this time and had accepted medication. She’s having a few wobbles and is still on the road to recovery. I have a wonderful boss who has been understanding and supportive and I’m sure she won’t mind me saying, has had her fair share of coping with a sibling with additional needs and still is. When I was working in the office I felt like my world was crashing in on me. I was working in the day and going to the unit to see my daughter every night in Enfield as she would call me each evening at 5pm, when calls were permitted from the unit, she would be pleading with me to hurry and come and get her, and would keep asking ‘why am I here’, why did you leave me. It was stressful to say the least. And to get there and see her scared out of her mind, screaming at me and not eating for days on end, paranoid and scared of everyone and everything. She would often have hallucinations and this was before starting medication. I knew it was coming, the recommendation of psychotic drugs. But after some research and having sat down with my boss and have her reassure me on the type of medication this was and how it could improve her life as it had her sibling, I was relieved and ready to do what was best for her. It hurts so much to see her change from a vibrant young girl to see her at the best of times worried and axious about her illness, school, the stigma and fearful of me leaving her side everytime I leave one room to go into another, but I know this will only be for a time – she has major support from me, her therapist and prevention nurse at the adolescent mental health team we see each week and thanks to my boss i still have an income. I can truly say what a great support my boss has been in allowing me to be work according to my daughter’s needs and for the tremedous support i’ve had from the PA’s. I met some great people in the workplace who opened up to me about their own experiences and I was amazed to find there are quite a few. Can you imagine I was chatting to a total stranger on the bus and she spoke of her work and how she sufferes with anxiety and her colleagues see the signs and warn her to slow down, they’ve learnt what can happen as she’s had a mental breakdown before. I suppose what I’m trying to say here is there needs to be more awareness in the workplace and it’s been a campain for years. I worked in menatal health for four years on adult units and for CPPIH (government incentive sadly aboloshished) – Commission for Public and Patient Involvement in Health, working with their mental health forums as a support person to promote awareness. It is good to see this orgsnisation taking it in hand and working towards supporting mental health issues. Also, to the blogger re. Nemo, what a refreshing story – I shall make sure my daughter see’s this movie again and will teach her that motto…’just keep swimming’.

Thank you so much for commenting Carol. I’m so pleased its helped in some way – I hope that the series of posts next week may also help her to feel less alone. Wishing you and your daughter the very best x

Carol

I’m the one who should be thanking you. Your honesty and warmth shine out from this reply. I hope you felt some degree of catharsis from writing it and I also hope you and your daughter feel less alone now. It’s great to hear how much support you have had. I hope that with proper care and treatment your daughter continues her recovery. I wish you both well.

Reblogged this on Floraworks and commented:
I’m sure no one reads my blog who doesn’t already read Alison’s, but just in case….

Flora, thank you for helping to spread this to a wider audience.

*stands to applaud*

We need more blogs like this. The fact that this articulate writer wishes to remain anonynous says it all. Would she feel the need for anonymity for a broken leg? I have a client going through a period of mentai ill health currently – they have taken a sabbatical for fear of stigma. I hate the bandied-about language too…makes my toes curl.
It’s for me one of the last workplace (or any place) taboos and needs the same sea change as the others.

Thank you Jane for your kind words. It is indeed sad that your colleague feels the need to take a sabbatical, however I can hardly comment, I have chosen anonymity at this time. In some ways, we need less blogs like this, one day this sort of writing will not attract such attention. I look forward to that day.

No applause needed but thank you for showing your appreciation Neil

Powerful and compelling. Thank you to the author and to Alison for curating.

Thank you Simon. Compelling is high praise.

I completely respect your request for anonymity – though it is a sad reflection on where we all are societally I think. We are all both dysfunctional and functional.

You close your piece by saying ‘just ask us’, and so I will. What can I do to help? If you can think of anything I can do – then there are many ways you can contact me. If you do so via my website you may also choose to remain anonymous if that helps, though ultimately – I believe in taking courage and support and showing our true selves. In any event I wish you well.

Hi Doug, thanks for your inquiry of how you can help. Honestly I’m not sure right now but the outpouring of interest in this and in Lorna Leeson’s blog makes me hopeful. I will speak with Alison to see what we can do to build on this unprecedented interest and will keep you informed.

Such a courageous piece, and thank you for highlighting statements we often make haphazardly without thinking, which have the potential to do more harm than good. Note to self: watch what I say, no matter how clichéd it might be.

Thanks Stella, like I say, let’s not get all PC but just take a bit of care. Please don’t feel bad. Just keep talking and including.

I had to read this blog a few times as I had to stop myself from crying. I shared an experience in last years advent selection on my battle with darker times. I come from a family with a history of mental illness & although I would say I had mild depression there is a fear I will ‘end up like them’. That has to stop, we need to be braver about talking about these topics & educating managers on how to support employees who may not be as brave as you. Sending light and love to you.

Hi there HR Hopeful. I’m sorry I made you cry. You (more than most) will understand my challenges with such a family history. I urge you to keep talking to the people who can help and support you. My thanks for the love and light

Reblogged this on Just Somebody That I Used To Know and commented:
I think this is something that everyone should read. Not only a well written blog but a blog with a hell of a lot of courage, I hope the anonymous author realises how much people appreciate her words.

Hi there Ruby. I’m glad that you appreciated the words. They were easy to write but harder to share. Responses like yours help me know I was right to do so.

I realise I automatically put ‘her’ in my comment so apologies if you are male, no idea why put ‘her’.

I’m so glad you found the courage to share, your post made me realise that I’m not alone with things I’ve been through and I want to thank you for that.

It’s people like you who will one day help to end the stigma surrounding mental health and it makes no difference that you chose to stay anonymous, you were still brave to share and you deserve the applause that people are giving you.

Thank you for sharing. This has taken a lot of courage. This truly demonstrates that HR needs HR! Charity should start at home as it were! x

Hi Bina, you have hit the nail on the head. We need to help each other. Thank you for commenting

[...] great blog I read today says the [...]

This must have been a difficult post to write I hope in the writing it also gave you some comfort. I was diagnosed with CFS 2 years ago and last year entered a 1 year therapy programme which ends this February. My condition caused me to have a number of extremely low points last year – at a few points on the programme I really struggled I wanted to crawl into my safe bed, close the curtains and not face the world. This is the complete opposite of my normal bubbly personality and so difficult to describe to anyone, people asked what’s the matter and its just everything. This brain numbness turned into anger and a rage I didnt realise I possessed mainly aimed at the amazing Psycologist on the programme. In turn it led to tears I was apologetic for – when asked why I was apologising my response was but this is not me – this was my breakthrough, my realisation that I have a condition and that I mentally couldn’t cope with it and my core beliefs have to change. I have been very lucky I have an amazing husband, family, friends and work colleagues. The therapy programme has gone from something I hated with a passion to appreciation and to feeling lucky to be included on it. My life is in a much better place, I understand my triggers and can act upon them immediately. A year ago I would have never put a comment on this amazing blog as embarrassment would have got the better of me now I honestly think the journey I have been forced to go on has made me a better person. I wish you luck finding your inner peace something I have been lucky enough to find – well this week anyway :-) the journey continues!

Hi there Heather.

Funnily enough it was an easy blog to actually write. It all poured out of me on New Years Day. The hard part was deciding whether to share it, either anonymously or publicly. I will be forever grateful to Alison for sharing it. I now have some serious thinking to do about whether I actually disclose my identity or let others build on this.

I’m pleased that you are finding peace after such a struggle. I wish you well in the future.

I think in L&D/HR people sometimes forget we’re human too. I was diagnosed with Anxiety disorder 10 years ago and it’s something I battle with every day. Thank you for writing/publishing such an eloquent and brave post. Last year I became a Mental Health First Aid Instructor it has been one of the best things I ever did. If you’re in L&D/HR in an organisation I’d thoroughly recommend it http://www.mhfaengland.org/ I also love the anti stigma campaign materials that Time to Change produce (for free peeps!).

Hi Hayley, sorry for the delay in replying. As you can imagine it’s all been a bit busy and overwhelming.

I’m aware of MHFA, it’s great work that they do and it’s a longer term aim of mine to qualify as you have done. Glad to hear you are battling on.

Wow, brave stuff. I stand with those who applaud you and join their acclaim. This really is important stuff, that 1 in 4 stat is real and will surely affect us all, I know it had touched me and i know how tough it is to deal with in a world still full of stigma . I also join Doug’s offer, what can I do to help? Cos surely I have to do something!

Hi Kev

As stated before, applause is not necessary. You mention the 1 in 4 stat has touched your life and I wish you well.

As for the offer of help, well by now you will have seen that we are hoping to run an event. I’m sure we can find you a job to do :)

A wake-up call for us all. How interested are we in the people that we work with, and not just what they do? I seem to be on a journey already this year toward understanding the points of view of others, this courageous post has given me cause for reflection, and so early in a New Year!

Hi Graham

It’s great to hear you are on a journey. My post seems to have made many people reflect, if we all do something then 2013 will be a great year for Mental Health

[...] from blogging. That summary post will absolutely follow soon, but as many of you will be aware, Day 43 of the series created a tidal wave of interest and commitment from people across and beyond my [...]

[...] post needs little introduction at the current time. It is by the author of Courage and is an invitation to you to join us and take action on mental [...]

A very moving post, and one that has encouraged us all think and discuss mental health openly and as Neil said, that does deserve applause.

The CIPD worked with Mind about a year ago on a piece of research that showed that despite 1 in 4 people having experienced a mental health problem – only 1 in 5 of those would disclose this to their manager. From this research, we put together a tool ‘Managing and supporting mental health at work: disclosure tools for managers’ http://www.cipd.co.uk/publicpolicy/policy-reports/mental-health-work-disclosure-tools.aspx It’s available to non-CIPD members also and I hope that this helps the HR community as a whole to overcome these challenges.

Hi Natalia

That’s a great resource. We will make sure that we publicise it. I do hope CIPD can join us at our event. We are just finalising the date.

Anxiety, depression and mental health issues affect so many people and it is really helpful to discuss it openly. Despite the changes going on in the NHS there are still support services out there for anyone who is suffering so it’s worth a chat with your GP to see what’s available.

Hi there, agree, there is so much support available but the asking is often the hardest part. For much of the last 12 years I was with one GP who was superb but life moves on, people retire, I moved location and I find myself almost starting again. Just got to keep on going :)

I never usually comment on blogs I read but I feel compelled to comment on this one. Well done on writing this blog! It is truly inspirational and should be shared as widely as possible. I work in a NHS Mental Health Trust and we actively seek to employ people who have a history of mental health issues, and therefore we actively challenge any use of that language. My personal view is that people who suffer with mental health WILL recovery. It is the same as breaking your leg, you will be off while it heals but it will heal. Your leg may be a bit weaker or you may need to take a bit extra care but it will get better. Is the same with Mental Health. You will get better, you will recover. You will learn a lot about yourself, what your triggers are, and how you can manage it but this is not different to someone using a crutch with a broken leg. I wish you all the best for the future

Hi Joseph

Thanks for your kind words and I’m glad you were moved enough to write. It’s great to get your personal insight from within the system. Thanks so much for all your hard work supporting those who need help.

[...] on Alison Chisnell’s blog, someone wrote a very brave post about how they have been affected by mental health. It’s sparked something, and you should read the follow up invitation to do something about [...]

Good to read your words. I have bipolar 1 and am completely open about this at work. It’s not easy though and I have had to be redeployed into a team who had more understanding.

You probably won’t be surprised when I tell you I actually work in the voluntary sector. When I came back to work I had wonderful support from my CEO but terrible comments from co-workers in my team room such as ” why don’t you get a job where you don’t have to think” when I first came back to work my line manager suggested that I should work on my own in the attic. This comment actually caused me contemplate suicide, which I was only dissuaded from by a helpful psychotic experience. My CEO wanted to do something about the comments but I was so desperate to come back to work that I wouldn’t let him so I requested redeployment to escape any future issues.
There are still problems in my workplace with the views of colleagues about mental health problems.
I am very open and will answer honestly any question about bipolar disorder that a colleague wants to ask. I made the decision that when I came back to work that I would not lie or avoid questions about why I had been off. It is a hard road to travel however.

Hi Keely

Thanks for commenting and also glad that you’ve worked out some form of solution with your employers. I’m saddened that you had to redeploy though. Your comments just underline how far we have to go. At least we’ve made a start.

Hi, can you remove my comment for privacy reasons . Thank you

Hi I still need this comment removing if possible as it still appears via google

[...] over a week ago a conversation started on twitter. A few of us had responded to the ‘Courage’ guest post on Alison’s blog and were discussing mental health and work. Things had to change, we [...]

[...] I asked Alison Chisnell to host it during her advent blogs. The response to the retitled “Courage” was amazing, it quickly went round the world of HR and I do mean world, picked up in the [...]

Thank you for writing this piece, and to Alison for hosting it. I’ve come via your post today in which you reveal yourself. It’s a brave thing to do, and one which I hope will provide you with strength.

Speaking about mental health issues isn’t easy, but I do believe it is getting easier. I hope you are met with the same warm reception that my husband Stuart and I have been met with as we continue to do our little bit to raise awareness of mental health issues ( Stuart’s story can be found on http://www.walkingontheedge.org.uk )

Keep up the good work!

[...] helps or how. All my thinking and writing my draft has helped me stop and consider how/where I am. “Courage” and Lorna’s post are thought-provoking, important pieces and I hope these will help people [...]

[...] for the event were organised by Jon Bartlett (@Projectlibero) in less than three weeks since the Courage post first appeared on my blog. Someone asked me the other day, whether either he or I had any [...]

[...] Saturday January 12th this anonymous blog was posted as a guest contribution to a series that Alison Chisnell was featuring on her site HR [...]

[...] first post about Courage, that’s where this all started. Please do go and read it if you haven’t. It’s [...]

[…] this year, so distressed by what I saw around me, I wrote a blog. It generated a huge response from the HR community on social media so we ran a pop-up event just […]

[…] to create a piece of unique artwork for a blind auction. Jon has recently blogged for MIND and his January post for Alison Chisnell’s guest blog series started the HR for Mental Health […]

[…] Anonymous: Courage, Another Anonymous Blogger: Born This Way, and Kate Griffiths-Lambeth: Speak Up If you don’t read any other posts highlighted in this month’s list, please at least find the time to read these three, think about them, and perhaps act on them (some links for next steps can be found here). Each deals, powerfully, with issues around mental health and the workplace. Please, please read them. The first two posts come from anonymous bloggers via guest posts on Alison Chisnell’s blog. The other is from leading UK HR blogger Kate Griffiths-Lambeth. Follow Kate on Twitter. […]

[…] Courage The first post describes the anonymous author’s struggles with mental health issues, and their concerns that fully disclosing these issues in the workplace could have a serious impact on their career. […]

[…] January of this year, I published this post as part of the Advent and New Year series, written by Jon Bartlett, which caused huge waves in the […]

Hi, could I possibly have my earlier comment removed on here?

Thank you.

Of course – I will look for it and take down both this one and the previous one today.

It’s still appearing in google unfortunately

Keely

[…] words. It tells the story of the year that Jon Bartlett has experienced…from writing that anonymous blog in January, to everything that followed from there. For me, it’s a powerful story of courage, […]

[…] beginning of this story is known to most of you. I published a guest blog in January last year, we held an HR for Mental Health event. For me, it has always been not so much those early […]

[…] known as manic depression) for 20 years and has tried numerous ways of coping. Last January, he published a blog anonymously. Because of the level of support he received, he decided to go public. Since then, he […]

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