The HR Juggler

The 25% Club: Coming Out

Posted on: January 24, 2013

coming out

This post is part of the 25% club series dealing with the topic of mental health, particularly as it relates to the workplace. Some of the posts, like today’s, will be accredited, others will be anonymous – all have a powerful impact and help to shine a light on a topic that we need to talk about so much more than we currently do. Today’s post is by David Marten, who you can find on Twitter @DavidMarten.

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When starting to write this blog, I wanted to say that it’s a topic of much discussion by people, but I stopped myself instantly after thinking that in reality, it isn’t something we talk much about at all. 1 in 4 of us at some point will have mental health issues, yet it is a subject still taboo in discussion.

I work in HR and have helped develop policy at previous companies to open up discussion on stress, for example; and I actively encourage employees to be honest and open if they are facing difficulties. But what has got me thinking recently is how difficult it is to do this in reality.

It’s all well and good me saying that people should be more open and honest but there is still so much stigma attached to this subject, both in the workplace as well as the outside world. So I am honestly not surprised at all that it’s not talked about.

So there are two things that I should really say now. Firstly, I am gay (I’ll come on to this later). Secondly, I have suffered from a mental health issue.

Just writing that down knowing that someone else will be reading that I have had issues with my mental health is a very difficult thing for me. The worry that I will be treated differently by people and especially my work colleagues has made me not ever want to mention it.

But with a recent series of blogs by my colleague Alison and people guest blogging via her site I thought it was about time to openly talk about my mental health issue, hoping that it may help someone get through what they are having to deal with.

I have called this blog coming out as it feels like I’m doing it again by talking about my mental health.

It all started at the previous company I worked at. Work had started to get busier and more colleagues were leaving my department which meant more pressure on me. I just kept thinking that if I could just get through the next few months at work it would get easier and better and so I carried on as normal.

Unknown to me at the time however, I started to get into a vicious circle where I became more stressed and so things got more on top of me which led to some mistakes, which meant more work and more stress. And so the cycle continued with no end in sight.

At the same time my home life was starting to deteriorate. I would leave work panicking about how much there needed to be done and therefore couldn’t relax, couldn’t sleep and then started to dread going to work. I would say sorry for anything that was happening around me, would say I was useless at everything, and would think for no real reason that my boss thought I was useless.

Then one day I broke out into tears at work. I can’t rememberwhy but I have to say, I’ve never done that before. At this point I knew there was something wrong.

But I didn’t know what.

I was terrified of speaking to my boss about my workload – my instinct due to my illness was that he would thing I was terrible at my job and he could cope so why couldn’t I?

So I said nothing.

Then things got worse and I stated to get physically ill with heart palpitations and other not nice things.

I eventually went to see my GP and after speaking to him about my physical symptoms and what else had been going on he said that I was suffering from stress and depression.

These few words were like a weight hitting me. Me? Depressed? Huh? What?

We talked a lot about what I had been going through and then about options, and with his help we came to the decision that I needed to have time off work.

I left the doctor’s surgery and again burst into tears. This time it was a raw emotional outburst. For the first time in months I felt some relief.

For a long time before this I had been walking around in a daze – pain and panic running though me, thinking it could never get better. I was stuck like this and there was nothing that could be done about it.

Thankfully I was wrong.

I was signed off work and started to go to counselling. Medication was discussed but at the time I felt it wasn’t right for me.

Having time off work was what I needed but the counselling helped me so much. I also have an amazing partner who was there to support me throughout all of this.

The counselling allowed me to explore why I was like this and most importantly what I could do to make me well again.

A book I read described how if you broke your leg you would need to see a doctor, need to take rest and maybe have medication, and to receive support from the people around you. A mental health problem is no different to that.

I mentioned earlier that I was gay. I didn’t do this to come out to the world. Friends, family and work colleagues know this about me (well, if they don’t they do now!) but I wanted to try to convey how difficult it is to ‘come out’ as being gay and compare this to the feeling of coming out about mental illness.

Reading through one of the guest blogs from Alison’s’ website (entitled ‘an invitation’) the author says “I don’t want this to be the only thing that you know of me or associate me with, because I’m so much more than that.”

I have had my own personal experience in this and can wholeheartedly agree with this view-point. When I let people know I am gay (it’s not always obvious to everyone) I have that feeling in me believing the same thing – that I don’t want this to be the only thing people associate about me.

I guess it’s difficult for people not to do it though; especially if they have had no experience or any dealings with gay people. And so it is with people who have not dealt with mental health issues.

This is another reason why I feel mental health issues are a topic that the world needs to talk about – so that it becomes something that is the new normal; where people can speak out and not feel terrified about what others will think and how they will treat them going forward.

To be open and honest about one’s mental health is one of the hardest things we could ever do. Until we start doing this and be more open, how can others who are suffering find their way through the dark times they are facing, to some sort of light and help that they so desperately need?

My story is one of millions out there, but I hope that it will help someone find the courage to realise that they are not alone in the world. That there are others like them and there are things they can do to help themselves.

Talk to someone. It can change your life.

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

  • visit Mind’s website and check out their excellent corporate resources
  • take the ‘time to change’ pledge
  • attend our event with Mind on 5th February 2013 at 6pm
  • share your story and read those of others as part of this blog series. If you would like to contribute, please get in touch with me on Twitter (@AlisonChisnell) or through the comments section of this blog

1 Response to "The 25% Club: Coming Out"

In a way what I am about to write is a reflection of where this debate is right now. I shouldn’t have to congratulate you for your post, and yet I would like to. Congratulations. For me – the missing ingredient has just been added, and that ingredient is your name. Hello David – it’s a pleasure to meet you.

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