"It's okay to not be okay" - Sarah's story
Mental health can affect any one at any time. One in four people will in fact experience a mental health problem every year (Mind). Never did I think that I could ever be that 'one'.
Over the last few months, I've been battling with anxiety and depression and Mental Health Awareness Week seemed the perfect time to share my story and say how thankful I am to Simplyhealth, my work friends and my family for helping me on my journey back to work.
The physical side of mental health
I've worked at Simplyhealth for ten years, six of which in a team leader role. Looking after my team so we can look after our customers is a priority and I've always promoted looking after your own wellbeing. I've always been very driven, always wanting to do the very best I can by our customers and as a mum-of three, looking after myself had always been bottom of the list.
In December 17, I became ill with a stomach infection and after weeks of being sick almost every day it suddenly became too much, and I couldn't pretend to be okay any more. One day I asked my manager 'have I lost my job'? She thought this was out of character for me and the answer (unsurprisingly) was of course not and why would I think that? I knew at this point something wasn't right but I spiralled into a dark circle of anxiety, which for me, came hand in hand with depression.
With my manager's support, we agreed in January I would take some time off work to focus on me.
I didn't know just how physically draining mental health can be. In fact, it's paralysing. I couldn't eat, couldn't get out of bed, I was sleep deprived and didn't even wash, brush my hair or even my teeth for a two week
period. The only way I can describe it is like being in my own personal hell and every time I'd find something to hold on to, to pull myself out, my lifeline disappeared.
At a time when I was constantly surrounded by people, I had never felt so alone. I just wanted to scream - how can everything seem so normal, when inside, it felt far, far from normal.
How could a stranger help me?!
I've always recommended our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to others but have never used it myself. In fact, I've always been a little sceptical about this kind of thing. How could a stranger help me? I desperately wanted to get out of this rabbit hole, so I thought I'd give our EAP a try. That phone call changed everything. Straight away the lady on the phone could tell I was having a panic attack. She taught me some breathing techniques, calming mechanisms and recommended counselling. Through our staff EAP, I've had eight weeks of face to face counselling sessions which has helped me immensely.
While there's good days and bad days, I've managed to equip myself with tools to help me set small, achievable goals and milestones. I returned to work in March and a phased approach has been key to helping me find some 'normality'. I make sure I take my lunch break every day and pop home to walk the dog, which I find really helps as it gives me time to think and clear my head before going back to work.
You never know what someone is going through and, often, it's easier to put on a smile and pretend everything is okay. I'm really pleased that Mind is our official charity partner for the Simplyhealth Great Run Series this year and that we're talking about mental health more and more.
I just hope that by sharing my story it will encourage others to know that it's okay to not be okay, but to make sure you talk to someone. Perhaps even try our EAP, I can't recommend it enough.