NOT OK THAT’S OK MOMENT BY: CHANTELL GLENVILLE
At the age of 27 I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I was working 70+ hour weeks and cried in the office at least once a week (usually on a Tuesday for some unknown reason). I had chronic stress but at the time I didn’t really even know what that was, much less believe it was a real medical condition. I just thought I wasn’t handling the situation well.
This wasn’t the first time I’d suffered from stress either but it was by far the worst.
I used to work in a very intense and high-pressure industry, advertising. But what happened to me was by no means unique to the industry I worked in. It’s happened to friends of mine working in everything from banking to architecture to design. But since most people don’t realise they have stress, or are too ashamed to admit it, they end up suffering in silence like I did for far too long.
I’ve always been very ambitious and hard working so when I first started out in my career I’d happily take on any task or client that someone wanted me to do so that I could learn more and progress quickly. And it worked. I progressed through the ranks in advertising extremely quickly and was given far more responsibility for my years worth of experience than most people usually would be.
In some ways it was a great decision as it allowed me to learn a lot in a very short space of time but what it also did is that it made my job my life and set a really unhealthy precedent.
Those years of taking on any and every project I could to progress as quickly as possible set an extremely damaging expectation in my head that I should be working all hours otherwise I wasn’t putting in enough effort or trying hard enough.
Unfortunately my industry also reinforced this idea but having no qualms about asking someone to start working on something at 7pm and everyone still being firmly rooted to their chairs most nights of the week including Fridays. My industry set an expectation that that’s what you do and I took that expectation and internalized it and made it my own.
The first time I had stress I definitely didn’t think it was an actual medical condition you could suffer from.
One of my other colleagues that was working on the same project as me was even signed off with stress at the same time as I was suffering from it and I judged her for it. As far as I was concerned there was no way she was stressed enough that she needed to be signed off work for it. She certainly wasn’t as stressed as me and I was still going in to work.
Oh such a toxic attitude.
We should both have been signed off work for it.
I don’t know what symptoms she was suffering from but I;
- always had a headache
- felt constantly overwhelmed
- couldn’t sleep even though I was exhausted and would dream about work
- would forget things that I never usually would
- couldn’t concentrate
- lost my appetite and most days wouldn’t even eat lunch till about 4/5pm
- cried ALL the time. Not just when a particular stress trigger occurred by even on weekends when trying to do normal activities
- was extremely irritable (I should probably apologise to my ex I was living with at the time for that one)
- felt extreme time pressure, even when not working, so would have to pack my weekends with things to do so as not to waste my precious time off (even though what I probably should have been doing is catching up on sleep)
My doctor did offer to sign me off work when I went to see him at one point describing these symptoms but I was too worried it would reflect badly on my career if I was signed off with stress.
Advertising is known for being a high-pressure industry so I thought it would make future employers think I couldn’t cope if that was on my record. Given my concerns the doctor, good on him, even offered to sign me off for anything I wanted. He said I needed to take some time off as I was clearly stressed but if I didn’t want that written down as the reason he could say I had flu or whatever else would make me feel comfortable enough to take the time off.
I still declined. It felt like admitting defeat, even if only I would know, to do so.
That was a dreadful decision. The after effects of stress can last for years so the sooner you recognize it and do something about it the better. Otherwise you give the stress, and its effects, a chance to settle in and become patterns of behavior.
It took me years to get over that bout of stress and I didn’t do much better about taking pro-active action the last time it happened either. I let it get to the stage where I almost hyperventilated and passed out in a park round the corner from my office that I’d had to run to when I realized the Tuesday tears were about to kick off again. I went back to work after that. I actually went back in and finished my day which is INSANE, and then the next morning I woke up and realized I couldn’t do it. I called in sick that day, and then the next day and then the day after that. Every time I thought about going back in my body would tense up and I would then break down into uncontrollable floods of tears.
My body had finally had enough of the absurd pressure I had been putting under by living an existence where all I did was work, sleep 5 hours then go back and do it all again.
I ended up taking a week off and went back to my parents house to essentially hibernate and be looked after.
It did me the world of good but it was also far too late.
I had existed in such a highly stressed state with so much more work on my plate than I ever should have been given for so long that I lost all my self-confidence through it. I would start to sweat with nerves even if someone just asked me as simple a question such as, “How are you?” because I wasn’t used to talking about me or just interacting with people for the sake of it. I was used to getting work done, that was it.
I even got nervous in conversations with my closest friends when I’d have to talk about me.
It took me YEARS to rectify the damage I caused to myself by allowing the stress to go on for so long. I had to take acting lessons to get myself comfortable with talking in front of people again and still to this day I can occasionally feel the odd twinge of the effects the stress had on my personality.
My company should never have put me in that situation in the first place, but I should also have never have allowed it to continue as it did.
We have to take responsibility for our own health as no one else is going to and if a situation is causing you harm you owe it to yourself to change something as soon as you can.
Although in some ways I do have to be greatly for that situation as it lead to me quitting my job to travel the world and changed my outlook on what really matters to me in life significantly. It probably would gave been better for my health if I’d got to them realisations without the stress though.
Do you have a “NOT OK” moment you want to share? We would love to hear it.