Are you ok…?
I have a confession to make. A confession that only a handful of people close to me know about me.
It is something I have gotten good at hiding.
I suffer from anxiety, and at times depression.
Why am I confessing this? Because, this has been a really tough year for me. Particularly because a handful of friends and colleagues are no longer with us, due to their struggles mental health issues.
And over the last few weeks, the weight of my own anxiety has started to really get to me.
But I choose to believe there is always hope… even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.
So even though this post is not directly related to Salesforce (though I do touch on it a bit later), I hope this is useful in some way to someone out there in the www. This is an outlet/forum that I have available to me, I feel I need to share my experiences – however candid and raw – in the hopes that it helps the broader conversation about mental health.
I have also included a number of songs on Youtube… It is a bit of a variety, but its a light-hearted way of helping talk about this topic or help explain… The power music to connect with us in difficult times is something that I firmly believe in.
Did you know…?
Mental Health Issues cover a range of conditions, including anxiety, depression, phobias and ADHD. Specifically in this post I am going to focus on anxiety and depression.
Everyone can feel down from time to time, or feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. Generally it isn’t an issue, and the feeling will pass as quickly as it arrived.
But there are people who those feeling just doesn’t pass, or these feelings start interfering with everyday life. The simple act of leaving the house to go to the supermarket, is a challenge and can feel overwhelming.
Mental Health Issues are prevalent within society, did you know:
- According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 13 globally suffers from anxiety. The WHO reports that anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders worldwide with specific phobia, major depressive disorder and social phobia being the most common anxiety disorders. (source: ADAA)
- Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year. (source: ADAA)
- Mixed anxiety & depression is the most common mental disorder in Britain, with 7.8% of people meeting criteria for diagnosis. (source: No Panic)
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a common condition estimated to affect about 1 in every 25 people in the UK. Slightly more women are affected than men, and the condition is more common in people between the ages of 35 and 55. (source: NHS)
(Read more about anxiety at Mind UK, or Beyond Blue. Or read more about depression here at LifeLine or the NHS. There is a lot of information available, and help is available via a Google search or skip to the bottom of this post)
Even though Mental Health issues can affect anyone, at anytime. There are certain groups within society who are also more susceptible to mental health issues.
Socio-economic factors can play a huge part in mental illness. Young women (16-24) are also more susceptible.
Mental Illness in the LGBTI community…
But one staggering fact is that LGBTI youth are 4x times more likely to commit suicide than there straight peers. Yes, 4x times more likely…
Why do I bring this up? Because as a teenager growing up in a small city in regional Australia, coming to terms with who I was and realising I was gay was very difficult time in my life. I realised I was ‘different’ at such an early age, but I didn’t want to admit it to myself (let alone anyone else!).
Back then, I almost fell into that statistic, but fortunately I confided in a teacher how I was going to harm myself. At the time, I felt so betrayed by the teacher when she involved my parents, but hindsight is 20-20 and I am forever thankful.
To be honest, I didn’t really understand the full impact of my words until I was an adult. But the underlying issues stem back a long way for me personally, and I feel this is where my anxiety started from.
Anxiety is quite common place, with most people experiencing the feeling of being anxious or worried from time to time.
Worrying about exam results (hello Salesforce certifications), or worrying about how you will get home (especially when the Tube/Subway line gets suspended).
But for me, my anxiety is a constant background noise of thoughts and ‘what ifs’. Sometimes just internal chatter (a bit like Salesforce Chatter), but other times this constant stream becomes overwhelming and the weight of the thoughts just feels overbearing.
Sometimes like tonight (hence why decided to start writing this), I can’t get to sleep. Where my brain feels like it won’t shut off. Albeit not focussing on anything in particular, but just racing in general. Yet, during the day I just feel so lethargic and tired… But come bed time, **BING** the mind is awake of all the things tomorrow will hold.
Even simple things like writing a blog post for this very site… I can second guess every decision or word I write.
And yes, even writing other ‘normal’ posts on this site, often gets me feeling anxious and I second guess how I should phrase or write a something. Even at times second guessing if it is even a topic worth writing about.
(So you can imagine how much this post has been reworked before it gets published! ? – but I have to finish this! It is something I have to ‘get out there’.)
The thing I find cruelly ironic about mental health issues like anxiety and depression is how it can make you feel isolated and cut off, when in truth that is normally worse for you.
I have been guilty of dodging friends or cancelling plans because I just felt so overwhelmed, and I just thought it was because I was tired. But at the same time, I am so scared of being alone. It is a horrible juxtaposition and feels like such a cruel joke.
But even staying home and trying to get to sleep doesn’t help…
Then one day last year I read this article by Ellen Scott, and it really resonated with me.
Out of sight?
Not everyone who is feeling anxious or depressed locks themselves in their room.
While there are depressive/anxious states which become seriously debilitating for people, you can still feel anxious and/or depressed while being out and about…
As I have started to open up more and more about my experience, and hear what others also are going through. So many people are battling through with their anxiety and/or depression while ultimately ‘hiding’ in plain sight.
There is a catch-all phrase, which probably sprung up to counteract the imagery/perceived stigma of anxiety/depression. and that is ‘high functioning depression‘ or anxiety…
Personally I am a relatively outgoing person, so some of the conversations I’ve had recently about my anxiety have come as a bit of a surprise to people.
But that also comes from some of the walls I have constructed to keep people out / at a distance.
Hindsight has also shown me how I was trying to convince myself there wasn’t actually a problem. Yes, ultimately I had anxiety about having anxiety… But I was cheating myself, convincing myself I was just having bad day. But the bad days just kept happening.
Stress and Anxiety
Everyone has different levels of ‘tolerance’ to stresses.
I know the real kicker for me is the combination of stress and anxiety overload. For me, this is when I really start to go past my ‘red lines’ and start to really struggle coping.
For example, a project deadline can be a huge stress cooker. And some projects I have been on, really gets the mind racing, and I have struggled to sleep as my mind races over all the ‘what ifs’, no matter how valid.
Or even worse, gets stuck in one of those stress-dream cycles where you are trying to solve a problem but you just keep getting stuck in the problem or keep repeating it over and over and over, like a dog chasing it’s tail.
Everyone handles stress differently. And different things stress people out differently.
If I am feeling really anxious already, I do tend to have a shorter fuse than normal, and my patience for things goes flying out the window. In this state of mind, I tend to also want to try to get things ‘perfect’… Add on top of this stress and I used to tend to withdraw/become more introverted and tend to ‘just do it myself’ to get it the work done, rather than communicating with the team around me to ask for help.
I have worked on this a lot over the last few years, but it is something I always have to monitor, and I know this is my stress-reaction.
The key point here is to be able to recognise when things are a bit stressful and take extra care of yourself. For example give yourself 10-20mins and find somewhere quiet to focus on some deep breathing or meditation.
Mental Health and Salesforce
So there are so many negatives to anxiety, but at times I feel it has helped me too. And working with Salesforce for the most part has helped my anxiety and depression.
Being able to channel my mental state into my work has been beneficial at times. Thinking ahead (constructively) and planning future releases, or thinking through possible risks/issues to a project.
But I do have to walk a fine line and monitor myself. I can easily indulge the anxiousness too much, and go over the other side where it isn’t constructive.
Marc Benioff is a huge advocate of mindfulness and has been meditating now for a long time, to help with his stress and to help him clear his head. And now even includes Mindfulness Zones at Dreamforce and their new offices.
What if you need help?
This is a topic which affects so many people globally and needs to brought into the light. The stigma associated is gradually starting to fall away (in some countries, there are still a lot of countries out there the stigma is at crises point) and I hope that this post has helped that discussion in some tiny way.
If you are impacted by this, or think you may know someone in your friend/family group who is – then please seek help. Just remember there is hope. And generally the first step is the hardest.
If you are in urgent need of assistance, please reach out to the following services, or seek help from your GP/Health Clinic.
In another country, there is a list of crises helplines on Wikipedia: visit here
Or find a trusted friend or family member to talk to.
And to finish out with… Please take 5 minutes to listen to this ‘mashup’ from Israel Kamakawiwo’ole…