Flashback to May 2017—It was my first week at my new job. I was back to the corporate world after two years of running a social enterprise working in the field of mental health. I vaguely remember what I was staring at in the screen in front of me when the feeling of anxiety started to rise within me. Tears started to roll down my cheeks, my breathing got heavy and I rushed to the washroom seeking refuge behind those closed doors. What followed the next few days were series of these panic attacks and they happened in the cab on the way to work, while I was at work and on the way back home. Over the course of that week, I decided to visit a psychiatrist and discuss my symptoms with her. I walked out of her room with an assortment of disorders—Anxiety, Depression and Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder and medication to manage my mood swings and reduce my anxiety.

Psychiatric medication does not work the same way as antibiotics for a flu would work. They take time and dosage may change over time as you report your responses to your doctor. This meant that I would still have my break downs at work. This meant that there was no “quick fix”. It has been over a year now and I have figured ways to manage my mind and mental health without compromising on the quality of my work. 

1. Admit & Acknowledge

There is nothing embarrassing about being human—we are living, feeling creatures and things overwhelm and affect us in inexplicable ways. 
The first step is to acknowledge that there may be an issue. If you have been having trouble dealing with your emotions—whether or not the triggers are at the work place, it is best to acknowledge that something is off and the first is to admit it to yourself.

2. Finding anchors at work (Communicate, Educate, Build Trust) 

In a country where speaking openly about one’s mental health challenges is still considered taboo, it is understandable that you may be apprehensive about opening up about what you are going through. In my case, I felt the need to disclose my condition to my immediate manager and those I interface with on a regular basis. I wanted to make sure that if I was having a terrible day, there was someone I could turn to for support without having to always hide and deal with it by myself. I started with educating them about the condition, how it would manifest and also gave them a few go-to strategies on what to do when I would have an episode. As my team got the hang of it, it was no longer something I dreaded. I just accepted the bad days and the very fact that I didn't have to hide, helped me feel secure and supported. No automatic alt text available.

3.  Figure your recovery and wellness plan

With mental illness, I have realised that one needs to try an array of treatment options—from medication, to therapy, to peer support and anything else that makes one feel better—even if the feeling seems momentary. I had put on around 20 kgs over the last three years and had no control of my eating habits. I decided that if I could not feel completely in control of my mind—I should start with my body. My recovery plan included regular exercise, therapy and a ketogenic diet. More than the positive impacts of all these, it was the discipline that started to set in that started making me feel more in control and gave me a sense of confidence even at work. How I spent the 16 hours outside of work had a great influence on the 8 hours I spent at work. I also discussed my plan and progress with my manager and a few team members on occasion. Soon enough, people started to observe the efforts and the results on my mood. This reinforced my need to keep at it—because the bad days would still show up unannounced. 

4. Track your moods and triggers

As I started to learn more about my mental health, I also started recognising certain patterns for what would trigger a negative response or an episode. Certain tasks at work, would seem really daunting on days my anxiety levels were high. On other days, they would happen effortlessly. It really helped me to start becoming mindful about how my moods impacted my productivity at work. I also started to observe my interactions with others on days of high anxiety. Over time I learnt a few hacks like - I would not make any major decisions that needed a lot of thought on days I felt super anxious, I would revisit work that seemed too daunting on a day I felt more stable. 

5.  Ask for Help 

Over time you may find that no matter what you do, you are unable to manage on your own. Some days may be great and the others may seem really daunting. At times like these you should know that it is totally okay to ask for help. Reach out to the Human Resources team and understand if there is any ‘Employee Wellness Program’. If you are applying for a new job and you already are living with mental health challenges, look for companies that offer mental health assistance—such as crisis lines or therapists on-call. 

Over time as I got accustomed to my mental health and kept at being vocal about it when necessary, I realised I was not alone. Slowly, my colleagues too started opening up about how they also face their own challenges with their mental health. I soon realised, being vulnerable and honest can be powerful not only for oneself but also help in creating a safe space where we normalise the challenges we face with our minds. 

About Rachana

Rachana Iyer is a social impact specialist, spoken word artist and works towards bringing awareness in the mental health sector. She has worked across social development programs in India, Africa and the U.S. Rachana is an alumna of Tata Institute of Social Sciences and currently leads Corporate Social Responsibility at a leading financial institution in India.