No matter how common mental illness may be, there’s still a stigma attached to it. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 Americans experience mental illness in a given year.
For me, it felt as though it had happened overnight, in an instant my day-to-day just became too much to handle, but in reality it had developed over many months and I was just too focused on pretending that it was all okay. I told myself, I can handle this.
Let’s backtrack to half a year earlier. I had just begun the job I had been working towards for the last few years, a corporate fashion job for a world-renowned department store. I had the opportunity to work in the photo studio assisting in organizing the photo shoots for more than 180 vendors for their website. It was a perfect opportunity to start my career in the fashion industry.
I stepped into my office, where I was greeted by empty desks and a few girls with headphones plugged into their ears and eyes glued to their computers. Uncomfortably, I sat in the lobby and attempted to make eye contact with every girl who walked through the door to see if they would give me some idea of where I was assigned.
It was a good 20 minutes before, serendipitously, my long-time friend walked through the doors and greeted me with a smile and explained that we would be working together on the same team. I was lucky to have her show me the ropes; many of the girls in my position had little to no training and would troubleshoot what their job even was for weeks. After a few weeks of disarray, I grasped the role and flourished in it. I felt accomplished. I saw my future clear as day and I was eager to rise in this company.
As months went by, I became more comfortable in my role. Things were going well until one day, when my friend whom I had been working with sent me a text message that read: They’re moving me to the shoe department. I didn’t realize how drastically this simple change would alter my job. A lovely girl who was promoted from my role to this new role was replacing my friend.
Only a few weeks into the job, she was overwhelmed and in over her head with the amount of work that was required from her. Although my manager stepped in to help, we all were working longer hours than we were used to, skipping lunches and feeling as though coming into work meant endless stress. The various teams and vendors we worked with grew frustrated with my new partner, even though she was given tasks that she had never been trained in. The days were long and horribly stressful, but I just kept telling myself it would be worth it. I can do this.
One day, my manager announced that she would be leaving the company at the end of the week. I began to panic. My partner and I would be left to handle this disaster with no support. A week after my manager had left, my partner also announced that she would be leaving the company.
For weeks, I was responsible for all the roles of my job, my partner’s job and my manager’s role. All roles in which I had not had training in. Many buyers, stylists and vendors were getting frustrated, as they were unable to understand why my company had not hired replacements for my team. I was in over my head; I had three roles, only one of which I had any training in. I told myself that they would see my work ethic, and all the stress I was going through would be worth it.
I couldn’t sleep at night, as I would have panic attacks about the amount of work I had waiting for me. I would skip breakfast because I never believed I had time to eat it. I would be afraid to leave my computer to go buy lunch, as there were hundreds of urgent emails rushing in that I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with if I left for even 15 minutes. I needed that time to work. With little sleep, rarely eating and being overworked, it was a recipe for disaster.
After about a month, they had hired someone new for the role above mine who would start in two weeks. Although I was thankful for the new partner, I would now have to train her in our department, as well as get through all my own work. I stared at my email inbox, and watched one email after another come in, each one more urgent than the last.
I began to hyperventilate; I wasn’t able to feel my body. I would try to write emails and my hands were shaking. Tears welled up, and I felt completely worthless. Anxiety rushed over me. Days went by where my anxiety attacks continued. Colleagues would come by and ask if I was okay. I would nod my head yes silently, but I clearly was not.
Feeling anxious and suddenly deeply depressed, I took a Monday off for a mental health day to meet with a psychiatrist. He went through a series of questions that showed that I was suffering from severe anxiety and depression. I felt as though I had lost all self worth.
I went back into work on Tuesday morning. I opened my email to 856 new emails. I began to have another anxiety attack, and I took the pills that my psychiatrist had prescribed me. They drained me. I felt a wave of unbearable sadness and panic come over me. I walked out of my office and onto the street in hysterics. I called my psychiatrist in a panic and I explained what I was feeling.
I told him that if I quit, I’d be a failure; but if I don’t quit, I don’t think I will be able to live another day. He told me that it was okay to not be okay, and that quitting would not make me a failure, it would make me a survivor.
That was the day I gave my notice. My newly hired manager asked if I would stay on for at least a month to help train her and my new partner. No, I told her, it was not okay for me to stay longer than two weeks.
I was not okay.
After my last day, I traveled for a few weeks and I began doing yoga and Pilates nearly every day, and all those days that I felt weak and hopeless began to feel like a memory. During this time, I also transitioned to becoming vegan. I realized that this company abused me and I never wanted to do that to anyone.
Becoming vegan was a way to remind myself to always be compassionate to all living things, because life is precious and should be treated like so. I took care of myself and learned to love myself once again through healthy living. I began working for an athletic wear company where I was respected, loved and appreciated. In the past year, I have grown and changed in more ways than I could have imagined and am discovering a healthy self.
Anxiety had taken over my mind and body, and even though it was hard to leave behind a job I believed I wanted, I realized that my self worth and well-being was more important. If I had only accepted that I was not okay, and given myself time for self-care and reached out for help earlier, perhaps I would have been able to manage my stress in a healthier way.
It’s okay to not be okay.
You are worth too much to accept that being unhappy, anxious or depressed is okay. If you are feeling this way, be open about it with yourself and those who love you. Seek help to find healthy ways to cope with what you are going through and know that you are never alone. Many people struggle with the same emotions you are going through, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel if you put your health first and seek the help you may need.