How a short conversation made such a big difference.

I type this with some trepidation. This relates to an experience in my own life; and whilst the tone is supportive, I am appreciative that everyone’s battle is different. I type this in the hope that if it helps even one individual feel that they are able to share with someone, then something positive has come out of it.

Last week, after a particularly difficult and stressful day, I posted a status on Facebook commending the support that I received from my employer; and how their compassionate handling of what was a particularly soul-destroying moment made such a big difference to my ability to get through the day. In such a short amount of words, it is not easy to articulate the reasons behind something, and just how much a small act of kindness can make such a difference, but I will try here.

I am very lucky, and extremely appreciative of what I have. I am a college tutor, a private tutor and a study consultant; working with schools, colleges and individuals to support improvements in literacy standards. Whilst this is a large part of what I do, other factors are equally important to me, particularly ensuring that students feel confident, comfortable and able to share their academic worries and concerns without fear of judgement. It is this that makes me know that I am a good practitioner, and that ultimately I am in the right profession and can contribute successfully.

Whilst provision for students and clients is improving all the time, and mental health is moving to the top of the agenda for many universities, it is still the case that many employees do not feel that they can share their mental health concerns with their employer for fear of not being taken seriously; particularly in my own field of education. How many people reading this don’t tick the ‘mental health’ boxes of an application form, for fear of their application being somehow compromised? As someone who is fairly open about my experiences, up until now this has still felt a step too far for me; and it saddens me that I feel this way.

Last Thursday’s experience might not seem much to some people. I faced what is probably a teacher’s worst nightmare; a total mental block on a subject I knew clearly, and a subsequent panic attack in front of a class of lively students. Mental blocks are nothing new to me, they are the most harrowing side-effect of my own anxiety battle, they have affected large chunks of my professional and social lives, but the location and the circumstances in which this happened was particularly stressful for me. When I was a trainee teacher I encountered a similar issue, with the solution to this being deemed to be more observations, more constructive criticism and, as a result, the destruction of my own belief in teaching. This did a lot of damage and it has been a long road to proving, particularly to myself, that I could do this. That is why what happened on Thursday mattered so much.

What happened after the lesson changed a lot for me. I shared exactly what had happened with my employer. I explained the reasons behind why I felt this way, and spent the next ten minutes apologising profusely. Not only were they understanding, the response was practical and helpful. I believe the subsequent lesson was a success because of this positive intervention. It was only a short chat – but the impact of it was so very important. I have had supportive employers before, and even though I am usually very open, I felt so profoundly fearful to share my feelings, yet so much relief with the response to me doing this.

Battling anxiety is a long hard road, but sometimes taking the time to understand the situation of those around you can make things a little easier. It did not stop the exhaustion the following day that an overactive mind brings, it doesn’t cure the mind-blocks, or the self doubt that comes with fearing that you are ‘overreacting’ (a word I despise; simply as it belittles what are ‘reactions’ that are an individual’s way of coping with a situation). Anxiety makes me mumble, slur words and struggle to make eye contact. Sometimes, it causes physical symptoms like dizziness and an inability to walk in a straight line. I have even been asked by people if I have a disability. Yes, seriously. These all have some impact in how I see myself, particularly in times of disappointment or fatigue. But it is part of me, and I’m not ashamed of it. Society is improving in regards to mental health, but we still have a long way to go, particularly in regards to promoting positive attitudes to mental health in the workplace. That’s why I wanted to particularly highlight my case, their response was incredible and it deserves recognition.

If you are suffering, don’t be afraid to share with your employer. A good business will understand, support and work with you. You are much more valuable than being defined by your mental health; it should be treated no differently to any physical ailment.

As for that application form: next time I am ticking that box. Original blog post:

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