After living with an anxiety disorder for twenty years I kind of got used to managing it, knowing what helped and what didn’t, what to do and what not to do, and I kind of compartmentalised my life.
I don’t know whether that’s the right thing to do, but it worked for me in a professional capacity. I rarely got anxious at work. I’d go to major events with thousands of people and have no problem, but step into a pub with my friends at the weekend and feel like my throat was being crushed. It never made much sense to me, but it enabled me to do my job.
I’ve worked in marketing for the entirety of my career so far and have never found it particularly stressful – not long-term, anyway – but I’ve worked for some Scrooges. Agencies that win awards for their self-professed care towards employees but pay poorly; managers who have no interest whatsoever in personal welfare; absolutely forbidden dentist appointments; long emails about why everything I’ve done is wrong. I’ve even worked for CEOs on the complete other end of the spectrum with such a regard for their own wellbeing that it prevented me from doing my job: ‘I don’t have headspace to talk to you right now.’
The world has been an especially difficult place for all of us over 2020-2021 and, as a result, I found myself in relapse. I was starting to panic about work – something I’d never really had to deal with before now thanks to my compartmentalising (and working for a genuinely great business) – and with no idea what to do. I have close friends at work, thankfully, who encouraged me to speak to our usually-very-understanding boss. We know each other well as a close-knit team at a marketing agency and spend time with each other outside of the office – but I still had no idea what would happen when I told my manager that I was struggling to be my usual straight-talking, eager self.
Working in the events industry, and weddings especially, requires spinning a lot of plates and, frankly, mine were going to smash. So I spoke to my manager.
It was really, really hard – but the relief was immediate. Getting my current reality off my chest was a great start and I made it clear that I didn’t expect my boss to directly do anything about it but that his awareness was important.
“What can I do?”
My workload was moved around, the pressure taken off and all shame and secrecy removed. I am in recovery now. Managing anxiety at work isn’t easy – but it’s a lot easier when you’ve got supporters by your side.