Working with Mental Illness

By Annie Doherty

Working with mental illness is not always easy. Some days it’s all I can do to get out of bed, let alone look presentable and make it into the office where I have to interact with other people. Other times, my anxiety is so high I’m just waiting for some little thing to tip me over the edge into full-fledged panic. What I’ve learned, however, is that I need the structure of a job, going to a workplace, and the forced interaction with people. I recently got a new job and took two weeks off to work on some personal projects and relax before stepping into a new work environment. During those two weeks, the lack of structure was awful. It was incredibly difficult to get motivated to do anything and I began to be afraid to leave the house. 


    Having a job helps keep me strong in my fight against my brain. In one sense, it’s like I’m exercising those mental muscles that I need to help keep me functioning on a normal scale. If I don’t use them, they get weak and don’t always work the way I need them to. I need my brain to be actively diligent, aware of triggers and mood changes so that I can be prepared to react the best way possible. 


    I do have safeguards for when and if I feel the winds shifting in my brain. I have an arsenal of essential oils at my desk and in my purse for when my anxiety starts to spike. Whether or not the oils are really doing anything (because I know people love to argue both sides), the simple act of stopping what I’m doing and pausing to smell and apply them helps shift my brain’s focus. 


I’ve also been lucky to create friendships everywhere I’ve worked with people I’ve felt comfortable enough to share my story. Because of this, I’ve been able to have a support system at work. Simply telling a coworker that I’m high anxiety or struggling with a strong wave of depression can help keep things at bay. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been more honest with my bosses.  I’ve been fortunate to work on teams and have bosses that are understanding. I’m also a firm believer in mental health days - because just like when you have a cold, sometimes you need to stay home when you don’t have any strength to get out of bed.