From a young age I knew that I wanted to work with children, and growing up with young children around me just confirmed my passion to work in this field. After working alongside inspiring practitioners and attending university for four years, where I spent a lot of time in the education environment, I was keen to pursue this dream as I thought I knew what would be expected. However, seven years later the job, the expectations, the priorities are not what I thought they would be.
When I first started, I was thrown into a stressful situation, which all educators in this field have to face, but I never thought I would see it after three months. I believed that my love for working with children would get me through, and it did. I thought this would be the most difficult experience, but it wasn’t until changes were swiftly made, that I realised that there was worse to come and that the next 5 years would be more stressful and cause greater anxiety than the rewarding feelings I should have been experiencing. In addition to the increasing pressures of my normal role, I then was offered a managerial role, which sounded great on paper, but in reality it simply added to the stress I was experiencing on a daily basis.
The stress initially presented itself in a physical way through what was previously a controlled condition becoming much more severe, resulting in frequent visits to the hospital. Over time, this became more manageable, however the continued pressures of the workplace began to take control on my mental wellbeing. Whilst appearing confident and bubbly on the outside, inside I began to doubt, not only my ability to do the job I had wanted to do for so long, but also my worth in terms of my relationship with my family and friends. Situations where I used to feel comfortable, became difficult to the extent that I withdrew from certain social groups. The passion which I had for my job, previously going in everyday with excitement, hoping to inspire the children to achieve their best, started to disappear and I became a shell of the teacher I was.
I had always been strong enough to deal with difficult situations myself and thought that I could do it this time. However, after several emotional episodes and a few months of denial at work, I got to a point where I couldn’t/didn’t want to let this continue and potentially ruin my career. A close colleague/friend had noticed my struggles and got to the point where she felt I needed support as I wasn’t the person, who she first met. A conversation with a member of management led to a discussion with occupational health, who diagnosed me with severe anxiety and depression, and suggested that I consulted a professional about how I was feeling. After I attended the appointment with the doctor, I immediately started to feel like I made a break through and that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
Through a close friend, I began to see a counsellor, who straight away could see the mental pain that I was in. She allowed me to speak for an hour, something I had been reluctant to do previously with friends/family. Talking to a stranger felt easier as I didn’t feel like I was being judged by people who knew the ‘old’ me. I am still seeing the counsellor, each time feeling stronger and more myself than I have felt in the past five years. I have now started to believe in myself again and my ability to do my job. Whilst I am aware that there is still some way to go, and the situation in my workplace is no easier, I feel like I have the tools to not let the difficulties and pressures affect me the way that they have previously done.
Don’t be afraid to take the first step, which is to admit to yourself that you are struggling. If I hadn’t been so stubborn for so long, these feelings may not have escalated to the extent that they did. I found talking to a professional away from the workplace and home (even though I know I would have been greatly supported) made it easier for me to share my true feelings and reflect on the impact of these feelings. Also, don’t expect to feel better straight away. I’m quite an impatient person, so it took me a while to realise I shouldn’t rush my recovery, it has and will continue to take its time, but at least I know I am definitely on the right track.
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