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You’re Worth the Effort
BY CHRIS AYOUB · HIGH TOUCH OPERATIONS MANAGER · UNITED STATES
I was inspired to share my own story because of the positivity and support shown by the Cisco organization. At the end of last year, Cisco Canada hosted an Employee Mental Health webinar. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person listening who experiences struggles.
Hopefully, by sharing my journey, I can help someone else who is trying to find their own way.
What does anxiety look like? What does depression look like? What does any mental illness look like? It looks like me.
From the outside looking in, it seems like I have everything together.
I have a loving wife and two beautiful children. I am physically healthy. I have a great job. I have supportive family and friends. What do I have to be anxious or depressed about?
Those of us with mental illness often assume that everyone can tell that we are depressed or anxious. In most cases, however, no one knows.
We suffer in silence. There isn’t a visible sign on my forehead to let everyone know that I’m struggling, even when I am.
Even using the words “mental illness” can feel excessive at times, like making a mountain out of a molehill. The word “illness” conjures up images of someone who is weak or broken. That only reinforces the stigma that we desperately need to change.
In my experience, people struggling with anxiety and depression are some of the strongest and most determined people I have met. They put on a brave face when they are suffering on the inside.
I have been dealing with generalized anxiety for most of my adult life. It is not something that I struggle with 24/7, but it’s always in the back of my mind, ready to jump out at a moment’s notice. There are long periods when I live without anxiety, but it has definitely been along for the ride for almost 20 years.
One of the more difficult stretches of my ride with anxiety was in December 2017. From one day to the next, I started to feel anxious, on edge, and exhausted.
When someone feels anxious, their mind conjures up a million “what if” thoughts.
- What if my anxiety affects my work?
- What if my colleagues find out?
- What if I lose my job?
- What if I can’t pay my bills?
- What if I lose my house?
These intrusive thoughts can go from bad to worse very quickly and can be terrifying to someone who has never experienced them.
I was struggling, but I decided to speak to my manager about it.
I went back and forth for about a week on whether or not I should speak up and finally decided to take the plunge. I arranged a call with my manager and opened up about my struggle with anxiety.
To my surprise, I wasn’t fired on the spot. :-)
My manager thanked me for telling him how I was feeling and said that he was here to provide me with as much support as I needed. And he continued to check in with me over the coming months.
His support was invaluable and took a huge weight off my shoulders. It allowed me to continue doing my job and focus on my mental health simultaneously. For him, it might have been a simple conversation, but, for me, it was crucial.
It also had a positive impact on our professional relationship because I truly know that he has my — and my teammates’ — best interests at heart.
Speaking to a colleague or manager is scary. We feel like we will be judged and looked at differently. In my experience — both in and out of Cisco — people are kind, understanding, compassionate, and willing to listen if you give them a chance.
In today’s society, mental health touches everyone. If you haven’t experienced mental illness yourself, someone close to you has.
For anyone reading this who may be struggling, sharing your story with someone else is a personal choice, but if your gut is telling you to reach out to your family, a friend, or colleague, I strongly suggest you consider doing so.
The journey is a lot easier if you aren’t going it alone. Start with being kind to yourself and allow others to do the same. The challenge you are facing is nothing to be ashamed of.
For those of you who may know someone dealing with a mental illness, be patient and empathetic. People don’t choose to feel this way. They are not to blame. Even if you can’t understand what someone is going through, your support can play a huge role in their recovery.
Lastly, for those of you who may deal with mental illness in the future, just know that there is always hope. You can face anxiety, depression, or anything else and still live a full and productive life. Will you have challenges? Of course, we all do.
Fortunately, there are many treatment options available. Whether it is medication, meditation, therapy, or any other avenue you may pursue, it is worth the effort. You are worth the effort.
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