Mental Health: Why Talking and Listening is So Important
This is a blog by Senior Lead Consultant Kevin Sandberg for Mental Health Awareness Week 2020, taking place May 18th – May 24th. In a time where looking after our mental health is more important than ever, Computacenter are proud to be supporting this initiative and spreading the message that #KindnessMatters.
I’ve almost been working for Computacenter’s TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence for five years. In reality, it should be closer to 7.
Back in 2013, I took a dream trip. I was celebrating my 33rd birthday and I found myself sitting in a pool in Orlando, Florida. Beer in one hand, floating on an inflatable. I was relaxing before going out for a meal with my wife and parents-in-law at the Hard Rock Café. It was everything I could ask for in a holiday, but I was sad.
Hiding the symptoms
This wasn’t the typical birthday blues. I felt down. If I couldn’t be happy in this scenario when could I be? Later that month, I opened up to my wife about it. At first, she was upset as she hadn’t realised anything was wrong. That wasn’t her fault though; I’d been very good at hiding it.
I realised that I was feeling isolated and started looking for a new job. My reasoning was that maybe I would be better off in an office-based role with more day to day interaction with other people.
I didn’t feel good enough to do my job. I didn’t feel up to it and I felt like I was going to be caught out at any minute. Every day was like treading water. I was exhausted and I felt like an imposter.
Later that year, I was approached by a former colleague who wanted me to join her team. I knew a couple of people who worked at her company already, we had all worked together at the NHS.
I thought it would sort everything out. But of course, it didn’t.
New challenge, same me
After an initial bout of feeling good about myself, I quickly reverted to how I was when I was working at home for the TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence. I was up and down – more down, though, if I’m being honest.
It was great being with my former colleagues again and I loved managing the team I had. I will always be proud of what they achieved but I wasn’t enjoying my new job.
I missed working with ServiceNow and I felt restricted in what I was doing. I couldn’t seem to achieve what I wanted to.
Coupled with the imposter feeling that I still carried with me, I now felt frustrated that I couldn’t easily do for my team what I could have done if I had different tools.
When life gives you a Volvo
When I took the role there was a possibility the new company would be implementing ServiceNow. They actually went with another vendor and all of a sudden, I felt like someone had swapped the keys to a Ferrari and given me keys to a second hand Volvo; functional, but lacking.
After a particularly ranty social media post on my part, a former TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence colleague reached out and said to me, ‘You know Kev, we would love to have you back.’
I thought about it long and hard.
I knew quite soon into the new job that this wasn’t the quick fix I had hoped it would be in terms of my general mood. Logically, coming back to the TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence was the best choice for my career.
I would make the working from home work.
I missed that ‘family feeling’ that I had lost when moving to a larger organisation and felt less involved.
It was also nice to feel wanted. I was in the middle of a major project and had to work a 3 month notice period.
So, even though the then TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence MD asked if I could shorten my notice period as they were keen to get me back, it was important to me that I didn’t let down my new team or my colleague who had offered me the opportunity.
Time for honesty: I suffer from mental health issues
So here goes, full disclosure – I have now realised that I have struggled with mental health issues for years and probably long before I even joined TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence in 2013.
I have good days, I have bad days. I can have good weeks and I can have bad weeks.
Lately, I have learnt how to manage it better. It’s still hard to talk about. It’s hard to convey what I am feeling as I don’t fully understand it myself, but I deal with it better than I used to. Sometimes. Some days it takes all the effort I can muster to get out of bed and face the day.
My biggest issue at first was that I didn’t know why I felt this way. I had a good job, a good career, lovely colleagues, great friends, great family and a gorgeous loving wife who I adore. I know I had a life a lot of people would give their right arm for, but I still felt really low and unbelievably sad at times.
I told a former TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence colleague about my issues and she couldn’t have been more understanding. Eventually, I opened up to more of my colleagues, including my current line manager.
Getting mental health support from my employer
A couple of years ago, I referred myself to NHS Talking Therapy sessions. I was lucky and got an appointment quite quickly. I began to have a weekly 30 minute session, before being referred and having 60 minute sessions each week.
The TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence have been fantastic, giving me the time off to go and have these sessions in work time.
I couldn’t have gone otherwise, and although I tried not to let it affect my work, I could come out of those sessions on a Friday physically and emotionally drained. I had to sit in the car for a good 10 minutes after one session before I was even up to driving away.
I learned a lot about myself. I also had an event in my life happen at this time which wasn’t nice and that didn’t help, but the support and understanding from people did. I tried anti-depressants to see if they would help.
The side-effects didn’t outweigh the benefits and eventually, I made the decision to come off them after trying a number of different types. I am aware people have found medication to be a massive help but I have found talking to be the best therapy, and now most of the people I am close to are aware of the struggles I have had.
I call them my ‘fluffy’ periods.
Reaching out and overcoming a reluctance to talk
I understand the reluctance to talk about mental health. I was brought up in the North East of England in a working-class area where you don’t show weakness. Especially the men. It’s a sign that you’re not tough enough.
You definitely don’t talk about it even though that’s the worst thing you could do. And this is what I had been doing for years.
I guess if there is a message in this blog, is that if you can relate to anything that I’ve said and want to talk about it. Reach out.
Reach out to somebody you are comfortable talking to about it. Some people would rather talk to someone they don’t know that well, others want to talk to someone they are close to.
Mental health: An ongoing journey
I am not going to sit here and say I am 100% better now. I have finished my therapy sessions, and I deal with things better. I don’t bottle things up anymore. I’ve learned to reach out if I’m struggling and for me, that’s major progress in itself.
I still feel like I am an imposter at times, that I’m going to get found out at any moment. I’m rubbish at receiving praise and I can tend to focus on the negative. I worry about things I can’t control, and some days I do want to hide away – but I am aware of it now – and I try to manage it and deal with it as best I can.
I went back to Florida with my wife last year, I was in the exact same pool that I had been back in 2013 with a beer and I can honestly say, it was two of the happiest weeks of my life.
If you are struggling please don’t suffer in silence. Please do reach out to someone you feel comfortable with, and if someone reaches out to you, you don’t need to have all the answers – just listen.
You’ll be doing more good than you’ll ever know.
For more information on Mental Health Awareness Week and for support regarding mental health issues, visit the Mental Health Foundation website.