Mental Health Awareness Week 2017, we had a speaker in to do a talk in work and had the worst panic attack I’ve had in my current role. And I was mortified. The irony of the panic attack and the shame that followed? The talk was about reducing the stigma of mental health in the workplace.
There I’m sat amongst all my colleagues listening intently to a fantastically brave man being the emotional equivalent of naked in front of a crowd, speaking about his own mental health journey and how he “came out” after 30 years of hiding his mental illness from his family and friends and the various jobs he had. Hearing him talk about his struggles and what he went through over the years made me that familiar feeling creep up on me. My breathing got tighter, my hands started to tremor, gut bubbles started to build up. I’ve been here before more times than I would ever admit. There is no rhyme or reason to when they happen — it just takes over. Accompanied to this, a voice in the back of my head (I can only describe it as an echoed twisted version of my own voice, but like I have had a few nights out on the trot and am starting to lose it coming from somewhere at the base of my skull/top of my spine) telling me the same thing as always “You can feel it happening. Give into it. They will finally see how weak you are. You don’t have it together. You’re a sham.”
Side note — even writing this, it is happening but I know I have to write it down to own it and be able to get some sort of handle on it.
But I kept my cool, of sorts. Rubbing pressure points in my palms that someone a long time ago told me would help (I have no idea if they do or if I’m doing it right but it has now become a crutch I use to distract myself) and focused in his words.
“It’s okay, not to be okay.”
Those words flowed over me like the heat you get when you first step off the plane on holiday somewhere nice and warm. I felt a calm my whole body. It’s okay not to be okay.
And then the tears started. My mental health has a delightful way of manifesting itself when I push down an attack and try to ignore it or keep it all in despite wanting to burst. Tears fill my eyes uncontrollably. I try to brush it off pretending my lashes are bothering me, that I have something in my eye, fixing my lower lashes so it looks like that’s what is making my eyes water. As much as possible I tried to catch the speakers eye, I knew that if he locked eye contact with me the tears would stop. My anxiety would take over of being the centre of attention in a negative way and I clam up. The frustrating flip side of this is that the PA symptoms start again. I managed to hold it together until the end of what was the longest hour of my life and sprinted to the bathroom and broke down. I wanted to be anywhere else but there.
However, I am one of the lucky people who have people around me in the workplace who are aware of my struggle and I can have these wobbly moments as I refer to them as in front of. I hate doing it for all the reasons I’ve explained above but I cannot express how thankful I am I have them.
FanDuel is also one of those rare places where mental health is one of the top things in our priority lists for caring for our staff. Admitting that you need a break, that things are getting too much or that you are struggling to cope is something that is not stigmatised in FanDuel. We understand that not everyone wants to talk about it but if they do that our teams have had training on how to deal with people who are going through a difficult time with the mental wellbeing. Open Door policies with our head of Talent and encouraging open and honest communications between line management and employees are also ways that we ensure that people feel comfortable discussing their mental health and know that if they are struggling that it is a safe place for them to be frank about how they are feeling.
This is one of the main reason I adore FanDuel. Coming from environments where you are told to “go sit in the car if you feel upset” (Overheard to a colleague and said to me) and god forbid you should call in sick due to stress/anxiety or have your doctor’s note say anxiety or depression. Something as simple and honest as admitting to your doctor you need a break gave you the scarlet letter of “F” for Freak and you were the gossip of the office for the whole time you were off and long after you came back.
This could not be further from the truth in FanDuel. Their continual acceptance of people’s mental health issues in a positive, safe and loving manner is something most companies should embrace. Instead of saying “Come on, cheer up!”; they ask “Would you like help?” and if your reply is yes, they ask “How can we help you?”
This doesn’t just apply to our Talent teams, this is promoted and encouraged through all levels of management.
Anyway, back to the title.
During the talk, the speaker (who shall remain nameless for the purposes of this blog as I haven’t asked his permission to use his name) handed out cans of baked beans. This related to his name and he said it was part of his brand and how he got people to remember him and his talks. More importantly, he haded them out for people to have on their desks for the week following the talk, so when someone asks “Why do you have a can of Baked Beans on your desk?” they can open the conversation about mental health and how it is okay to talk about it.
I want to take the opportunity to say thank you to the speaker and let him know (if he ever reads this) that he got me through one of the toughest mornings in work since starting in FanDuel. Hearing about his story and how he has turned it around into something positive is inspiring. More importantly, he admitted very candidly that he still gets panic attacks regularly but being honest with himself helps him handle it.
So from now on, every time I see a can of beans, I will think of him saying….
“It’s okay not to be okay.”