I have suffered from depression and anxiety for 23 years.
And, guess what? There hasn’t been a lightning strike and I haven’t been marched off the premises.
I’ve spent the past 15 years of my career – in recruitment and HR – raising awareness of disability issues in the workplace, encouraging individuals to disclose disabilities to employers, coaching partners through assessment and hiring decisions, encouraging candidates to choose a firm where they can show their true self at work and, above all else, selling the supportive culture of the law firms for which I have worked. I’m passionate about diversity and inclusion and have been contributing to the debate professionally for many years. It is through this work that I have long felt – and seen – that law firms need to address the sheer volume of mental health issues which are prevalent in the profession. If we don’t, we run the risk of not attracting or retaining the brightest talent. However, it has taken me a long time to turn the spot light on myself. Why?
I’ve worked at Norton Rose Fulbright for coming up to five years and I can honestly say that from day one, I felt I could be myself. The firm has such a great culture that I finally let barriers down. But, even as I write this, I know that I’m not really telling the truth… because until today I have only brought 90% of the real me to the workplace. The other 10% is known by a select few (those in the circle of trust) but it’s probably the part which defines me most my values, how I treat others, how I view the world. So, despite all of the work which I have done in the diversity space, it was only when I saw that the firm was finally establishing a disability network “Shine” that I felt I could share my story. So here’s my big announcement…
There, I’ve said it. And, guess what? There hasn’t been a lightning strike and I haven’t been marched off the premises. Why would I want to hide something which I have been living with, day in, day out, for most of my life? The answer can be summed up in one word: fear. I have always been afraid of how others will judge me, how others may not speak to me in the same way again, how I might be singled out as the person who needs to be treated with kid gloves, how it will affect my career. And here’s the irony. I know that living with and managing my depression has made me stronger, more resilient, more determined, and a better colleague. It defines me and I’m no longer ashamed of admitting that I, along with nearly 1 in 4 people in the UK, suffer from symptoms regularly.
What does living with depression mean day-to-day? At its worst, it means having to remember to take very good care of myself (getting as much sleep as possible, cutting down on personal commitments, avoiding unnecessary stress, remembering to communicate regularly and honestly with family and friends, checking in with the doctor, taking medication, seeing a therapist, checking in with HR). At its best, it means carrying on as usual (seeing my friends, travelling, enjoying life).
There are various reasons why depression and anxiety hits, and it’s different for everyone. For me, it’s sometimes been obvious – for example the loss of a close relative or when a parent was suffering from cancer. At other times, it can hit me like a bullet, with no apparent trigger. And that’s when the hard work really starts – getting back to ‘normal’, using tried and tested coping mechanisms but, most important of all, talking. And, I’m not great at talking about myself. Talking about my beliefs, my interests – yes. Asking for help from others? No. But being more open with work colleagues definitely helps, if only to have someone checking in with me regularly. And, let’s face it, we all need this from time to time, depression or no depression.
Why have I finally written this blog? I accept that not everyone will feel comfortable openly talking about mental health issues, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, work-life balance or caring responsibilities. But disability remains the elephant in the room so let’s think about how we can support our work colleagues who need it, when they need it, and not when they fall down.