Martin Gallagher explains how support from colleagues and family helps him manage mental health symptoms, like depression, at work.
It's hard to describe how depression impacts so many aspects of our lives. It's the one thing that changed how I behave, react to different situations, and feel when the symptoms take hold.
Juggling my personal life, relationships, kids, and basic day-to-day chores can become really challenging when living with depression.
For me, one of the most important aspects of life (whether you like it or not) is money. After all, it's your job that pays the bills, the mortgage or rent, and things for your family. For somebody with depression, the pressure to keep all of this up can be extremely overwhelming - even if you're excellent at your job.
It can feel like all this pressure begins a cycle of stress and dread about losing your job, no matter how many times someone tells you how well you're doing.
When symptoms of depression flare
The expectation of leaving your mental health condition at the door when getting to work is arguably a fair one. But some days, it can be absolutely impossible.
It can require a tremendous amount of strength to "get over" a bout of anxiety or depression, as well as the overwhelming sense of fear that comes with it. It can feel like you're going to fail.
Sometimes your commute to work might be spent fighting the feeling you're not good enough. It may feel as though you're going to let everybody down, ruin situations and be judged by other people no matter what you do. I've even had days where I've called in sick, jumped back into bed and cried myself to sleep…all before 9 AM.
You know, the usual.
On other days when you feel strong enough to push through and make it into work, it might feel like you're ready for more than just a coffee when you finally sit at your desk.
When your work impacts your personal life
I advocate for people over the phone or face-to-face, which can be a very stressful job. It's full of personal pressures to do your best for the person you're advocating for. It isn't a great feeling when you don't get the result you or the other person wants.
I advocate for the Gypsy Roma and Traveller (GRT) community, who still receive what is described as "the last accepted racism". I personally come from an Irish Traveller background. I know Travellers can experience very toxic treatment from sections of society. The discrimination and racism you're working against can also feel highly personal.
This can prove very challenging to deal with, and sometimes it's hard to disconnect when I'm at home and trying to enjoy my personal life.
The nature of my job also means I often have to meet with influential people such as councils and government bodies. Sometimes I feel super-confident I'm helping others, but I can feel really down some days. I can feel absolutely petrified about going into meetings, making calls or sending emails. Sometimes I can't even open my laptop.
Every morning before I go to work, this sense of dread affects my body physically. My arms, hands, neck, and back hurt because they are clenched so tightly. I also used to have horrendous migraines every week and constantly worked myself up about things that weren't actually happening. Even my teeth have been affected by grinding them in my sleep at night.
Talking about depression isn't easy
It's understandable why it can be so hard to talk about something as heavy as depression to your boss or work colleagues. We don't want people to think we're lazy or trying to get paid for doing nothing.
And once you put yourself out there as suffering from depression, it can feel as though you're constantly being watched. Sometimes, just making a phone call in front of colleagues can make you feel anxious. This can build up as your workday goes on. It gets worse and worse until you feel like you can't even do the most basic tasks.
Finding support networks
I'm lucky - both my organisation and my manager understand mental health. They support me to be open and honest about what I'm experiencing and allow me to do what I need to do to get back to feeling my usual self.
This is a far cry from where I've worked in the past. It felt like mental health was never taken seriously and might have resulted in resignations or dismissals.
My family is also an essential support network for me whenever I need help. They check up on me, asking me questions to pinpoint why I might be having a bad day.
If that doesn't work, I try and get as much alone time as possible, even though it feels unfair to leave my wife to manage with two young children. But, sometimes, taking the kids out for ice cream or doing something fun can start the process of feeling like myself again.
Take control of the situation
Sometimes, I feel sad about having bad days and being unable to fully appreciate some life experiences. However, I have found many things that help me feel better:
- Finding support networks at my job. If you need support at work, explain your situation to your manager. Find out what assistance they can give to employees suffering from depression.
- Talking to my family. Try talking honestly with your parents, siblings, or spouse. They may help you open up and pinpoint why you're feeling down.
- Taking time for myself. This lets me clear my head. Honestly, try something fun or exciting to help you feel better again.
Thankfully these days, we are far more understanding of depression and the symptoms that go with it. Hopefully, we'll become more empathetic to those with depression, stress or anxiety.
Hopefully, we'll continue to work together to become the best co-workers and people possible... even on the not-so-good days.
NPS-IE-NP-00345 December 2021