As you get older, you realise it’s necessary to sacrifice certain things in order to facilitate most of the big developments in life. Whether you are entering a serious relationship, starting a family, buying a house or making any other long term commitment, it usually requires you to give up certain elements of your lifestyle or routine.
In fact, as you become a ‘responsible adult’ you are expected to make sacrifices. So why is it so difficult for most people to give up certain elements of their lives in order to maintain their mental health?
When work takes a toll on your mental health
I am a member of the Gypsy, Traveller & Roma (GRT) community in the UK, where we are one of the most marginalised and discriminated against ethnic groups. My job consists of providing advocacy and advice to my community while also meeting with decision-makers to challenge discrimination and work to provide a better quality of life for GRT people in Wales.
Now this is a great job for someone who is an activist for equality, as I get to be in the right places with the right people who can listen to the issues we face. I deal with councils, politicians and other “important people” and get to try and affect positive change for my community and, ultimately, my kids.
Unfortunately, all too often I would come home without the results that my community, and those who strive for equality expect. As you can imagine, this makes it incredibly difficult for me to disconnect and give my full attention at home, where two extremely excitable young kids and two lively dogs await me. Yet again, it would be up to my wife to lift me out of my misery.
This got progressively worse, until I found it difficult to even take calls from GRT people. I found myself in a cycle of being afraid to take on an issue because I knew the result would most likely not be a positive one. I didn't want to have yet another conversation where someone was let down by a decision-maker.
I found it hard when nothing changed, even when professionals agreed that what was happening was wrong. It made it difficult to visit people as the issues that were being brought up would lead me to become invested and angry at previous disappointments and injustices.
I felt useless. Absolutely worthless.
My mental health was at its absolute worst. Passive suicidal ideation, became more than involuntary thoughts. They became urges.
Where I could normally pass unwelcome thoughts off and tell my brain how stupid it was being, now it became a battle with negative feelings that threatened to take over. Involuntary visions would make my brain burn and tingle and the angrier I got at myself, the faster they suggested I harm myself.
Deciding to seek help
Thankfully, I was able to call someone and tell them about this new experience and how scared I was.
Following many appointments with a sassy counsellor, I realised that I needed to make big changes to my life. Obviously these were scary at first, but I became more positive at the thought of managing the areas of my life that required a lot of my attention and energy.
Firstly, I reduce the time during which my mental health took the most battering. From 2017 to 2018 there were 15.4 million sick days lost to work-related stress in the UK. So it is not uncommon to battle with mental health in the workplace. And since the issues I faced in my job were so close to home, I decided to cut down on my work days. Even if it did mean that I’d have less money at the end of the month.
Putting my mental health first
Because you have to pay the bills and maintain a lifestyle, your job usually becomes the one thing that is untouchable. But once I decided that I had to cut down on work, my mind became more positive, my anxieties were not as intense, and weirdly, I found myself becoming creative for the first time in years.
Some people seemed to think this was quite a drastic and dramatic decision to make. I thought so too. If you have a strong work ethic it’s hard to imagine scaling down to work part-time for the sake of your mental health.
I worried that my reduced working hours would increase my wife's worries about security and add to her own anxieties. But I am fortunate that she saw it was worth a try to help my mental state.
I worried about the possibility of people judging me for working less, but ultimately I know that to remain in a dangerous environment just to please others, will do me more harm than good.
I am not willing to put a job or career before me and my family’s health and wellbeing. Because in the end, that is my ultimate priority.
UK/MED/20/0038 February 2020