What exactly is the difference between mental health and mental illness? I never understood these two terms until I went through a life crisis in the story I am about to tell. I will talk about mental ilness on the level of depression and anxiety. For most people, the understanding is that it is an “illness” very much like epilepsy or diabetes. And the saddest thing of all is that a lot of people don’t even realise that they can be the one’s triggering it in a vulnerable person.
I recently came across a blog post that pinpointed every single thing that I have been going through in my life, especially in my work place. Source: Mental Health In The Workplace
In 2014 I joined the company which I will now be leaving in 2 weeks. When I first joined them, I was chirpy and happy, friendly and approachable, eager to learn. I dedicated a great deal of my time, efforts and energy into this place. I wanted to impress, to exceed my bosses and colleagues’ expectations of me. I was happy on the outside. Truth is, at that point in my life, I have never really been happy. I was sad and deep down I wished that some freak accident would just put me out of my misery. No-one knew the battle I had been fighting. And I never wanted to talk about it because I didn’t want to be judged or be considered as weak. Just shortly before I started my role in this job, I lost a very dear friend of mine back in South Africa. She died a week after giving birth to her son. Her husband messaged me at midnight that evening to let me know – I probably stopped breathing for what seemed like forever, but I didn’t cry. I just kept pushing through the days trying not to think about it. But I was mourning my friend deep down, in a place where no-one knew how broken up I was. I had to put up my happy face. I couldn’t walk around looking low.
Just weeks before that, I had to seize my self employment after only 3 months in. The hair salon owner who invited me to hire a room on her premises decided to close her business. I was left with little notice to move out and find a new location. Sadly I started running out of money because I wasn’t earning enough with mobile work. Needless to say, I lost a great deal of money in the process. Not even to mention the utter dissapointment that I couldn’t proceed with what I started. Still, I held my head up high and I didn’t let it get me down, I had to hold up my happy face for everyone.
Along the way came the new job opportunity and I was offered a position for spa manager at a young boutique spa. “Well hey, not all is lost” I thought, these people really really want me to work for them (I need to add that having had a particularly low self esteem at the time, this was really flattering for me) I felt so lost, but somehow this need that they had for me to work for them made me feel good and in control.
The “euphoric” feeling lasted for about 6 months. I put in a lot of effort, crazy hours and dedication into my job. I loved giving structure as well as work on little projects to run a happy and effective team. It was great to see the results and having people sing my praises. I was focused, determined to make this place successful. I have a strong will and I can win if I push myself just that little bit harder. I can’t fail, there is no room for failure, this has to work…
….until early last year when I finally cracked. I was slowly declining into deeper depression. It wasn’t just work but I had personal issues as well. I always refused to show my pain and instead converted those feelings into care and affection towards others but myself. Or I’d go the complete opposite and get angry. And I don’t cry…at least not until I am really angry. I kept bottling everything up, all the dissapointments, the toxic work environments I had found myself in over my career, the pressure I was putting on myself to be great, to be perfect, to fit in with people’s expectations of me, be who they want me to be – it all came crashing down like a ton of bricks.
It was only after my work load became increasingly difficult to cope with inside my normal work hours, that I started declining into the black hole – the black hole that saw me standing on my tippy toes on the edge, ready to fall in. I had trouble maintaining focus, so I decided to open up about my difficulties at work to my boss who I had formed a pretty close friendship with. I explained that I am getting too personally involved with my work and treating their business too much as if it is my own, that I am working very long hours to fit everything into my day, that I need to take a step back to maintain my focus and avoid burnout. It was my cry for help and understanding. But, I wasn’t greeted with the voice of support I believed I would get, instead I was told that there is no expectation for me to work the hours that I do and that I need to relax a little. But in the same breath “It’s good that you are as dedicated, this is what we want for our business and it isn’t a bad thing to be emotionally involved, it means you care enough about the success of the company” There was even mention of the plans for my future in the company. (Over a year later it still haven’t materialised).
Looking back now, this was a very wrong response to what were my first cries for help. I was vulnerable, especially to pressure, even if the other party thought they were not pressuring me. There were unspoken expectations and I knew I had to fulfill them. There was no offer to help simplify my workload and I had to deal with an attitude that I should be grateful that I am not doing treatments all day long. All I got from someone whom I was convinced would understand was a “You can come and talk to me anytime about anything” I didn’t walk away from that meeting feeling that it was fruitful, instead I felt that I needed to man up and grow some because I am bringing all of it over myself. So…I walked away from that meeting and I started spending lots of time in my head. I pushed myself even harder to work more and do “better” and to find solutions to getting tasks done quicker, but it didn’t happen.
My personal life wasn’t doing any better. All my confidence was gone, I needed reassurance that I was still good, acceptable, appreciated, valued, but nothing made me feel like it. I was good enough when I was giving genuine love, care and affection to the people in my life at the time, but at the time that I needed these people’s support, there wasn’t any from them, in some words, some even ran off pointing fingers at me and blaming me for everything while the all consuming dark hole wrapped itself even more around me “because I am such a piece of crap” I became angry, VERY angry. This is when anxiety hit me the hardest I have ever had it. And it became just me caught up inside my head and the darkness that filled it.
For more than a year I was lost, I became angry and disgruntled, I said horrible things without realising how much I am hurting others around me and I didn’t seem to realise how much I was pushing the people I care about away, because “I must stay focused “Stop being a sissy Elize” I would tell myself. “You are just a little tired, pull your socks up” Needless to say I found myself in some pretty unpleasant situations and also lost some friendships along the way.
At the start of this year I decided to stop being proud. That was hard. To stop telling myself that there is nothing wrong with me. But I knew that something was wrong. Something had been wrong with me all my life. I went online and looked up Life Coaches. I needed to start getting some positivity into my head. I needed to find a way to change this. And I did. You can read my post about these changes in my life by clicking here
And I do not regret this decision to turn my life around one bit. My life coach helped me to recognise all the things that contributed to my depression all my life and gave me methods on how to deal with it. And low self esteem was the number one contributor to a lot of my unhappiness and the stupid mistakes I made in my relationships with others.I went through a transition that is hard to describe, but I am different now. I am not harming my spirit anymore. I am not pushing my tired and arthritic body to it’s limits with excercise. I am loving again, I am in love with my life and even more in love with the love of my life. I am caring and affectionate to the people that this time really deserve it. And I completely changed my attitude towards work. There is balance which wasn’t there before. I am at peace for the first time in my life, real inner peace.
I will never feel perfectly happy, no-one does, not everyday. But I am content. And I feel good. I fight that dark hole every morning when I wake up, everytime it tries to swallow me back in. And it’s as tough as ever, but I am doing it really well because I now know when to recognise the patterns. Every day is a different challenge and when those negative thoughts enters my mind again, I fight them off. I do not let others rule my happiness anymore. For the first time in my life, I am comfortable (and confident) being me. I don’t need people to tell me good things about me, because I know there are many wonderful things about me. I am happy with the people that belong in my life and I am so grateful for the one’s that stuck around and supported me every step of the way.
This time in my life revealed who the real people in my life had been all along and this message is dedicated to my husband, my family and my wonderful friends. Thank you for everything. And most of all, thank you God for not giving up on me when I almost gave up on myself 🙏🏼