Sigh… This is a heavy topic to discuss. Why? You see the people at work far more than your friends and family… The relationships at work can be fulfilling or detrimental. At a particular place, I found it detrimental. This is also a topic I probably will bring up again. For now I am sharing my experiences. And if you relate, all I can say is, I am deeply sorry! My employment history is quite public, so I won’t name and shame. This woman right here doesn’t have enough money for a Defamation of Character Lawsuit! The experiences though, still stick to me like a bad fart that clings onto the walls of a room. Despite any trouble I had with mental illness personally, I never let it affect me at work. Bright and chipper, I made jokes and loved seeing people smile because it meant I smiled. Like I said, you see these people far more than you do the people you love; having a pleasant working experience is essential. However, things changed at a particular place. This sense of conformity to snitch, back-stab, fake politeness and feeling victory over someone’s failures (even being responsible for their failures). I still struggle to understand what anyone gains from doing this. One in four people are struggling with mental illness at work in South Africa alone. One third of the population struggles with mental illness. The stigma though is still super high. So high, employees don’t feel comfortable mentioning anything. It should be mentioned so the working environment should be made somewhat conducive for the employee. However would you like to be viewed as the “crazy” employee or put your head down and carry on? That’s at least what I was perceived as. The “crazy one”
My mental health and/ or illnesses were my personal issue. This time, this working environment made them manifest beyond my household. If anything, I went home feeling wrecked and abused. Home was not the source of my mental decline. I withdrew, I didn’t smile and the jokes were non-existent. I didn’t even do Fun Fact Fridays anymore! I got the best comment to my sudden personality change by a manager. I was told, ‘Put a smile on your face, you look constipated! Maybe if you take a shit, you’d look happier.’ I don’t remember needing to take a shit at that moment but I really wish that my only problem was severe constipation. When I first started working there, I had several people describe one another as “snakes” and as “being fake”… If only they realised the toxic environment they managed to spread amoungst themselves because, it was bred and fed to them by the people at the very top. Then came the inappropriate behaviour. I am a qualified pastry chef and chocolatier. I did drama as a subject in high school. So being yelled at and criticized was nothing new to me. Being berated and belittled however, was. If I hadn’t been made to feel like absolute crap for the day, then it was a good day (how sad). The sound of one of the boss’s footsteps down a particular hallway would render me into a state of anxiety, an internal prayer being said that it was not my turn to feel their wrath. I was petrified! Then began the shouting from anyone just slighter higher in “rank” than you… One ‘fuck’ after another followed by the occasional ‘shit’, perhaps the word ‘stupid’ or ‘idiot’ was casually thrown in, with threats of receiving warnings or being fired. If you were lucky, then a dramatic “soap opera” like slam of the door was followed. This was obviously done in front of most if not all of your colleagues. I mean, why perform and make someone feel bad if there isn’t an audience to really prove a point?
Other people without previous mental illness issues, started developing short term or mild anxiety and depression. I have never seen so many homeopathic anxiety tablets being passed around. I’d walk past a pair of people and it looked like a shady drug deal. I thought this was what the bathroom was for. No? Ultimately, after some physical, verbal, mental and emotional abuse, I fell apart. Even a case of sexual harassment got in there at some point. My family and friends worried about this shell or even husk of a person they saw. They knew I was not my best at all times, but this was the worst they ever saw me. I took a two-week break. An informal “sabbatical” of sorts. Well my return was less than well received. Treatment only getting worse. So I left. I took my belongings (my bags and wireless mouse) and left. A big risk knowing that I have bills of my own to pay. One colleague said I would be giving them all the power by leaving. Actually, I took my power, what was left of it anyway. I gave too much of it away in so many ways. If you don’t feel comfortable telling your employers about your mental health if it becomes a problem, then are they worth working for? Of course an employee needs to get help as well. I just don’t see the point in working in an establishment where you find majority of the people unhappy, fearful, anxious and depressed. If you haven’t found that happy place, look for it. Your mental health ultimately comes first. Your well-being comes first. Remember, you render your services and expertise (to the best of your abilities) and get paid- not to be made to feel like you are worthless. I couldn’t work at my optimal level because I was in so much fear of even being adventurous or falling flat. Where was the happy medium? I would urge anyone to get in touch with a centre near them. If you are in South Africa, please look up The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). You don’t need to exclusively have anxiety or depression for help. But please reach out to someone, anyone who can help you .