‘A Part Of Who We Are’

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Sarah Doran

Sarah Doran

Sarah writes:

I’ve always been very open when it comes to talking about my teenage school absences due to depression and anxiety. However, when it comes to explaining why mental health issues have pulled you out of the workplace even I find myself stuck for words.

They say we’ve broken down the barriers and removed the stigma surrounding mental health in Ireland but, in my experience at least, that isn’t entirely true.

For the past two years or so I’ve been struggling to understand why I don’t feel as happy as I used to. From the outside looking in you’d probably never believe that I struggle at all. I make YouTube videos, I blog, I do TV spots and radio slots and I give 100 per cent no matter where I’m working.

I started attending therapy sessions to help me get a grip on anxiety issues I’ve had since I was a small child but this month, after a rather relentless series of self-esteem battering events in December left me feeling particularly desolate, I finally decided it was time to go and see a doctor.

“You’ll be grand” the only available GP assured me after asking a series of standard questions. “You’ve just had a bit of a terrible time of it. Go out with your girlfriends and go to your therapy. You’ve no biological symptoms. You don’t need anti-depressants.”

Three days later I found myself inexplicably frozen in front of my keyboard and suffered a panic attack so massive that I blacked out in the office kitchen. Within hours I was sobbing in my own GP’s office as she diagnosed me with reactive depression and wrote out the prescription I so clearly needed.

Anyone who deals with mental health issues will tell you that getting to the point where you CAN cope is probably one of the most important journeys you’ll ever go on. I had to do it when I was 15 and now, at 25, I’m doing it all over again. Unfortunately for me, I’ve had to quit my job to be able to do so.

It was an incredibly tough decision to make, especially given the “jobs are scarce, hold on to one when you get one” mantra that’s been drummed into us post Celtic Tiger cubs since the day we left secondary school in the late 00s. I waltzed into UCD in 2008 just before the Bank Guarantee and departed DCU in 2012.

I decided to give up a steady job in 2013 because I was so down that I needed to take a break to cope. “Employers won’t look favourably on you with a gap in your CV”, I was told at the time. It was the LAST thing I needed to hear and ultimately inspired me to take on an incredible new job I wasn’t at all ready for.

Within four months I was so inexplicably ill that I was being pumped full of steroids, having every blood test and scan under the sun, and ended up having to quit that job too.

I spent summer 2014 in an odd sort of limbo before I finally decided it was time to get back in the game in August.

Breaking back into the media world ain’t easy but an incredible opportunity popped up on Twitter so I applied for what would have been my dream internship. I was told I’d made it past the first round of email applications and asked for more details. I sent on my CV and a rather detailed message explaining that I’d been ill and was willing to work incredibly hard to rebuild the career I’d put on hold.

Imagine my excitement when I got the phone call to say the internship was mine? And the utter devastation when I discovered, less than 24 hours later, that it was all part of an elaborate TV prank. I felt like a complete and utter fool.

Luckily enough I managed to secure an incredible position with a wonderful organisation in Dublin that same week, meaning I wasn’t left high and dry.

The experiences and opportunities the incredible team at SpunOut.ie offered me were invaluable and, by virtue of working there, I met people who have actually had quite an important impact on my life in a rather short space of time.

That’s why I decided to ask that first doctor what I should do before I considered quitting such a fantastic job. I was in a state of complete and utter turmoil at the time so what came next was the last thing I expected to hear:

“Well it won’t exactly look great now will it? When the next lot ring them up and they have to say ‘oh well y’know, she just didn’t come in’. You’d be better off staying until you get something you can cope with.”

I’m 25 years old, have had previous experience with mental health issues, written about them and spoken to teenagers in schools about them and yet I found myself utterly dumbstruck. Don’t get me wrong, I know the world is no picnic, but in two sentences one person had managed to utterly destroy my hopes of ever being able to find a job again.

I did quit the job after that massive panic attack, knowing full well that I couldn’t cope and was of no use to anyone in my current state. The thought of offering less than 100 per cent is unacceptable for me as I pride myself on my professionalism.

In the days that followed I found myself thinking how that doctor’s words might have affected someone even more vulnerable than I? Would they have had support to help them find their way back from the edge? Or had I just had a very clear glimpse of the way in which people become a statistic?

It rocked me to my core and, as I spoke to friends and former classmates, I realised that the stigma is still alive and well. Even among the generation that now speaks so openly about these issues.

From the Career Guidance classroom to the workplace, we’re continuously told that leaving a gap in your CV isn’t a good idea. Employers want to know that you’re the kind of person they can depend on and there’s nothing wrong with that. Work is work and business needs to be done.

However, we’d hardly balk at a gap in a CV if it was due to a life-threatening illness, right?

So why do we still feel so ashamed or scared to say we’ve had to take time out because we’re struggling with a mental health issue? Why can a doctor tell me it “doesn’t look good” to say I’ve had to quit a job because I can’t cope thanks to a biological function I have zero control over?

Thankfully I’ve worked for some wonderful people and never been denied a job as a result of my own struggles. That doesn’t mean I amn’t terrified that it will happen at some stage though.

The words “employers won’t look favourably on you with a gap in your CV” and “well it won’t exactly look great now will it? When the new lot ring them up and they have to say ‘oh well y’know, she just didn’t come in” still ring in my ears.

And it’s the same for countless people across the country and around the globe.

Trying to forge a career and build a reputation is difficult at the best of times but when you’re fighting a battle with your own frame of mind it’s a whole different ball game.

There will always be someone willing to step into your shoes so the temptation to stick with it, even when you’re not coping, is all too great.

I was reading a copy of Glamour a few months ago when I came across a particularly excellent column by Dawn O’Porter about self esteem. “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about, be kind always” she wrote, quoting a mantra she’d come across online. It has stayed with me to this day.

Many employers are wonderful at doing just that but it’s safe to say that we’re still not at a place where the stigma has been sufficiently tackled. We need to keep the conversation going and hammer home the fact that mental health illnesses are just as debilitating and life-altering as many physical health issues.

They don’t define those of us who deal with them and they shouldn’t make us less favourable candidates for a job.

Mental health issues are merely a part of who we are and when we learn to cope with them, as I’m doing right now, those of us who live with them can be invaluable assets to any workplace.

You know what I did last summer? (It’s Strawberry blonde)

Thanks Kate Daly

76 thoughts on “‘A Part Of Who We Are’

  1. Joe Malone

    emm, it sounds like you want some special pass to success because you have an “illness”.
    You want to be open about it and yet expect employers to see past it and take you on. Depression is an illness and not something an employer would willingly take on – hence the silence. That’s life I’m afraid

      1. Joe Malone

        Real life is somewhat less utopian than the airy fairy world some people here live in. The vast vast majority of employers would choose a non depression suffering candidate over a depression sufferer any day of the week – depression will impact on productivity – and no amount of PC BS will change that. That girl should apply for work in the civil service where productivity doesn’t matter. In fact I’d say that’s where a lot of posters here “work” – it all makes sense now!LOL

        1. ZeligIsJaded

          You sound like you know a lot about life Joe.

          I’ve just taken everything you wrote on board. I’m sure everyone has.

          But why am I telling you – I’m sure you’re used to people being interested in what you have to say, right?

        2. Joe the Lion

          That was funny, thanks

          But you are aware that you have an illness yourself right?

          In the real world most employers would not see past the type of chronic stupidity and lack of consideration for fellow people with which you are afflicted.

        3. Major Thrill

          Well, now that you’ve revealed your near total ignorance of the nature of legislation, depression, what employers look for and who the commenters work for is there anything else you’d care to add?.
          Also by her mid 20s, she’s not a girl. So add “what a demeaning jerk you are” to the list.

      1. sickofallthisbs

        Jesus Christ, she asked the doctor for advice, which they gave.To advise somebody does not mean to tell them what they want to hear. Next people will be complaining that the diagnosis the doctor gave them was wrong. The doctor told me I had cancer, what a bollox! Sure, I only smoke 30 a day and I only eat processed foods while microwaving my ball sack every day.

        It’s hilarious that people go to a professional and then complain when what they hear back wasn’t what they wanted to hear.

    1. CPR

      Jaysus Joe it seems you have been reading ‘trolling for dummies’! What’s wrong? Are u so depraved of attention & longing to be sensational that u decide to slate a young woman’s act of courage?

      Well done. You are so brave hiding behind your keyboard inarticulately paraphrasing nonsense akin to a Westboro Bapist Preacher.

  2. B g

    They say gay marriage is the last taboo. it isnt. its mental illness. employers dont want to know about it especially in the media. sick pay isnt mandatory in any Staff Job so if i get a spell i just work through it. im still here.

  3. Leela2011

    Thanks for sharing that, I’ve gone through some of that myself and a few friends too. always helps to hear that ‘its ok not to be ok’ and that everyone has stuff going on you may not realise

  4. Soundings

    I wonder if Sarah put herself in the shoes of an employer, how she’d react to a 25 year old candidate with her story? I think her doctor was far too harsh and more worryingly, wrong – at 25, when someone in trusted authority tells you something, you take it to heart, and in my opinion, the doctor is wrong.

    As you get more senior, most jobs come from people you know, from networking, or through your network of contacts. It depends on your work of course, but depression isn’t necessarily a barrier in itself, it makes you the person you are after all.

    A referral to a therapist might help. Talking it through also tends to help. I hope writing it out in black and white, as above also helps. Good luck, Sarah, but I really don’t think you need as much of it as you think.

    1. sickofallthisbs

      Ah yes, the internet, to paraphrase: I think (without knowing the full facts and all sides to the story) the person with years of experience dealing with the health (and therefore the lives) of hundreds of people is wrong. While it was not the most sensitive advice, it was practical. If I was an employer I would be looking at her record and thinking – why are there gaps in her CV?

      Seriously though, Sarah I hope you get well soon.

      1. Soundings

        Not saying gaps aren’t something to look at, but if you’re in certain parts of the media or have project based work, then gaps are not unusual. If you’re a bookkeeper on the other hand, gaps would be more of an issue. Just saying this is not something for Sarah to keep beating herself up about, and given her still relatively young age of 25, the advice from the doctor in a position of authority was not helpful, and in my opinion, not accurate to the extreme extent he expressed himself. Sarah shouldn’t be held back by this admonition like some albatross around her neck; she’s articulate, wants to work and promotes herself well – employers like to hear potential employees work REALLY hard :-)

        Best of luck to her, but ongoing, it wouldn’t do any harm to find a therapist who might help, and be there if and when things do get rough – “it’s like a gym for the mind” as a friend of mine who deals with depression would say.

        1. Soundings

          I say “depression”, it’s more dealing with the memories and implications of some bad family history and personal relationships.

  5. Medium Sized C

    Elaborate TV prank. Christ. What the actual feck would you be doing. Tricking people into applying for jobs in a still broken economy. TOTES HILARE LIKE.

    Also, as an observation and maybe a warning to anybody else in a similar situation, it’s easy to be discouraged when you are suffering from mental illness like that. But for the love of God learn to filter. GP’s don’t know anything about the broader jobs market and the “gaps on CV’s” thing is a long thing. Like a year+. Not a few months to get your health sorted.

    1. JimmytheHead

      Adrian Kennedy show (98fm) gave a guy 1000 euro on air, then asked people to ring up and beg him to give it to them instead. One woman said she couldnt afford to bring her dog to the vet unless he gave her the money.

      Its like being back in Roman times.

    2. martco

      any idea what the prank TV show was?
      sounds like pretty vacuous crap if they thought a prank based on a fake job opportunity scenario would be remotely funny (or even interesting save for how ridiculous the idea is in the 1st place)

  6. phil

    Speaking of GP’s , I suffer from something similar but not as bad as the poster, was bad in my 20’s , I was on antidepresants and then moved to valumn , I learned to deal with it and was off the perscription drugs for years , I then had a relapse, I knew what I needed, just a perscription for a few days to give my brain a break …

    I went to a local GP in a state, I described my history and gave him the number of my usual GP, in a different part of dublin (miles from where I live now) The GP was very dismissive, told me he didnt believe in drugs and perscribed me a good brisk walk on the beach , I just couldnt believe him …

    Its not just employers who have a hard time understanding mental issues, even so called medical professionals, I complained to him in writing , I suggested that from my understanding of my own health issues he was potentially putting vulnerable patients at risk….

    I sure he just threw the letter in the bin …

    1. Mé Féin

      Speaking of GPs, they are an absolute waste of money. If something is wrong, save yourself the €50, look it up on the internet and self-medicate. After some trial and error, things should work out. I say all that as a former (reformed) GP. There is no such thing as medicine! It’s a government hoax along with fluoride and the Charlie Hedbo false-flag operation. GPs belong to a sinister fringe of water protestors.
      Thank you.

      1. sickofallthisbs

        HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, whaaaaaaaaattttttt? That is the most hilarious troll I have seen in years. Thank you so much!

      1. ZeligIsJaded

        +1
        A reluctance to prescribe for reactive depression and or panic attacks is understandable.

        It isn’t always due to mistrust of patient or dismissive attitude towards mental health issues.

        The medication in question is serious stuff. But an open dialogue with the patient should be enough to make an accurate appraisal of what’s required you would imagine

        1. Soundings

          Frankly I’m sort of impressed by the integrity of GPs not prescribing olanzapine when there is such a massive mark-up (costs €80 in Republic and €8 in Northern Ireland).

    2. kellma

      There are incompetents in every walk of life although it baffles me that a qualified GP can have so little understanding of mental illness to be so dismissive. OK I can understand to a point them being upfront about how employers will react because the harsh truth is that any employer would rather give a job to someone who is well (mentally and physically). And yes I know there is legislation and no ER would admit it but they will do this. It costs them more money otherwise…and they are in business to make money.
      But to tell someone to go for a brisk walk without delving further seems ridiculous to me. Like a hurt leg, each case is different. Some are little sprains that heal easily and others are bad breaks that need a lot more intervention. But at least you can see that clearly on an xray. Treating mental illness properly requires investing some real time…

    3. JimmytheHead

      Some GP’s can be great, ditch that moron and go for a younger model. I put up with the same useless snob for years, telling me I didnt need that much medication and to go for a long walk etc etc but one day he wasnt available so went to a colleague. She was in her 30’s and very much enthusiastic to hear my side of things. Life changer to say the least :-)

  7. JimmytheHead

    Finding it hard to comment on this but just want to say I know exactly how she feels.

    Stay strong Sarah, have faith in yourself and you’ll get there eventually :-)

  8. Clampers Outside!

    My sincerest best, I have a family member struggling with depression presently. And as a family, we’re all learning to deal with it in some way.

    I only wish you the best Sarah. *hugs*

  9. Digs

    Didn’t someone else write an open letter to BS about mental health recently. And of course there’s Brezzy… I accept it and embrace it, but it’s unrealistic to expect employers to be so understanding.

    I have low self esteem and as such, I have a bad diet and don’t exercise. I’m always tired and unmotivated. Can I get a fully paid job to tide me over until such time that I can commit to some personally incongruent activities?

  10. fluffybiscuits

    Howdy Sarah

    My ex had severe depression and I knwo friends who are in that deep dark place which some of us could only begin to imagine. Whomever that TV programme was were cruel and I hope it never got broadcast. There are some employers who may see this as being something they cannot work with however most employers will work with it. Under the Employment Equality Act it is a disability and employers cannot discriminate but how open they will or not will do this I dont know. My advice to you is to network, network, and network again with the various people that work in the industry you wish to pursue. If you do not wish to fill in the gaps on your CV with discussing your mental health issues then tell people you went travelling or do what a some people I know did, draw up a CV that covers the gaps and get friends to act as references, its not perfect but its worth a try if you are sure you can keep the story straight.

    I suffer from a bit of anxiety, went to see a counsellor and now Im a lot more rational. My way of coping with stressful situations is literally very dark humour (which is toned down for here !). Big squeezy bear hugs from me and hope you get better soon.

  11. Don Pidgeoni

    The great thing about these posts, great is probably not the word, but you know what I mean, is how supportive everyone is (except the lone troll – there’s always one) and how willing people are to share their experiences. The one time we all get along.

    You big saps.

    All the best Sarah, you know what works for you and keeps you healthy. Stay strong

  12. Spaghetti Hoop

    I sympathise with this poster’s illness and her negative experience with GPs.

    However, quitting a job every time one is ill is not the answer. Employment legislation facilitates periods of sick leave once certain criteria is met. I’m wondering why she considered quitting the job that she says made her so happy – actually discussing the move in advance with her doctor….? It hints that perhaps she doesn’t need to earn a living, but would rather spend time on and with her illness – this to me is perpetuating her problem. With all the focus on mental health issues right now, there should be some support out there on how to live with mental illness on a day-to-day basis, and I believe a GP can prescribe this rather than deliver it. Hope it works out for her.

    1. Sarah

      Hey Spaghetti Hoop,

      I totally agree with you – quitting the job isn’t always the answer at all. In fact, it’s always best to try and learn to cope within the environment. I was just at a stage where that wasn’t an option. I’m doing bits of freelance work on the side now instead – I can cope with that a LOT better.

      Thanks for your comment though – definitely a point that needs raising!

      S

      1. Spaghetti Hoop

        Freelancing is definitely something you are in control of m’dear, so go for it. It’s empowering and rewarding and suits some folk’s work tendencies far more than working for a company. When you’re not busy, allow yourself a set period of time each day to process your thoughts and practice some mindfulness / relaxing hobby – then get busy again with your work / marketing yourself. Best of luck and never despair ;)

  13. Sarah

    Lads – this is mad Ted, MAD!

    I’ve no idea which one of my friends came up with the alias Kate Daly but whoever she (or as the case may be, he) is, thanks for sending my little blog post in to Broadsheet.

    I’ve never ever had a problem getting a job because of what I go through and/or went through before. I’ve actually been so incredibly lucky and, as a result, worked REALLY hard no matter where I ended up.

    As I said in the post, it’s basically a fact of life that the best person for the job should have the job i.e the person who can cope with it. All I’m saying is a previous mental health illness experience shouldn’t stand in anyone’s way – that’s the thing I’ve been fearful of.

    Once you learn to cope,an employer isn’t taking on “depression” or a “mental health illness”. They’re taking on someone who is willing to work hard and knows how to cope at the same time.

    Cheers for all the lovely comments, emails and visits to the blog and Twitter. Yiz are a great bunch of lads all together.

    *tips hat*

  14. Pird

    The one thing that brings this nation of begrudgerigars together: We all secretly either suffer or know those who suffer from mental health problems. Everyone’s struggling through the wind and rain in their own way.

  15. Bluebeard

    People are born or develop many disabilities that make the living of their lives more difficult than for others. Thankfully we live in a first world country that does its best to care for them. Not just state support, but hundreds of charities, community groups, volunteers, families and carers who constantly overstretch themselves with compassion and hard work. We have a net, unlike many countries in the world. There is lots of support out there Sarah. Illness does make life more difficult for those that suffer from it, whether that be physically or mentally. Its a tough fact, but there is help.

  16. Lu

    Let me preface this by saying I understand and have been there myself – literally stuck in front of the computer screen with work to do but no way to do it mentally. I quit and redid my final year of university. No one has ever questioned when I give the line ‘I had some health problems that I needed to deal with’.

    The line that hit me most though is “The thought of offering less than 100 per cent is unacceptable for me as I pride myself on my professionalism”. This is a problem. In life, for everyone not just those who suffer with mental health problems, no one can give 100% all the time. The best that anyone can hope for is a solid performance while operating at 80% and the occasional moment where you pull it out of the bag and impress at 100%. I think intelligent and ambitious young people can push themselves too hard to perform and damage themselves when they can’t maintain it. Pull back, view life more holistically, question what success looks like for you as opposed to what society tells you it looks like. For me, it all got easier when I decided success was being happier and healthier every year and let that guide my choices.

    Aside from that, for anyone who is reading this and struggling, go get help, talk to an understanding GP. Don’t take no for an answer. Tell someone, anyone how much of a struggle it is.

    For me the drugs worked immediately and magically and enabled me to get the rest of my life in order. I also was offered group CBT which was surprisingly helpful (I was skeptical).

    1. Sarah

      You so right there Lu – that need to be at my best 100 per cent of the time is actually something I’m working on with a WONDERFUL therapist at the moment.

      I was only going to the doctor to ask about meds because I felt therapy alone wasn’t getting me out of the hole this time.

      Thanks a million for commenting.

      1. Lu

        Didn’t mean to sound like I was criticising (if I did) and glad you can see that it’s a point to work on. Feel better!

  17. Starina

    I’ve often wished i could call in sick with a bad mental health day…sometimes going into work in a state of severe anxiety and depression can be worse than going in with the flu, but I just don’t feel like mental health would be taken as seriously as physical health for a sick day.

    Hooray for anti-depressants — anyone who tells you they’ll change your personality or that they’re addictive doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Good luck, Sarah.

    1. JimmytheHead

      Antidepressants have such a bad rep. I held off trying them for years but jesus wish I had sooner. Admittedly coming off them wasnt easy, but still nothing compared to the alternative

  18. cacotechny

    I’m looking forward to jumping in front of a train later this year. That’s the best way to sort out those feelings.

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