“She’s weak. She’s pathetic. We don’t need deadweight like her round here.” They were the words that I heard come out of the mouth of a senior director where I used to work. He was talking about a woman that I worked with. Somebody who had become a good friend to me over the years. Somebody who had recently had to take a leave of absence as she was suffering with stress-related mental health issues.

I was shocked when I heard these words. The person who uttered them wasn’t known for his empathy. Far from it, in fact. Even still, though, I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The woman he was talking about – my friend – had given over ten years of her life to the company. She worked hard. She worked long hours. She gave her all.

Best keep my mouth shut

The story above really affected me. Although I hadn’t admitted it, I was really struggling at the time. I’d got to the point where I was dreading going into work every morning. I’m not just talking those Monday blues-type feelings. I’m talking a real knot in the pit of your stomach, feeling anxious, panicking, trying to fight back the tears. I didn’t admit how I was feeling to anybody at the time. I didn’t think people would understand. I didn’t know what to say, or who to say it to. After hearing the outburst from one of the company’s most senior staff members, I decided to just suffer in silence. It just got worse. Much worse.

A few months later, I had a panic attack. One much more severe than I’d had in the past. I don’t know what sparked it, and it terrified me. I woke one morning, and I just couldn’t do anything other than sit in the corner of the room, and hug my legs into my chest. I had to ask my husband to call into work for me, and explain that I wasn’t going to make it in. I spent the day resting, and worrying whether it would happen again. And what if, next time, I was out in public. Or worse… at work.

Trying (and failing) to ‘pull it together’

I spent the next few months trying to act normal at work. On the inside, I was a wreck. My workload had more than doubled since my colleague had been signed off. The company wasn’t hitting its sales targets, so there was a lot of pressure on us all. There were rumours of an acquisition circulating, and the senior management had very little patience for anything else. By this point, I was having more regular panic attacks. Some I could feel ‘brewing’. Others just seemed to come out of nowhere. I was getting home and bursting into tears several times each week. I was sitting in my car in the office car park for half an hour most mornings, trying desperately to pluck up the courage to go in.

I really wanted to be able to confide in somebody, but I was so worried about how they would react. The HR department was based in a different office. Different country, in fact. I also knew that any issue I raised with them would be reported back up to the top. To the man who showed so little empathy towards my colleague. I felt stuck. I didn’t feel I had the strength or the energy to look for a new role, much less take on a new challenge. At the same time, though, I knew I couldn’t continue doing what I was doing, and hoping things would magically get better.

I’ve got to do it. I’ve got to get out of here!

It wasn’t an easy decision, but I ended up walking away from my job. I didn’t have something else to go to, and I’d never been unemployed before. I knew that our household income was going to take a massive hit, and the idea of that terrified me. It probably – secretly – terrified my husband too, but he was nothing but supportive. Walking away was, without doubt, the best thing for me, and my only regret was not doing it sooner. It frustrated me that my employer wasn’t more clued up, more sympathetic about workplace stress and mental health, but that wasn’t going to change overnight. It’s a shame, as the company has since lost several other members of staff, many of whom were displaying classic signs of workplace stress. Signs that were either not spotted by the powers that be, or were simply ignored.

I’m back in the workplace now, but doing something totally different. I’m my own boss, which is scary and exciting at the same time. Best decision I ever made, though.

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