Veronica Irvine tells the story of her lifelong battle with anxiety
October 10 is World Mental Health Day. Stantec is proud to show our support and advocacy for mental health awareness and to help break down the stigma associated with mental health issues. Here, one of our own—Veronica Irvine, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Red Deer, Alberta, Canada—tells the story of her lifelong battle with anxiety. Read how her journey has been defined by perseverance, self-care, and supportive colleagues.
Hi, my name is Veronica Irvine and I have anxiety. More specifically, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Do I shout it from the rooftops daily? No, but the people close to me know all about it. Now I want everyone I work with to know about it too.
I am particularly open with my anxiety, more than others might be, simply because at this stage in my journey I feel very well educated, well supported, and most importantly—my condition is being properly managed. This takes time, and you must be so open-minded, determined, vulnerable, and self-aware during the process of seeking a treatment that works for you.
For people with anxiety, some of those qualities are almost impossible to grasp, especially during an attack of some kind. You’re anything but rational and self-aware during those times. In your moments of clarity, or even your moments of weakness, it’s important to track how you feel, how your body feels, and what your behaviors are. Start a journal!
In the past two months, I’ve helped two of my friends come to terms with their own anxiety (both also suffer from GAD) because of what I shared with them about my own condition. The first step to facing your next step is knowing you’re not alone.
While I’m on the topic of you not being alone—I mean it, you really aren’t.
According to ourworldindata.org, the prevalence of anxiety disorders across the world varies from 2.5 to 7 percent by country. Globally, an estimated 284 million people experienced an anxiety disorder in 2017, making it the most prevalent mental health or neurodevelopmental disorder.
Living Your Truth
There are several layers to being open about your anxiety. You may start by telling friends and family about your condition, but telling those at work can be an entirely new, and ultimately intimidating process on its own. _q_The first step to facing your next step is knowing you’re not alone._q_
As stated in the resources available through the Anxiety Disorders of America,
“It’s your decision to tell your employer about your anxiety disorder. Some people do so because they need accommodations, others want to educate people about their condition, and some do not want to hide their illness.”
My reason? Well, given there are more than ten different types of anxiety disorders—all ranging in how debilitating they can be to your performance at work, socially, or otherwise—I happen to have one that can be managed fairly with proper treatment. That treatment prevents my disorder from affecting my job performance.
Therefore, I do not need any accommodations, but I want to educate others and I do not want to hide my anxiety. It’s important that those of us with and without mental illness work together to better understand this topic in order to encourage more open discussion. There are harmful stereotypes and a negative, often intimidating, stigma associated with this topic. There shouldn’t be. Some would argue that we all struggle with some form of a mental illness in some capacity.
When it comes to familiarizing ourselves with our colleagues—whether it’s knowing they have anxiety, a pet dog, kids, or how they take their coffee—the more we know about our fellow employees, the more harmoniously we can all work together. That’s my belief, at least. And my anxiety is part of me.
Just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. My anxiety is there, and I’m passionate to let others in close quarters with me know how it works—for everyone’s benefit.
What is GAD?
There are several different types of anxiety. For the purpose of my story, I’m going to focus on Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
People with GAD worry excessively and uncontrollably about daily life events and activities. They often experience uncomfortable physical symptoms, including fatigue and sore muscles, and they can also have trouble sleeping and concentrating.
Uncertainty, anticipation, nerves—these are all healthy, normal, and important emotions to feel throughout normal life. If you have a presentation, you’re about to have your first day at a new office, or it’s your wedding day—these are all examples of times you’ll experience symptoms of anxiety. However, this does not mean you have a condition.
But those diagnosed with anxiety, particularly GAD, can experience this wave of emotions on high speed without warning, and that wave can run on a loop, disrupting day-to-day life.
Different types of anxiety disorder share commonly occurring symptoms clustered into four areas:
- Physical responses
I experienced all symptoms from all categories at the height of my anxiety. It was exhausting.
I’m a very happy-go-lucky, fun-loving, and fulfilled woman. I have a lot of supportive relationships, a great marriage, hobbies, and live a balanced and healthy lifestyle. On paper, I shouldn’t have many worries.
That is why it’s likely a surprise to many who aren’t in my inner circle to find out I struggled with debilitating anxiety in recent years. Now that I’m diagnosed, I’ve realized I’ve actually struggled with anxiety since childhood.
In recent years, my anxiety has interrupted daily life with symptoms from all four categories. I’ve experienced hair thinning, breaking, or falling out; consistent body aches; negative self-talk; overthinking to the point of endangering my close relationships; and staying too busy in an attempt to distract myself from my thoughts. I was running on empty, would consistently be too excited or energetic, or overly worn out and sad, and could emotionally explode at any second...
How did this affect me at work? At first, I was able to ignore the symptoms, mostly because work falls into the behavior category for me—I distracted myself with task after task, completing each to perfection to distract me from my own thoughts.
So, yes, work was getting done, and work was getting done well. However, I wasn’t doing so well mentally, and eventually that catches up.
Reaching Out for Help
Luckily for me, I have a fantastic doctor.
Incorporating therapy, medical aid if needed, and education is the recipe for success. The only reason I feel in control of GAD today is because I’m hitting it from all angles. It takes work, time, and dedication.
She explained that anxiety is often caused environmentally (a result of your upbringing, traumatic experiences, etc.), but often can be attributed to a physical imbalance of chemicals. Just like any other medical condition—something isn’t working correctly and needs a little help.
I had thought for a while that I’d likely been suffering with some form of anxiety. I’d already begun therapy with a great psychologist who I still see today. It was helping, but there was still a part of me that felt something wasn’t being treated.
It turns out I needed a certain medication to regulate my serotonin levels. Before being medicated, a lack of sufficient serotonin caused my anxiety and the associated symptoms.
While the drug has been successful, I still feel a holistic approach to your mental health is the way to go. Incorporating therapy, medical aid if needed, and education is the recipe for success. The only reason I feel in control of GAD today is because I’m hitting it from all angles. It takes work, time, and dedication. You must put in the work to find a doctor you feel supported by, a psychologist or therapist that you connect with, and a medication that works. Once you start to master one area of combatting your illness, the others follow suit, and before you know it, it’s just something else that needs upkeep, check-ins, and care. I made it my own personal mission at home, with my husband, family, and friends, to make this ailment that I have, known. Then I did the same thing at work.
I have a very close relationship with my boss, and I’m not afraid to open up, especially when I feel I have the facts straight about my own condition. Maybe that’s why I didn’t tell her about my anxiety disorder until I’d been treated.
It was easier to come to my boss and say, “I have this, but I’m getting the treatment, and it won’t interfere with my job,” because I was already on the other side. When I was struggling, it was harder for me to open up because I didn’t know what was wrong. Now that I look back, the feedback I received at work, positive or negative, was related to my heightened organizational skills, my tendency to seek perfection, or zooming in on one task obsessively. Now that my boss knows about my anxiety, she checks in on me when she notices those symptoms and forces me to take a step back.
This brings me to the next and final stage in this story, which is knowing how to manage anxiety with a colleague, information I derived from Anxiety Canada.
- Learn about anxiety
Educate yourself about anxiety—seek to understand if you have it, or how to help those who do.
- Remember not to push
Let your colleague who struggles know that your door is always open—but be careful not to pry, and never make them feel judged.
- Involve your co-worker
Check in on your co-worker and if they seem stressed, encourage them to take a break. Treat them as you would any other colleague; encourage them to come to office outings, but don’t push if they refuse.
- Express empathy when you can
Express your understanding of the importance time off may have for them in a time of need. Make them feel welcome when they return.
- Encourage them to seek support from the workplace
Always remind them HR is in place to align them with any services they may want to explore. Let them know work is a safe space.
Looking at things holistically
All in all, I’m lucky to feel my anxiety is something I have a relationship with. It no longer overwhelms me. It’s just a part of me, like anything else. If you suffer with anxiety, manage it and stay proactive. I use multiple resources for self-education, calming, and monitoring. I’ve included a list of them below.
Coping Strategies: Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)
Psychologist/Find a Therapist: Psychology Today
Opening the door to discussions about anxiety and mental health issues helps you get one step closer to understanding your own battles, or those who have them. Remember—we are better together.