Trigger warning: This article contains mentions of depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.
Fighting against your inner demons feels like hell, especially when you’ve got work to do.
Your mind—even if you’ve trained yourself to be professional—goes into hysteria as you fight to get through the day. Dark thoughts dominate your to-do list, forcing you to get things done, but without the same level of dedication. At times, you spend your work day either in a daze or a crying mess because you’re desperate to end the pain.
Misery loves company, but it’s a different story when it destroys your work day. You’re supposed to get things done and do well, yet your inner demons tighten their claws, gripping what’s left of your sanity. And when you finally gain control, your shift is over.
This is something that happens to working professionals coping with depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. In my case, I had to let it out to one of my co-workers. At the same time, my boss reminds me to take a week off when things become too much to bear.
In the Time Magazine article, In Some Workplaces, It’s Now OK Not to Be OK, freelance journalist Bruce Horovitz said mental health is as important as physical health in the workplace. Mind matters, overall. It’s impossible to fulfill deadlines and day-to-day tasks—getting your work done, basically—if your mind is not fully committed to the task. The quality of your work suffers, forcing your team to fill in the gaps. It’s a domino effect.
For many Filipinos, mental health problems are seen as a sign of weakness. The common responses include, “You don’t pray to God enough,” “You don’t go to church often,” or worst of all, “Nag-iinarte ka lang.” Probably, employers who are not empathetic enough would say the same thing. If push comes to shove, they’ll probably humiliate you for being a “useless employee.”
Since high school, I've been a firm believer that hard work doesn’t betray you. Kim Minju, one of my favorite Korean celebrities, believes in the same principle, too. Highly successful showrunner Shonda Rhimes even mentioned in her book, A Year of Yes, that “it’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change.” This explains why I’m fond of working almost 24/7. Writing stories and producing content gives me the drive to make a difference. Most of all, it helps me win the war against my darkest thoughts.
But along the way, I’ve realized that it’s impossible to do your best at work if you’re not at your best. We have our limits, after all.
The New York Times story, When Your Colleagues’ Mental Health Is on the Agenda, is an interesting take on how opening up about our mental health woes can go from bad to worse. It’s okay to be open about what we're going through in the workplace. We need someone to talk to. But it’s up to us to draw the line whether you’re comfortable discussing your mental health woes with your co-workers.
At the same time, not being okay at work is not an excuse to slack off on your day-to-day tasks. It’s understandable that you’re going through the worst. But it shouldn't be used as a scapegoat to justify mediocrity.
My therapist reminded me that I was born to solve my own problems. After all, the only person that I need to prioritize the most is me. I have to choose whether I’ll be fully consumed by my inner demons or I’ll power through them, one step at a time.
It’s impossible to be at a hundred percent in the workplace every single day because life happens.
Again, it's okay to not be okay at work. For some, existing feels like hell. In my case, I’ve reached that stage, too. It’s impossible to be at a hundred percent in the workplace every single day because life happens. Perhaps, your cheerful deskmate lives in an abusive household. Or what if your office crush is dealing with suicidal tendencies when he’s left on his own? At the end of the day, we don’t fully know our co-workers unless they’re willing to break their walls for us.
But there’s light at the end of the tunnel. It’s up to us to search for its source. But it’s a long and tedious process that starts with the question, “Is life worth living?” Work is a reflection of how life is a never-ending battle. It’s okay to seek help or find comfort in people or the things that matter.
So, no—I’m not fully okay. I still stare into space while blaming myself for not doing my best. But I find comfort in editing the social media team’s pieces, channeling my inner K-fangirl by creating content, mentoring the new hires and interns, telling stories that matter, and opening up to my co-workers who have the kindest souls.
Someday, I’ll be healed. But in the words of my fellow editor, I have to survive another day.