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Speaking Out on Mental Health

Written by: Victoria Chardon, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

I push the front door again. Five times. I count each time I hear the door straining in its frame. It’s definitely locked. I turn away, but somewhere in my mind, a voice asks me, are you sure? Is it safe? I push the door again. Always five times. It’s locked. It’s safe. I say it out loud this time. I take out my phone camera, take a photograph of myself pushing the door. I film myself checking it’s locked. I send a photo of the door to my husband. But it’s still not enough. The voice is there, asking me, "Are you sure, are you sure?" I have prickly heat under my arms by now and a mild sense of panic. I’m running late for an appointment, and I’ve been standing at my front door for nearly ten minutes. Before this, I had to do the ritual of checking inside the house; the candles are out, the windows are shut, the oven is off, the cooker, the lights, the taps. Making it all safe.

Living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is exhausting. I go through some form of this routine every day and have done so since 2006, when it developed out of the blue. A switch in my brain flipped to ‘OCD enabled’ and has been stuck on that setting ever since.


I often hear people use the term ‘OCD’ flippantly, without understanding the debilitating anxiety condition behind it. ‘Obsessive’ refers to negative, intrusive thoughts that won’t go away. These thoughts persist until the person feels they can only extinguish them with an action of some kind. This is the ‘Compulsive’ part. A person with OCD becomes trapped in an endless pattern of intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. You try harder and harder to use the action to dismiss the thought, but something in your head is telling you it’s not enough - and so it goes on.


When I developed OCD, I didn’t understand what was happening. I was suddenly and inexplicably plagued with thoughts that when I went out, something awful would happen to the house. This led to compulsive checking, which quickly became uncontrollable. I’d never suffered anxiety or panic attacks before; suddenly, I had them every time I tried to go out. It reached the point where my rituals were taking hours. I was skipping classes at University or phoning my best friend to come and help me leave. I received a warning about my attendance.


When I entered the workforce, I would lie about why I was late to the office so often. I was trapped in a prison of my own thoughts. Trust me; there is nothing more terrifying than realizing you cannot control your own mind. I was becoming desperate to find an off switch, but luckily I didn’t get that far. My wonderful friends persuaded me to see a doctor, and when she diagnosed OCD and said there were ways to treat it, I cried with relief. There was a name for this thing. It turned out that it isn't even that uncommon - 1 in 50 people have OCD, which means several of you reading this will relate to my story. And thus began an arduous journey through therapy, which I continued to hide from my employer, as well as from many of my friends and family members.


May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Throughout this month, you’ve no doubt seen posts about mental health on social media. I feel encouraged that finally, this topic is being talked about more. But it’s still not enough. You don’t read many stories as open as mine because so much stigma remains. Many continue to suffer in silence as a result of the shame they feel. In particular, people are afraid they will be judged, and unfortunately, in some cases, we are. I was turned down as a volunteer with St John Ambulance because I had both OCD and a mental health assessment in my medical record, even though it would have had no impact on the tasks I would have been required to perform.


It is imperative that we continue to challenge this stigma in society and at work. If you are a team manager, no matter how big or small, I urge you to make space for your employees to be open with you so that they feel more supported. Challenges with mental health come in so many different forms. Some people will have been diagnosed with a condition that they’re too scared to tell you about and are struggling to hide from you. Others will be close to burnout or feeling anxious. It is not your job as a leader to diagnose or to fix the mental health of your employees, but there is a lot to be said for adopting an empathic and open leadership style that allows for authentic conversations about what people are going through.


When you ask your employees how they’re feeling, mean it. Tell them the truth about how you’re feeling, too. This is especially important right now, after months of lockdowns and uncertainty. Our default setting is ‘I’m fine.’ But how fine are we, really? As a leader, the best thing you can do right now for your team is to invite openness, listen actively, and ask them what they need. Do your best to support them with whatever that need is - a little more flexibility in working hours, time off for visits to a therapist, help reprioritizing, an extended leave of absence. We don’t think twice about supporting our employees if they have a physical illness or injury. We need to treat mental health as health in exactly the same way. I’ve made a personal commitment to be vocal and raise awareness of this topic as a leader now myself because it’s what I wish I’d had when I was in my darkest place.


These days my OCD is manageable. I’m happy to say that it no longer controls me, and it hasn’t been done for some years. My rituals take ten minutes instead of two hours. It was a difficult road to get here, and there’s always a fear of relapse at the back of my mind. I went through a period of hating myself, of trying to wish it away. Now I accept it’s simply another part of what makes me human, and there’s no shame in that.


For more information, follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn and visit my website!


 

Victoria Chardon, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Victoria Chardon specializes in fulfillment, confidence-building, and making big dreams become a reality. As well as being a Google leader who manages an international team, she is the co-founder of Rising Star Leadership, a consultancy that creates personalized coaching programs for groups, individuals, and corporations. Victoria helps people to connect with themselves on a deeper level than they usually would, pulling them away from life on the surface' and helping them claim their powerful, unique individuality. She also works with leaders to help them incorporate vulnerability and compassion into their leadership style. She is a vocal advocate on wellbeing and mental health and has taken to the stage on several occasions to share her personal journey and break down the stigma of mental health in the workplace.

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