Mental health - image of many hands on top of each other

“You seem fine”: Finding a way to ask for help

By: Lizi Adkins, Associate Client Service Manager

Editor’s note: October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and Monday, October 10, is World Mental Health Day. For Siemens employees, the company’s Healthy & Safe @ Siemens program focuses not only on the physical health but also the mental health of employees. Resources are available to employees through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

 

Please be aware this article contains a brief reference to an act of attempted suicide. If you are struggling, please seek help immediately. You can contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline--just dial 988 or 1-800-273-8255.


I can’t say that I always knew there was something different about me, but I started to notice the struggle about six years ago, shortly after I started with Siemens. That was when I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

 

It is not an easy path. Often, I will hear people say things like, "What do you have to be so sad about?" or, "What do you have to be anxious about?" It is almost as if you are not allowed to feel those negative emotions outwardly because nothing is influencing the feelings, and it's all in your head. People always want there to be a reason—something had to have happened or something is making you feel this way. In reality, sometimes there isn't a specific reason.

 

Once people are aware of my situation, it is not uncommon for them to say to me, "I would never guess you had a disability," or "You seem fine," or, "I wouldn't think that you struggled—you are outgoing and in a good mood all the time."

 

All that is a façade; a mask I put on to get through the day. Sometimes it is me, but most of the time, I am putting on an act to hide how I am breaking down on the inside.

 

When I was freshly diagnosed, I went to my mental healthcare provider, attempting to get medication. The place I was going to said, "We can get you in in about three months." I wasn't sure I was going to make it another three days. Luckily, my primary care provider told me to come in to get some kind of medication. While the nurse was doing the check-in questionnaire, I remember tears streaming down my face because I felt like I was losing my mind. She calmly closed her computer, turned to me, and said, "There is nothing wrong with you [as a person]. There is a chemical imbalance, and you need medication to help. There is no shame in that. There is no shame in asking for help."

 

This simple act of understanding helped switch my thinking. Someone understood what I was struggling with, even though I felt I should be able to manage it on my own. However, something still felt off.

 

Even though I was on an anti-depressant, I didn't feel any different. I couldn’t accomplish anything when I was in one of my depressive states. When I entered a manic state, it was as if my impulse control was gone. I couldn't manage my emotions, and there was no managing my reactions to things that would happen. I felt like I was falling into insanity.

 

I hit a very low point about four years ago. The depression, despite the medication, became overwhelming. I drank an obscene amount of alcohol and took an entire bottle of Klonopin. I remember waking up in the hospital with an IV bag in each arm. I was on suicide watch because I had attempted suicide by overdose. The hospital doctors said I didn't have just depression and anxiety. The way my moods swing and how quickly I go from one mood to another was textbook bipolar disorder. This proper diagnosis was the key to getting better. Adding the one bipolar medication was like night and day and has made a world of difference.

 

I was lucky. Someone was concerned that they couldn't reach me and contacted a close friend with a key to my place. That friend didn't have to check on me—he could have brushed it off, but he didn't. Still, to this day, I tell him I'm sorry and thank you. It was a traumatizing event for everyone, but he was the one who found me and got me help.

The hardest thing to do in this situation, but the most important, is to ask for help. Reach out for help to any support system: family, a friend, or a therapist (I have mine on speed dial). Sometimes I find my support system in online gaming. I have a large group of online friends I can ping and ask if they are available to play something. I may never say a word about how I'm isolating or having a bad time or that I am really in my feelings at that moment. Still, I'll reach out to have a bit of companionship. There are also groups on social media designed for you to reach out and ask for help. Having that support system when you are at your darkest and knowing that you can trust them to be there is crucial. One person I play online with works for a large, outside organization. He is about to put me through the mental-health support training that his organization uses so I can become a community ear.

 

Beyond the support system, if medications are needed to make you feel right, get them. If it were a sinus infection, you would take antibiotics and not feel one way or another about it. Find a way to get past the thoughts of "I'm on medications, I must be crazy," or whatever derogatory thing you want to attach to it, because that is not any different than a person with diabetes taking insulin. The meds are what you may need to survive day-to-day. I will always think back to that nurse who said there was nothing wrong with me, I just had a chemical imbalance, and there is no shame in taking medication to fix that.

 

Work may seem much more challenging as you must stay "on" all the time. I am lucky that my leadership understands and is compassionate. When I was in the hospital, my mom updated my supervisor on my condition, as I couldn't have a phone. One of the things she said to him that stuck in his memory was, "I'm really glad she is sleeping." When I got out of the hospital, my supervisor asked how much sleep I was getting at night. I told him about two to three hours. He was shocked and asked how I was even functioning. I told him because I had to. You have to at work.

 

Too often, people at work feel like they can't be vulnerable, or they can't express that they are struggling because of the potential judgment from others, or it might come up on an annual review. There is the possibility that people feel they cannot trust their leadership. I think it boils down to leadership creating an environment where people can have those conversations without fear. I know everyone is not as lucky as me with supportive leadership. As part of the Siemens Ability ERG, I hope to help facilitate the mindset change from the top down.

 

I want people to realize that what you see isn't always what you get. When I talked with one of the newest Siemens Ability ERG members, she commented on how I seem so outgoing, and it doesn't appear that anything is going on with me. I assured her that once I got off the call, I was going to lay down on the floor for a solid ten minutes to bring my anxiety down because I get so worked up that I have to step away from everything. Most people don't see what happens off camera. That is so important to invisible disabilities. Just because someone looks fine outwardly doesn't necessarily mean they are o.k. on the inside, especially for those who battle depression and other mental disorders. The façade goes up when we are having a bad day, because we can't afford to have bad days. We have to put on an act until we can be alone.

Published: October 7, 2022