Hi, my name is Olivia.
I’m a gung-ho recent graduate in my mid-twenties ready to take on new challenges, a social media professional at Rockwell Automation with a passion for social justice – and I am depressed.
But if you ask me how I am, I’d tell you, “I’m good! Managing.” At least I am in this moment as I write this blog.
That’s the thing about mental illness, it’s always there. When life is good, it feels like a much easier burden to carry, but when life takes a turn, as it often does, that same burden can feel much, much heavier. Without mental health education, resources, and support, it can crush even the most promising, driven professional – green or seasoned.
In my case, external stressors compounded with the ever-present weight of a mental illness that I was not addressing led me to quit my job at Rockwell Automation in fall 2019 – a job that I loved, with people I loved to work with. Why would I do that?
Depression: I didn’t know the signs.
Physical fatigue, mental burnout, trouble concentrating and sometimes even missing deadlines – this was how I felt in the professional world after graduating from college in May 2019. I was tired, “but there’s no rest for the wicked,” I thought, or at least, those who want to be wicked-good at their jobs. My bad. I just needed to get used to this new environment and work a little harder, a little later into the evening, want it a little more.
I didn’t recognize that what I was experiencing was not issues with my new job; these were the signs of depression. I didn’t want to complain and draw attention to my weaknesses. I just wanted to keep my head down and prove myself through my work, but as we know, that approach did not work out for me.
I was too embarrassed to reach out.
Looking back, the help, the support system, was right there – within arm’s reach, just a conversation away – but I didn’t realize that in time. Before I knew it, I was crying in my manager’s office, quitting my job even though I did not want to, because I didn’t believe I could hack it. I had taken a smaller job at a startup instead. Small job meant smaller risk of screwing up. I thought I had saved my colleagues at Rockwell by leaving before I really crashed and burned on the job.
But remember what I said about depression being a burden? It’s also a liar. My self-talk was negative, my confidence was barely there, and ultimately, left me entirely, leading me to believe, “I can’t do this.” But that was completely untrue.
My supportive team at Rockwell Automation helped save me. Literally.
Only a few weeks after leaving my social media position at Rockwell Automation, I texted my previous manager, Chaya, to see if she’d be willing to have a phone call with me – not to get my job back, but to explain myself. To apologize even.
You see, in that short amount of time, I’d done a lot of reflection. Talked to supportive, understanding friends, and sought the help of my primary care physician, who referred me to a psychologist in Behavioral Health. I was getting help.
To my surprise, Chaya and the entire Rockwell Automation team were compassionate, understanding, and could even relate to what I went through in their own experiences. I was offered a second chance at a company that I not only loved for their world-changing innovations but admired for their openness and commitment to their employees’ experiences. And it all started with an honest conversation with my manager.
You are not alone.
So why am I sharing my story? Because for employees of all abilities to be successful and feel supported, mental health cannot be a taboo topic in the workplace. Because, if an article like this were released when I was in the midst of my mental health crisis, I might not have felt so alone and embarrassed to talk about what I was experiencing. Because I don’t want anyone else feel like they are the only one in the office – or remote – that can’t handle a “fast-paced” work environment.
Because when you communicate openly about what you need – or from an outsider’s perspective, when you can recognize the signs in your coworkers – intervention can happen, and career success becomes possible.
So how do I manage? Truth is, I don’t have it all figured out. But a combination of regular therapy and medication seems to be effective for me. Combined with resources at work like inclusive employee resources groups (ERGs), supportive team members, and open conversations – I know I can do this.
You can do this.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. To learn more, visit nami.org.