We are not OK

Yesterday, while hanging out with friends, one of them let it out that something in her died a while ago. She mentioned working in a toxic culture that killed her zest for life, and leaving that culture for a place she hoped would be better, only to find herself sinking helplessly into what seems like a dark abyss. Her words were poignant and brought back unpleasant memories of going through a depressive state myself and seeking something to hold on to.

As I reflect on the words of my friend from last night, I am reminded of the importance of prioritizing mental health, not just at home, but also at work, at places of religious worship, in our relationships, in our families and in every other aspect of life we engage with. I, personally, am particular about prioritizing mental health at work considering people spend most of their adult lives there. From my experience, toxic work cultures, bosses and lobbyist colleagues can create room for deterioration of mental health. Work cultures where qualified people are unseen, unheard and exploited can easily set the platform for despondency and apathy. Work cultures where expectations are not well-defined and employees find themselves constantly chasing waterfalls can lead to pent-up frustration,feelings of inadequacy and a strong desire to escape reality.

A few weeks ago, a lady tweeted about the overwhelming anxiety she felt about going to work, and asked for excuses she could give her manager for not showing up to work. While I was glad that she was aware of the state of her mental health and the trigger of anxiety and despondency, it broke my heart that she had to cook up excuses to have a mental health day. It is important for employers to prioritize employee wellness by creating healthy workplace cultures where employees feel valued, heard and appreciated.

It is also important for us as individuals to know our triggers. We should learn the situations and behaviors that push us into depressive states and those that push us out of them. We should learn to tell people we are not OK. We should accept that although “vulnerability is the least celebrated emotion in our society” (Mohadesa Najumi), we can find our own people in society – people we can cry to, people we can express our frustrations to, and people we can share our deepest feelings with.

For me, I learned to find these people during the course of my PhD. Well, I did not have to look too far; my parents, sister and brother were right there. I cried to them when my experiments were not working, lamented to them when I was unable to sleep and cried even more when I became uncertain of my ability to succeed in the program. At work, I have learned to build relationships with people I can call my friends outside of the workplace. I can cry to them, vent to them and just tell them when I am in a depressive state. I know many people say the workplace is not the place to build friendships; but let’s face it: the fact that we spend more than 70% of our weekly time at work is proof that we need to build happy and meaningful connections in these spaces.

We should not be ashamed to say we are anxious, not coping, in pain or uncertain and despondent. We should not be ashamed to cry when everything becomes overwhelming, when our plans don’t work out, or when we are hurt by something seemingly insignificant. As I reflect , I realize it is important that we provide spaces and build relationships that enable us to expressly state that we are not OK. It is our reality and we should be able to share it with the people in our spaces.

And, when we are giddy because the stars are aligned and life is meaningful, we should not forget to ask those around us if they are OK.

Featured image: talkspace.com

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