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Mental Health, Coronavirus and me.

Updated: Jan 15, 2021

2020 started and really it was like most years, a bit bleak in January. I was lucky that I was able to go to a Microsoft conference and it was something that was right out of my comfort zone.

I have suffered with anxiety for the best part of four years, but from talking to a counsellor and looking back, it’s been going on a lot longer than that.

I remember being confident but that confidence slipping and groups being difficult to interact with. Whether that be a group of friends or random strangers at the conference. But I decided to grasp it with both hands as the topics interested me personally and professionally.

While I was there I went to some lectures which were part of the Humans Of IT series. These lectures were about the people behind the tech, the people who were inspiring others to take chances and come out of their comfort zone. I unexpectedly went to them all. They were insightful, informative, comforting and above all I related to a lot that was being said.

One thing that resonated with me at the conference, was Imposter Syndrome. I heard that so many people at various levels including CEOs experience Imposter Syndrome and how they feel they are out of their depth at various different stages of their careers. Imposter Syndrome does exactly what it says on the tin. You feel like you are not worthy of the position or job you’re in, or that it’s just a ‘fluke’.

You are good at something and why wouldn’t people listen to you?

We were reminded that when going to an interview and getting a job, we are hired because of our experience, the journey we have travelled to get there and the situations we have been involved in. You are there because you are worth it, because someone has seen the potential in you and you should embrace that and take the opportunity head on. These conversations and lectures would lead me in good stead for what was going to come during the year.

Not long afterwards Corona Virus hit, in fact I was at the conference above when I first heard of it coming out of Wuhan, China. Little did I know the impact it would have on our lives.

My mental health had been taking quite a pounding with mood swings, anxious episodes and generally feeling out of sorts. I decided to take the plunge and talk to my GP. Being at home full time, meant I would be surrounded and supported by those that I love, and my doctor decided it was time to change my medication.

Anxiety is a weird one. It can creep up on you with no notice or it can just slowly build and build into a crescendo of instability. A lot of people ask me how I feel when I have an anxious episode. Well, I feel disconnected as if I am looking in a third person view of myself and surroundings. I’m easily distracted. If I am writing, reading, listening to someone speak my mind is racing. I don’t know where to turn. I have learnt that I need some people around me to ask me the right questions as sometimes I don’t know I’m feeling anxious and my wife will pick up on it, ask me an open question like “how am I doing ?” or “is there something you want to talk about?” and that will allow me to start dropping the drawbridge down and allowing the feelings to escape. It’s like I need to be reset. It’s hard to explain and I have tried as best as I can here.

I had heard horror stories of the weaning off and back on to new medication. It was a tricky time for me and my family and for three weeks, things were really difficult. But I came out the other side feeling refreshed and my mental health getting stronger and stronger all the time. It was the best decision I made this year.

Things then started going in a great direction at work.

The elements I had been learning through the year (and consolidated by what I had learnt at the Microsoft conference), had made me start to realise my full potential and where my strengths lay in bringing people together.

I then went on to help start a local Facebook group, to support the community in Lockdown.

Using my skill set, I was able to help onboard 250 volunteers to look after all 320 streets in my town. These volunteers started looking out for their neighbours especially the elderly, vulnerable and those with poor mental health. I really felt a strong sense of community which I had not felt before and I was able to use my skills to help others.

I ran a quiz for 18 weeks online, with over 75 teams playing, encompassing 350 people. The ‘Carve my face into a potato’ round was a massive highlight !

Through these connections I was able to build relationships locally and at a time when community and friendship was everything this was very powerful and supported my mental health as well.

I am not a big believer in chance, I think you are destined to your fate but my thoughts on this wavered, when I posted on the Berkhamsted COVID group a link to a free Microsoft course for people willing to retrain who had possibly been affected employment wise due to coronavirus. A lady commented, saying how she agreed and we got talking. Turned out she worked in the field I wanted to move to and after I sent her my CV I was invited to interview.

At the start of the year after the Microsoft conference I wanted to develop something that would help people create a diary entry recording the state of people’s mental health. This became the Mental Health check in PowerApp and something I am very proud of. After successfully completing the first part of the interview I was invited to the second stage where I had to do a presentation. This was about an application I had developed and I was able to talk about this PowerApp with confidence and pride and showcased what I had made.

Looking back, I have realised that my anxiety and the fact that coronavirus happened this year, all led to a perfect combination of opportunity, passion and good mental health. All of which helped me to secure my perfect job. If coronavirus hadn’t had happened I would not have made the connection on Facebook to secure the interview and without anxiety I would not have developed the application I used in the presentation

In hindsight, I have been blessed with amazing friends, family, network and an employer who have the ability to actively listen to what I have been going through.

I’ve been able to vocalise, sometimes taking a long time to do so, the feelings I had inside and be able to then talk openly, with confidence about this to others and to reciprocally become a good listener in return. In addition, I completed my mental health first aid training.

If I can speak up and talk about it, then others can too, I’m sure. It is hard. Very hard at times. Sometimes I didn’t know what to say! But slowly and surely I get there and always feel lighter afterwards.

This is where I am now, confident. I’d love to say anxiety free, but I think I’ll always have a form of it and there will always be peaks and troughs because that’s how mental health manifests itself but I am aware of the triggers and I have a safe and secure environment to be able to discuss how I am feeling thanks to an amazing supporting family including, of course, my amazing wife Katie

Here’s to the start of 2021. I hope that if things aren’t so good for you now, they will be soon.

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