‘Shame About My Mental Health Kept Me From Asking For The Help I Needed At Work’

As I stare at a blank Google doc, the cursor blinking at me tauntingly, my writer’s block feels stronger than ever, and a wave of dread floods my brain. It’s one in the morning on Tuesday; my article on organizations that support Black women’s health is due in just a few hours, and I haven’t even started.

I know what got me to this point–a perfect storm of anxiety, perfectionism, and procrastination. My generalized anxiety disorder means I can have trouble concentrating, especially when it comes to writing. And at times, I suffer from panic attacks that disrupt my work. All of this means I sometimes have to have difficult conversations with my employers about my mental health.

I used to carry a lot of shame about admitting when I was struggling. I felt like requesting a deadline extension was asking for too much. I worried that it was always too late to ask for the help I might need to finish something. I’d get nervous about how my bosses would view me and my abilities in the future. But deep down, I now know these anxieties were just my and society’s mental health shame coming up.

People don’t feel wrong asking for time when they’re physically ill. I can choose to fight back against that mental health stigma, even if it just means sending an email telling my editor it’s been a rough week and that I’ll get her the article the next day.

It took me a while to work up the guts to have those kinds of conversations. In a society that measures success by the sheer amount of work you’re able to produce, it’s easy to feel shame when you’re not able to meet that standard or perform to the best of your ability. But after feeling bad for years because I couldn’t always meet other people’s expectations, or my own, I’ve learned to be kinder towards myself.

I know that if don’t take proactive measures, advocate for myself at work, and normalize having conversations about mental health and how it relates to work, I will burn out, which doesn’t help anybody. And as much as I worry about asking for what I need, I’m almost always met with understanding. It’s never as big of a deal as I think it’s going to be.

My worth is not, and should never be, attached to my ability to produce things. I’m a human, not a machine. I have emotions and anxieties that sometimes hinder my ability to perform. But instead of treating my anxiety as a setback, I now view it as an important signal for me to step back, reset and rest before I continue. I’m listening to my body and valuing my mental health over the pursuit of perfection. And there’s nothing shameful about that.

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