I believe that there is more to be done to challenge the misconceptions that create stigma around mental health in society today. Although times are slowly changing, it’s still difficult for people to talk about mental health. Many wellbeing challenges are not just physical. And by thinking that most wellbeing problems have a strictly physical cause and solution, there may be a risk that people won’t get the support and help they need if mental ill health is also a factor. This is what happened to me.
Around two years ago, I began to experience increasing anxiety and stress, linked with me struggling with my ability to balance work with life. This led to deteriorating physical and emotional wellbeing which culminated in surgery.
Following my recovery from the surgery, and during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I began to experience acute physical symptoms like lethargy, insomnia, headaches, loss of concentration and memory, a burning sensation and a lot of pain in my body. Doctors ran tests but couldn’t find anything physically wrong with me, at which point I was referred to a psychiatrist who prescribed medication and therapy to help me manage my depression and anxiety.
This felt like a breakthrough as my mental wellbeing was now front and center of my treatment plan – however, the physical symptoms were still present. It affected all areas of my life including my performance at work, and I reached rock bottom, even considering suicide.
I was about to quit my job, feeling that I was no longer capable of delivering, but the response I got when I spoke up at work was overwhelmingly positive. Once my leadership realised what I was going through, we were able to reduce my work schedule and workload in a way that lessened the pressure.
It was around this time that I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia – a rare incurable disorder where symptoms can be triggered by an event such as surgery or physiological stress, both of which I’d experienced. Having a physical disorder that most people do not understand, and which is closely related to mental wellbeing, has meant facing ignorance and challenging societal perceptions around mental health and its relationship with physical wellbeing.
But the diagnosis also gave me power to take back control. Understanding that my disorder was also closely linked to my emotional state, I knew that I had to set boundaries to find the right balance for my emotional and physical wellbeing. I had to accept that there were now physical limits to what I could do.
I’ve learned to focus on setting achievable objectives for my day and learning to accept the limits my body sets. Today, I’m following a holistic treatment plan that combines psychological therapy, healthy nutrition, yoga, meditation, and physical therapy, which are all helping.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that mental ill health can be debilitating, and sometimes physical and mental health can overlap. But this doesn’t automatically mean that people can’t recover and find the appropriate treatment and balance in their lives to thrive.
I want to encourage others to speak up when their mental health is at risk – attitudes can change over time, but it’ll only happen if we have the courage to prioritise our mental health in the same way we take care of our physical health.
Deloitte’s mental health story series aims to break down barriers to talking about mental health. It is not intended to – and does not - offer advice nor substitute professional mental health support. If you are experiencing mental ill health or are concerned about someone else’s mental health, please contact your national or local helpline or healthcare provider for support.