Starting Monday 27th October, Geek Mental Help week has been set up to raise awareness of mental health issues within our industry (and the wider world). Mental health affects so many people around us - often more than we realise - and I'm so pleased at the work that's being done to raise awareness of something that is so prevalent, yet talked about so little.
I very nearly didn't publish this post, as I feel that I would have little to add to these experiences. While I don't personally have any mental issues such as depression or anything remotely as bad, I've known many people to suffer with it. Instead, I wanted to talk about something that, while undiagnosed, is something that has affected me - quite severely at times - for the past few years.
Those that know me - and I mean those that know me well, not just those that have met me briefly or talked to me online - will know that I’m actually quite an introvert. I love working alone from home, as being around lots of people for a long period of time is absolutely exhausting for me.
That said, I love people. Although I’m actually really quiet until I get to know somebody, I love being around people and talking and chatting generally. I just find the whole thing absolutely exhausting and tiring. Often after I’ve been to a conference, I’ll go back to my hotel room and just be shaking for an hour before I can fall asleep. It’s not that I find that experience overly bad, but more like overwhelming.
Another thing that not many people know about me is that I am an incredibly anxious person. It’s something I’ve taken great strides to overcome this year in particular, as it was so debilitating. I like to think that I have made a difference with this in the past 6-8 months in particular.
I also have a disability that affects me in some way every day - I am in pain every single day in some form or another (the last week has been hell) and I am often exhausted from the effort of simply getting through each day.
Now again, I don’t have serious mental health issues so I feel almost a fraud writing this. I very, very nearly didn’t publish this post. But for a long time I’ve suffered with anxiety and worrying. For a very long time I cared far too much about what people thought of me and every single negative remark stayed with me for years, eating away at me.
But moving on from that - working from home is ideal for me. It’s not only because of the quiet and the time that I get to reflect with my work, but also because it allows me to take breaks as and when I need to, on my own terms. But with that, I’ve become comfortable being in one place and only going to other particular places during the week, almost in a routine.
Breaking from that routine is scary for me. I like my routines, I like structure. I’m a perfectionist and I’m also very often obsessive-compulsive. I have to have everything just so (I can’t stand pens being out out of place, knives and forks on a table not straight, and if I spot a pattern in something - anything, whether it’s physical or mental - and it breaks I compulsively have to fix that pattern or it will bug me incessantly all day long).
Going away to conferences is something that, because I’ve become so used to my structure and routine at home, is terrifying to me. I’m always scared meeting new people anyway and I know I’m going to be exhausted and struggling to remember people’s names (something I’m normally very good with!) and I also know that standing on my feet for hours at after-parties normally means I’m in agony for a few days afterwards.
But the actual anxiety of doing this - and going through these motions - is scary. For days before a conference I am struggling to sleep and worrying about what if ABC goes wrong or XYZ happens and how will I deal with that. It’s for this reason I carry my phone with me at all times, and ensure I have a portable charger just in case the battery gets low. As I finish writing this post I’ve just finished packing for a few days in Cardiff, where I’ll be attending “The Web Is_” conference. I’m so excited to see people that I haven’t seen in months - but in the back of my mind I’m trying to block those worries that normally come around when I have to break from my routine and go and see people and be out on my own.
Something else that I’ve also suffered with quite badly in the past few years is imposter syndrome. I know this is something that affects a lot of us - and not just those in our industry. I recently signed up for a 6-month long mastermind with a group of totally inspiring women, and it was amazing to see how quickly we all connected. And it wasn’t long before those fears and imposter syndrome feelings rose to the surface, where we confessed to each other just how much we were all scared and not sure of ourselves and our abilities.
When I was younger, I was bullied severely. From when I was in primary school, all the way until part-way through high school my life was hell at points. I think my imposter syndrome stemmed from there - sure I was a bit different and definitely the exact definition of what the bad term for “geeky” then meant, but was that any reason to bully somebody? No. But it happened. Whether it was my hairstyle, the way I looked, the way I talked, the way I enjoyed a class…whatever it was, I was quite often singled out.
Whilst the bullying eventually stopped, my confidence didn’t automatically rise. I’ve suffered with believing in myself ever since then. Imposter syndrome can be crippling. The amounts of times over the last four or five years that it has actually stopped me from doing my work is crazy. It’s really hard to describe, but the way it felt for me was almost like drowning in self-doubt. Doubting myself, what I could do, why people believed in me.
If trolls told me that I wasn’t any good at what I did, and that I was never going to be the next XYZ, and that my work wasn’t half as good as ABC’s and why was I even bothering (I’ve had all these thrown at me) - and heck, if a potential boss even told me “Well, let’s face it - you can’t design.” - that simply carried on that bullying from school and made me believe in myself even less. The imposter was well and truly stood there, in the forefront. I truly believed I was no good at what I did.
I’m not writing this for sympathy - just to help explain my own issues. The pains and struggles I go through are nothing compared to what other people are going through. In fact the reason I wrote this - and told myself that I would share this - is because I want people to understand that even if you can go something that, when you compare it to other people’s troubles, seems trivial? It isn’t. Everything is relative.
That last sentence feels like an epiphany of sorts, that I’ve just had literally as I typed it out. But it’s true. When I talk about my disability to people, they often say something like: “Oh, I feel bad for complaining about my dodgy knee/back/wrist now!” and I tell them this: DON’T. If something is causing you to feel troubled or not your 100% very-best-self then don’t trivialise it and compare yourself to others. Your problems are relative to you, and if they make you feel bad then that might be huge. Everybody has different ways of dealing with different things (thanks for the reminder, Robert).
But for me, things really are getting better. I want you, reading this, to know that if you have a problem anything like mine then you can learn to overcome it, or at least learn how to deal with it. I’m so lucky that I am surrounded by people that are wonderful to me and help me when I need it. Having a support network like that is essential for me, on days when I just want to scream at everyone or days that I just want to cry because I’m in so much pain - I’m allowed it. But these people also help pick me up and inspire me to continue.
I don’t think I’ll ever be 100% happy with my work - I think that is the ever-continuing problem as a creative person. But that said, I know that I am doing everything I can (meditation, yoga, exercising, EFT/tapping sometimes, drinking more water, stepping back and looking at things objectively) to make my life better and to improve it. Sure, I won’t like the work I do all of the time - but as long as I can see improvements along the way, then I’m happy with that and I can finally feel proud to do the work that I do. As cheesy as it sounds, I want to make a difference in the world - in some small way, somehow - and if I can take steps towards that goal, then that can only be good.
And to end, in a way, I want to quote something I realised yesterday:
surround yourself with people that are full of heart and that can inspire, help and support you on your journey <3
Much love to you all. xox
Geek Mental Help Week is a week-long series of articles, blog posts, conversations, podcasts and events across the web about mental health issues, how to help people who suffer, and those who care for us.