How DS.Emotion has supported me during my mental health struggles
My name is Nate, and I’m a web developer here at DS.Emotion. I’m a month away from my third work anniversary. Working at DS.E has had loads of positives that I’m incredibly proud of. However, there have been a few negatives caused by my mental health. This affected my ability to do my job effectively. As it’s Time To Talk Day, I have chosen to share my story. It’s important to get people talking about mental health. We need to talk about it to reduce the stigma. When someone is struggling, they should feel comfortable speaking up to get the help they need. That’s what this day is all about.
Joining DS – The beginning of the mental health spiral
My first few months at DS.Emotion were challenging to say the least. My mum went into hospital a couple of weeks before I joined the company. I was travelling back and forth between Hertfordshire and Leeds to visit her. During that time, I left my last role on a Friday then started at DS.E on the Monday. I didn’t have a chance to stop and breathe. It was difficult to carry on with what was going on with my mum, but I soldiered on anyway. One thing I valued at the time was that being in the office and focusing on my new job was a good distraction. That didn’t work for long. During my third week, we all packed up our equipment and went to work from home indefinitely for the first Covid lockdown.
I remember feeling quite tearful as I left the office that day. The idea of going home, where I lived alone, with no way to escape my thoughts made me very anxious. On top of that, hospitals were locked down so that meant my mum couldn’t have any visitors. I worried a lot about her. My mum ended up being discharged early a few weeks later because of all the uncertainty with Covid. She was doing alright but dealing with a life changing condition. She’s very resilient, but it was still difficult for me to come to terms with it all. For a few weeks, I tried to carry on as normal, but I just knew I wasn’t OK. One day, I emailed Matt, one of our founders, and told him how I was feeling and asked if I could have a few days off. He was of course, very supportive and allowed me the rest of the week off. That short break gave me a chance to recharge, and I felt much better after returning to work.
The first two years – Pretending everything is fine
During my first two years, I noticed a few things. The first and most important thing was that the things I was doing to try and make myself feel better were only temporary fixes. Other things I noticed were: my relationship with food changed dramatically, I wasn’t really doing anything with my spare time and I wasn’t being very productive during my work days. I couldn’t focus and spent a lot of days not getting very much work done. I would get to the end of the work day, realise I didn’t do anywhere near enough work, panic and then staying up late to catch up. The idea of joining the daily developer meeting and saying I hadn’t done any work and not having a reason for it was not an option. I did this for a couple of years. Not every day was like this, but it was something I tried to just accept. I assumed working from home full time just wasn’t for me. It didn’t occur to me that there might have been an underlying reason.
My relationship with food was very unhealthy. It started when I attempted to lose a bit of weight during the first lockdown. I just wanted to get my BMI back into the healthy weight range. I was exercising a LOT, but I could never lose weight consistently. Between 2020 and 2022, my weight yo-yoed. I went through many phases of binge-eating and feeling really depressed about it. For a while I even suspected I’d developed an eating disorder. I would try my hardest to do better so that I wouldn’t have to feel awful again but that didn’t work. When I wasn’t eating, I was almost always thinking about food. Wondering how much longer it would be until the next meal time. It was a really difficult issue to deal with but again, I didn’t think much of it. I thought I wasn’t trying hard enough so every time I failed, I would just try again. I refused to give up, but I was fighting a losing battle.
Even though I lived alone, I never felt lonely. I didn’t feel bad if I didn’t see anyone for a long time. I would spend all week working (well, trying to) and then sit in front of the TV on weekends. I wasn’t achieving anything. I was no longer doing things I enjoyed, and I never had anything exciting to say on Mondays when asked how my weekend was. Deep down, I knew I wasn’t OK, but I didn’t know what to do. I had a few sessions with a counsellor but didn’t feel like I benefited from it as much as I hope I would. I only talked about my problems, but I didn’t address them. I looked at the NHS website a few times and read about depression and ADHD. Each time I read through the pages, I didn’t think my issues were bad enough for me to go to the doctor. So I foolishly waited until things became worse.
Third year – being honest with myself and speaking up
At the beginning of 2022, I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t OK. I knew I had to look after my mental health. I knew I had to do something because I couldn’t go on living the way I was. I wanted to be happier again, enjoy life and spend more time with friends and family. As I mentioned previously, I was alone, but I wasn’t lonely. However, I unknowingly isolated myself.
I knew I had to say something to someone at work. I went back and forth a few times because I worried, I would get a negative response if I spoke. I had to just force myself, so I sent my manager a message and asked if we could have a chat on Google Meet. Once I’d done that, I was very nervous, but I knew it was the right thing to do. There was no going back. During the call I talked about what I was struggling with and how I felt, and she was very supportive. I told her I planned to see the doctor, and she told me she’d look into what support the company could help me with. I left the call feeling overwhelmed by my emotions. I knew I had made that important first step and I finally felt like everything was going to be alright.
I saw my doctor a couple of weeks later, and he was very patient and understanding, which was a huge bonus for me. Like a lot of people, I find it easier to be open and honest with some people but not others. I answered all the doctor’s questions honestly and after the thorough assessment, I left with my first prescription for anti-depressants. I had very mixed feelings. I was willing to try the medication to because I wanted to help myself and to feel better. At the same time, I was feeling a bit dejected because I didn’t want to rely on medication. I wanted to be “normal”.
I did a few other things to help myself in addition to speaking to my doctor. I referred myself to Leeds Mental Wellbeing Service and did an online Depression Recovery Class. I went back to them a few months later and did the same thing on a one-to-one basis. That was incredibly helpful, and it’s where I learnt about all the different things I can do to help myself.
Even though medication made a difference, I still really struggled with focusing and productivity. It got so bad that it started to really affect my ability to do my job. I was incredibly frustrated because I really enjoy being a developer, but I was even struggling while working on projects I was excited about. I was open with DS.E, and they were incredibly understanding. I was told I could have a bit more time for my tasks and that the other developers could help me out if I was struggling for time. This made me feel better but worse at the same time. Worse because I didn’t want it to go that far. I became very self-conscious on my office days because I was very aware of my lack of productivity and assumed I was being judged for it. It was a really difficult time. One day, I even asked my manager if I could leave and carry on working at home because I just wasn’t feeling well, mentally. I changed my mind and I stayed because I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to have to explain to my colleagues that I was leaving early because I was feeling depressed. I eventually had a few days off the following week, which helped immensely. I went on lots of walks to get fresh air and clear my mind. I also went back to my doctor, who increased my medication and then referred me for an ADHD assessment.
When I went back into work the following week, I sat down with my manager and boss. We discussed everything I was going through, and I got them up to speed on what was going on with the medical side of things. They got in touch with an occupational health specialist whose job it was to assessment me and determine what kind of support I needed. The specialist would then report back to DS.Emotion and advise them of any adjustments they would need to make for me in the workplace.
Because of how I was feeling mentally, I knew I couldn’t wait to get to the top of the NHS waiting list for my ADHD assessment. I’d found out from researching online that the average waiting time was more than a year. I ended up referring myself to a private clinic where I was diagnosed in August and then started medication in October. Within a couple of days, I had my appointment with the occupational health specialist. I talked about what I struggled with, I shared my ADHD diagnosis report and from there, she made her determinations. As I’d just started medication and had bought some noise-cancelling headphones to help me focus, there wasn’t much I needed. I was still grateful that DS.E had gone through all this trouble to make sure they could accommodate my needs and help me to continue to do my job successfully.
On top of all the different things I’ve done to help myself, and the support from my doctor and DS.Emotion, I signed up for some counselling back in November. I referred myself to the mental health charity, Mind, here in Leeds. Now that my issues had been addressed, I have been able to go back and talk through them again. It has now been about a year since my initial appointment with my doctor, and I’m a completely different person. My productivity has improved massively, and I’m no longer worrying about not get work done. I’ve been able to eat better and lose weight consistently. My BMI is finally in the healthy weight range, and I’m still exercising almost every day. I’m much more comfortable in my own skin and my self-confidence has sky-rocketed.
It’s important to know that despite the huge turnaround to my life, I do still have my bad days. I’m not cured but at least I’m in a good place where I feel I can comfortably manage my mental health. I’m not only relying on medication. I’m doing a lot of other things on top of that to give myself the best possible chance of being as mentally healthy as I can possibly be.
Below are some tips to looking after yourself to improve your overall wellbeing.
- Take care of yourself.
- Do whatever you can to look after your mental health. There are plenty of resources available online and you can even ask your doctors’ surgery about their mental health services.
- Exercise regularly. There are thousands of different things you could do. Find a sport or type of exercise that you enjoy and stick with it.
- Talk to someone about how you’re feeling now and then. It can be anyone you feel comfortable opening up to. There is also a variety of different types of counselling available online and in person.