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Freelancing Lifestyle

When Personal Struggles & Mental Health Meet the Workplace

Emily Schmidt
Emily Schmidt


Managing mental health is incredibly challenging in the workspace. We live in a culture where working through personal challenges and mental health while being in a professional career isn’t something that’s talked about or accommodated for. We pretend that these challenges don’t exist. Sure, some companies offer sick days you can use towards mental health, but there is a lot of fear about sharing what we’re going through so we’re not perceived as weak or incompetent.

Michelle Obama recently shared a podcast where she talked about women's health and the changes that happen throughout women's lives that we ignore. Women in the workspace that are going through perimenopause and menopause have significant challenges they experience while trying to get work done. Hot flashes are just one of the many things that women have to deal with during this time. Women are supposed to not say anything, pretend it’s not happening, and ensure that their work isn’t impacted by what’s happening with their body. If they do show that it’s affecting them in the workspace they come across as less stable than their male counterparts.

For those of us who aren’t going through menopause, we also have a whole slew of different things we’re moving through. From mental health issues, body changes, burnout, stress, anxiety, and lack of motivation, we’re all moving through something, and can definitely have an impact on our work. Those who are able to hide their challenges best are perceived the most competent. Is this the case?

I was diagnosed with PMDD which can significantly increase anxiety and depression (and a slew of other symptoms) one to two weeks a month. As I sit here working this morning I struggle with being able to effectively get my work done. It can be incredibly draining for things to take longer, not have clear thoughts, and have many expectations of me. It can feel like I’m drowning in a sea of expectations and my livelihood is dependent on me bringing my A game. What is there to do though when physiologically it’s not possible to bring your A game when you need it the most?

In one hour I have a meeting with a prospective client I’m trying to close. It’s a big project with long term potential and I don’t feel like I'm on my A game. But I need to show up and bring the oomf. If I were to push back this meeting (after being offline last week) it wouldn’t send a good message to the clients about my availability or management skills. I have to show up with what I’ve got and hope it’s good enough.

I’m not alone. We are in the midst of a global pandemic. Stress is high. We’re feeling worn down from being cooped up at home, seeing the chaos of politics reigning during this time, and have less emotional resources. There are fewer ways to take care of ourselves during this time, and we’re all experiencing waves of exhaustion. Sometimes we can’t bring our A game.

I wish I could propose a solution. That there would be a way that we all have more grace. That we could find a way to accommodate each other more for the challenges that we’re going through and that we won’t be judged for struggling. Or feared that if we need to push back a meeting after taking a vacation we won’t be looked at that our work ethic is weak.  

At this time I don’t think we even know what to ask for or ways to make it better. We feel the pressure of doing a great job so we don’t lose our jobs. It’s the reality that we’re living in and the system that we’re contained to.

What happens when we get to a collective breaking point? Is it possible that will happen? Or does this system work well enough where it will continue indefinitely.

In the meantime, I wish for everyone who’s going through anxiety, depression, menopause, PMDD, burnout or any other challenge to know that you’re not alone. Take care of yourself. Keep doing your best. I’m rooting for you.


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