Have you ever had a colleague with depression? I haven’t had the chance, but guess what? Once upon a time, I became THAT colleague with depression.
When I went to see my doctor last year, I never thought she would tell me I was experiencing depression. I came to the doctor’s office just wanting to see if I could take a break from teaching as it was really getting hard to get up and show up at work each day, but when she asked me a few questions and I broke down, bawling my eyes out, she knew there was more to it. When she told me to come in the next day and answer some more questions for her, it became more apparent that it’s not a just a case of being lazy and not wanting to deal with anything that was taking the joy out of teaching and slowly affecting my relationships. It was depression. She said I had low serotonin levels.
Just in case you’re not sure what serotonin means, it’s that chemical that helps pass on signals from one area of the brain to another. Although serotonin is mostly made in the brain, where it does most of its work, serotonin can also be found in the digestive tract and in blood platelets. Many researchers believe that low serotonin levels can lead to depression, as well as anxiety, panic, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even too much anger.
So there. I was told I was experiencing depression. It wasn’t the first time that I felt so weepy, angry, hopeless and unhappy while teaching; I also felt this when I first came to teach here in Australia. I had to live by myself two hours away from family and had a difficult time adjusting to the new colleagues, students and culture. This time, however, I was a new mother to an adorable baby girl that I had to leave at home. All the fiber in my being detested leaving her while I taught other people’s children. Though I knew I was working for her and our small family, I just felt so robbed. Deep within my soul I just knew there’s nowhere I’d rather be than with her. Every. Single. Moment.
When my doctor told me I had to take two weeks off from work, I began weeping uncontrollably. She took it as a sign that two weeks wasn’t enough and made it three! LOL! The truth is I was crying because I felt no one at work would understand. I was given big responsibilities that year and I felt I was letting everybody down. I was letting my family down. I was letting the brilliant teacher in me down. My doctor was adamant though that I take a break from work and assured me there’s nothing wrong with taking care of myself.
Well, true enough, not everyone at work understood what I was going through. A FEW thought I was making up having depression and that I was letting them down for taking a medical leave. I even got told something along the lines of no matter how I feel, I should get up, dress up and show up. I was even told to keep the whole a thing a secret because of what others might think about me.
Well, hear this: I WASN’T ASHAMED AND I NEVER WILL BE FOR CHOOSING ME. I’m living my amazing life right now because I CHOSE ME and I HAVE NO REGRETS.
So, how do you help a colleague with depression? Here are some of the things that my AMAZING colleagues did for me:
1. Just let them take a break.
I will always be grateful to my superiors who understood my situation. I told them I thought they wouldn’t understand, but I was wrong. They heard me out. They didn’t make me feel guilty for taking a leave. They just let me take the break I needed.
2. Be kind and compassionate.
Trust me, nobody dreams of having depression. It’s hard to teach a class of 50 kids when all you wanted to do was to go to a corner and cry because you felt like something was dying inside of you and you couldn’t explain it. Our librarian let me do this in her tiny office. After a class, I would go inside this space and just cry. She didn’t judge me or told me to shake it off. She just let me be. She was kind and compassionate.
3. Be a friend who cares.
I had one friend in school who sent me a Whatsapp message, asking how I was doing. She listened and didn’t judge me. She even visited me at home to check how I was holding up. She knew how to be a friend who cares during that difficult time and I’ll forever be grateful for having met her.
4. Be encouraging and positive.
Telling your colleague to get up, dress up and show up no matter how they feel doesn’t count as encouragement, okay? I only felt my feelings were belittled and my welfare was made insignificant when I was told that. Telling your colleague that you’re having a hard time too wouldn’t make it better either. Depression isn’t something that a person can just shake off. It takes time to recover.
How am I doing now? Well, I’m doing great! I don’t consider myself mentally ill or incompetent just because I had depression. If you’re feeling low and down, and you’re reading this, I hope you won’t be ashamed to ask for help like I did. It might just be Baby Blues or a bad day, but what if it’s depression? We have doctors who can help. Many of your colleagues will understand. You just got to be brave and choose you. Your feelings are important. You’re well-being is important. YOU ARE IMPORTANT!
Can you think of other ways to help a colleague with depression? Please comment below.