"I was told to get a grip and get over it"

Get a grip blog
03-05-2018
I developed depression after first-hand witnessing a traumatic incident in which my family and I were victims of armed robbery overseas. My younger sister was seriously hurt and my dad and grandmother were killed. 

Engulfed in sheer chaos, it was the worst 30 to 45 minutes of our lives until help arrived. Returning to England we received counselling provided by the British High Commission. Having never experienced depression or even a phase of deep sadness and helplessness in my life before, I was unsure what to make of it. 

I became withdrawn and lost contact with family and friends. During this time, I was constantly told to get a grip of myself and to get over it. I decided to seek further advice from a doctor, at which point I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

Determined to carry on with my career, the thought of taking sick leave from work did not cross my mind and I continued to work. However, my symptoms worsened as months went by - I was sleeping most of the time, losing a lot of weight, and completely disconnecting from my surroundings and people. 

I felt utterly broken, useless and hopeless, had regular panic attacks and even thoughts of suicide. 

But this did not stop me from applying for jobs to help career progression or further studies. I remember walking into a job interview and crying when I came out, because I thought it was awful. To my surprise, the opposite was true - I was offered a position at the Valuation Office Agency, which was to prove a life-changing experience that helped me find myself again, improve my health and achieve my career goals. 

A few months into the job, I woke up thinking, enough is enough.  I cannot let any situation or anyone control my life like this. I came off anti-depressants, started yoga, swimming and gym. A turning point was deciding to travel the world, knowing there was so much more to life than the cards I believed I’d been dealt.

I knew I could no longer sit and wonder, 'Why us?' - because I would never get the answer my heart desired. 

In October 2016, I was due to sit my APC. I got great feedback and advice from colleagues, but the only negative point from my mocks and reviews was that I lacked confidence. Despite fighting through PTSD, rebuilding and maintaining confidence and self-belief were areas I continued to fall short. I’d even started to feel, maybe I am not a good fit for this industry.

Eventually, the big day came. I was ready, but remember feeling anxious as we all do before an interview or presentation. Unfortunately, my fear got the better of me. I knew I had not performed well towards the end of my interview and so my referral report came through while I was away travelling.  

But I was not going to give up. In January I began to build up my CPD again and gain more experience. The 5 months leading up to my assessments were good but then came another setback - I received a call to tell me my interview was cancelled. 
The wait led to me suffering undue anxiety prior to the next interview. Looking back now, it felt like a car crash in slow motion. It triggered old memories and experiences of stress and trauma and I ended up seeking therapy again. 

It helped me finally realise that things not working out as planned was perfectly fine. I decided to self-help further though meditation, self-hypothesis and exercise. 

A couple of weeks before my next APC assessment I stumbled upon LionHeart’s Supercharge Your Wellbeing CPD hour. I wasn’t sure what to expect but turned up with one of my friends. Natasha (the LionHeart trainer) introduced herself, and the motivation behind the seminar.  It turned out she had also stumbled at her APC assessment; I felt relieved to know I was not the only one and that it was completely normal to feel overwhelmed by such a process. 

Once again, the big day arrived. The usual state of feeling anxious but also knowing that I had done everything I could to prepare myself made me feel confident and grounded. 

This time, I remember walking out of the room with a smile. Finally, in November, I passed. 

Since then, I’ve had time to reflect on my experiences. It’s led me to conclude that there is a pressing need for raising mental health awareness and general support within the industry - reassuring people that it is okay and necessary to talk about exactly how and what they are experiencing, without feeling embarrassed or judged. 

I appreciate that sometimes it may feel like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel but, eventually, you will get there. 

It is imperative for firms to understand mental health better as this plays a significant role in every employee’s day to day life.

Life is precious; a gift that will never be given to us again. I truly hope that by sharing my story, others who are also struggling will not give up and will feel less isolated. Bad times, too, shall pass.

Avneet Virdee is a chartered valuation surveyor at the Valuation Office Agency, based in Berkshire. She is now working with LionHeart to help raise awareness for mental health and wellbeing in the property industry through the John O'Halloran Initiative. 

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