Living with anxiety and depression
I’ve suffered from various mental health illnesses, including anxiety and depression, for about 14 years or so.
My first episode was in 2005, shortly after I passed my APC and became a Chartered Surveyor. This had followed a period of two years where I had put a massive amount of pressure on myself leading up the interview.
Being able to look back and reflect now, I think that up to this point in my life I’d always had a 'glass half full' attitude, and never really thought I was any good at anything. In all honesty, I probably didn't think that I deserved to pass my APC first time round.
I believe this stemmed from being told as child that I’d always have to work harder than anyone else, or couldn't do certain jobs, due to my physical disability. At school, I was always the one who got picked last in sports. That really shaped how I felt about myself, but also how I had come to devalue myself as a person throughout my teens, university years and into my early days as a building surveyor - I never allowed my confidence to be at the forefront of my personality.
Following this first episode of mental ill health, I sought counselling and cognitive behaviour therapy to try and work through some of the issues that had affected why I thought the way I did and why my outlook on life was so negative.
While the therapy definitely helped me change my outlook on life to be more 'half glass full', I did go on to experience further episodes of anxiety and depression in the years that followed, which usually coincided with some sort of significant event happening in my life.
"The simplest tasks became almost impossible to carry out"
For me the last episode, in 2018, was probably my lowest ever point. By then, I was married with a young family, and career wise had moved from building surveying into project management.
In early 2018 I started having heavy bouts of anxiety as a result of workplace pressure, but also due to experiencing some workplace bullying.
My anxiety became so severe that even the simplest of tasks at work or at home became difficult, almost impossible, to carry out.
The anxiety would take hold and I’d feel as though my whole body was on fire.
This had a profound impact on my personal and family life - and nearly cost me my marriage.
It was at this point I knew I needed to take some time out and seek counselling again.
The counselling was fantastic and really helped me to understand and address some of the deep-rooted issues (‘stuff’, as my counsellor would call it) that were the cause or major triggers of my anxiety.
It was during these sessions that I really began to understand mindfulness and the benefit it can bring in helping to control anxiety by ‘being in the moment’. I also started running to help my general health and wellbeing. Furthermore, I took the decision to change employer and work sector to allow some of the workplace triggers to be removed that had been causing some of the anxiety.
"I realised it would never really go away: it was more about me learning to control it"
It was also during this time that it finally dawned on me that the anxiety and depression I had been experiencing all these years would never really go away. It was more about me learning to control the feelings and becoming more able to challenge the negative thoughts that I had.
But I also needed to be more open with my friends, family and work colleagues - ‘yes, I suffer from mental health issues’ - and not feel ashamed or worried about how this would be perceived.
It was a little while after this that I attended a LionHeart event and first heard about their mental health ambassadors initiative, which aimed to raise awareness in the industry by sharing real stories and experiences.
By becoming a LionHeart ambassador, I really wanted to contribute something positive and help break the stigma associated with mental ill health. I hope sharing my own experiences will encourage my fellow professionals to openly discuss mental health, and reassure people that, with the right support, it is possible to positively manage mental health problems and that they do not have to hinder career progression.
Stuart Howison MRICS is a chartered surveyor and project manager based in south Wales. He is also a LionHeart mental health ambassador.