Hello, my name is Varsha, and I’m 35 years old. I am, what some people may call, a “driven” person and an extrovert who gets along with most people. The other Varsha, that not many know, is the one who has been suffering from anxiety and depression since the last 7 years.
I am, what you can call, a high performing anxiety patient, which means I am strangely calm during a high pressure situation, like going on stage to do improv shows without a script for an audience of 400, but I absolutely disintegrate in simple situations like holding a one on one conversation even on a phone call, unless it’s a very specific, work related conversation, or in general, engage in, what we call, “small talks”. It also means that I can take criticism and praise gracefully from people close to me, but I do get full blown panic attacks when others do it (and strangely, more so with praises). With that in mind, here is my story:
When I started working as a travel writer in 2008 (fresh out of college, 20 something), I was someone who got promoted in record time (and it is still unbroken, I found out recently). I loved my job and gave it my 100%.
The same was for the second company I joined, I quickly gathered accolades for my work and learning new things and technologies as well as articulating them came easily to me (a trait that is most sought after in a technical writer).
Around 2013, I was newly married (new marriage but 10 year old relationship) and joined my third company. Here too, I was quickly noticed for my work ethics and in general, my superiors were happy with my performance, but a year into the job is when I first started noticing troubles. I would quickly lose interest in fairly simple tasks given to me, I would constantly slip up on my deadlines, it reached a point where I was also given a warning to be put on a performance probation. This was the most embarrassing thing for me, I was devastated.
How did I go from being a star performer to this, was something I could not come to terms with! I quickly put down my papers and also found yet another job, this time, in TCS. And all the while, blamed my husband, my in-laws (this was also the time, I was going through a bad phase in my marriage) for my lack of performance.
When I joined TCS too, initially, I was told by my boss that I was not “mentally stable” to handle complex projects, and that really felt like a punch in my stomach. Again, I was quick to blame it on my divorce proceedings and my, soon to ex, husband, my mom who told me I could not come back home after my divorce and my boss, who I assumed had some grudge against divorced women. Basically, blame everyone, without stopping to actually figure out the root cause.
Here, too I was almost asked to leave, and I didn’t know how to go back to being that girl I was before 2013. Yet again, after being in TCS for merely 6 months, I found myself job hunting…again!
On the day I was to put down my papers, my current boss approached me with an offer to join his team instead. He also suggested, I see a therapist, because he said, he saw a lot of potential in me, and it will be shame to see me crumble under something that’s very fixable.
Now, I had a choice to either take it as an insult, or take his advice with an open mind, thankfully, I chose the latter. He introduced me to the TCS cares department, it’s a facility dedicated for mental health wellness for TCS employees. It was free of cost so I had nothing to lose.
For the first year and a half, I would just talk to the counselor about my stress and procrastination etc. and she would give me simple exercises to tackle those, depression and anxiety were still not on table just yet, at least it was not the official diagnosis. Although, I did start realising that I had to change my attitude towards my work. That it was I alone, who could help me change the situation; I could either blame or fix. This time too, I chose the latter since blaming had not gotten me anywhere so far. I started doing well in my workplace again. It was difficult at first, gaining the confidence of your colleagues is not easy when you have messed up as many times as I did, but I put my head down, started small, and worked my way up again.
Took me two years, but the old Varsha was back!
Then in 2018, I was diagnosed with Endometriosis, and my whole life came to a standstill. The surgery, and the post surgery medicines (that I still take) resulted in a full blown anxiety and phases of depression. I was not only back to square one with my performance at work, but I also would not get up from my bed for days on end and simple tasks like brushing my teeth or taking a shower would make me cry. This was beyond my control now, at least it felt that way at the time. My boss was understanding, but he had his limits too, he had a project to run at the end of the day, so things started getting dark again.
The good thing this time was though that I had realised by now; that the best way to handle my mental illness was firstly in the power of acceptance. Initially I fought with this situation, and it only worsened it for me. So this time, I signed up for therapy, not the free kind from TCS, but an actual CBT practitioner. I worked with her for a year to improve my mental health. I say work WITH her, because therapy is around 90% your hardwork and will power.
CBT opened up a new door for me. Now I had a name for what I was going through. I knew why I behaved in the way I did.
Together, we worked on my childhood traumas, my PTSDs, identifying my anxiety triggers and how to handle those situations. I was slowly transforming as a person, things I didn’t even know had a effect on me, now made sense. This was also around the same time I joined BipolarIndia’s Mumbai wellness peer support group and I haven’t looked back since then.
I won’t say I am totally cured, but it’s like someone lifted about 20kgs off my chest.
Today, I am in a better place with my anxiety and depression, in the sense, I still have my episodes, but I am more confident in how I can revolve my life around it. Today, I know how to draw my boundaries at workplace without hampering my performance, or having a breakdown (kudos to my bosses and TCS though for being so inclusive, but that’s another story, for another time).
Acceptance of my mental health issues also allowed me to accept my limitations and more importantly be okay with them. Today, I have switched roles within my organization, opting for a less stress inducing project of Talent Development. This also boosted my confidence in venturing into other avenues such as doing improv comedy, starting my own T-Shirt brand online and very recently, taking art therapy workshops (I got certified as an art therapist somewhere along the way, thanks to the inspiration I received from the peer support group).
The past 4 years have been the toughest for me, because self awareness, and self transformation is not easy.
Admitting things about myself, that were embarrassing, traits that you didn’t really want to acknowledge were not easy. There were many things within me that I had to completely break apart and put together differently, all the while not letting my professional life suffer. I would get angry, exhausted, frustrated, and on many occasions, but every time I thought of doing that, I would force myself to go in for a quick session with my therapist, or take help/inspiration from the support group. And now I know, it was worth every pain, every bit of frustration.
Today, I live one day at a time, at home and at work. Every day, the goal is to do a little more than yesterday; be a little loving towards self then yesterday; to be a little aware then yesterday.
I am still learning, but I know, I’ll do better tomorrow.