I have always been shy. Not that I didn’t try to change it, but that’s my basic nature, I guess. As a school going kid, I never realised that being coy, could ever hinder my personal growth; that it might just affect my self-confidence in later years. Little did I know, I will have to deal with anxiety too.
Hi, I am Zoe and I am a 26-year-old software engineer. I chose to stick with my education and follow the corresponding career path; currently I am working in a mobile app development company. I am about to get married and have been dealing with anxiety for more than a decade now.
People like me have some issues, not referring to confidence here; but we are cynics. Not that I don’t want to be optimistic… but out of the two possibilities with equal chances – positive and negative, I am always sure about the negative. Rather, I used to be. I can proudly say, I am not that anymore, thanks to my workplace! I am still dealing with anxiety, but it doesn’t give me rashes anymore!
Don’t be shocked! Stress does that to you… I myself was unaware that skin issues had something to do with mental health. If you are not at peace “up there”, it will reflect on your body, your behaviour… it can even affect your sleep cycle, adversely! I was a frustrated youngster with sweaty palms and very low self-esteem. There were no reasons, but a small change here and there and I used to feel everything was falling apart! And then started the heavy breathing with apprehensions of an apocalypse! Believe me when I say, this is no exaggeration!
The not-so-black-&-white background; I could have used ‘colourful’ instead, but the VIBGYOR was far away back then
I joined my present company with a close mindset and a heart that was strongly shut, (FIGURATIVELY). I just wanted one thing, to earn money in order to make ends meet. Survive an arduous day and repeat the process the next day. Weekends used to be like dead ends for me; how was I supposed to enjoy? No social circle, no going out for drinks, not attending exhibits or fests or anything of the sort! I didn’t find peace in anything.
I thought my work kept me sane; but I guess I was wrong there too. My former office and work-pressure there, increased my anxiety levels. Whenever I was running behind, instead of trying to push harder and buck up, I used to bash myself for under-delivering. More than anybody else, I was sure of my incompetency. I was sure, this is how I was born, this is what I was to be for the rest of my life. The rude behaviour, apathy, toxic work-environment never appeared as a problem to me. I was the problem; I saw myself as that. For me, I was always wrong and hence, always anxious. Diverting my mind or seeking help… they never occurred to me and neither did anybody suggest anything. It was a sinking feeling… I knew I was drowning, but I didn’t try flapping my arms or legs, not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t know I COULD!
With only lemons coming my way, the only option was to make lemonade! Had a rendezvous with the ‘inner chef’…
But things had to change for better and they did, when I joined in here… my new workplace. They were expanding, weren’t as big as my former employer back then. But they offered me more money and I tagged along. I never suspected this place would be a turning point for me – my career, my health, my peace of mind! It changed me for good… no! It transformed me for good.
I was loaded with work since my second day here. But the team was encouraging; everyone, from the bosses to juniors and interns; everyone. Initially, I thought it’s a sham! Who works like that? We are colleagues not a close-knit group! They were disciplined and organised, yes, but they were team players! There were arguments and discussions but one thing that made them stand out for me was – they never left anybody behind. “The team sails together”, their motto.
This group helped me immensely in honing my skills, making me realise that it is important to shed my inhibitions and grow. To have a work-life balance for real and live! Even if I don’t socialise per se, I could still lead a happy life and not be miserable, as I was going on for years!
To be honest, I have had more work here – load and pressure both! But now that I retrospect, it never really bothered me. Rather it worked in my favour. Working with a smaller group led me to handle multiple roles! I developed software, of all people… I did! That was new!
Many of you might not find this intriguing, but a software engineer is different from a software developer. The former takes care of everything involving designing, development, maintenance, testing and evaluation of computer software. The latter does a specific task – builds software that runs across various types of computer. I could do both! Now, do you realise, what made me happy? I wasn’t just involved in a team activity and/or an entire process, but got a chance to work on a special cog in the entire ‘development machinery’ as well!
I was so anxious when the boss asked me to do that for the first time. I couldn’t say no, as I am incapable of doing that. But I knew it, I was not convinced. I was angry and irritated too, ‘how much work do they expect me to do?’ And my anxiety increased as I felt helpless. Nevertheless, I started working on that – that was the only option to resort to!
The internalisation – of the realisation of betterment!
Building a software requires expertise and special knowledge; online training courses came in handy. I took the classes online and kept working simultaneously. I burnt the midnight oil for months. It was a small team and even though the work was distributed, we all had a lot on our plates. I was managing the development team and processes, conducting software testing and maintenance. There were times when I was sleep deprived but I was so hooked to this; as if this was my only chance at redemption. For the first time in my life, I believed I was competent and that, I KNEW my work… and I wanted to prove myself right. I didn’t feel highly anxious, the bouts did hit me yes; but after a few weeks I realised, they were mere bouts. It didn’t feel like a never-ending experience; I wasn’t sinking, I WAS SAILING!
Before this project, one of my colleagues had asked me to visit a shrink. I remember, I shrugged when I first heard that. ‘Why does she think I need help?! I am not sick. I am fine. Just because I don’t socialise, nobody gets to judge me!’, I had thought to myself. Before I could say something, she clarified. ‘I am just asking you to talk to somebody, consult a professional. This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. I am saying this as a well-wisher.’
I didn’t know my colleagues had noticed my socially awkward behaviour. I thought I could conceal that; also, I used to think, these tech nerds won’t notice a thing! That’s how things rolled in my old office. But that didn’t happen here.
After constant nudging, I obliged. In the first meeting I was told that my skin rash and anxiety were related! My shrink asked me to stay occupied with interesting work, to do things that gave me a ‘kick’; ‘but don’t do drugs okay, by kick I don’t mean that!!’, he had said.
I was asked to practice deep breathing and write my thoughts down. I was told, I needed to face my fears, overcome them and not just run away from them. My first response was, ‘what a quack!’ But for the sake of my mental health, I decided to use these techniques for two weeks. I could stop anytime I wanted… but, there was no harm in trying! So, I stuck with them for two weeks and to my surprise, they worked!
Later on I realised, why working on that very project reduced my anxiety! I was super occupied and learning something new was giving me, to quote the doctor ‘a kick!’ Working at macro and micro levels simultaneously, helped me in a way I had never imagined.
Slowly and steadily, the encouragement, compliments and my work were transforming me. From being a socially awkward and highly anxious person, I had become the one who enjoyed team discussions and meetings. That happened with those few ‘effective techniques’ and yes, by keeping my opinions forward. I had no clue it could be rewarding and people might just like my take on things too!
A sharper turning point… that was exhilarating!
Just when I thought I had polished myself enough, without any more scope left for improvement, the real game changer hit me. I was on board a new project – to develop a mental health app!
It was to help me and I was to help others through it (I thought so)! It didn’t even occur to me that having mental health issues is normal and that people face them! I was not alone. The very first time the client mentioned anxiety, my eyes were glued to the floor! I didn’t look up. I was afraid my eyes would give way, that people will come to know! But then I heard a reassuring statement, ‘… it is normal! These issues are like any other sickness we deal with and they can be cured! That’s why we wish to develop an application… to make people believe that they are not alone in this.’
These words still resonate with me. I was not alone! I was not the only one having panic attacks at my weak moments… more importantly, it was treatable. I didn’t need to be ashamed of that! Was I ever ashamed when I had common cold? NO! This issue can be handled by a professional and thanks to my colleague, I was already seeking help from a psychiatrist.
The amount of confidence and hope that one moment gave me, is ineffable. I realised; I was already treading on the right path! My work, my peers, my workplace, those projects, the doctor… everyone and everything had a role to play here! It was unbelievable. I got uneasy with sheer happiness, that was indeed exhilarating!
I worked even harder for this project. Making questionnaires, thorough analysis and studying, sincere discussions and meetings, working with fellow engineers and developers to build a system, incorporating innovative methods like a helpline, anonymous success stories, mood-boosting activities and suggestions, meditation options, etc. – I remember being a part of that process, completely! We as a team weren’t just helping each other and aiming to develop the best app of such kind; this process was helping us too, all of us!
Though my shrink used to use this term a lot, it was during this time that I got to know about CBT, cognitive behavioural therapy, in detail. This involves changing the negative thoughts that come to our minds automatically and improving emotional regulation. It also focuses on developing personal coping strategies. It involves dealing with a negative thought in a pragmatic way and moulding that negative thought into a positive one.
For instance, if you have a negative thought ‘I can never deliver on time’, it might become ‘I usually get late. I should try finding the loopholes in my operation and try on improving. Being organised and setting goals might help.’
Setting smart goals helps. This changes the focus from the negative thought to handling the task in a better manner. A mobile app technology could bring a change in my life, being a part of such a project would inspire me and all the team members, I hadn’t ever imagined that.
A heartfelt note to my mellow self and wonderful workplace
An office is a space that is considered formal, more organised and mechanical. But with immense happiness I say, my workspace became my safe space; it still is my safe space. I won’t say I have not had tiffs with other members, I have had those; I won’t say I don’t argue, I do. For me the difference speaks for itself as – I have started speaking up! I am learning and I am flourishing. More importantly, I am not scared anymore – I am working and taking care of my health simultaneously. I don’t run away from my emotions now, or problems in my life, I face them. Most importantly, I am living now. Believe me, it feels great to be alive; it feels amazing that I contribute in my own way to the company I owe so much too!
I feel good as this surprisingly wonderful amalgam of technology and mental health awareness, brought out the best in me; which I was not even aware of. I still am dealing with anxiety, but I am getting better at the game, practice makes perfect they say… and I am practising, every day!
I learn, hone, practice and repeat. I talk, have all kinds of discussions, I don’t shy away now! This way, I help myself, which in turn helps me stay happy and confident. Isn’t that how it was supposed to be always? I guess, yes!6