I was diagnosed with depression in January 2012 and signed off work. My sick leave lasted 7 months in total before I began a phased return to work.
I resisted treatment for the first few weeks following the diagnosis, just wanting to hide away and deal with it on my own. When I finally accepted treatment, it was in the form of both anti-depressant medication and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
I was embarrassed about the illness and couldn't tell anyone I had depression. I thought I was weak and had succumbed to the pressures of a demanding job in the City.
I had gone from high performing, multi-tasking lawyer with my brain operating at what sometimes felt like 100mph to a complete shut down, to the extent that even the simplest of tasks became demanding. I remember trying to pay for something and I couldn't count out the money. I tried several times but kept on losing count so I had to give the shopkeeper my purse to take the correct change.
I felt numb and flat - a complete emotional void. I wanted to cry for some form of release but I couldn't even do that. That's when I turned to self-harming. It gave me some of the feeling or sensation that I was desperately craving.
The treatment I received
Several months into my illness, the void became too much and I just wanted my life to end, which was when I was hospitalised. Being in hospital helped me see that I really wasn't alone and others were suffering in the same way I was. Here I was able to focus 100 per cent on myself and not worry about life going on outside. This was a gateway to me fully accepting my illness and also the possibility of recovery.
The CBT was fairly helpful - it felt like a mild and gentle treatment that was entirely appropriate at the time - but it wasn't really until I immersed myself in the personal development world that I saw real, lasting changes.
I've participated in various courses, seminars and workshops and received a lot of coaching over the past few years.
The insights I had during these courses allowed me to see that it was who I was in life that was so detrimental to me. If you take a look at this blog post, there is more information about this there.
Creating my reality from the inside out
It's important to note that the game changer for me was realising that I could create my reality from the inside out rather than let my reality be determined from the outside in. Another way of saying this is that no changes needed to happen on the outside - such as changes to my work environment - in order for me to be happy.
I come from a place of taking personal responsibility for my wellbeing and not going into victim mode (a place where I believe we have no choice in the matter and are at the effect - rather than the cause - of our life).
I would encourage anyone, regardless of whether they are or have suffered from a mental health illness, to continually grow and develop themselves. The main part of this is increasing your self-awareness: being aware of how your thoughts, beliefs and feelings affecti your reality. Being aware of the commentary you run from moment to moment about yourself and others and how this affects your experience of life.
To those who are suffering at the moment I would say this: don't beat yourself up. Give yourself compassion and space. You are not weak. And you will come out of this. Treat this as a wake up call and an opportunity for you to grow.
Be curious about yourself - what behaviours may have led you here? We too often look to external factors, such as workload, to blame, rather than internal factors, such as how we relate to our circumstances.
Returning to work
I returned to work on a phased basis and my employer was incredibly supportive throughout this process. Having a brand new perspective and experience of life following my illness and the growth and development I went through, I decided to leave the law and pursue a career in coaching.
Advice to employers
My advice to employers dealing with employees suffering from depression would be this: be compassionate by all means, but don't relate to them as broken or damaged goods, or even as weak. in order to avoid instances of mental health illnesses arising in the first place, I would absolutely recommend employers to encourage a culture of personal growth for everyone and to prioritise wellbeing initiatives.
Lauren has formed Being Lawyers, a coaching and training organisation with another lawyer and certified executive coach, Chetna Bhatt. See more in the Gazette. You can find out more about us at www.beinglawyers.com.
Lauren has also spoken at a Law Society conference called Transforming the Wellbeing of the Legal Profession, sharing her experiences dealing with depression openly in an effort to erode some of the stigma attached to mental illness.