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Sliding Doors, Shutting Down

Updated: May 17, 2022

Lucy reached out to me after reading my blog. I'd written about my first anxiety attack and it had resonated with her. We used to work across the street from one other, in very similar workplace environments, but we actually met at a yoga studio closer to home. From the back of the room she made it look so easy as I wobbled my way through the Vinyasa class. She was and still is a beautiful girl, so radiant with a huge beaming smile. I wanted to be her friend from the moment we started chatting. But after a few months we stopped going to class and quickly lost touch. In parallel, we were experiencing the early stages of a mental health disorder and, by the end of the year, we would be in our respective GP surgeries crying for help (literally).

Lucy was on the verge of a nervous breakdown (she now knows as Adjustment Disorder), which she suspects had been building up for a few years. Right before her world came crashing down, she was awarded the top performance rating on her team, together with her biggest year-end bonus. Yet, her manager had no idea. Without complaint, Lucy had been working 60+ hour weeks then driving 3 hours there and back to look after her mother at the weekends. (Her mum was seriously unwell and needed her daughter's constant attention). But Lucy didn't want to let the team down. Furthermore, she couldn't allow her performance to slip, she knew that any sign of weakness and her role would be at risk - after a long career in financial services, Lucy was convinced of this. As is the norm in our industry, her department was fast paced, highly reactive and every day filled with "fire-drills" (I can feel so many of you nodding along as you read this). Constantly trying to keep up and outperform her peers, she said yes to every request, taking on a new role and neglecting both her emotional and physical needs along the way.

Lucy knew she was ill, but by burying her feelings they would only manifest themselves in physical ways. She noticed that severe teeth grinding at night was affecting her jaw muscles, creating tension in her neck and face which resulted in paralysing migraines. Many times she had visited the GP with various other physical symptoms; allergies, chronic fatigue, colds and a sports injury, but played down how serious her aches and pains were. If only she'd been referred to an expert who might've seen what, in hindsight, was glaringly obvious. If only someone had connected the dots.

As the year came to a close, Lucy finally gave in to her illness. She had already stopped socialising as the loud noises would leave her disoriented and frightened. Her appetite had all but disappeared and she was gaunt and weak. Even after a full night's sleep she would wake up exhausted, feeling like she hadn't slept at all. On one of her final days in the office, Lucy remembers what can only be described as an out of body experience. She froze in her chair. Feeling totally detached from her surroundings, her mind went blank, there were no words or thoughts left, she was empty. Her nervous system was shutting down.

Lucy didn't speak for 6 months. Back and forth to the GP she went looking for answers, eventually being referred to an Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) specialist. He discovered that her larynx had moved an inch forward and an inch upward. She couldn't utter a word, even though she wanted to, and there was no medical reason to explain the shift. Perhaps the years of stress had finally caught up with her? He explained that her loss of voice was due to muscle tension dysphonia (speech/vocal cord failure) but referred her to a psychiatrist. Finally the diagnosis came, it was General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and after everything she'd been through this brought some sense of relief and thus began her road to recovery.

Treatment recommended for Lucy included Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as well as anti-anxiety medication, which had some unpleasant side effects. Lucy also attended three months of speech and language therapy and six months of laryngeal physiotherapy. Her voice eventually, yet slowly, returned. These days, morning meditation is an important and calming influence in her day to day life.

I am so grateful that Lucy got back in touch and I'm honoured that she trusted me with her story, so personal, and still so raw. We share the hope that anyone reading this who is experiencing similar symptoms is encouraged to seek the professional help that they need, as soon as possible.

The Corporate Mind by Ann Camargo

(Lucy's name has been changed to protect her identity. She's not yet ready to talk about her illness in public and still has a long road to recovery).

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